“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” Review!

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost four months since the world suddenly, shockingly lost Chadwick Boseman to cancer. Despite most of us having never known or met the man personally (and I will forever regret I never had the chance), I and millions of others around the globe were left devastated by Boseman’s death, which cut short an extraordinary career and a life lived honestly by a humble, kind-hearted, man. It’s natural to think of “what would have been”: the films he would have gone on to make, the awards he would most surely have won, and so on. But Boseman’s posthumous filmography, which includes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and numerous episdoes of the animated What If…? series for Marvel, reflects not only Boseman’s versatility as an actor, but his determination to create a lasting legacy for himself that would span vastly different mediums and genres; a legacy that stands on its own.

Ma Rainey
Levee and Ma Rainey | theguardian.com

And that’s what makes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom so incredibly painful to watch, as the film now feels almost too cruel for illuminating the setbacks that Black creatives have always suffered due to the efforts by mediocre white people to hijack their art and culture, not because it’s wrong to depict this by any means (quite the opposite)…but because it’s Chadwick Boseman’s character, underdog horn player Levee, who is actively being cheated out of his legacy in the film by a system that rewards theft and punishes integrity. But while some may find the pain still too raw to revisit (and as always, I encourage you to decide for yourself if that’s the case), I believe that the film makes one thing clear unintentionally: that even Chadwick Boseman’s sheer ability to carve out the beautiful, incredible legacy he has is something that cannot be taken for granted, although by rights it should – because for centuries, and right up until this present day, Black art, talent, and culture has been appropriated by white folks. And it’s up to white folks and allies of the Black community to call out that appropriation, and help to protect and preserve the legacies of Black creatives.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is entirely focused on this concept of trying to build a legacy, and the harsh toll it exacts on the Black creatives who have to fight every single day to protect their work. Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis, who herself famously called upon Hollywood to stop calling her the “Black Meryl Streep” unless they were going to start paying her accordingly) is seen as a difficult and unreasonable diva by her white manager and producer, but that’s because – as she explains in a brilliant monologue to her trombonist, Cutler (Colman Domingo) – she can’t afford to be fair and reasonable, because she knows that as soon as she lends her voice to the record album her production studio is creating, they’ll have no further use for her. She has to demand better, or she won’t be treated any better; whether that means requiring that she be served a Coca-Cola (in a prolonged sequence that, let me tell you, really made me want a Coca-Cola), or insisting that her nephew, who stutters, be featured on her biggest song, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, even though it takes six tries and six vinyl records to get it right.

Davis commands attention from the moment she appears onscreen, decked out in feathery finery, and literally glistening under lighting that is somehow both deeply uncomplimentary and strangely flattering to her mesmerizing stage persona. Maxayn Lewis provides Rainey’s rich, soulful, singing voice on almost all the songs in the film, but the rest is an intoxicating blend of Davis’ physical presence, her costuming department, and the particularly noteworthy efforts of her hairstyling and makeup team, whom I predict will be the Oscar frontrunners in their category. The final result of all their contributions is a bundle of joyous, irreverent charisma – a proud Black woman owning herself, her body, and her sexuality.

Ma Rainey
Ma Rainey | detroitnews.com

Her sexuality is a particularly interesting topic because the real-life Ma Rainey is strongly believed to have been a queer woman. And although the character of her girlfriend in the film, Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige), is entirely fictional, there’s evidence to suggest that Rainey did have a romantic relationship with one of her contemporaries, blues singer Bessie Smith. Depicting Ma Rainey authentically is important for several reasons, not least of all because we’ve seen very few stories of real-life Black LGBTQ+ historical figures depicted onscreen: and even fewer in a context where their sexuality is not the defining feature of their character. Ma Rainey is queer and a great singer and a savvy businesswoman…she’s allowed to be multi-faceted, and I love that.

Boseman’s Levee, meanwhile, spends a considerable amount of time trying to seduce Ma Rainey’s girlfriend away from her, much to her annoyance. A cocky, easy-going young playboy making his own music and gradually distancing himself from his older, wiser, bandmates, Levee is an antagonist to Rainey’s ambitions, but one gifted with warmth, charisma, and humanity: all talents innate to Chadwick Boseman, and which the actor easily imbues into his character…particularly in one beautifully written monologue sequence that I imagine must be taken word-for-word from the August Wilson play upon which Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based (like the recurring motif of Levee’s yellow shoes and the closed door in the recording studio that Levee repeatedly tries to break down, both of which came off as obviously theatrical devices to me). My biggest gripe with stage-to-screen adaptations tends to be dialogue, which can feel gratingly unnatural in movies: but while I wouldn’t say Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom doesn’t sometimes have that problem, I do think the actors – particularly Davis, Boseman, and Domingo – make it work in all the scenes that count.

The one aspect of the film that has drawn criticism, however, is the one crucial scene it adds to the screenplay: drastically changing the overall tone of the story – rather like the inverse of The Boys In The Band, which added a single, hopeful scene to the film adaptation’s ending to address criticism of the original play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom adds one scene that, without context, is completely mundane and uninteresting…but with context, is haunting, deeply disturbing, and a bleak reminder of how far we haven’t come since the 1920’s, and how much further we still have to go. Without getting into spoilers, I will say this much: it directly addresses the topic of cultural appropriation, and forces you to re-evaluate the entire film from that perspective. The original play did touch on this subject too, from what I understand, but not in this manner. I get why this scene was added – it’s not merely shocking, but also extremely important to the film’s central theme.

Ma Rainey
Levee | seattletimes.com

Cultural appropriation, an extension of white supremacy and imperialism, is the ultimate act of theft: the grand robbery of an entire art-form, or fashion, or tradition, or way of life, in most cases carried out by white folks who either think they’re being funny by contributing to harmful stereotypes, or are actively stealing an idea because they’ve decided they like it so much that they want to market it as something socially-acceptable for white people to buy/wear/whatever, and don’t understand or care how their actions keep the violent spirit of colonialism alive in the modern day. The latter is the more insidious of the two, and has been deeply engrained in the music and entertainment industries for over a century. How many great legacies were set in stone by Black creatives, only to be overwritten and overshadowed by white people stealing their ideas? We’ll probably never know. But I hope that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, for many, will be the wakeup-call they need to the terrible effects of cultural appropriation, and the need to address it now, as we head into the roaring 2020’s.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Anastasia” Review!

So…this isn’t really a Christmas movie, or a holiday-themed movie in general. In fact, most of Fox Animation’s Anastasia takes place in the spring or summer. But just as the film has often been mistaken for a Disney Princess movie ever since its release in 1997 and is now even being categorized under the Princesses section on Disney+ (where it arrived on the 4th of this month), so to has Anastasia acquired a lasting reputation as a winter movie thanks to its iconic theme, Once Upon A December, one of only three memorable songs in the entire movie; and its early scenes in frigid Saint Petersburg during the Bolshevik Revolution.

Anastasia
Anastasia and Rasputin | eonline.com

Obviously, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, this movie has glaring historical inaccuracies. As many, if not more than, Disney’s Pocahontas: which is saying something. And look, I get it. The mystery of Princess Anastasia Nikolaevna’s “disappearance” is timeless and alluring, and in 1997 still technically unsolved…but even then, most people had already come to the logical conclusion (confirmed in 2009, after DNA testing) that Anastasia, like the rest of her family, was murdered by a Soviet firing squad. The long line of impostors who famously claimed to be the lost Romanov Princess were just that, impostors: most of them vying for the family’s fortunes rather than the throne of Russia. There’s even reason to believe the rumors of Anastasia’s survival were circulated by the Soviets themselves as a harmless distraction from the violent truth. Over the years, she’s become an almost mythical figure: whether she’s mythic enough to warrant a romantic fairytale about her life is a question for the ages.

But the film doesn’t just paint an inaccurate depiction of one historical figure’s life. More offensively in my opinion, it also makes the laughable decision to portray all of Anastasia’s family as heroes, whose opulent existence is justified because of how elegant and righteous they are. The truth is that the Romanovs (specifically Tsar Nicholas, Anastasia’s father) were tyrannical aristocrats who unknowingly orchestrated their own destruction. And in reality, the Bolshevik Revolution was spurred by Russia’s poor and battle-worn citizens, who rose up in protest of the Tsar’s crimes against his people – they were not inspired by demons under the control of the mystic Rasputin, a controversial and fascinating figure whom history has remembered as a devilish villain for reasons unfathomable to me. Even today, films like The King’s Man still rely on that trope. Obviously, movies are going to mess around with the truth: animated family movies especially. But who makes an animated family movie about a brutally murdered Tsarist princess to begin with?

Don Bluth, that’s who: and his talent shines through in the finished work, because Anastasia‘s stunning animation is among its strongest elements, blending the traditional hand-drawn style with bits and pieces of vivid CGI – still quite new at the time, and alarmingly beautiful even today, after 23 years. The character design is marginally more interesting than Disney’s formula, with Anastasia (voiced by Meg Ryan) in particular having a more mature face than many of her teenaged equivalents over at the House of Mouse.

Anastasia
Anastasia and Tsar Nicholas | themarysue.com

Meg Ryan and John Cusack are both well-cast, and perfectly likable as Anastasia and the con-artist Dimitri, who initially tries to pass off the unassuming amnesiac girl as the lost Romanov princess before realizing that she’s the real deal. Anastasia, despite bearing little more than a passable physical resemblance to her real-life counterpart, is actually a really compelling character in animation: confident, capable, and pro-active, taking the lead when she’s in trouble and fixing problems on her own. She’s not a damsel in distress, and it’s she, not Dimitri, who takes on the villain in the third act and defeats him. When this movie was released, no Disney Princess could boast the same claim (Mulan would become the studio’s first, a year later). Additionally, the movie puts a fun little twist on the classic “happily ever after” trope, which for most Disney Princesses means marriage, by having Anastasia and Dimitri elope and run off together instead (a minor scandal in comparison to the political crisis that Anastasia’s reappearance probably should have sparked in 1920’s Europe: something the film never addresses).

But as Disney demonstrated time and time again during the height of its Renaissance, a good animated movie needs a good animated villain – and by animated, I mean both literally and figuratively: the best of Disney’s villains are the big, bold, campy caricatures who leap off the screen thanks to their eccentric mannerisms, comedic vocal performances, and eye-catching designs. Think Ursula, Scar, Captain Hook, Jafar, or Cruella De Vil. Anastasia‘s villain, the mystic Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd), is a half-baked imitation of these and others. He’s cool in theory, a turbulent evil spirit trapped in Limbo, with limbs and appendages constantly popping off and scurrying away: but he’s also just…trapped in Limbo for most of the movie, relying on his minions to do his dirty work. He’s a big, bold, campy caricature that’s got nowhere to go and nothing to do until the third act. And whereas most Disney villains interact with the protagonist at least once or twice before their final confrontation, Rasputin doesn’t. So he nears success, but falls short of true greatness.

The other key ingredient in a Disney movie is a collection of hit songs that drive the plot forward and allow characters to reveal their motivations and goals to the audience in a dynamic and engaging way, rather than just unloading it all in a series of exposition dumps. Anastasia emulates the best of the best, but its songs – apart from “Once Upon A December” – don’t really match the film’s grandiose subject matter. “Journey To The Past” is probably the most effective song in the movie, being the next step up from an “I Want” song, in that Anastasia isn’t just singing about something inaccessible she yearns to have; she’s already singing about how she’s going to get what she wants, and simultaneously setting off on her physical and emotional journey (and interestingly, in recent years, Disney Princesses have begun to follow suit: “Almost There” from Princess And The Frog, “Let It Go” from Frozen, and “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana are all songs about and accompanied by action). One has to wonder how much of the film’s progressive attitude is the result of Carrie Fisher, an uncredited screenwriter who apparently lent her talents to helping craft the entire “Journey To The Past” sequence.

Anastasia
Anastasia | ew.com

It’s deeply ironic that Anastasia, which shamelessly followed the tried-and-true Disney formula and battled Disney’s Hercules for box-office supremacy in 1997, is now a Disney movie thanks to the Disney/Fox merger, and is already being ranked among the studio’s legendary princesses – although she’s still unofficial, and is unlikely to ever retroactively become an actual member of the line-up. When Anastasia released, Disney concentrated all its efforts on trying to sabotage the film’s marketing strategy, even re-releasing The Little Mermaid on the same day, and banning the film’s corporate sponsors from advertising on ABC’s Wonderful World Of Disney program. Now, the official Disney+ Twitter account has been busy promoting the movie as if nothing ever happened. That’s what I call character development (or typical capitalism: you decide).

Movie Rating: 8/10

“Carol” Review! Is It A Christmas Movie Or Not?

Is 2015’s Carol a Christmas movie, in the proper sense of the phrase? Some would argue it is simply by virtue of being set in the last few weeks of December (and because one of the most memorable scenes in the movie revolves around the subject of Christmas presents), but in my opinion, it’s even a bit deeper than that.

Carol
Carol Aird | cinemablographer.com

Carol utilizes Christmas for more than just pretty set dressing. The overwhelming noise and chaotic hustle of the holiday season provides the perfect backdrop to the quiet, intimate, love story at the film’s core. The crowds of confused and hurried shoppers rushing to find gifts is an unmistakable parallel to the confusion of any whirlwind romance, but particularly one shared by two women in an unaccepting era – when even the terminology for sexual orientation was still unclear and mostly derogatory. And Christmas brings with it a whole slew of constraints and restrictions on the time our heroines can spend together without being watched. But…whenever the romance finally has a moment to breathe, everything goes quiet. The noise dies down until it’s little more than a murmur in the background; Carter Burwell’s Oscar-nominated score gently reinforces the building passion; and the spirit of Christmas is discovered in simple things like snowfall on a terrace at night, a Christmas tree purchased on the spur of the moment, or an abrupt winter getaway out west.

Based on The Price Of Salt (a semi-autobiographical novel first published in 1952 by Patricia Highsmith under a pseudonym and later republished in 1990 as Carol under her real name), Carol remains a milestone in LGBTQ+ representation in film: the movie that launched a thousand awards-friendly atmospheric period dramas about introspective white lesbians. The story is small-scale on the surface – a series of electric interactions between two women that quickly becomes a fling, and then a romance – but the stakes couldn’t be higher for either character: Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is at risk of losing custody of her daughter if her sexuality is discovered, while Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is already engaged to a man for whom she has no feelings. The chemistry between the two actresses is the primary reason for why the movie works as well as it does, and for why it feels so genuine and impactful.

Carol
Therese Belivet and Carol Aird | artforum.com

Carol, the mysterious, multi-faceted woman around whom the story revolves, is the older and wiser of the two; but while her years have given her a flippant attitude towards life and a steady, self-assured command over herself, her surroundings, and her sexuality, they haven’t quieted her desire to finally live freely. Blanchett owns the role like a revelation wrapped up in an epiphany and a sensuous mink coat. And what’s brilliant about Blanchett’s performance (here and elsewhere) is that she never feels the need to overdo anything. Every one of her movements, mannerisms, facial expressions, winks, and subtle half-smiles is loaded with purpose – but so casually conveyed that Blanchett never comes off as fishing for Oscars. Oftentimes, the philosophical dialogue spouted in dramas can come off as inorganic and bizarrely forced, but Blanchett’s line-readings, delivered in that famously deep register that she might as well trademark, are equal halves relatable and enchanting.

The strength of Mara’s performance is in how clearly and vividly she expresses her love for Carol. While the extent of Carol’s feelings toward Therese Belivet are necessarily mysterious and unclear until the very end of the film (and Blanchett easily sells that aura of mystery, where you never know if something she’s said has a double entendre or a hidden meaning), the entire story hinges on Therese’s immediate attraction to Carol. It sounds quite simple – Cate Blanchett is a magnetic personality, after all – but Mara succeeds at convincing us that Therese’s devotion goes deeper than a surface-level. And although the film can’t take us into Therese’s head like the novel, it gets as close as it possibly can. Director Todd Haynes stages each romantic scene as if from Therese’s point of view, as she absorbs every tiny detail about her lover. That subtly allows us to also learn about Therese’s own self-doubt, which prevents her from recognizing her own worth until much later in the film, when the tables are turned.

Alongside powerhouse talents like Blanchett and Mara, it’s hard for anyone else in the movie to carve out much space for themselves. Sarah Paulson comes closest, playing Blanchett’s former lover Abby. Paulson, herself one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ actresses in Hollywood (and whose wife, Holland Taylor, was one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ actresses in Hollywood), has a key supporting role, holding her own opposite Blanchett as the latter’s foil. Also, her ability to slay in brown plaid is admirable, and I would totally watch the Carol prequel Paulson wants to make.

Behind the scenes, pretty much everybody deserves some measure of praise, because the film is a technical masterpiece: but I would especially point out Carter Burwell, whose score beautifully compliments the action; costume designer Sandy Powell, the mastermind behind Carol’s assortment of fur coats, headscarves, and sundresses; and cinematographer Edward Lachman, whose decision to shoot in grainy 16mm film is a large part of why the entire film feels so engrossing.

Carol
Carol Aird | bloomberg.com

But the key to Carol‘s success and popularity (and something which many of its predecessors and successors have forgotten or ignored) is its happy ending, something that stunned readers back in 1952 and viewers in 2015. Little has changed between those two dates, if a simple happy ending is still perceived as groundbreaking in stories (particularly romances) about LGBTQ+ characters, and too little has changed even in the five years since Carol came out. But onscreen representation matters: it has the power to uplift and to inspire. And that’s exactly what Carol‘s ending did for many viewers, by promising something better. Even if it’s not a traditional Christmas movie, it invokes the true spirit of the season far better than some.

Movie Rating: 9.5/10

“Loki” Is Lost In Space And Time In 1st Trailer!

I’ve had a great many ideas about how I would love for each of the upcoming Marvel Disney+ shows to look and feel since long before we saw anything official from any of them: and Loki has become my second most hotly-anticipated of the entire batch (just behind WandaVision, which seems like a technical masterpiece as well as a wildly entertaining story) thanks to the elaborate image I had concocted in my head of how it should look, ideally: like a mix of gritty science-fiction, Terry Pratchett absurdity, and fantasy horror. So you can imagine my shock and awe when the first full trailer for Loki revealed that this show is everything I was hoping it would be, and much, much more.

Loki
Loki | denofgeek.com

The last time Loki graced our screens was…well, that’s a complex question. Technically that would be in 2018 when, both in our reality and in the main MCU timeline, he died pitifully attacking Thanos with a knife. But when the Avengers later staged their time heist and returned to the year 2012 to recover several Infinity Stones, they encountered the older, more feral and dangerous Loki that they had just battled and defeated in that year: and that Loki was able to escape with the Tesseract, opening a new rift in the Multiverse and ensuring that Captain America’s best efforts to preserve the sanctity of each timeline wouldn’t be entirely successful. The new series follows that Loki as he wanders throughout the Nine Realms, wreaking havoc and upsetting the natural order of things, while fighting characters and beings from the surreal side of Marvel comics.

That surrealism – already evident in the series – is precisely why I draw a comparison to Terry Pratchett: one of my favorite fantasy authors. By a complete coincidence, a trailer for the new BBC adaptation of Pratchett’s The Watch dropped yesterday before the Loki trailer reveal, and in my opinion did a horrible job of conveying the author’s characteristic brand of quirky, grammatical humor, or of capturing the colorful tone and style of his characters. This trailer (which has absolutely nothing to do with Pratchett) effortlessly achieves what any Pratchett adaptation should be aiming for – and if you don’t believe me, just check out the trailer thumbnail above: Loki, dressed in a ratty old coat and splendid emerald green waistcoat, a self-congratulatory campaign button pinned to his breast, grinning from ear to ear, donning his horned helmet, and gleefully teasing us with the line “Come on? What did you expect?”, all while standing in an abandoned arcade, surrounded by a group of absurdly-dressed misfits pointing spears and knives at him. It’s not just a brilliant adaptation of the Loki comics and a striking visual that will entice audiences: it’s a masterclass in absurd humor.

A large part of that has to do with Tom Hiddleston’s deliciously entertaining performance, which is just the right amount of camp; just the right amount of Shakespearean villain; and more quintessentially British than ever before. Hiddleston is, in fact, channeling a number of iconic characters from around the globe, including James Bond and Good Omens‘ Crowley (a creation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, by the way). He’s also stepping into the shoes of real-life historical figures – most notably the legendary “D.B. Cooper”.

Loki
Loki as “D.B. Cooper” | vulture.com

Those who love the thrill of trying to solve decades-old mysteries will enjoy this reference. D.B. Cooper, the unidentified man who somehow pulled off a mid-air robbery in 1971 before parachuting into a storm and disappearing from history makes an appearance in the Loki trailer: and the series finds a delightfully clever way of answering the questions surrounding Cooper’s true identity, by suggesting that Cooper was none other than the God of Mischief. As for how he escaped an FBI manhunt, well, that’s quite simple: he was snatched out of the sky by the Bifrost bridge of Asgard, of course! A few dollars drift out of Loki’s attaché case as he disappears, and are scorched by the heat of the Bifrost – the same dollars, it would seem, that an eight-year old boy would find by a riverbank years after the event, mysteriously burned. The attention to detail here is simply staggering…and honestly, it’s as good an explanation as any. Cooper’s identity is still unknown, and the FBI officially gave up the search in 2016.

It’s not the only unsolved mystery teased in the trailer. Near the end, a Polybius arcade game is also briefly visible in the background: a reference to the arcade game of the same name that sparked an urban legend in the early 2000’s when it supposedly appeared out of the blue, hypnotizing or even brainwashing players, and attracting the attention of men in black. A crucial part of the legend was that the game would sometimes teleport players to other dimensions, and I expect that it will be used in the same way in Loki.

But why all this talk of historical mysteries? Well, the trailer confirms what we’ve long known: which is that the Time Variance Authority (or TVA) will employ Loki as one of their agents during the course of the show, and assign him various missions fixing the timeline and making sure human history proceeds as it’s supposed to do. The TVA serves much the same function as the Commission in The Umbrella Academy, but with a much larger team of characters: including Mobius. M. Mobius, played by comedic actor Owen Wilson, and a severe-looking councilwoman with martial arts skills, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In the case of Loki, it’s unclear whether the TVA actually wanted him on their team, or were forced to recruit him because of the danger he poses as a rogue operative, wielding the Tesseract. The TVA may also need his help against a shadowy enemy we see in the trailer slaughtering their agents: a hooded figure who could be the time-traveler Kang, or an alternate, even more horrible, version of Loki.

Loki
Mobius M. Mobius and Loki | slashfilm.com

On the sidelines for now but sure to feature more prominently in time, there are hints of the Roxxon Energy Corporation – which, in the comics, tries to colonize space and harvest minerals on Mars. Interestingly, many theorists speculated that Roxxon would be the primary antagonist of Thor: Love And Thunder, with Christian Bale rumored to be playing the corporation’s tyrannical minotaur leader, Dario Agger. Bale has now been confirmed to be playing a different villain, Gorr the God-Butcher, but it seems Roxxon will still play a part in the Loki series at least. We see both its inconspicuous façade on earth, as a grocery store, and its more secretive side in the form of a deep quarry on an alien planet. A red-haired woman is clearly visible in one shot, and Twitter immediately started asking if it might be Natasha Romanoff: but although I initially thought the same thing, the different hairstyle and sword at her hip makes me think this is someone else entirely.

If any major MCU characters are going to show up, I would bet on Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and/or Idris Elba as Heimdall, since Loki’s disguise as D.B. Cooper appears to be part of an ingenious plan to get in contact with both of his fellow Asgardians, and the Bifrost bridge that sucked him up has to have been summoned by somebody. Hopefully something happens by the end of the series that will allow this version of Loki to interact with the current version of Thor.

Trailer Rating: 10/10

“Blood Of Zeus” Is Fun – But Deeply Flawed.

As someone who has been an avid fan of Greek mythology ever since I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology as a kid, I was admittedly a little wary of starting Netflix’s newest anime series, Blood Of Zeus: the series tells a wholly new story unlike anything from the myths themselves, but embellishes it with all the trappings we know from the Greek legendarium. I’m not much of a stickler for accuracy when it comes to adapting the ancient myths, but I find it…vaguely frustrating whenever adaptations mess up and try to Hollywood-ize a mythology that is already so incredibly exciting and engaging that it has survived in the public consciousness for millennia. Blood Of Zeus is at least trying to create something more in line with the tone of the ancient myths, although it too falters more often than it succeeds. In the end, I regard the series as fun, deeply flawed entertainment that just takes a little too long to get to the really good stuff…but once it gets there, dangerously close to the season finale, it gets so good, so briefly, that you’ll be hooked and probably left hoping for a second season.

Blood of Zeus
digitalspy.com

The first few episodes of the series, unfortunately, are so slow-paced that you might be tempted to opt out long before you reach that point – and I wouldn’t blame you. There are extensive interludes between the action and drama that are filled to the brim with exposition and meandering flashback sequences. We have to flesh out our hero’s backstory, you see, and then we have to do the same for our main villain. It’s only after Zeus (Jason O’Mara) personally enters the fray and our protagonist Heron (Derek Phillips) finally assembles his rag-tag team of heroes – somewhat spontaneously, to be honest – that things start to heat up, with a visit to the heavenly haunts of Mount Olympus, a mystical encounter with the three Fates, and a journey through a section of the Labyrinth all packed into about a single genuinely thrilling hour.

What these three events have in common is their roots in ancient Greek myth – and Blood Of Zeus is at its best when it’s putting a cool, dark twist on the Greek legends and not trying to stray too far from the extremely solid source material. Whenever it begins to move in any other direction or tries to build up its own deep lore, it feels jarringly dissimilar to the rest of the series and a bit generic. Heron, the illegitimate son of Zeus, is only one of several major characters who don’t really have much in the way of a personality or motivation (partly due to all of the interesting and exciting bits of his backstory only pertaining to his infancy, leaving adult Heron with…not a whole lot). Alexia (Jessica Henwick), the series’ female lead and an Amazon warrior, has a lot of screentime but seems the most disconnected from the other characters and even the story itself: she’ll run past every now and again on the trail of some demon, but the show never really tries to do anything with her. As is all too common these days, the comic relief characters are the only ones that feel developed and likable – smuggler Evios (Chris Diamantopoulos) and wrestler Kofi (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) have fun, easygoing banter and maybe a spark of chemistry? Perhaps I was just reading too much into their relationship. You’ll have to forgive me, though; Greek mythology is among the gayest in the world, and I was a little confused about why that wasn’t being accurately represented onscreen (we’ll talk about the actual bisexual representation in the show soon, don’t worry).

Blood of Zeus
Hera | readysteadycut.com

The Gods are more fleshed out than their human co-stars, luckily. Zeus’s dynamic with his wife Hera (Claudia Christian) is lifted almost straight from the myths of old, though the portrayal of Hera and the demonstration of her famous anger is one of the series’ greatest (yet least surprising) missteps. Unfortunately, men have almost always written Hera the same exact way, from ancient Greek times to today: she’s the unreasonable, unhinged mad woman who relentlessly terrifies and tortures her husband’s many lovers. Blood Of Zeus makes no attempt to shake up the narrative – in fact, it doubles down on this centuries-old stereotype and takes Hera to the next level, elevating her to a mentally unstable tyrant whose ultimate goal is to tear down Olympus stone by stone. Meanwhile Zeus is portrayed as loving, sympathetic and caring; but only towards a single mortal woman. Leaving aside the fact that mythological Zeus never had fewer than a hundred mistresses simultaneously and the thought of him settling on just one is laughable from that standpoint, it’s honestly just cringeworthy to see how the script puts Zeus on a pedestal while having him gaslight his wife. At a time when feminist retellings of Greeks myths (like Madeline Miller’s Circe) have never been more popular, the decision to write Hera this way betrays a lack of imagination from the writers, but also a staggering amount of ignorance to the fact that the “mad woman” trope is harmful and degrading, whether its being used to give Jon Snow a reason to turn on Daenerys Targaryen, or for the X-Men to turn on Jean Grey,  or for Zeus to turn on Hera. If you’re going to rewrite the myth to make Zeus some high and mighty good guy with a heart of gold, you can also write a version where Hera is a sympathetic character for once, or at least not being vilified for reacting to her husband’s misdeeds.

The one good thing that Blood Of Zeus does with Hera’s character is make her physically powerful. In the myths, such as in The Iliad, her influence is mostly felt behind the scenes: unlike Athena or Artemis, she hardly ever goes down to the battlefield personally. In this series, however, she can levitate both herself and whatever else happens to be in the vicinity – usually large, sharp objects or boulders. She also has an entire army of crow minions: a strange choice, considering that crows aren’t sacred to Hera, but probably a bit more practical than the alternative – an army of peacocks. All these things help to make her extremely impressive and formidable during action scenes. It’s just a shame that the script forces her to use her powers for evil the whole time.

Speaking of powers, let’s talk about Hermes (Matthew Mercer), who somehow stands out from the crowded ensemble cast as my favorite of the Greek Gods. Despite being maybe a little bit overexposed in the myths themselves – he shows up in more myths than any of the other Olympians – these days he’s mostly remembered for his iconic caduceus, if he’s remembered at all. Blood Of Zeus presents him as a pretty awesome, rainbow-cloaked speedster who also gets to regularly fulfil his duties as the psychopompos: essentially the usher of the dead, who leads souls to the Underworld, including most of the casualties inflicted by the brutal warfare throughout the series. It’s a great way to highlight an overlooked aspect of his character, and makes me wish the same courtesy had been extended to literally any other Olympian.

Out of the remaining Gods, Apollo (Adam Croasdell) is the only other one with a good deal of screentime and his own subplot. He’s also the only identifiably LGBTQ+ character in the entire series, or at least that’s the implication we’re supposed to take away from a single scene of him sleeping in the embrace of both a man and a woman. Considering that we’re dealing with the Greek gods here, I found this kind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it representation to be slightly disappointing. Zeus, Poseidon, and Dionysus all had at least one male lover each. Hercules had male lovers (something Disney definitely left out of their movie). As much as I unabashedly adore Apollo, why is he the only LGBTQ+ representation we got from Blood Of Zeus? I don’t mind changing the myths, but changing them to be less gay? WHY?

Blood of Zeus
Greek Gods | nj.com

You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned any of the other goddesses besides Hera yet, and that’s because…they’re not there. The series almost entirely erases the great women of Greek mythology: the Amazons are only represented by a single character, whose ultimate purpose in the story turns out to be shockingly minor; Athena, the goddess of warfare herself, is reduced to a background character with no dialogue, while Ares fills her role as war god for only the umpteenth time in Hollywood history; Aphrodite, Artemis, and Demeter are extras only used to fill out crowd scenes. And if that wasn’t enough, the show has a serious issue when it comes to fridging the few female characters it does have; murdering them to motivate the male characters.

Blood Of Zeus is still fun and largely enjoyable for its final three episodes, or otherwise this would just be a rant review. The animation style is beautiful, although there’s nowhere near enough character differentiation for a cast this large, and the action scenes are visually stunning: every major character has some kind of specific ability that enables them to keep up with all the gods and monsters, whether that’s agility or wits or super strength. The fights are often brutally violent, and the series makes sure never to give anyone too much plot armor – even the Gods can be wounded, mutilated or killed, which helps to make every battle suspenseful: even if you know a character won’t necessarily die, there’s nothing to say they won’t lose a limb. Especially because the villains aren’t all bark and no bite: both Hera and the main antagonist Seraphim (Elias Toufexis) kill people, frequently. Seraphim, a merciless demon war lord with a cool set of facial scars, is in fact only interesting whenever he’s killing people – because whenever he’s not, he’s usually brooding instead, and that’s always a recipe for Boring Villain Syndrome™. He’s an original character, in case you hadn’t guessed. He also walks or flies around accompanied by a whole bunch of original characters: a scurrying, uniform demon horde that might as well just be the wights of Game Of Thrones (a series with which Blood Of Zeus has too many similarities for its own good).

The funny thing is that, for the most part, my problems with Blood Of Zeus don’t really arise from any sense of indignation or outrage about all the changes made to the myths: in a mythology that evolved as rapidly as that of the Greeks, there’s not really any set “canon” to adhere to anyway. I love retellings, especially when they re-examine a well-known story from a completely new perspective or from a different angle – for instance, Mary Renault did this incredibly well in her books about the hero Theseus. So mostly I’m just amused and confused that any scriptwriter could look at a mythology as rich and utterly bizarre as this one, and decide that what it really needs is a whole bunch of new, made-up stuff like zombie demons. When that new, made-up stuff is entertaining in its own right, fine. But the writing for Blood Of Zeus simply isn’t strong enough to make any of the new stuff work, and so it’s the ancient Greeks who have the last laugh.

Blood of Zeus
Heron | denofgeek.com

All that being said, the series is still a lot of fun! Seeing even small bits and pieces of the myths brought to life is an experience that leaves a mark, and makes me want more: yes, even more of this particular show. And let me tell you in as non-spoilery terms as possible that the finale of Blood Of Zeus lay good, strong groundwork for another season – one that honestly sounds a lot more interesting than the first. But even if it isn’t, even if this show simply is not my cup of tea, I hope that it will at least pave the way for other dark adaptations of Greek mythology that I (and anybody else wounded to the core by this show’s lack of Athena) might enjoy. There’s a lot more to the Greek mythos than just Hercules, and I hope Blood Of Zeus – not to mention the upcoming Percy Jackson series – gets that message through to Hollywood once and for all.

Series Rating: 5/10

Netflix Developing An “Assassin’s Creed” Franchise!

As the end of the year – and the release of another installment in Ubisoft’s massively successful Assassin’s Creed video game series – draws nearer, Netflix is cashing in on the game franchise’s enduring popularity/profitability, having just announced a partnership with the Ubisoft game studio that will allow them to develop their own Assassin’s Creed universe on the streaming service, kicking off with a live-action series that is already in pre-production. Although a previous attempt to bring the excitement of the video game to the big screen proved to be pretty lackluster, Netflix doesn’t appear to be trying to develop any films based on the games: their attention is focused on creating series, both live-action and animated.

Assassin's Creed
gamesradar.com

As of right now, we know very little about the series that is planned to kickstart the Assassin’s Creed TV franchise – two Ubisoft executives, Jason Altman and Danielle Kreinik, will serve as executive producers on the series, but Netflix is currently looking for a showrunner to bring this whole thing together, and we don’t know if they’ve got a writing team assembled behind the scenes just yet. It’s also unclear whether the series will adapt one of the game franchise’s eleven total installments, or combine elements from several, or act as something entirely new and different.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise’s overarching story revolves around a war between the order of the Assassins and the Knights Templar, a war spanning millennia: throughout the ages, these two opposing factions take various different forms (for instance, in Ptolemaic Egypt, they were the Hidden Ones and The Order Of The Ancients, respectively), but their goals are almost always the same – the Knights Templar seek to oppress free will and control the human race by force, through the use of magical artifacts, while the Assassins believe in free will and challenge them secretly. The game series has focused on a number of interesting historical periods, from the American Revolution and the Third Crusade to Peloponnesian War-era Greece, and over the years has gained a reputation for being one of the few video game franchises that actually takes time to research each era and achieve some level of historical accuracy.

Assassin's Creed
gameinformer.com

This has recently caused a great deal of conflict in the fandom, with the newest Assassin’s Creed game (set in the Viking world) promising (historically accurate!) women warriors and same-sex romances – something that has prompted a certain subgroup of gamers to loudly object about what they mistakenly and ignorantly perceive as “the SJW agenda”. Never mind that women fought alongside Viking men or that Vikings were marginally more accepting of same-sex relationships than many of their contemporaries; apparently inarguable historical fact is “SJW” now. Anyway, I hope and pray that the Netflix series will follow in the footsteps of the most recent games and include more diverse protagonists, even if they are adapting the earlier games in the series.

The different historical settings will certainly give the series a unique selling point with which to differentiate itself from a steadily growing crowd of video game adaptations: but I worry it could be very expensive to do as many as in the games right up front, so my guess is that the first season of the series won’t jump to too many time periods, but will probably settle on one from the earlier games that most Assassin’s Creed fans are familiar with and enjoy, such as the Holy Land or Renaissance Italy. I’ve seen it suggested that each season of the series might jump to a new time period, like the games, which would definitely be exciting: but that does raise the question of whether they would follow the in-universe chronology of the plot, or the release order of the games themselves? If it’s the latter, then my favorite character, Kassandra Misthios of Odyssey, won’t be popping up for a long while. But who knows? At the moment we really don’t know anything at all about what Netflix and Ubisoft are planning to accomplish with this partnership, or how they’re going to go about this.

Assassin's Creed
digitalspy.com

So what do you think? Which historical setting do you hope Netflix settles upon for this first series, and which Assassin’s Creed characters do you hope to see? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“The Trial Of The Chicago 7” Review!

Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is certainly going to be a strong contender, and probably even a frontrunner, in the race for Best Picture at next year’s Academy Awards ceremony, but it’s right now, as 2020 finally nears its end and as the U.S. Presidential election creeps closer, that the whole world should be watching this film and learning or relearning the incredible story of the Chicago 7: not just the men themselves, each one a fascinating character in their own right, but the larger cultural and political significance of their trial – a trial where American governmental and legal institutions not only failed to protect the rights of protestors, but actively sought to suppress them. Although the Chicago 7 were arrested for protesting the Vietnam War, their struggle is both relevant and relatable in the modern day – in 2020 especially, as protests across the nation in the wake of an unarmed Black man’s death in June led to a violent response from our government and law enforcement.

Trial Of The Chicago 7
Sacha Baron Cohen & Jeremy Strong | vanityfair.com

So who were the Chicago 7, and why was their trial such a landmark moment in this nation’s history? The historical context is always important to know, and the history behind this particular case is truly fascinating. The film opens mere days before the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, 1968, as several different activist groups intent on protesting the selection of the party’s nominee, Hubert Humphrey, converged on the city from all around the country: and then, after a montage introducing each of our seven main players, we jump ahead by five months – the trial is already about to begin, and Richard Nixon’s administration personally wants each and every one of them behind bars for the maximum sentence. Whether you know what happened in Chicago or not during the convention, it’s enthralling either way as Aaron Sorkin’s story slowly begins to uncover, through the help of flashbacks, what really went down as the protesters marched through the city and ran into the heavily armed Chicago Police. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the news this year already knows what went down, even if they don’t know the exact details of this particular incident.

Throughout the chaos and violence, Aaron Sorkin’s story keeps us focused on the humanity of the Chicago 7, and contrasts that with the horrific lack of empathy from the police. Again, the discussion of “empathy vs apathy” is significant to our modern climate, and Sorkin’s film closes with a beautiful – and factually inaccurate – display of human empathy at its most inspiring and powerful. It’s never lost on Sorkin that this was the trial of real men, not just lofty ideals and philosophies. And almost every main actor in the ensemble cast plays their part to its fullest, breathing life into these little-known but incredible historical figures.

Trial Of The Chicago 7
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II | thewrap.com

Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne are very much leading co-stars, in my opinion, but it’s Baron Cohen who makes the strongest impression as the tall, lanky Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman and makes a good case for why he should finally be recognized as an actor equally gifted in both comedy and drama (since apparently his starring role in The Spy wasn’t enough evidence for some of you). A Best Actor nomination had better be incoming for Baron Cohen: even despite the fact that the film cuts out some, arguably most, of Hoffman’s most eccentric real-life antics in court, Baron Cohen makes him the wittiest, most vivid character in the film – and the story’s beating heart and stand-in for most of the counterculture movement of the late 60’s.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, meanwhile, excels as the more stoic, solemn Bobby Seale, a member of the Black Panthers who was arrested alongside the other defendants but whose case was later severed from the others’. Seale’s mistreatment in the courtroom – including a horrifying incident in which Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) orders that he be bound and gagged, to the point where Seale is unable to breathe – is all taken from real life and shines a light on how the law itself is weaponized against the Black community just as much as the militaristic might of law enforcement. By that time in the film, you’ll already be well aware that the trial of the Chicago 7 was not a fair one, but the treatment of Bobby Seale adds violent racism and white supremacy to the mix as well. The Black Panthers, including their leader Fred Hampton (briefly but powerfully portrayed by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), don’t have a very large role in the film overall but their appearances do help to underscore the fact that any conversation about cultural and political revolution needs to include Black voices, no matter what era it occurs in – and of course, it’s an especially important message to get across since the cultural and political revolution happening in this country nowadays is largely being fueled by Black activists and their allies.

Trial Of The Chicago 7
Eddie Redmayne | cinemablend.com

In this film, however, Eddie Redmayne’s version of the real-life Tom Hayden comes across as something of an opponent to such progressive messaging throughout most of the film. His character seems largely crafted to provide a foil for Sacha Baron Cohen’s – a stiff, uptight, idealist trying to distance himself and his group, the Students for a Democratic Society, from the counterculture movement of the Yippies. But it appears that Sorkin is also using his character to represent a number of liberal subdivisions in political activism that claim to be “for change” until that actually requires listening to the voices of underrepresented minorities or demanding comprehensive structural change within our government, from the ground up. Hayden is like so many activists who try to make their movements more “appealing” or “attractive” to the mainstream by presenting a mostly white facade to the media, at the cost of the marginalized communities they claim to be fighting for; and then he is like one of those people who seem to believe that winning a single election is all that has to be done to fix problems such as racism, but aren’t prepared to advocate for designing a new system of government that would ensure we actually see some substantial change and progress. It’s all a little bit unfair to the real-life Tom Hayden, who actually fell more in line with counterculture philosophy than the film would have you believe. Anyway, Redmayne’s performance is perfectly decent: it leans toward being a bit wooden, but his attempts to maintain a passable American accent are entertaining at least.

As for the other defendants, they have their moments. Jeremy Strong is maybe trying a bit too hard with his borderline caricature of Yippie leader Jerry Rubin, John Carroll Lynch is doing his best with what little screentime David Dellinger has been given, and Alex Sharp, Noah Robbins and Daniel Flaherty are…well, they’re there. But the other real standout on this side of the courtroom is Mark Rylance as the defense lawyer William Kuntzler, somehow confidently rocking a combover, who rallies the group during their darkest moments, adds some very natural humor to his interactions with his clients, particularly the Yippies, and holds his own against the indomitable, immovable presence of Julius Hoffman.

On the other side, well…I have fewer positive things to say about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of prosecutor Richard Schultz, who has been written as a semi-sympathetic character who’s maybe conflicted, maybe not…who knows? He gets one moment near the end of the film where he’s allowed to look all heroic and redeemed in the audience’s eyes, despite the fact that he is still very clearly fighting on behalf of the Nixon administration to put men in jail for their thoughts. But regardless of whether or not you feel that Schultz is really a good guy or not, I think we can all agree that Judge Julius Hoffman is (and was) just straight-up hateful, ignorant and repulsive.

Trial Of The Chicago 7
netflix.com

That being said, Frank Langella works wonders with the role, which allows him to transform into a character almost as wildly eccentric as Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman – and in fact, it’s with the other Hoffman that he shares his most memorable scenes in the film (and yes, the fact that they coincidentally share a last name is the subject of much argument between the two; just as it was in real-life). Julius Hoffman is a grotesque display of why preserving the status quo, even in this day and age, isn’t good enough: because the status quo is one that was made by white men for white men, and will always work to benefit white men. The fact that Julius Hoffman is actually less outlandishly awful in the movie than he was in real life is mind-boggling and sad.

(While we’re on the subject, I feel like I have to touch on the fact that Sorkin’s film actually leaves out a great deal of the trial proceedings, including some celebrity appearances that would have made for some incredibly funny interludes between the more serious parts of the story: for instance, in reality, poet Allen Ginsburg was called in as a witness (he appears in the film, very briefly, as a protester) and proceeded to chant at the judge; singer Judy Collins appeared to discuss the counterculture movement and began to sing, before being shut down; and singer Arlo Guthrie appeared and apparently entranced Julius Hoffman with a lengthy plot synopsis of Alice’s Restaurant – he too was silenced after he began to sing. I’m not sure whether Sorkin felt these events would be too fantastical for audiences to believe, or whether he just didn’t have time to include them, but I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed. At the very least, Judy Collins would have been a remarkable female presence in a film dominated by an almost all-male cast).

In so many ways, despite its occasional flaws, Aaron Sorkin has made not only an excellent courtroom drama but a film which defines the prevailing spirit of 2020, at least in the United States of America – and it couldn’t have been released at a more critical moment, although it would be an instant classic in any era: all year long, we’ve witnessed in real-time as our American government has crumbled under the weight of an administration that has failed its people; as bigoted individuals sheltered by a law enforcement system corrupt to its core have targeted and murdered American citizens because of the color of their skin; as the vote, seemingly the most powerful and politically correct method by which a person can voice their opinion, is being threatened by institutions that would seek to render us voiceless and thus powerless. But The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is a much-needed demonstration of the power of protest: the raw, inspiring power that we have when we raise our voices in harmony, and demand change. The film takes place in 1969, but it’s a story we can all relate to in 2020 because we’re still fighting that same injustice, because we will always fight it as long as it exists.

Let the record show that we made our voices heard.

Rating: 9.5/10

“Enola Holmes” Puts A 21st Century Twist On Sherlock Holmes!

Sherlock Holmes is a name recognizable to virtually anyone, thanks to his longevity in both literature and countless film and TV appearances: so it’s understandable that many audiences will approach Netflix’s Enola Holmes (based on the popular book series of the same name) with the assumption that it’s just going to be a fun yet forgettable Sherlock Holmes spinoff. But give it a chance, and I think you may become so obsessed with the film’s intelligent, free-spirited heroine that you might just find yourself wishing for a bit more of her story to be told onscreen. It’s not that Sherlock (Henry Cavill) himself isn’t a major player in Enola Holmes, it’s just that…well, two can play the same game equally well, and Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown, also the film’s executive producer) is more than capable of matching wits with the great detective.

Enola Holmes
radiotimes.com

The film hooks you in early, setting the stage for the overarching mystery almost immediately and carrying our heroine on a fast-paced adventure through the English countryside all the way down to London’s bustling streets, giving us respites and occasional breaks along the way but never once derailing the main plot, as many mysteries are apt to do with a multitude of red herrings. Enola Holmes and her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter, marvelous as always and playing a boldly feminist character similar to her role in Suffragete) live in a somewhat dilapidated manor, where Enola spends her days honing her intellectual and physical skills – everything from reading entire libraries worth of fine literature to mastering the art of jujitsu – in an idyllic safe haven, far removed from the cruel outside world. In Enola and Eudoria’s home, everything is a fun, clever puzzle: in fact, Enola’s own name, backwards, spells out the word Alone – though Enola wryly notes that she might be looking too much into that, as her older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) don’t share that little quirk. But most of the time we spend with Enola and Eudoria in their tranquil, carefree life is via flashbacks interspersed throughout the film at appropriate moments – because, from almost the moment the film opens, Eudoria is missing, and it is her sudden disappearance (on her daughter’s birthday, no less) that springboards the young Enola into the real world, armed with all the knowledge she has obtained from her homeschooling.

What makes Enola Holmes so darn likable, however, isn’t just that she can come up with a daring escape plan in a matter of seconds or take down an armed opponent while wearing the cumbersome fashion of her time period; it’s that she’s distinctly human – she’s nothing like her brother Sherlock, who has a reputation for being cold and emotionless (even in our world; so much so that the Arthur Conan Doyle tried to sue the makers of this film because their Sherlock portrayal was too emotional – and also because this version respects women too much, which, um…we’re not even going to go near that little tidbit of information). Because Enola breaks the fourth wall so frequently and with such humor and self-awareness (at one point even directly asking us, the audience, for ideas during a tricky moment), and because she’s free to make mistakes and slip up every now and again, it’s hard not to root for her – even, and perhaps especially, when her agendas don’t quite line up with Sherlock’s. It’s a testament to the strength of Enola’s character that I found myself actively wishing Sherlock would move aside and let his younger sister take the lead.

Enola Holmes
Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes | comicbook.com

It should be stated, however, that Sherlock Holmes’ portrayal here is very nearly as charismatic and compelling as Enola’s. Henry Cavill has quite possibly carved out another niche for himself in yet another franchise, one that I hope he intends to expand upon, if Enola Holmes gets a well-deserved sequel: his Sherlock is instantly familiar and yet so very different from what we’ve seen before – is that because, as has been mentioned, he has emotions and, indeed, respects women in this iteration of the character? Well, I think it might have something to do with that, actually. Cavill’s Sherlock tries hard to maintain his neutrality and facade of cold indifference, but it’s teased throughout the film that he has a certain vulnerability and warmth – something he’s really only ever able to reveal around his sister. Siblings supporting, respecting, and inspiring each other? You know I’m always here for that trope.

On the flip-side you have Enola and Sherlock’s other brother, the mustachioed Mycroft. He never quite twirls said mustache, but he’s the type of character who would if the opportunity arose: he’s deliciously despicable, the type of scummy, sneering elitist whose only motive is to make sure that the world stays firmly as it is. Eudoria’s wild spirit and Enola’s rebellious attitude are direct affronts to him, and he does everything in his power to try and dampen our heroine’s courage with attempts to “civilize” her and transform her into society’s image of a polite young lady of the Victorian era. Though there are several villains in the film, he’s the one who never fails to trip up Enola Holmes by playing on her insecurities and feelings of self-doubt – he’s the living embodiment of everything wrong and corrupt with the status quo, and the fact that he is so laughable and yet so seemingly omnipresent only goes to underline that point. Another key plot-point in the film is a reform bill that is set to go to a vote before the House of Lords – it’s only ever referred to as Reform, and that’s in part because the specifics are unimportant. It represents progress and the overturning of a commonly accepted system of government, and Mycroft Holmes, who expresses his disapproval for the very notion early on, is everything that stands in between us and achieving such radical Reform time and time again. We are still fighting Mycroft Holmes and his infuriating stance of neutrality in 2020: he is everyone screaming “All Lives Matter” in response to the notion that Black lives take precedence at a moment in time where they are the ones being singled out by police brutality and other forms of violence. In a world full of Mycrofts, be a Eudoria or an Enola.

Or be a Lord Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), who is one of the most surprising characters in the film. I say surprising because the trailer for this film made it seem to me that he was going to be utterly unbearable, with a bad case of “arrogant rich boy”. Quite the opposite: Tewksbury is a free spirit himself, and while, as an upper-class white male, he might personally benefit from the status quo, he nonetheless wants to change it and actively tries to do so. He’s also a mushroom forager and amateur botanist, which is absolutely charming and differentiates him from a long line of previous onscreen royals who spend their days casually maiming nature and wildlife rather than preserving or cultivating it – although, rather surprisingly, his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and flowers is simple a character trait; it has no relevance to the plot, which, considering that the mystery largely revolves around the language of flowers, seems like a missed opportunity.

Enola Holmes
cinemablend.com

Now I suppose I really ought to talk about the mystery itself since…well, Enola Holmes is a mystery. Thankfully, it’s a pretty good one: the trail of clues is maybe a bit too difficult to follow at points, and I might have enjoyed more in-depth scenes of clue-hunting that didn’t require so much backtracking (via flashbacks) to an event that we, the audience, didn’t actually see in real-time, but that’s a fairly minor complaint – it certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment of the movie. To counterpoint this complaint with a positive, one of my favorite things about the mystery is that it gets intense, and dark: the film’s villain (no spoilers!) is out to kill, and the fight scenes don’t hold back – Enola is a very convincing action heroine, whose wits and strength are well-balanced. And she makes for a very effective detective, not least of all because her breaking the fourth wall allows her to walk us through her process organically, rather than having to drop loads of clunky exposition, or, like the classic Sherlock, piece everything together silently in her head.

Her instant charm makes her the perfect candidate to lead her own franchise on Netflix, if you ask my opinion (you didn’t, but I offered it anyway because I’m shameless). The film leaves off with plenty of story still to explore…in a sequel, I hope? If Enola Holmes blossoms into a hit for the streaming service, I would love to see the fierce young detective continue to solve cases all around England – with or without the help of her older brother. Sherlock’s name recognition is still potent, and shouldn’t be discounted entirely, but I think – no, I know – that Enola Holmes is her own character, and she can manage just fine alone.

Rating: 8.5/10

“Ammonite” Trailer Review!

Director Francis Lee managed to make the lives of English sheep-herders look downright sensual in God’s Own Country, so it’s somehow no surprise that his next feature film project, Ammonite, stars two 19th Century English paleontologists passionately courting each other in between long walks on the windswept beaches of Lyme Regis, searching for fossil fragments. Despite how seemingly bizarre the concept might be, it’s the chemistry between Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan (moving from one period piece, Little Women, to another) that is going to carry this film to what could easily be a slew of Oscar nominations.

Ammonite
Kate Winslet & Saoirse Ronan | wmagazine.com

Winslet plays an actual historical figure, English paleontologist Mary Anning, one of the most remarkable women working in science during her era: though she made numerous important discoveries during her lifetime, she was undermined at every turn by men who took her work and gave her little to no credit, and she suffered from financial difficulties until her death in 1847. To make ends meet, she opened a fossil and seashell shop for tourists – but the fossil-hunting business was surprisingly risky (she was nearly killed during a landslide on one occasion). Her hard work and perseverance eventually won her the respect she deserved after her passing. Ammonite follows her during her bleak later years. Ronan, meanwhile, plays Mary Anning’s younger apprentice, the real-life Charlotte Murchison, who suffers from “melancholia” and hates the sea, at least initially. The two women couldn’t be more different, but eventually find themselves falling deeply, hopelessly in love with the other. There is no concrete evidence that Anning and Murchison were lovers in actuality, or that either was a lesbian, as Ammonite suggests, but when the topic came up last year (after one of Anning’s distant relatives expressed her displeasure with the idea), Francis Lee wrote that: “After seeing queer history be routinely “straightened” throughout culture, and given a historical figure where there is no evidence whatsoever of a heterosexual relationship, is it not permissible to view that person within another context?”. Lee is correct that Anning never married, and is not known to have had any relationships with men, whereas her close and long-lasting bonds with the women in her life are well-documented.

Ammonite
Mary Anning | independent.co.uk

Whether Anning and Murchison were or were not lesbians and/or in love, Ammonite still looks like an excellently made film with a clearer vision and a tighter, more well-written story than God’s Own Country: and it’s sure to be a big hit amongst fans of the “cottagecore” aesthetic. For those unaware, “cottagecore” refers to the escapist fantasy of living harmoniously with nature by enjoying a simple life that can include past-times such as baking, gardening, knitting, and, yes, living in tiny cottages, and it is particularly popular with LGBTQ+ folks, especially lesbians and queer women. If there’s a “maritime cottagecore” subgenre of the aesthetic, then Ammonite conveys it perfectly: brisk walks along the beach; houses perched on cliffsides; lots and lots of fossils and shells (interestingly, although it’s never been confirmed, Mary Anning is sometimes said to be the inspiration for the “She Sells Seashells” nursery rhyme; just something to keep in mind); and, just as importantly, a lesbian romance. Those interested in learning more about “cottagecore” and its prominence in LGBTQ+ culture should definitely check out Rowan Ellis’ deep-dive into the aesthetic’s origins and meanings.

Ammonite
Twitter | @FilmUpdates

Basically, it’s a good time to be alive if you’re a fan of “cottagecore”, LGBTQ+ friendly content, historical fiction, romance, women in science, paleontology, geology, Kate Winslet or Saoirse Ronan (who isn’t a fan of Saoirse Ronan at this point?). Somehow all of those elements work together very nicely, and I’m excited to see if Francis Lee has progressed enough as a director (I really didn’t like God’s Own Country) that he can make this understated romance pop onscreen and attract all the media attention it will need to start a strong Oscars campaign. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, a French film from last year which followed a very similar concept (two women meet on a beautiful coastline and fall in love while bonding over art) was a fan-favorite but failed to score even a single nomination from the Academy. Ammonite, luckily, has Winslet (an Oscar winner and six-time nominee) and Ronan (a four-time nominee) as its secret weapons. Fingers crossed that their fossil-hunting expedition proves fortuitous for everyone involved!

Trailer Rating: 9/10

“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 Review!

The first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy was, no questions asked, an exhilarating and entertaining ten hours of twists, turns and time travel. But the second season, which picks up mere moments after the season one finale and finds the seven members of the dysfunctional Hargreeves family split up throughout the 1960’s, takes the series to a whole new high: The Umbrella Academy elevates all the best elements of the first season, arriving at a delicate yet necessary balance between goofy, comic-booky fun and epic, emotional drama, while simultaneously working to revise or improve parts of the story that were heavily criticized, such as pacing issues and certain problematic character beats (ahem, romanticized incest).

The Umbrella Academy
Klaus, Allison and Vanya | denofgeek.com

When the season opened (turns out, the clip released by Netflix a few days ago and advertised as the first scene isn’t quite the first), I enjoyed a raw moment of catharsis because it felt so wonderful to be back, spending more time with these characters – each and every one of whom, with the obvious exception of Luther (Tom Hopper), is truly delightful. They’re each so unique, so independent, and so beautifully messed up. Their family dynamic is what makes the series click. And they thrive both on their own and as a team – which stands in contrast to season one, where many of their individual subplots felt meandering or aimless compared to the few and far between team-up moments. In season two, each member of the Umbrella Academy is going after their destiny with purpose and determination, making them each more compelling and significantly more dangerous, as their agendas clash repeatedly.

Once again kicking off the events of the season, Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) is, in my opinion, the most fascinating of our seven antiheroes: having successfully teleported the Umbrella Academy out of reach of the apocalypse at the end of season one, Five quickly realizes, with a little help from Hazel (Cameron Britton), that the end of the world is going to follow the Academy wherever or whenever they go. This time, it’s not Vanya Hargreeves with the white violin in the theater – it’s an impending Soviet invasion sparked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Much like in season one, Five takes the initiative – hunting for clues across the timeline, doing his best to find his family and unite them, and colliding violently with the bureaucratic Commission – but this time around, he seems more personally invested in the fate of the world, and we watch as his frigid facade begins to crack under pressure and he has to resort to more uncharacteristic methods: for instance, hand-to-hand combat. We finally get to see the once-legendary killer in action, and his fight scenes (and there are several!) are well worth the wait.

The Umbrella Academy
Five | geektyrant.com

Second to Five but not far behind him is Vanya (Elliot Page), who has had a massive character overhaul since the season one finale. It’s hard to say too much without risking spoilers, but Vanya isn’t quite the same person she was when she blew up the moon and destroyed the world with her supersonic abilities. In fact, she’s actually kind of…happier? If I had to criticize, I’d even say she’s a bit too calm about everything that happened. That being said, while her portrayal in this season starts out a bit weak, by the finale she’s fully come into her own and is rocking a new personality and some cool new powers that I definitely can’t talk about. What’s not a spoiler is that Elliot Page gets to dance again this season, and Vanya actually has moves! Still a little awkward, but a definite improvement from the…disjointed shoulder shuffle.

Speaking of dancing, we have to go off-topic for a moment and talk about the soundtrack. I have my suspicions that it won’t be as instantly iconic as season one’s, which gave the series a reputation for setting all sorts of scenes to absolutely random yet brilliant songs, but there’s still a lot of hits. A lot. I want to highlight Daniela Andrade’s “Crazy” and Boney M.’s “Sunny”, which plays over an unforgettable Klaus (Robert Sheehan) scene.

The Umbrella Academy
Klaus | variety.com

Back on topic, just like that. Klaus and his ghostly companion Ben (Justin H. Min) arrive in the decade before any of their siblings and have the most time to ease seamlessly into the 60’s. Klaus, predictably, gets entangled with a cult and somehow becomes their leader and nonsensical prophet, a duty with many perks which he later regrets as the cult starts following him obsessively around Dallas. But the zaniest Umbrella Academy member isn’t just there for comedic relief and drug-fueled, psychedelic hijinks; he also nails every dramatic character beat he gets. Ben does too, but all of Ben’s best scenes count as spoilers.

Then there’s Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), whose relationship with Vanya was arguably the thematic core of season one. She’s just as much in the spotlight here, leading an entire Black community into the civil rights campaign alongside her new husband, Raymond (Yusuf Gatewood), who is thankfully not her brother – no matter how many times Allison might claim that she and Luther aren’t “technically” related, I’m with Klaus on this one: once you have to use the word “technically”, there’s already a problem. But Allison’s biggest issue isn’t her brother anymore: it’s her superpower, which she has to refrain from using, even when it would be so easy to use it to get whatever she wants, from free clothes to equality to vengeance.

Surprisingly, I have to say Luther was my next favorite, but that says more about how little I liked Diego (David Castañeda) this season than it does about any radical improvements from the Umbrella Academy’s emotionally stunted strongman. If there is one highlight in the character’s portrayal, it’s that he’s mostly comedic relief now. And I’m happy to report that the series doesn’t try to excuse or apologize for the fact that he subjected his own sister to permanently damaging physical, mental and emotional abuse: he gets called out several times for his part in causing the apocalypse. I think I may have just enjoyed seeing him get constantly beaten down, walked all over and blatantly ignored whenever he tried to roll out the usual spiel about being the Number One and the leader of the family. Is that mean? I love to hate him: that’s better than just hating him, right?

As for Diego, well, the truly unattractive new hairstyle isn’t the only problem with his character. One of my favorites from season one, he slowly but inevitably sank to the bottom of my list over the course of season two, thanks to being the only character still saddled with a self-inflicted hero complex. What makes Diego tolerable is that whenever he’s onscreen, he’s usually accompanied by his love interest, the enigmatic Lila (Ritu Arya), a fellow patient at the mental hospital where he’s been imprisoned. Lila’s role is crucial to the season and the series going forward, but again those pesky spoilers get in the way of us talking about any of that.

The Umbrella Academy
Ben and Klaus | syfy.com

Amongst the rest of the supporting cast, the standouts are Marin Ireland as Sissy – a charming Texan farmwoman who has dreams of making a great escape from her married life – and Colm Feore, who reprises the role of Sir Reginald Hargreeves: but as a younger, even more nefarious version of the character. Viewers won’t learn everything about his history from this season, but they will get some tantalizing glimpses of who he really is, and what his plans for the Umbrella Academy were all along.

This season might seem to initially lack a strong presence from the villains, since the guy from the trailers with the fishbowl head is only in a couple of scenes and the trio of Swedes are mostly annoying obstacles rather than fully developed characters (though if you didn’t enjoy the Swedish rendition of Adele’s “Hello” on the soundtrack, I don’t know what to say to you), but that changes once another character comes on the scene. And the villains show up in full force for the finale, so don’t worry.

The Umbrella Academy
Vanya | cosmopolitan.com

The Umbrella Academy season two leaves off with a definite hook for a third season – and since I imagine that this season will be eaten up by audiences, I think we’re going to get that third season as soon as possible. This started out as one of those series’ that I liked but felt a little embarrassed for liking so much: now, I don’t have any hesitation about saying that The Umbrella Academy is a masterpiece. It’s got the cool visuals and the thrilling action you want from a superhero story, but it’s got a lot more than that: it’s got heart, soul, and wit in equal measures, all tied up in one perfect package. That package also comes with a killer soundtrack, meme-worthy humor (Klaus’ parable of the scorpion and the frog being my favorite example), and a whole lot of weirdness – what’s not to love?

Series Rating: 9.5/10

“Hamilton” Film Review!

What is there to say about Hamilton that hasn’t now been said a million times before in the five years since the musical phenomenon burst onto Broadway? In those five years, Hamilton, the story of one of America’s most influential Founding Fathers, has sparked a mini revolution of passionate conversation about American history; inspired a dedicated fandom; and now, on the anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence, made the long-awaited jump from stage to screen. There was never any doubt that this moment would be huge: Disney paid a hefty sum of $75M for the rights to the musical, and it’s already right up there with The Mandalorian as one of the most high-profile original productions that Disney+ has to offer. But the outpouring of support for the film is still incredible to see: yesterday, the day of its release, Hamilton and a slew of other hashtags related to the musical were among the top trends of Twitter, and people (like myself) flooded social media with our reactions. Amid all the talk, what is there left to say?

Hamilton
nytimes.com

Well, the fresh new format in which the musical is being presented is cause enough for conversation; though, unsurprisingly, it’s not quite as interesting a subject for many as, say, the story or world-famous soundtrack. The movie was filmed over the course of three days, with cameras placed in the audience during two live performances of the show, before moving onstage to achieve a more cinematic experience – no easy feat, I’m sure, considering how many dancers are often crowding the stage, sometimes so many that we lose sight of our main characters (one of only a few flaws in the actual staging of the musical). Overhead shots are utilized in a number of scenes, particularly for duels. And extreme close-ups bring us nearer to the actors’ facial acting than was ever possible before, even for front-row audiences: from Daveed Diggs’ repertoire of eye rolls and dramatic sneers as a quirky, flamboyantly dressed take on Thomas Jefferson; to the spit flying from King George III‘s (Jonathan Groff) mouth as he sings his breakup song to America, assuring them they’ll come back to him once they’ve had their fun.

Diggs and Groff are among a number of standouts in the supporting cast who surround Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) on his journey from poor immigrant to cornerstone of early American government. Diggs, notably, is one of several actors with two or more roles in the musical: before he transforms wholeheartedly into the fast-rapping character of Jefferson for the rousing second act, he is no less hilariously charismatic as the Marquis de Lafayette, America’s ally from across the Atlantic. Anthony Ramos is both Hamilton’s close friend John Laurens during the Revolutionary War, and then later his son Phillip (though the latter role is probably the more interesting of the two, I personally found Ramos to be more fun in the first, and I can’t wait to see him star in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights next year: if coronavirus hadn’t moved the film from its original June 26th release date, these past few weeks would have been a showcase of Lin-Manuel’s musical talent; but then again, if coronavirus hadn’t struck, we would still have been waiting until October of next year to see the Hamilton film on the big screen).

Hamilton
standard.co.uk

In the next tier (not in terms of talent, but based on how close they are to Hamilton) we have Christopher Jackson as the indestructible, untouchable George Washington, whose role as a mentor and something of a father figure to Alexander Hamilton is pivotal to the entire story. There’s Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry), one of Hamilton’s many lovers and the most dynamic, at least initially, of the three Schuyler sisters. And of course we have Leslie Odom Jr., who brings plenty of fiery passion to the somewhat underwritten character of Aaron Burr, an ambitious political candidate forever walking unwillingly in the shadows of larger-than-life figures; the man whom history will forever paint simply as the villain in Alexander Hamilton’s story. And isn’t that the whole theme of the musical? It’s a story about the power of legacy, and how powerless we are to define what that is; as George Washington notes, you have no control over “who lives, who dies, who tells your story”.

The woman who tells Alexander’s story and who, in my humble opinion as a first-time viewer, seems like the understated heroine of the piece, is Eliza Hamilton (Phillipa Soo), Alexander’s wife and later his biographer. Her personal journey, running parallel to Alexander’s lofty dreams, may seem small and inconsequential to some: but in the end, she is the woman still alive fifty years after her husband’s death, still sifting through his writings and trying to piece together a more complete picture of the man, continuing the work on the garden he never saw bear fruit, on the symphony he left unfinished. Hamilton is really a story about people like Eliza, the people who will tell our stories when we’re gone, if we’re lucky enough; whose own stories often get overlooked amid all the heated discourse about their subjects. And Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t really a modern day Alexander Hamilton, but he is a modern day Eliza, taking back control of a narrative that rarely if ever finds a place for the marginalized, but using this opportunity to uniquely inspect the story of America’s foundation through their eyes: the eyes of immigrants, the Black community and people of color, women, radical thinkers. Through embellishing the story with song and liberally picking and choosing which parts of Hamilton’s life story to adapt, Miranda is exercising his own right as a creative and a chronicler to reinvent Hamilton once again for a more modern audience. It’s hard to tell how Eliza herself would react to all the fame and glory she and her husband now enjoy – but one would hope that, like her musical counterpart, she would gasp in joy and awe at the audience gathered to witness her husband’s legacy in motion.

Hamilton
npr.org

And then there’s Alexander himself: it’s hard to find many faults in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance, though it’s easy (and, in fact, important) to see the flaws in the complex character – apart from the historical fact that the real Hamilton was willing to stay silent on the issue of slavery whenever it suited him, the musical’s more liberal version of Alexander hurries through life, too concerned with his future to savor the present, too obsessed over protecting his legacy to be worried about what cost his actions have on those he loves. Alexander himself recognizes this and even sings about it on several occasions (most notably in “The World Was Wide Enough”), but once again it is Eliza who illustrates this point most brilliantly, in “Burn”, a heart-rending number sung in response to the devastating Reynolds Pamphlet scandal.

While we’re on the subject, my favorite subject, I want to highlight several of the songs which made the biggest impressions on me, at least during this viewing – first of many, I hope. Much to my surprise, neither “The Room Where It Happens” nor “Alexander Hamilton”, despite being the two most instantly recognizable songs from the show, would probably crack my top ten if I had to rank them all. “Burn”, my favorite off the entire soundtrack, draws our attention to the gaps in the narrative with its cleverly-constructed lyrics; George III has three catchy songs, each following the same melody, starting off with the sassy, self-righteous “You’ll Be Back”; Hamilton and Jefferson’s rap battles, particularly the first one, are exceptionally witty; and “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”, the final song in the musical, gives the story an appropriately epic send-off, reminding us once again that the legacies we leave behind are never truly ours and ours alone, but belong just as much to the people who survive us, who keep those legacies alive long after we’re gone.

In conclusion, I doubt I’ve managed to say anything truly new about Hamilton, but what I hope is that by lending my voice to the conversation I can help to draw further attention to this rare achievement in American theater. This show may look like a scrappy, low-budget historical reenactment, but what it lacks in spectacle it more than makes up for in passion and unquestionable cultural impact.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season 7, Episode 4 Review!

SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. AHEAD!

Waves were made on last night’s episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the resulting ripples will probably dramatically affect everything that happens during the rest of the seventh and final season of the long-running series. S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA and a host of time-traveling Chronicoms meet and clash in a three-way battle centered around the life of one man – legendary S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), whose mission to deliver dangerous Russian technology to Howard Stark (MCU namedrop!) puts him on a collision course with death.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Daniel Sousa | bustle.com

But while HYDRA – and HYDRA’s leader Wilfred Malick (Neal Bledsoe), the very same one whom the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reluctantly rescued in 1931 – wants Sousa dead because he knows the extent of their infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Chronicoms want Sousa dead because…well, actually it’s still a little unclear why they want anything…the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. quickly make the decision that they want to save Sousa’s life. It’s a bit of a dramatic heel-turn for Director “Mac” (Henry Simmons), who was fervently against killing Malick in the 30’s, and in the absence of any better explanation I’ll just assume that Mac came to the conclusion that he was outnumbered: Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and “Yo Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) both make it very clear in this episode that they support altering the timeline, while Deke (Jeff Ward) goes back-and-forth right up until the moment when he meets Wilfred Malick again for the first time since literally saving his life, only to realize that the man he was so adamant about rescuing then has predictably transformed into a tyrannical killer over the past two decades.

Yes, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are still stuck in the 1950’s, and this week’s episode is filmed entirely in black-and-white to reflect that: Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) narrates the episode like a cheerful, quirky private investigator in a classic murder mystery – delivering exposition in a way that feels fresh and fun, while also providing seamless scene-transitions. This is truly a Coulson episode: from his first scene, handcuffed to a desk and musing on his predicament, to the revelation that he swapped places with Daniel Sousa on the night of Sousa’s imminent assassination, letting Sousa live while simultaneously cleverly deceiving HYDRA – the version of Coulson we’re seeing in this season, while still an LMD (Life Model Decoy), is nonetheless abundantly more entertaining than the “evil Coulson” who befriended and later betrayed the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the sixth season. And of course, he’s still alive by the end of this episode because no matter how many bullets HYDRA fires into him or how lifeless he may look while floating face-down in a pool, he’s a robot and thus nearly invincible. We actually haven’t seen anything yet that has posed any physical threat to him – his challenges have been mental and emotional so far.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
denofgeek.com

Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is facing similar issues, and we even get some much-needed answers to why she’s been acting so unusual these past few episodes. Turns out, she may have lost her own ability to feel emotions in the season 6 finale, but she gained the power to feel others’ emotions when they’re near to her. Last week, we saw her abruptly panic during the attack on Area 51, which apparently was caused by everyone around her panicking. This week, while standing next to tech genius Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) onboard the Zephyr One, she suddenly gets uncharacteristically giddy about science – and later, in Sousa’s vicinity, she gets freaked out, mirroring his own reaction to seeing the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents’ sleek, futuristic aircraft. It’s unclear how large a role her new abilities might play in the rest of the season, but I’m intrigued. Considering how emotionless the villainous Chronicoms have been shown to be, I wonder if May could possibly tap into what little humanity they have. After all, we know some Chronicoms are capable of feeling – just look at Enoch (Joel Stoffer).

In fact, we get a glimpse at Enoch’s new life during this episode, when Coulson enlists him to essentially be S.H.I.E.L.D.’s phone operator. It appears that Enoch hasn’t changed much in the two decades since getting stuck out of time, though the bar he works in has been redecorated. I’ll be interested to see if we follow his subplot through the rest of the 20th Century – the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. appear to be headed to the 1970’s after their next time jump, judging by the use of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” to close out the episode.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Daniel Sousa | meaww.com

There are several big twists, of course, but the biggest one by far is the fact that Daniel Sousa actually survives and ends up on the Zephyr One by the end of the episode – and even gets an offer from Coulson to essentially join the team on their final mission. Coulson, in fact, has the best line in the episode while inducting Sousa into the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. family: “Welcome to life after death. I’ll tell you all about it.” If Sousa does serve as a team member (and at this point, I don’t know if he has alternatives), we could see him in the final showdown between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA, whenever that is. The post-credits stinger shows HYDRA and the Chronicoms teaming up to take out S.H.I.E.L.D., with the Chronicom leader bringing Wilfred Malick up to speed on everything that’s happened.

That can mean only one thing: S.H.I.E.L.D. is in for a lot more trouble in the near future (well, technically the past, I guess). As long as the series continues to serve up this kind of quality content, I’m good with that. It was about time some waves were made.

Episode Rating: 9/10