“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” Review!

It’s appropriate that the most purely, unironically wonderful movie of this gloomy year goes hand-in-hand with “the most wonderful time of the year”, the holiday season. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is adorned with all the  embellishments of the most nostalgic classics, but this lighthearted yet surprisingly impactful steampunk Christmas epic has a potent, forward-looking magic that is entirely its own. To say it’s epic is no joke either: the story is action-packed, punctuated by dazzling musical interludes, and spanning five generations of one incredibly inventive family.

Jingle Jangle
Jingle Jangle | variety.com

That this magical, multi-generational family happens to be Black and specifically comprised mostly of Black women is not merely a more accurate and inclusive reflection of the world we live in, but is also deeply important to the film’s hopeful message. Although I will leave the matter of whether or not Jingle Jangle is good representation to Black film critics and viewers, I will say that the film’s joyful, diverse, steampunk world left me feeling so inspired and empowered that I truly hope it will do the same for Black audiences of all ages, who haven’t seen themselves represented anywhere near enough in mainstream media: neither in holiday movies, nor in steampunk – which, to be honest, has never been translated particularly well to a live-action medium until now. And whereas a majority of steampunk gets justly criticized for what often feels like an inability by the genre to break free of the same-old Euro-centric, imperialist tropes, Jingle Jangle brings with it an entirely fresh and unique “Afro-Victorian” aesthetic: something that is layered into the styling for the hair, make-up, and costume design, as well as some of the film’s most inspired musical selections – most notably a remix of Ghanaian artist Bisa Kdei’s Afrobeat hit “Asew”, which plays over a lively snowball fight.

With Grammy and Academy Award-winning singer/songwriter John Legend producing, it’s no wonder that Jingle Jangle has the lineup of standout vocal talents and songwriters that it does – including Legend himself, who contributed his talents personally to what is, unsurprisingly, the film’s best song: “Make It Work”, an epic duet between stars Forest Whitaker and Anika Noni Rose. Thanks to compelling dance choreography by The Greatest Showman‘s Ashley Wallen and David E. Talbert’s eye-catching direction, none of these musical numbers fall flat, though a few are simply too short: with Ricky Martin in particular being given very little time or material to work with, and the aforementioned Rose (the iconic voice behind Tiana, Disney’s first Black princess) only getting one opportunity to flaunt her vocal strengths – so deep into the film’s runtime I was scared she wouldn’t get to sing at all.

Jingle Jangle
Jessica Jangle | ew.com

Rose’s Jessica Jangle, however, has a fairly small role; and it’s understandable – though regrettable – that she doesn’t have more to do. The majority of the film focuses on the dynamic between her father, Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker), and her own daughter, Journey (promising newcomer Madalen Mills, whose equipped with an incredible voice). Jeronicus, once the most imaginative toy-maker and inventor in all the land, is now a cranky old man living above a pawnbroker’s shop, while Journey is, of course, the bright and sparky young soul who must help him save himself and the last of his long-lost inventions, a robot named Buddy that flies and talks and runs on belief (“believepunk” doesn’t sound quite as catchy as steampunk, though), something that Jeronicus has been sorely lacking as him and his business have fallen into disrepair over the years.

The supporting cast are all excellent, but the one standout whom I simply have to mention is Lisa Davina Phillip, who plays the mail-carrier Ms. Johnston. Fun, flirtatious, and constantly accompanied by a trio of random backup dancers who pop up out of nowhere like sidekicks in an animated movie, Johnston is one of the most delightful comedic relief characters I’ve seen in a while, and I hope that Phillip, whose filmography is still relatively small, gets much more work off this outstandingly good role. Her expressive facial acting and comedic timing even overshadow the film’s campy bad guy.

Keegan-Michael Key plays this character, a hopelessly unimaginative inventor by the name of Gustafson who is somehow under the sway of a narcissistic toy matador named Don Juan (voiced by Ricky Martin), who plots his escape from Jeronicus Jangle’s emporium early on in the film after overhearing his maker’s plan to mass-produce him for the enjoyment of children worldwide. With bland writing, unclear motivations, and a string of jokes that simply aren’t funny, Gustafson and Don Juan are the weak links in this movie. The plot misses a golden opportunity with their characters, too: if Gustafson’s plan is to become fabulously wealthy by stealing all of Jeronicus’ inventions, and Don Juan’s only fear is of being mass-produced and sold, wouldn’t that create a potential conflict of interest between the two? Especially since Gustafson doesn’t actually have any reason to obey the tin toy’s orders (since he is, you know, a toy and all)? Apparently not, since this glaringly obvious solution to all of Gustafson’s problems is taken off the table by Don Juan having apparently “forced” Gustafson to destroy the blueprint for his design offscreen…and again I ask, how can a toy force a human to do anything?

Jingle Jangle
Gustafson | denofgeek.com

Jingle Jangle‘s costume designer Michael Wilkinson can only do so much for Gustafson’s half-baked character, but his talent is on display everywhere else in the film, in the elegant array of costumes created from a clever mixture of European and African-inspired patterns and styles. Hairstylist Sharon Martin, meanwhile, was assigned the task of recreating Black Victorian hairstyles based on rare photographs from the era: her designs in particular come across as both authentic and beautiful, a tribute to the enduring power and artistry of Black hairstyling.

In a year as exhausting as this one has been, fun and lighthearted films like Jingle Jangle are especially necessary for the respite they offer from day-to-day fears and worries. This is doubly significant given how often Hollywood continues to depict Black characters onscreen only as they exist in relation to traumatic subjects such as slavery and racism, subjects that Hollywood usually exploits for easy Oscar-bait: to see Black heroes and heroines starring in a cheerful holiday musical adventure movie that exists simply to be fun is groundbreaking because of how simple it seems. But that simple magic is what I find to be Jingle Jangle’s strongest asset, and the secret ingredient in this delightful story that will keep audiences coming back for many Christmases to come.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Encanto” In The Works At Disney!

Who doesn’t love a good old Disney animated movie? The studio’s recent mini-Renaissance has given us what are (arguably, I suppose) instant classics like Tangled, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, and Frozen II, and hopefully we can soon add Raya And The Last Dragon to the list. But another film from the acclaimed studio is quickly upcoming, and now, thanks to reporting from The DisInsider, we have a title to tentatively attach to the project: Encanto.

Encanto Disney
nerdist.com

Encanto, the Portuguese word for “charm”, may only be a working title for the film, but it certainly feels appropriate considering what little we now know about the story itself: Encanto is supposed to center around the story of a Brazilian family who all possess magical powers – all, that is, except the protagonist, a young girl whose name is still unknown. Should this storyline survive into the final film, the heroine will join several other notable women of color in the Disney roster; though it is not known as of yet whether she will be considered for a spot amongst the Disney Princess line-up. Of course, there are several rules about just who can and can’t be an official Disney Princess, and we don’t yet know if the heroine of Encanto will pass the test.

As for other plot details, we simply don’t know anything yet. The Portuguese-language title means the film is probably set sometime during or after the 1500’s, when forces of the Portuguese empire first settled in Brazil. Most of Disney’s most popular animated films, from Snow White all the way to Frozen II, have been historical pieces, so I’d be a little surprised if this one isn’t – but a historical setting, in this case, might require Disney to tackle the issue of slavery: as a colony, Brazil was built on the suffering of Black slaves, who made up much of the country’s population. Brazil was actually the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888. The easy solution, then, would be to set the film in modern day Brazil. The much harder, but possibly more rewarding, solution would be to try and tell a story that doesn’t gloss over this shameful period in Brazilian history, but instead addresses it with sensitivity and awareness.

Encanto Disney
Colonial Brazil | smarthistory.org

On that note, it’s interesting that the film is supposedly being directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush: the duo behind the mega-successful phenomenon that was 2016’s Zootopia, a film with very cleverly written but family-friendly social commentary in a stunningly animated, entertaining package. Joining them will be singer/songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda, who I guess isn’t ever going to get around to developing that Moana sequel we were all asking for at one point? Miranda’s involvement does, obviously, suggest that this film will be another musical – lending some credence to the theory that the heroine will be a Princess. Charise Castro Smith, a writer and producer on The Haunting Of Hill House, will co-write the script with Bush.

The matter of a release date is still somewhat up in the air, like pretty much everything else in Hollywood right now. Assuming the coronavirus crisis doesn’t necessitate any more calendar-shuffling mayhem, we might expect to see Encanto around Thanksgiving of next year.

So what do you think? How excited are you to see this new Disney animated film? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“She-Ra” Season 5 Review! No Spoilers!

Would it be too much of a hot take to say that everything Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame did, the fifth and final season of She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power did just as well – if not better in several instances? I’ll let you decide.

Now, to be fair, She-Ra has the advantage of being a Netflix series, with up to thirteen-episode seasons, so it’s probably not entirely right to compare it to any movie, even ones that are three hours long. However, considering that She-Ra‘s final season, whether intentionally or coincidentally, lifts a great deal of material straight from the closing chapters of the Infinity Saga, it seems fair enough to compare the two storylines, and how they are executed, and how the Netflix/Dreamworks cartoon sometimes gets it right where the Marvel Studios blockbusters falter.

She-Ra
ew.com

But first, a little background. I was not a She-Ra fan until Friday morning, when I decided it was high time I watched the entire series as quickly as possible, in order to catch up with the final season which had just dropped on Netflix. I had tried once before, several months ago, but I never even got past the opening credits. I forced myself through on this occasion, however – and before the first episode was over, I was already very thankful for that decision, because….wow. But don’t even get me started on the four previous seasons. This is strictly a Season 5 review.

Though I do think a little bit of Season 4 finale recap is in order – if you haven’t caught up, be warned: SPOILERS for that season up ahead! In the aftermath of Queen Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) recklessly deciding to use the Heart of Etheria – a magical superweapon which lies embedded deep within the core of the planet – a great many things have changed in the status quo: first of all, Etheria itself has been carried through a portal out of its empty pocket-dimension and back into the larger universe; Adora (Aimee Carrero) has lost her connection with the ancient warrior She-Ra, and the Sword of She-Ra is broken and useless; and Hordak (Keston John), once the greatest enemy of the Princesses of Power, has been revealed to be nothing more than the puppet and defective clone of a far greater evil – Horde Prime (also Keston John), an alien overlord who has now launched a massive invasion of Etheria, and has simultaneously captured Glimmer, Hordak, and Hordak’s former second-in-command, Catra (AJ Michalka).

She-Ra
comicbook.com

Season 5 picks up after a small time jump. Horde Prime’s invasion is well underway now, and Adora, the archer Bow (Marcus Scribner), and all the remaining Princesses of Power are leading a futile rebellion against him. But on Horde Prime’s flagship, Glimmer and Catra are forced to establish a delicate trust bond with Prime and with each other as they plot a way to escape from imprisonment. Prime is essentially Thanos, and with less clever writing he might just have been that: his agenda (to destroy worlds across the universe in order to achieve cosmic balance and bring about a lasting peace) is much like the Mad Titan’s plan to end world hunger by wiping out half of every planet’s population; even more specifically, he too is the long-awaited mastermind behind the plans of an earlier antagonist in the franchise, who arrives on a gargantuan starship from the depths of space, whose army of mindless bodyguards start almost all their speeches with the word “Rejoice”, and who also has a tendency to meaningfully snap his fingers. Like Thanos, he has arrived on Etheria with the intention of claiming a superweapon that just so happens to come in the form of a magical link between a set of multi-colored crystals.

But unlike Thanos, Horde Prime has time to elaborate on his plans, and the characters have time to get to know him, to witness firsthand his strengths, and to begin to understand his weaknesses while they wander his ship. His special abilities, cloning and mind-control, aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, but they do also differentiate him from Thanos. And in one of my favorite scenes from early in the series, we get a chilling look at the devastation Horde Prime has wrought when he serves Glimmer and Catra a dinner consisting of various rare delicacies from worlds he destroyed in the past. Being the last person in the universe to know an entire planet’s recipes may not seem too dramatic, but it instantly makes the fight to save Etheria more personal, and conveys the horrors of Horde Prime’s conquests far better than any war-torn planet or battlefield.

She-Ra Catra
etonline.com

And that’s the thing: whenever She-Ra strays dangerously close to imitating the Marvel films, it immediately veers away again with the help of some clever, quirky twist that makes it feel fresh and invigorating. The final season may have all the same scope, scale and – occasionally – story-beats as Endgame, but it puts its own unique spin on that story. There is only one instance I can think of where this isn’t the case, when several of our heroes (I won’t say which) are left stranded in space on their way to Etheria, but the fuel they need for their own ship is actually crystals in the exact shape of Captain Marvel’s eight-pointed star – Captain Marvel being the one who rescued Tony Stark from being stranded in space after his ship ran out of fuel – so they touch down on a desolate planet only to run into a motley crew of space pirates led by a woman called Starla (Melissa Fumero) and a bald purple cyborg woman with trust issues, in an interaction that plays out almost identically to a similar meeting between Tony Stark and Star Lord’s motley crew of space pirates – which also includes a bald purple cyborg woman with trust issues – in Avengers: Infinity War.

But there’s a not-so-secret weapon at the heart of She-Ra, and that’s the series’ core cast of characters and the relationships between them, which are constantly evolving in new, unpredictable directions. Avengers: Infinity War‘s greatest problem, in my opinion, is how it sacrificed character for plot: it’s a problem that unfortunately carries over into parts of Endgame – but She-Ra doesn’t have that problem: every major character has room to grow, and all their development happens onscreen, so it doesn’t need to be exposited to the audience. The cast is also small enough already that everyone can get a meaningful role: whereas in Endgame, it sometimes felt like certain characters had only survived the Infinity War snap so they could provide comedic relief.

She-Ra
theverge.com

The story’s focus is still on Adora and Catra, as the couple navigates their fragile relationship with some difficulty. But for the first time, it’s not Adora putting in all the effort: Catra, for her part, is finally trying to stop pushing people away from her every time they show her any affection – though, much like Marvel’s Loki, she still plans on exploiting the current chaos for her own advantage, even if it means hurting others. Their relationship goes through some very surprising ups-and-downs this season. Separately, they’ve both changed as well – Adora is busy over-exerting herself as she tries to match the strength and stamina she possessed when she could turn into She-Ra, while Catra is a quieter, less aggressive shadow of her former self.

Catra’s reluctant interactions with the imprisoned Queen Glimmer are also surprisingly fun to watch, as Glimmer too has to make an effort to trust her former enemy, the woman responsible for her own mother’s death. Glimmer has had a rough time these past couple of seasons, losing people she loves and watching as her close circle of friends gives up on her when she needs them most – something which is partly her own fault, as her stubbornness manifests itself in increasingly dangerous decisions. Much like Catra, she is descending into a dark place, and it’s both thrilling and scary to join her on that journey.

Back on Etheria, Bow has also made some changes to his own lifestyle – though not quite enough to make him give up crop-tops, which he still wears proudly even in circumstances where one would think it impossible: such as the crushing void of space. His arc in this season is more understated than others, but it gives him a number of deeply satisfying revelations about his purpose in life, and also briefly reunites him with his two dads, who are still just as charming and witty as ever.

She-Ra
syfy.com

My personal favorite character in the series, the geeky tech-genius Entrapta (Christine Woods), is given plenty of material to work with (quite literally) this season. Lost and lonely without her lab partner Hordak to turn to, she once again has a hard time reminding herself that she can’t just join the bad guys because they have cooler technology.

The other Princesses each get more time to shine, especially now that She-Ra herself isn’t around to steal the spotlight from them in action sequences. Shy, sensitive Scorpia (Lauren Ash), having just recently regained her Princess status after living her entire life severed from the powers of her Runestone, is the most compelling to watch – but then, she’s always been compelling. To no one’s surprise, she gravitates most toward Princess Perfuma (Genesis Rodriguez), who is battling her own insecurities and finds a kindred spirit in Scorpia’s gentle personality. The two more brusque Princesses, Frosta (Merit Leighton) and Mermista (Vella Lovell) have smaller roles this season: though the latter does get some very interesting development later in the season, and, as always, has adorable banter with the boisterous pirate captain, Sea Hawk (Jordan Fisher). A pleasant surprise is the upgrade of guest stars Spinnerella (Noelle Stevenson) and Netossa (Krystal Joy Brown) to recurring characters: they’ve come a long way from the time when Bow couldn’t even remember what their powers were.

Several villains find themselves joining with the Rebellion against Horde Prime’s power – the Horde itself has dissolved, while Hordak is trapped between his loyalty to his maker, and fidelity to his friend Entrapta (is there something more to their peculiar relationship? You’ll just have to watch and find out). Shadow Weaver (Lorraine Toussaint), meanwhile, still maintains that she is loyal to Queen Glimmer, even though her meddling with dark magic, which resumes early in the season as the Rebellion runs out of other options, makes her vulnerable to the temptation of evil.

She-Ra
aminoapps.com

The dark magic itself is still fairly vague, but it is used in a greater capacity than ever before, and there are several fights which utilize it very well – especially those which also involve Glimmer’s father Micah (Daniel Dae Kim), who has had a little time to regain his strength since his decades-long sojourn on Beast Island. All in all, the action has been upgraded significantly this season: in particular, the fight scene which closes out Episode 5 is appropriately epic, and another fight soon after has one character literally leaping across an asteroid belt and blowing up starships with their bare hands. That’s all thanks to the incredible animation, of course.

A She-Ra review wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to the series’ commitment to diversity – an area in which it wipes the floor with Endgame. While that film mustered up one nameless gay background character, She-Ra ends queerbaiting critiques once and for all with definitive, powerful LGBTQ+ representation.

For me, She-Ra beats out Endgame because of how undeniably right the payoff for every story thread and character arc is in the end. While Endgame leaves room for argument and debate over several characters’ fates, She-Ra ties everything up neatly, in a way that is brave but satisfying – at least for me. There’s no room for the sort of unending, roundabout discourse that plagues other fandoms. This feels like a conclusive, fitting ending for characters I only just met yesterday and for whom I would already sacrifice everything.

Series Rating: 10/10

“Hollywood” Review!

I never reviewed The Politician, Ryan Murphy’s last big, melodramatic Netflix spectacle. For the record, I thought it was actually fairly good – a bit oddly paced, but not a bad series to binge-watch, and it was bolstered by a last-minute cameo from Bette Midler which served as setup for that series’ upcoming second season. But I made the choice not to officially review it, and, occasionally, I regret that decision. I will not make that same mistake with Murphy’s Hollywood, all seven episodes of which dropped on the streaming service yesterday. And that’s because Hollywood isn’t just a soapy drama about cutthroat political activists trying to outsmart each other in a Californian college campus Game Of Thrones – it actually is saying something. It has a hard time saying that something, a lot of the time, and it basically takes a sledgehammer to its own message, but it is trying. It is important, which The Politican never was, in my opinion.

Hollywood
footwearnews.com

It’d be hard to miss what that something is, to be quite clear, considering that, to put it nicely, the story’s themes are unmistakably interwoven into the plot (to put it not quite so nicely, the theme is a giant neon sign flashing in your face every couple of seconds, from beginning until end). It’s a good theme, thankfully: basically boiling down to the idea that movies and media can change the world, and that that’s why representation in those areas matters, because introducing audiences to what they would think of as “radical” ideas – such as, for instance, a black actress starring in a Hollywood blockbuster, or two men walking down the Oscars red carpet hand-in-hand – can help, subtly, to undermine bigotry and forms of prejudice wherever they lurk. In fact, it’s a really good theme – representation is something I have always tried to fight for, using what little platform I have, because I too understand the power of movies and TV. It’s the way in which Murphy goes about expressing this theme – by looking at an alternate reality in which a small group of diverse, idealistic dreamers and free-thinkers worked to radically change the structure of Hollywood in the late 1940’s or early 50’s, placing women, LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color in charge of the corrupt studio system – that can feel uncomfortably idealistic, as if Murphy is diminishing the stories of the real-life heroes and heroines who fought for social justice and equality in favor of his fictional cast. Murphy does get it right on multiple occasions, but it’s a very mixed bag, as you’ll see.

The series’ greatest asset is its all-star cast, which makes it ironic that its greatest weakness is its refusal to trust in their talents. Instead, an all-too-large number of scenes lean on clunky, hammy dialogue and monologuing, even though the actors delivering said dialogue are perfectly capable of conveying what they’re being asked to say with simple looks and gestures. Murphy’s fictional cast got the memo – one character in the show even directs her star to act with his eyes rather than using excessive hand-flailing – but somehow his real cast didn’t. For instance, one particularly cringy scene (which, let me emphasize, is cringy not because of what’s being said, but because of how it’s being said) involves a main character, black actress Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) turning to her white costar Claire Wood (Samara Weaving) and telling her “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me”, after experiencing racism from an auditorium usher. Such a sentiment could easily have been spoken with a single, meaningful glance: but the unnecessarily stilted language makes the scene fall flat, meaning that the good message gets lost or overshadowed. Far more powerful are the tense, largely silent scenes of diverse families across America tuning into an Oscars ceremony via radio to hear the winners announced, waiting through long lists of nominees (something Murphy gets right is poking fun at the ceremony for its excessive length and slow, pondering pace) to hear the names of their favorite movie-stars.

Hollywood
elle.com

Speaking of the stars, let’s talk about them. David Corenswet’s Jack Castello, despite being a lovable and charming character, is, as a straight white male, probably not the best choice to lead a series that (a) aims to be all about diversity, and (b) has plenty of diverse supporting talent who could easily have been upped to the lead role: Laura Harrier, for instance, is often sidelined despite having the intriguing responsibility of playing a character playing a character playing a character, and many of her most exciting opportunities for development never even happen on camera – for instance, Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah) counsels the young actress at one point to fight a tooth-and-nails campaign for her first Academy Award, which sounds like it would be a lot of fun to watch and pretty empowering: but we never see it. Michelle Krusiec plays Anna May Wong, a Chinese actress who, in real life, lost out on a pivotal lead role in The Good Earth to a white actress who would go on to win an Oscar for the part: Krusiec’s take on the historical figure is promising in the first couple of episodes, and she’s set up to be a major character – but then she just disappears into the background cast. Other members of the ensemble include Darren Criss as white-passing, half-Filipino director Raymond Ainsley; Jeremy Pope as an idealistic young black, gay screenwriter named Archie Coleman; Jake Picking as closeted gay actor Rock Hudson; and Patti LuPone as Avis Amberg, the Jewish wife of a movie mogul (played by Rob Reiner in just three epiodes) who unwillingly settles into a position of power after her husband has a heart attack, only to discover she has a talent for business – Amberg’s small group of advisors, most notably Joe Mantello’s Dick and Holland Taylor’s Ellen Kincaid, are also lovely additions to the cast, and bring a good deal of genuine warmth and good-natured humor to the series. But I’d be lying if I said that one of my favorite cameos, for purely personal reasons, wasn’t an unexpected performance by The Lord Of The Rings‘ Billy Boyd as one of many closeted gay film executives at a party where we also meet notable Hollywood celebrities such as Tallulah Bankhead and Vivien Leigh (the former portrayed as flighty and fun-loving, the latter as a woman struggling with bipolar disorder).

So the cast is fantastic, of course. So is the series’ production design, costume design, cinematography – everything feels historically accurate…well, except for the actual story. If you ignore everything else, the series is actually a really fun look into the workings of the studio system, and what went into the casting process, and the making of movies. And there’s plenty of fun references to contemporary events and characters – one character derides Disney’s Song Of The South for its racist overtones; we meet the editor who secretly stowed away a copy of The Wizard Of Oz with the iconic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” musical number intact after a producer insisted it be cut from the film; former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Sansom Harris) shows up to make a characteristically memorable speech; the movie that Raymond Ainsley and his crew are making is a story about Peg Entwistle, an actress who committed suicide by throwing herself from the H in the Hollywoodland sign – though I find it very strange that, despite how prominent the story is and how frequently it gets referenced, despite the fact that the movie crew even builds a giant version of the H for their film set, despite the fact that the series intro even features all the main cast frantically climbing the Hollywoodland sign…in all seven episodes, no one actually attempts to commit suicide by jumping off the H. They build the entire set, and no one so much as threatens to climb to the top. I call that a wasted opportunity.

Hollywood
stylecaster.com

But now for the bad. In any story about Hollywood, #MeToo issues have to be brought up, and this series has a peculiar, even disturbing way of handling them. Jim Parsons delivers an unquestionably good performance as predatory talent manager Henry Willson, but that’s also part of the problem – he is unquestionably good. No matter how many times he sexually assaults and abuses his clients, manipulating, demeaning and blackmailing them, preying on people powerless to stop him, he is always portrayed as a good character, someone who finds himself on the right side of history because…why? Because he has a sob story that he monologues to Rock Hudson? Is that seriously all he had to redeem himself? Not to give away too many spoilers, but the fact that this series has the audacity to end with the resolution of Henry Willson’s storyline is repugnant: did no one behind the scenes think about what they were doing? Did no one stop and realize that the series cast also includes Mira Sorvino, herself an outspoken victim of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein? Did no one think before making Henry Willson a major, sympathetic, character in a story about fighting Hollywood’s corrupt system? The fact that the jury is (at least according to some historians) still out on whether or not the real Willson actually abused his clients possibly makes it even worse: because that means Murphy made the choice to depict Willson a sexual predator in his series, and still decided to redeem him.

It’s an especially upsetting situation sad because so much of Hollywood is actually good and important: especially right now, with setbacks occurring every day.  Representation in mainstream media is crucial, if we are to progress as a society – watching Hollywood reminded me of that, not only because we need more quality content with messages like the one in this series, but also because we need more quality content that doesn’t willfully undermine its own message by inexcusably apologizing for sexual abusers.

We’ve gotten to the point where a black woman can, potentially, win the Oscar for Best Lead Actress in a major studio production – but only one, Halle Berry, ever has, in the ceremony’s entire history. We still have a long way to go before it happens again, and I don’t know if a romanticized, fictionalized look into the past is the best way to ensure that it ever will.

Series Rating: 6.3/10

10 Things Amazon’s “Lord Of The Rings” Should Never Do!

Yesterday I discussed the ten things that, in my opinion, Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings simply can’t do without: Blue Wizards, a cohesive tale of Galadriel and Celeborn, dark thematic material…these are the essential building blocks that Amazon can and should use to construct their unique take on Middle-earth. So how about the ten things that they should never do?

Well, before we get into the list, let me remind you all that Amazon’s series isn’t a straight-up adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, the classic best-selling novel. Instead, it’s based on the tantalizing hints, references and scraps of unfinished stories about the Second Age of Middle-earth, a time period in the world’s history when Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, first rose to power with the help of the One Ring. That being said, Sauron isn’t the only thing you’ll find in this new adaptation that will be reminiscent of previous books, films and video games: characters like Galadriel, Elrond and Glorfindel will all presumably make appearances; locations like Rivendell, Mount Doom and Moria will be visited; events like the War of the Last Alliance and the forging of the Great Rings will be witnessed.

With that out of the way, let’s get to my list.

Lord Of The Rings Elves
lotr.fandom.com

10: Sorrowful Elves. It’s important to remember that the Second Age ends about three-thousand years prior to Frodo Baggins’ quest at the very end of the Third Age. A lot of stuff happens in between those two points – including the events that cause the Elves to begin their slow decline into sorrow and grief. At the start of the Second Age, however, we should see the Elves in their heyday: a happy, peaceful people with a flourishing culture, working to rebuild after the traumas of the First Age. That means characters like Elrond, best known for being grim and dour, are going to be cheerful, bright and optimistic in the Amazon series; wise, experienced leaders like Galadriel will still be learning, growing, and making mistakes; aged, brooding wise men like Círdan…well, he’ll still be an aged, brooding wise man, but the rest of them will be different. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be singing “tra-la-la-la-lally,” but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t be, either.

Lord Of The Rings The Hobbit
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9: A Reliance On CGI. I’m flexible on this issue: on the one hand, I think CGI is an essential element in the making of any fantasy world, and particularly Middle-earth, and I definitely wouldn’t discourage Amazon from using it in many of the same ways Peter Jackson did in his original trilogy (to build fantastical locations, digitally construct armies, certain creatures, etc); but on the other hand, I’d counsel them not to rely on special effects as much as Jackson did with The Hobbit films – practical effects, real location shoots, physical props and sets: for the most part, these can do the job just as well as green-screens and digital wizardry.

Lord Of The Rings Sauron
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8: A Fully Evil Sauron. It would be almost ridiculously easy to depict Second Age Sauron as a purely evil character, but that’s not the Sauron I want to see. Tolkien wrote that, in the beginning, Sauron was a perfectionist, whose plans for Middle-earth were ambitious, but no more evil than those of any reformer’s. He eventually grew to be a tyrant, thinking that Elves and Men could only flourish if they relinquished their own free will and submitted to his rule. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because the Sauron of the Second Age has more in common with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s trickster god Loki (one of the most popular villains there is) than with the flaming eye of Peter Jackson’s films. Sauron, in fact, tried to do good – but his fate had been decided long before, when he turned away from the teachings of Eru and began learning from the devilish Morgoth, whose evil teachings Sauron implemented in his own plans. Amazon could do some amazing things with that storyline.

Lord Of The Rings Eru
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7: Eru. Speaking of Eru, it’s about time I addressed him. In my last post, I said it would be a mistake to leave the Valar (Middle-earth’s pantheon of gods) out of the series, and I stand by that. But there’s one god I never want to see take a physical form in The Lord Of The Rings, and that’s Eru Ilúvatar, the One Above All. Eru is the highest, mightiest being in all of Tolkien’s legendarium – his song set all of history into motion; his plan is the divine plan, which cannot be undone by any design of Morgoth’s or Sauron’s; near the end of the Second Age, he intervenes one last time in the affairs of the world, reshaping the earth into a globe (it was flat previously), and sending the country of Númenor to the bottom of the sea. But though that means he’ll probably be brought up frequently in conversation, he shouldn’t ever be seen; at most, he should be a voice, but even that feels wrong. Eru is incomprehensible, on a plane of existence higher than any of our protagonists should be able to understand. Keep him offscreen. Leave the mystery intact.

Lord Of The Rings Middle-earth
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6: Whitewashing. The fantasy genre already has a problem with diversity – series like Game Of Thrones employ one or two people of color in lead roles over the course of several seasons, and the few exceptions to the rule, such as The Witcher, get viciously attacked by an online community that resorts to the same tired excuses for why people of color are simply unthinkable in worlds filled with dragons, elves, orcs and wizards: it’s unrealistic because fantasy worlds are Euro-centric and Europe obviously never had any racial diversity; race-bending white characters is wrong because people of color need to write their own stories if they want to see themselves represented in mainstream media (but whitewashing characters of color is somehow okay?); Tolkien came from a different time period, and the series should reflect that by not having people of color, who clearly didn’t exist forty years ago. The cast of Lord Of The Rings currently includes a handful of people of color – but only fifteen actors have been cast so far, and I hope to see the number increase as more come onboard the project. I want to see Amazon take advantage of the amazing opportunity they have, and use their platform to hire talent of many different ethnicities – not to mention genders, sexual orientations and ages.

Lord Of The Rings Gandalf
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5: Gandalf. Gandalf the Grey, along with his partners Saruman and Radagast, were both sent to Middle-earth in the Third Age: to be the enemies of Sauron in that age, and that age alone. They didn’t witness any of the events of the Second Age, and they had never fought Sauron before the attack on Dol Guldur as depicted in The Hobbit; if they had, Gandalf would likely have been able to recognize the One Ring immediately, and Saruman might never have been deceived by Sauron’s lies. Having them arrive earlier in the timeline would be a very bad move – yet people continue to mistakenly assume that Gandalf is either going to be a major character, or a female lead, of the upcoming series. To avoid further confusion, I hope Amazon gives the series an official title soon that differentiates it from The Lord Of The Rings, which immediately brings to mind images of Gandalf and hobbits.

Lord Of The Rings Hobbit
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4: Hobbits. Allow me to clarify: hobbits did exist in the Second Age, even though they are only recorded in the Third Age and later. But these hobbits (a) dwelt only in Wilderland east of the Misty Mountains, and not in the Shire, and (b) had no impact on Middle-earth’s history at this time. Most importantly, there should be no interaction between Sauron and the hobbits: he, above all others, should never hear of them or even be aware that they exist. Why? Because the whole reason Frodo’s quest succeeds in The Lord Of The Rings is because Sauron (like Smaug before him) had never dealt with hobbits before. They were the unforeseen heroes of the Third Age, who “suddenly became, by no wish of their own, both important and renowned, and troubled the counsels of the Wise and Great.” So, Amazon: if you want to throw in some hobbits, put them in at the very end of the entire series, during the disaster of the Gladden Fields, when such an appearance might make sense. No sword-wielding hobbit heroics in the Second Age, please.

Lord Of The Rings Game Of Thrones
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3: Game Of Thrones. Now, I’m not totally opposed to the series being more mature than the adaptations we’ve seen before: Tolkien’s world definitely isn’t grimdark or gritty, but the Second Age is a time of decadence, vice, violence and horrific evils (including, but not limited to, hundreds upon thousands of human sacrifices). So when I say I don’t want The Lord Of The Rings to be Game Of Thrones, I’m not necessarily saying it shouldn’t include violence (I refer you back to the human sacrifices), sexuality, and/or mature themes. I’m saying it should never revel in these things or use them for shock value, as Game Of Thrones was often accused of doing. So no, I don’t want to see violence against women used to subvert expectations; I don’t want to see nudity used to make exposition-heavy dialogue “more interesting” or whatever the excuse was; I don’t want to see fan-favorite characters get brutally murdered just to prove a cynical point. Tolkien’s world is one where hope survives even against immeasurable odds, where light endures in the darkest situations, where heroes are…for the most part…heroic. George R.R. Martin’s world is bleak, pessimistic, and, at least in the TV series, there is no end to its cycle of death, defeat and petty power struggles. That’s not bad: it’s just not Tolkien.

Lord Of The Rings Peter Jackson
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2: Incessant Callbacks. Often, a prequel to some successful film franchise (such as…oh I don’t know, The Hobbit) fails in part because it never tries to be its own thing: instead, with the help of callbacks, references and hints, it simply serves to remind viewers to go check out another, usually better, film or TV property that came before it. Using The Hobbit as an example: remember the really weird shout-out to Aragorn in The Battle Of The Five Armies that makes no sense, considering Aragorn was a ten year-old during the time of that film? Or how they refer to the recently drowned Master of Lake-town as being “half-way down the Anduin” when there’s no conceivable way he could ever have gotten there from the Lake of Esgaroth, as shown by their own maps? How about that bizarrely contrived scene where Legolas learns about Gimli sixty years before ever meeting him? These things serve no purpose in The Hobbit, except to remind us that, yes, we are still watching a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings, as hard as it is to believe. Amazon doesn’t need to make that mistake: focus on telling a good story first, then weave in some subtle foreshadowing or evocative parallels later (also, for the love of Eru, choose better callbacks: one reason why those in The Hobbit fail is because they’re calling back to the weirdest things – athelas? Peter Jackson’s carrot-eating cameo? Why were these things necessary?)

Lord Of The Rings
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1: Strictly Movie Canon. We know that Amazon wants to maintain some level of continuity with the classic Peter Jackson trilogy, and at one point they even approached Jackson – either for his help as a consultant, or simply for his blessing. It makes sense: Jackson defined Middle-earth with his award-winning, critically-acclaimed, hugely successful three-film magnum opus. He and his team are widely viewed as experts when it comes to worldbuilding of any kind. But there’s no need for Amazon to feel beholden to his specific vision of Middle-earth: while his is certainly the most iconic, it wasn’t the first, not will it be the last. Amazon should feel free to branch out, to use the books more frequently as source material than the movie, and along the way to establish their own unique take on Tolkien’s world. Let’s not forget: Peter Jackson has broken his own canon on occasion – Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum in the prologue of The Fellowship Of The Ring is completely different to the same scene in An Unexpected Journey: different actor, different scenery, set design, clothing design, everything. Amazon should be able to do that too.

So what do you think of my list? Do you disagree with my picks (it’s worth remembering that I’m a pretty positive person, so it was hard for me to even think of ten things I didn’t want to see)? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Why “Star Wars”‘ LGBTQ+ Representation Is A Crushing Disappointment.

Minor SPOILERS For Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Ahead!

Why "Star Wars"' LGBTQ+ Representation Is A Crushing Disappointment. 1
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First up, an apology: in my Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Spoiler Review, I made the fictitious claim that a couple depicted kissing near the end of the movie was a lesbian couple. There is, in fact, no clear indication of the sexual orientations of either Commander Larma D’Acy or her partner – they could be lesbian, but there’s also nothing to suggest they aren’t pansexual, bisexual, or a different sexual orientation entirely. And that is part of the problem with Star Wars‘ small, misguided attempt at LGBTQ+ representation.

For years now, but especially since the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, fans of the series have been urging Disney Studios and Lucasfilm to introduce meaningful LGBTQ+ representation into the franchise – emphasis on “meaningful”, as in: an LGBTQ+ character with an established identity, whom audiences actually know and care about. Star Wars has long been near the forefront of the push for diversity in genre fiction, much fellow sci-fi series Star Trek (which, overall, has actually done a better job, though not always with LGBTQ+ representation specifically): even back in the 70’s and 80’s, Star Wars was including women (or rather, two white women) in positions of power and strength, and including dynamic and complex people of color (or rather, one person of color) in the central narrative. The prequel trilogy gave us memorable characters such as Mace Windu, Padmé Amidala, and Jango Fett, while also introducing a number of other problems; the racially insensitive Gungans, the racially insensitive Neimoidians, and the fact that Jango Fett’s army of clones were little more than expendable cannon fodder, among them. The Disney-produced sequel trilogy, on the other hand, started off with a female protagonist, alongside prominent black and Latino characters – naturally, it seemed like the perfect place to try and include some LGBTQ+ representation.

And it’s not like there wasn’t room in the story for that representation to emerge in a natural, organic method. Fans have long sensed an undercurrent of semi-romantic tension between Star Wars leads Finn (played by John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and even the actors themselves have made it pretty clear that they would have had no problems if the story had headed in that direction. Boyega himself has been a bit back-and-forth on the subject, and has made friendly jokes about the pairing, while also suggesting that he doesn’t “know how that would work”. But nobody has been onboard with the popular coupling like Oscar Isaac, who has been the unofficial voice of the LGBTQ+ Star Wars fanbase for years: at first, his support seemed like the typical sort of vague hand-waving, with comments like “Poe’s open to any kind of adventure”, but starting this year, the actor has been avidly on the side of Finnpoe fans: “I think he takes his love for Finn very seriously”, Isaac said of his character at Star Wars: Celebration. Since then, he’s noted that a gay romance between the two would be “a great way for the story to go”, admitted that “if they would’ve been boyfriends, that would have been fun”, and just yesterday confessed that, though he tried to advocate behind-the-scenes for a love story between the two men, “Disney overlords were not ready to do that”. Isaac’s strong approval is encouraging, but unfortunately, he’s only an actor and can’t really do much to influence the film’s scripts.

And yet, Rise Of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams himself has revealed that the diversity of Star Wars‘ ensemble cast is supposedly very important to him, and that he felt it necessary that it be increased in the franchise’s final chapter. “And in the case of the LGBTQ community,” he noted, “it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film”. When pressed on the issue, Abrams commented with vague assurance that “I did just say what I just said”.

Abrams’ comments should sound eerily (auto-correct suggested wearily, which also works) familiar to fans who may remember Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo saying virtually the same thing about the LGBTQ+ representation in their blockbuster hit back in April: “It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them…it is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity”.

The similarities don’t stop there, though, because when it comes down to it, the LGBTQ+ representation in both films is also strangely identical. In Endgame, a minor, unnamed character played by Joe Russo himself, mentions dating another man in a throwaway line: this character has no purpose in the story, nor any significance beyond being gay, and is only shown this one time – the fact that he’s played by Joe Russo also makes the moment into a surprising cameo, distracting attention from the significance of his words. In Star Wars, the crucial representation is even less noticeable, though technically more significant: here, Commander Larma D’Acy, a minor character portrayed by Amanda Lawrence, is shown kissing another woman in an exceedingly brief moment – due to taking place in a crowd shot, during an emotional scene, you could easily watch the film without even noticing that you had just witnessed LGBTQ+ history. And I’m left wondering…was that the point?

A same-sex kiss of any kind is a strikingly powerful statement in a big franchise film such as this one, but Disney’s use of the kiss feels cheap, as if it’s reducing what should be important into a meaningless moment that, on the surface, looks like great representation. The audience has no emotional attachment to D’Acy and especially not to her girlfriend, who isn’t even named in the film (the newest Star Wars Visual Dictionary apparently does give her a name: Wrobbie Tryce). They have no reason to care about these two women or their two-second long relationship – and since the characters are so minor, and so deliberately overshadowed by other, more important characters, audiences don’t even have any good reason to notice them or their kiss. If it had been Finn and Poe kissing, even if only for two seconds or one, you would notice because it’s Finn and Poe: they’re lead characters, and the audience is familiar with them. Two extras somewhere in a crowd shot? Not so much.

Disney has just proven that simply including a gay kiss isn’t enough to constitute meaningful representation. People around the world have been rightfully outraged, since the film’s release, that this moment was what Abrams was referring to when he claimed that LGBTQ+ representation was one of his priorities when making The Rise Of Skywalker.

And here’s the thing: Abrams didn’t need to put LGBTQ+ representation into the film at all. As far as we know, this was his decision: nobody was forcing him to do it. And that should be applauded, because it is a step forward. What shouldn’t be applauded is the fact that Abrams, knowing full well just how brief and insignificant the kiss was, went around claiming that the two-second snippet of footage could or would make up for all of the lost opportunities with the Finnpoe relationship, or even amount to anything more than what it was – a two-second snippet of footage. Why not just admit upfront that there would be a small nod to the LGBTQ+ community, without stirring up more controversy and trouble for himself?

Because this is queer-baiting 101. Queer-baiting refers to the process of luring LGBTQ+ audiences to consume a product, be it a movie, TV show, book, etc, with the promise or hint of LGBTQ+ representation, only to reveal that there was little to no representation to begin with. Endgame was heavily criticized for queer-baiting, prompting the Russo Brothers to respond with the claim, as yet unverified, that more major Marvel characters will come out as LGBTQ+ in future movies. 2017’s Beauty And The Beast faced queer-baiting critiques after an “exclusively gay” scene hyped up in the film’s pre-release marketing turned out to be a single shot of two male characters dancing. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald was one of those especially awful cases where a director actually tells the truth and goes on record to say that a character will not be depicted as LGBTQ+ in his movie, only to have his working partner release a tweet disputing that claim – the latter being J.K. Rowling, who apparently didn’t realize she was lying, or simply didn’t care: the promised LGBTQ+ representation in that case actually referred to a single line of dialogue with only slightly gay connotations.

And now Star Wars faces those same complaints, for good reason. By promising something he couldn’t deliver, Abrams dug himself into his own grave. He wasn’t obliged to make any statement at all, but he did – and now he’s paying the price, as audiences riot against the director.

What could he have done to rectify the situation? Well, the easiest solution would have been to make D’Acy and her partner more prominent in the film. If that would have taken time away from the main cast, then why not have it be one of the main cast who turns out to be gay? Finn and Poe are literally right there. But if neither option was viable, then Abrams should simply have kept his mouth shut and not said anything at all. His idea of representation is outdated and honestly offensive, making it an unnecessarily problematic element in a movie that already has plenty of those.

I really don’t want to make a scene, and we know Larma D’Acy wouldn’t want me to (that’s her only significant line in two movies: you thought I wasn’t going to use it in some way?): I wish I could simply talk about how nobody, no matter how far away their galaxy is, should have to live with a name with Wrobbie – or Larma, for that matter. But I can’t stay silent when directors and filmmakers continue to shamelessly bait and trap LGBTQ+ audiences, taking their money in exchange for empty, unfulfilled promises. Hollywood is making progress, or at least, I hope that they are: Disney is making a big deal out of having their first openly gay character in next year’s Jungle Cruise (though the fact that the character is played by a straight comedian and described by test audiences as “hugely effete” isn’t exactly encouraging), and Marvel has promised their first gay character in The Eternals – rumored to be the demigod Phastos, a happily married man with children. But until these claims are backed up by hard facts (i.e. the films themselves), be wary of could be just another queer-baiting incident.

For now, let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that, no matter how briefly their relationship may be depicted onscreen, Larma D’Acy and Wrobbie Tryce are, canonically, Star Wars‘ very first same-sex couple, and the two characters deserve a little more respect and congratulatory praise than they received from J.J. Abrams. Hopefully they’ll be joined in the near future by a number of other LGBTQ+ characters: ones who aren’t betrayed by their own creators.

LGBTQ Diversity In Marvel Phase 4!

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe gears up for Phase 4, a variety of things have been revealed about the upcoming slate of movies and streaming shows they’ll be offering in the next two years: so far, we’ve got a general idea of what to expect from the fourth phase – it’s going to be absolutely insane, it’s going to be cosmic in scale, and it will be very diverse. Diverse in this case can mean two things: a general diversity of storytelling styles ranging from raw psychological thrillers (Black Widow) to absurdist comedies (Thor: Love And Thunder) – and a diversity of cast and crew, with an incredible number of minority groups being represented in mainstream superhero films. While a discussion about the diversity of filmmaking styles being used in Phase 4 would be very interesting and engrossing (Eternals will be shot on 16mm Ektachrome??), we’re going to focus on the latter meaning of the word for today’s post.

According to multiple outlets, Marvel may soon add a transgender superhero to its Phase 4 roster: an impressive roster already, one that includes at least three female directors, two or more female-led projects, Marvel’s first Asian-led film and Asian-American director, first deaf superheroine, and two or more LGBTQ characters.

While this new superhero’s name has not yet been revealed, it seems Marvel is looking for a transwoman actress to play her, under the code name “Jessica”. The rumors don’t even begin to suggest what film she might appear in, whether it’s one in Phase 4 or possibly Phase 5, which kicks off in 2022. Interestingly, though, this news story comes hard on the heels of speculation about one of Marvel’s other characters who might be on the LGBTQ spectrum – Ikaris.

Now, technically, in the comics, Ikaris is actually a straight cisgender male: but it seems that Marvel is looking to change that and possibly announce that Ikaris is a gay character – while, at the same time, Richard Madden, who will portray Ikaris in Eternals, will publicly come out as gay (there’s been lots of rumors about Madden himself in recent years). Talk about a publicity stunt! There’s just one thing that’s been nagging people about this: in the comics, Ikaris is probably most notable for his romance with the female sorceress Sersi, who has not yet been cast for Eternals: people have already begun to speculate that, since Ikaris might be gay, Sersi could be genderbent to be a male. This probably doesn’t have anything to do with the rumors about a transgender superhero, but it’s worth noting as another step forward for LGBTQ diversity (or is that a step forward? I can only imagine the controversy that would ensue if Sersi was genderbent to be a male).

As for who “Jessica” might be, it seems from the reports that she might be one of Marvel Comics’ only transgender characters – Sera, a supporting character in the Thor mythos: Sera started life as a male angel trapped within the Tenth Realm of Yggdrasil, but she identified as female; she was eventually rescued from her imprisonment by Thor’s sister Angela, who then became her love interest for a time. There’s a whole bunch of interesting stuff that could be done with the Tenth Realm, Heven, and the characters of Sera and Angela – not least of which is the possibility of Sera becoming the “queen” that bisexual heroine Valkyrie is apparently searching for in Thor: Love And Thunder. Unless that’s Angela? Or Jane Foster Thor? Jamie Alexander announced on Twitter last night that she wants to be Valkyrie’s queen, but, let’s face it, Lady Sif isn’t coming back.

LGBTQ Diversity In Marvel Phase 4! 2
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With so many possible LGBTQ storylines to choose from, which do you want Marvel to prioritize – and who else should come out in future movies? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

What’s Next For The MCU? Phase 4 Predictions.

The ending of Avengers: Endgame leaves us with a bittersweet taste in our mouths. Things have changed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for better or worse, and now we have to continue on in a world that deals with Endgame‘s ramifications – a world with some new characters we don’t yet know much about, new storylines we’re not yet emotionally invested in: where do we go now, and who can we expect to see more from in the coming years?

Naturally, there are major spoilers for Avengers: Endgame ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I encourage you to go do so – like, now.

You’re back? Good, so let’s talk about what happened, and what happens next. The original Avengers (Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, Natasha Romanoff, Bruce Banner and Clint Barton) have had their stories concluded in a variety of different ways: Tony is dead, and likely to remain that way; Rogers has now gotten everything he wanted, including his dance with Peggy Carter, and his arc is finished – he’s not dead, but he’s now an old man; Thor has joined the (As)guardians of the Galaxy and seems likely to enjoy a whole bunch of new adventures; Romanoff’s broken body is lying at the foot of a cliff on the planet Vormir, where she sacrificed herself for the Soul Stone; Banner is now Professor Hulk, and his entire story seems to have ended; Barton has returned to his family.

Of these, Thor, Romanoff and Barton are probably going to continue on into the next phase of the MCU.

Thor has joined forces with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and will presumably be a key player in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which seems likely to focus on an unresolved plot point from Endgame: Star-Lord, the Guardians’ leader, was temporarily reunited with his girlfriend Gamora, but she disappeared at some point afterwards. We see him searching for her at the end of the movie, so it looks like that could be a critical focus of the third Guardians installment. Star-Lord, thankfully, has help from Gamora’s sister, Nebula, who has been more than redeemed by events in Endgame – and from Thor, who has relinquished all of his other duties so he can join his friend Rocket Raccoon here on an intergalactic mission. Certainly Thor’s presence on the team will be welcomed by other Guardians such as Drax and Mantis, both of whom seemed infatuated with him in Avengers: Infinity War, and by Nebula and Rocket, who have now become friends with the God of Thunder. There’s already some tension between Thor and Star-Lord, however, about who gets to be captain. Considering the overwhelming support for Thor, I think Star-Lord’s in for a surprise – I wonder if this might carry through into real life. Star-Lord actor Chris Pratt has been the unchallenged star of the Guardians franchise for two movies now, but Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is a fan-favorite and could easily overshadow the rest of the group. Hopefully, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 director James Gunn, newly reinstated to the franchise, will be able to give all the characters their proper screentime.

Meanwhile, Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, seemed to have a definitive conclusion in Endgame, sacrificing herself so that the other Avengers could win the Soul Stone and complete their construction of an Infinity Gauntlet. However, Romanoff is getting her own solo movie next year, and even though Black Widow seems to be a prequel, it doesn’t seem very Marvelous to make the very first move of the next phase be a callback to the past. I’ve speculated before that I feel Black Widow has a major connection to events in Phase 4, specifically the upcoming Eternals franchise, but that’s still just a guess. At the moment, all we know about Black Widow is that she’s dead. Her death, however, could hypothetically be reversed – Captain America returns the Soul Stone at the end of Endgame, which might be enough to undo Black Widow’s sacrifice and bring her back to life. Her movie is set to star Rachel Weisz, Florence Pugh and David Harbour (with some outlets also reporting that Emma Watson might still be involved in the project), and is going to be the stepping-stone into the next phase of the MCU. Whether or not Black Widow ends up being linked to the broader Marvel universe, though, it will still be a very interesting foray into an unexplored corner of the timeline, one that involves spies, political intrigue, and (hopefully) the often-alluded-to-but-never-properly-explained incident in Budapest that both Black Widow and Hawkeye remember so differently.

Speaking of Hawkeye, Clint Barton finished out Endgame still very much alive, and very much still the family man he’s always been. At the beginning of Endgame, we saw him and his daughter practicing archery, and now that he’s back he’ll presumably continue his lessons with her. However, everything might not be as happily-ever-after as it seems for Barton, who did a lot of questionable things during the time that his family was snapped out of existence by the Titan Thanos. Aside from renewing his semi-romantic relationship with Black Widow, Barton also adopted a new identity – under the name Ronin – and began systematically killing people across the globe. We even saw him dealing with Japanese criminals in a particularly vicious scene, which saw Hiroyuki Sanada wasted in a seemingly pointless cameo as one of Ronin’s victims. But could karma catch up with Hawkeye in the future? It’s been rumored that he’s getting his own streaming show on the new Disney Plus platform, where we might also see the Hawkeye mantle pass on to Kate Bishop, a comics character who has yet to enter the MCU. Maybe some figurative ghosts from Barton’s bloodstained past come back to haunt him and his family, and he has to team up with Bishop to stop them.

Interestingly, Hawkeye wouldn’t be alone on Disney Plus: Scarlet Witch, Vision, Loki, Winter Soldier and Falcon are the Marvel characters currently confirmed to be getting their own streaming shows. Scarlet Witch and Vision will be starring in the oddly-named WandaVision, which will see actors Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their roles as the telepathic mutant (they’re allowed to use that word now, due to the FOX merger), and the deadpan android. Very few details are known about their show so far, except that it might take place in the 1950’s – which is confusing, to say the least, since neither Scarlet Witch nor Vision have shown any interest in time traveling previously, and Vision is actually dead at the moment. The Loki show, aptly titled Loki, could potentially explore one of Endgame‘s most intriguing moments – where Loki, in an alternate timeline, manages to escape with the Space Stone after the Battle of New York. This timeline, unlike others, might not have been affected by Captain America returning the Infinity Stones to their proper timelines at the end of the movie. This means we could see Loki on a wild, galaxy-hopping adventure through space and time in his own show: who wouldn’t be down for that?

Falcon & The Winter Soldier, on the other hand, is by far the most easy-to-understand of the three confirmed shows: at the end of Endgame, we saw Steve Rogers pass the title of Captain America to Falcon, who accepted it with the silent blessing of Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, who stood nearby. A new Captain America means (most likely) more trouble with organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D and HYDRA, which can’t ever seem to get their act together. We’ll see Falcon and Winter Soldier team up against a new threat to American freedoms and values, while also coming to terms with what it means to be Captain America. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan have such fantastic chemistry, both onscreen and off-screen, that I think this show will be a big hit.

Not everything is so simple, though. On the big screen, the MCU is going to continue getting larger and more complex, with the addition of the Eternals, a divine race of superhumans who will show up in theaters in late 2020, ushering in what could be Marvel’s most ambitious goal yet: a cosmic phase. It’s long been speculated that, after Endgame, things are going to get crazier in the MCU, with the addition of more out-there concepts such as Eternals, Deviants and Celestials, or characters like Galactus and the Silver Surfer. If that is what they’re doing, The Eternals is the perfect place to start this: the members of this ensemble team are relateable enough that they might be able to sell some of these strange new ideas to audiences, especially with the help of confirmed stars Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani. The film looks to be a crowded one, with rumors of five female leads and three male leads, including Marvel’s first openly gay male lead, and a female lead of color. This project is one that I’m highly anticipating.

After The Eternals, though, the MCU doesn’t look to be diving into otherworldly and galactic storylines: instead, we’ll probably first be returning to the tranquil African nation of Wakanda, where Black Panther and his sister Shuri will face some new, as yet unknown, threat to the throne. There are very few details about this eagerly-awaited sequel to the 2018 cultural phenomenon that was Black Panther, but you can be sure that the film will go into production as soon as possible.

Another sequel that has yet to be officially confirmed is Captain Marvel 2. Air-force pilot Carol Danvers flew higher, further, faster at the box-office this year, proving that a female superhero is more than capable of carrying her own franchise. While there is no word on when such a sequel might be released, it’s probably only a matter of time. Carol got her comics-accurate haircut and sash in Avengers: Endgame and looks like she’s ready to take on her undefeated foe from her solo movie, the Kree Supreme Intelligence, or possibly even her former mentor Yon-Rogg, who was allowed to escape unharmed at the end of Captain Marvel. The alien race of Skrulls, villains in the comics, were portrayed in a more sympathetic light in the MCU, but that doesn’t mean all of them are benevolent – I’ve already questioned whether one character established in Captain Marvel might walk down a dark path in a future movie. Endgame teased the appearance of several new female superheroes, including Valkyrie as the new Queen of Asgard and Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie Lang: it’s possible that, in a nod to the A-Force storyline from Marvel comics, we could see these heroines team up under the leadership of Carol Danvers to take on some cosmic threats.

But while battle rages among the stars, the earth itself might be threatened by more mystical forces – Doctor Strange, who became one of the Avengers’ most crucial players in Infinity War, is now unprotected by the Time Stone. This could leave him and the Sanctum Sanctorum open to attack by characters such as Karl Mordo, or even Dormammu. Magic is still pretty new to the MCU, and doesn’t yet have any clearly-established rules, so it will be interesting to see what director Scott Derrickson chooses to do with it here, in Doctor Strange 2, which will presumably see the Sorceror Supreme dealing with the fallout from Endgame. Hopefully we see him team up with the Scarlet  Witch, assuming she isn’t permanently relegated to Disney Plus.

Beyond even that, Marvel is already planning for its first film headed by an Asian lead – an origin story for the martial-arts master and spy Shang-Chi, whose appearance in the MCU doesn’t seem to have been foreshadowed by anything we’ve seen so far: unless it might be that the Japanese criminals from Endgame that Ronin killed were somehow associated with Shang-Chi’s infamous father, the crime syndicate Zheng Zu (previously known by the racist moniker Fu Manchu). Marvel’s president Kevin Feige has been surprisingly willing to discuss this particularly project, but there are still no concrete details.

And that’s all in the future. Only a few months away now is the last installment in Marvel’s Phase 3 – that is, Spider-man: Far From Home, which will pit the web-slinger Peter Parker against a reality-bending villain named Mysterio. While this isn’t officially part of Phase 4, according to Kevin Feige, it will still be an entertaining and exciting epilogue to the events of Avengers: Endgame, a much needed respite after huge battles and intergalactic politics, where we can sit back and enjoy some smaller-scale conflict for the safety of Spider-man’s neighborhood.

Which Phase 4 movie are you most excited to see? Let me know in the comments. Considering the fast pace at which projects like The Eternals, Black Widow and Black Panther 2 are being rushed along, it seems likely we’ll get more details about these and other movies sooner than later.

Marvel’s “The Eternals” casting FIRST GAY SUPERHERO?

Some big news broke recently concerning Marvel’s The Eternals, a movie set to begin filming in August, which should be released next year. We had been getting some small teases as to what this film might be about, and which characters might be in it – for instance, we had received news that Margo Damian might be in the film, though this is unconfirmed and the female lead is still going under the alias “Karen”, while her character description is vague and says Marvel is looking for an actress in her early 30s, of any ethnicity (but especially African, Native American or Middle Eastern). Meanwhile, other character descriptions had also been revealed, which seemed to suggest that classic Eternals characters like Ikaris, Makkari, Sersi, Starfox, Thena, Zuras, Druig and Gilgamesh were being considered for roles in the movie: there were also surprising additions to the line-up like Elysius and “Piper”, who seems to be a take on the Eternals character Sprite. But one of the most interesting by far was the male lead, which didn’t even get so much as an alias, and was described merely as a Greek God. Now, thanks to a new report, we may have a clue as to who that character might be – and it bodes well for the future of LGBTQ superheroes onscreen.

Because, yes, the news that broke March 1st – and appeared to be given additional credence first by Marvel production chief Victoria Alonso, and then by Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige himself – was that Marvel is seeking to cast an openly gay male actor to play the male lead: who is set to become their first openly gay superhero. Combine that with the fact that this male lead is described as a Greek God, and what do you get?

Hercules, that’s what.

Marvel's "The Eternals" casting FIRST GAY SUPERHERO? 3
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The character, a Greek God who is somewhat similar to Thor (well, Thor post Thor: Ragnarok that is), has been bisexual in the comics – but it didn’t end very well, and attracted some backlash after the character was suddenly made straight again. Bringing Herc back, and making him definitively gay or bisexual in the MCU would be a great way to settle that issue. The character description, it seems, has been updated so that now Marvel is looking for an openly gay male actor age 30-49, who “physically looks like a superhero”. That last note is interesting: other actors have been able to bulk up for roles in Marvel movies, but Hercules is massively muscled, and would probably require an actor who is already at least similar in size.

So, considering all that we know so far, I’d say that Hercules is, if not a sure bet, than at least a definite possibility. It could be that Marvel is choosing to make Ikaris or another male character gay instead, and that Hercules won’t show up at all, but fans have definitely been looking forward to seeing him in the MCU, and having him be the first gay male superhero in their impressive roster would be pretty cool. But either way, this news is most interesting because it means Marvel will finally be delivering its first gay lead – scratch that, its first gay character, period. Another Marvel character, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) has been confirmed to be bisexual, but this was never even hinted at in the films, and in fact a scene with some lesbian overtones was cut from Black Panther. This is a step in the right direction for the MCU, and I can’t wait to see where we’ll end up.