“Loki” 2nd Trailer Leans Into The Absurd Side Of Marvel

WandaVision was the gust of fresh air that blew open the doors to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s untapped reserves of sheer absurdity, and for that I think we will always be thankful. But WandaVision‘s weirdness was very specifically engineered to produce a sense of dread in the viewer, an understanding that something had to be terribly wrong – because worlds like the one Wanda had created for herself couldn’t possibly exist in the (mostly) grounded MCU. Loki, on the other hand, reassures those of us who loved WandaVision that the MCU actually is just…weird. Permanently.

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Loki | polygon.com

I’ve compared the upcoming Loki series’ concept and styling to the works of British fantasy author Terry Pratchett before, and the second trailer (released today quite out of the blue: classic God of Mischief move) only makes that comparison more apt – as well as making a convincing argument for everyone involved in the production of this series going on to develop an adaptation of any one of Pratchett’s novels after this is done. There’s also shades of Dr. Who, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – basically, every zany, high-concept, British sci-fi/fantasy ever made rolled up into one.

The new trailer for Loki treats us to one deliciously abstract visual after another, beginning with a charming elevator noise as a magical glowing door appears in the wall of what looks like a horrendously ugly 1980’s subway-station with brown, orange, and mustard-yellow tiling; soon revealing a man in a German stahlhelm, holding the Tesseract in one hand, and gripping the Norse deity’s arm with the other. I mean, seriously, just read that sentence and tell me it doesn’t sound like the opening to a Dirk Gently mystery.

The atrocious color palette is echoed throughout all the lobbies, waiting rooms, offices, and elevators of the Time Variance Authority, or TVA for short, in whose headquarters Loki has unwillingly ended up. As in the Marvel Comics, it appears the TVA work from behind-the-scenes to monitor the flow of time, making sure everything runs like clockwork and working to ensure that alternate timelines are cut off before they in turn sprout innumerable other timelines – each an entire universe of possibilities. Like Wanda walking out onto the empty soundstage of her life and finding stage-lights and auditorium seating, we’re seeing for the first time the nuts and bolts of the MCU.

From their seemingly infinite office space (which I’m fairly certain is tucked away in its own dimension, not limited by the confines of our earth), the TVA dispatches heavily-armed soldiers (including one prominently played by Lovecraft Country‘s Wunmi Mosaku) across the Multiverse to locate anyone caught moving across timelines, and drag them back for trial…where they will presumably face Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Judge Renslayer. This character’s first name hasn’t been revealed, but don’t be surprised if it turns out to be Ravonna, since Princess Ravonna Renslayer is a notable comics character who shares a long romantic history with Kang the Conqueror, a time-traveling Marvel villain who’s already been confirmed to appear in Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, played by Jonathan Majors of Da 5 Bloods and Lovecraft Country.

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Judge Renslayer | marvel.com

The TVA’s agenda is still not entirely clear, so it’s possible – I’d say probable – that they have an ulterior motive for keeping Loki alive and enlisting him into their army of timeline-hunters, beyond just needing his “unique Loki perspective”, as Owen Wilson’s Mobius puts it. They, or at least some of their top agents like Renslayer, might be working with Kang to conquer all the timelines simultaneously, and Loki’s knack for causing mischief might work in their favor. Kang could even be the hooded figure we see battling TVA hunters in the agency’s hallways and utilizing their glowing portal technology – though, with alternate universes in play here, that could just as well be Lady Loki, or Old Loki, or another of the God’s many variants.

But while that mystery is sure to be compelling, the thing that has me most excited for the series is the thought of traveling back in time through the history of our earth, and of all the Nine Realms yet to be explored – and all the versions of them that exist throughout the Multiverse. Loki has already been seen playing the part of notorious real-life hijacker D.B. Cooper in the 1970’s, but now we get a clearer glimpse of other locations he’ll travel to, including a Medieval festival (where we later see a TVA hunter wielding a jousting lance); a Roman street that’s probably in Pompeii based on the wall of ash and smoke bearing down on the grinning God; a Roxxcart supermarket; a ruined New York City; an otherworldly mining facility; and two diametrically-opposed castles, one bathed in golden light and the other dark, laced with cracks as if made of glass.

Another awesome reveal is the return of Loki’s magic powers, an aspect of his character that’s been sidelined in his last few movie appearances in favor of his twin daggers. Those beautiful weapons still show up in the trailer, but it’s nice to see him wielding magical green energy-blasts as well, particularly given how badly the Russo Brothers used him in Infinity War; not even allowing him to pull a signature magic-trick on Thanos before having his neck broken. It’s still one of the most embarrassing character betrayals in the MCU, if you ask me.

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The God Of Mischief | nme.com

But the crucial difference is that this Loki is Avengers-era Loki, at the height of his game, riding a massive confidence boost from escaping the Avengers on Earth, and still significantly more villainous than heroic. And the writers have clearly gotten into the character’s headspace from that period, because the chaotic mess of Shakespearean angst that we all fell in love with is finally back, and I can’t wait to see where (and when) his story goes from here.

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

“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.

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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”.

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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.

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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

“Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” Non-Spoiler Review!

If I was both confident enough and proud enough to say that The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie, then I definitely have no qualms about admitting that The Rise Of Skywalker, while similarly reviled by a sizable portion of the fandom (already!), is an entertaining, thrilling, emotional and bittersweet conclusion to one of the greatest stories in cinematic history. Rise Of Skywalker as a whole is not quite on the level of Jedi for me, at least not yet, but there are several moments and scenes in the movie that have quickly taken their place on my list of all-time franchise favorites. And don’t worry, I won’t spoil any of them here.

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The movie starts out very slow, and for the first ten or even twenty minutes, I grew increasingly worried that the Skywalker Saga might conclude in a very unappealing way. Director J.J. Abrams received a lot of flak from the Star Wars fandom for largely pulling the plot of The Force Awakens from A New Hope, without even bothering to alter many of the little details. I can assure you that Rise Of Skywalker does not follow that same copy-and-paste method, or if it does, then it pulls from so many of the Star Wars films that it’s much harder to guess, at points, where the story is headed. For instance, while there are certainly elements of Return Of The Jedi (as many of us had suspected), there are also hints of several other films in the canon, including, most shockingly, Revenge Of The Sith. If you are a fan of Sith, or the Sith in general, I think you’ll find a lot to love about this movie, as it sometimes veers into territory previously explored only by tie-in comics, novels and video games. But don’t worry, fellow wielders of the Light Side of the Force! There’s plenty of Jedi magic and mind-tricks to go around in this finale to their long, often troubled history, including some new techniques and tactics that are both epic and unpredictable. And as for the film itself, it starts getting good once the two powers, as represented by the characters of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), begin to clash.

These two have always had the most tumultuous and exciting journey in the sequel trilogy, and Skywalker is no different: once again, the focus is mostly on them and the powerful, fiercely difficult relationship between them. It’s often unclear just how much Abrams is using of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, but the tense, will-they-won’t-they dynamic between Light Side user Rey and Supreme Leader Kylo is definitely something that has been carried over from Jedi into this new film, despite Abrams being against it initially.

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In my recent reviews of all the eight previous Star Wars movies, we’ve discussed the theme of duality – the idea that the universe is ruled by the balance of all things: life and death, Jedi and Sith, good and evil. And at almost every crucial moment in this movie, duality makes an appearance, whether subtly or, to my surprise, in the dialogue itself. Rey and Ren, with their opposing ideologies but mysterious attraction, are the theme’s most obvious physical representation, but be on the lookout for it many other places: without giving it away, I’ll just say that it’s very apparent in the film’s third act and final scenes.

Now, how good is the payoff to this forty-two year long journey that we, as fans, have witnessed? Abrams obviously isn’t going to be able to tie up every loose end or finish out every character’s story, but he does his best with what he has. In many ways, the film itself has had to do that as well: the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher in 2016 prevented her character, the beloved Princess Leia, from having a particularly prominent role in the movie; something that is especially sad after watching the entire Skywalker saga, and seeing all the accumulated hints and clues that point to her being the Chosen One. But Abrams masterfully uses everything at his disposal, employing all the old footage of Leia that he can, and giving her not one, but three important moments in the movie. There are appropriate sendoffs to a number of fan-favorites, from the exuberant Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) to petulant C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) – the latter, especially, having a large and hilariously funny role in this movie.

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The humor is provided by many of the characters, but especially the supporting cast of Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and the droids. It’s sometimes apparent that Abrams is straining to have that same “holy trinity” dynamic that was seen between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia and Han Solo, but this particular trinity actually works best when they’re apart: onscreen together, their relationship is a bit of a messy, especially when you take into consideration the film’s rapidly changing romantic dynamics, which we will talk about in the spoiler review. Suffice it to say, characters like Poe and Finn are fleshed-out enough that they can sustain subplots, and Rey is too busy hanging out with Kylo Ren to actually spend much time with her co-stars: the trio does argue a lot, but their best moments are undoubtedly when they’re joking around in their sarcastic, super-witty fashion.

As for the locations they visit and the new characters they meet, some of them are interesting and entertaining, others less so. Jannah (Naomi Ackie) and Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), two new female characters who were hyped up in the film’s marketing, are largely unimportant to the story, but still have more screentime than Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), whose large role in The Last Jedi perhaps gave off the impression that she would continue to be a lead character: but her role, which had been bombarded by angry fans, has been cut down to a mere handful of appearances. Honestly, if you didn’t remember her from the last movie, you would probably just think she was another one of the nameless extras who populate the film’s many crowd shots. The coolest and funniest new characters have to be diminutive mechanic Babu Frik (voiced by Shirley Henderson), who pops in with a number of unexpected but delightful jokes, and Richard E. Grant as the sinister, leering General Pryde.

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But the antagonist you’ve all been waiting for is, of course, the one and only Emperor Palpatine, portrayed once again by the fabulous Ian McDiarmid. Obviously, there are a lot of spoilers involved in this character’s return and sudden rise to power, but it’s not too much of a shocker to know that yes, he’s evil and just as terrifying as ever. He may lack the element of surprise now, but his inevitability is frightening all on its own. He’s still the master manipulator that he always was, and his talents are put to good use in this film, which finally shows him once again using the unlimited power that he wielded in Revenge Of The Sith.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker is not a perfect movie, not by any means. It will be met with backlash, fan outrage, and more of the division and debate that has defined the Star Wars brand in recent years. But it’s time to move past all that. This is the end of the Skywalker Saga: forty-two years ago, Luke Skywalker started an incredible journey across galaxies, through the deep, uncharted expanses of space, to new planets and star systems: and we followed him. We followed his father Anakin from purity to darkness, and stood by his side as he fell through the ranks of the Jedi and tumbled into the embrace of the Sith. And now, with The Rise Of Skywalker, we’ve followed his apprentice on her quest to finish what the Skywalkers started, and bring balance and order to the universe, with all the guidance of a thousand generations of Jedi. Will you follow her to the end, as you followed Luke and Anakin? Will you finish out this story?

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The choice is yours, and I’m not going to try and push you one way or the other. All I can say is this: if you do make the choice to see the film in theaters, be prepared to cry, and allow yourself to cry. There are moments when you’ll tear up because something is sad or emotional; there are moments where you’ll cry out of relief or pain; and there are many, many moments in this film where you’ll just start crying because…we’ve done it.

The final word in the story of Skywalker has been spoken.

Movie Rating: 9.8/10

91st Academy Awards

Last night, we were treated to one of the most memorable ceremonies in recent years. Rebounding from a string of controversies and setbacks, the show did indeed go on – and turned out to be surprisingly good. Without a host, the show flowed much more smoothly and we were spared a good deal of annoying jokes. The spotlight was instead turned on the movies themselves: all eight Best Picture nominees seemed relatively tied, but in the end it was Green Book that surprisingly edged past the competition – not without controversy of its own. There were some shocking snubs – both Lady Gaga and Glenn Close were defeated by Olivia Colman of The Favourite (Colman had, in my opinion, one of the best and most genuine acceptance speeches of the night). There were well-deserved wins: Spike Lee, writer of BlacKkKlansman, was honored with the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay; Alfonso Cuaron took home the Oscars for Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Cinematography, all for his semi-autobiographical film Roma; Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse was honored with the Best Animated Feature award; Rami Malek’s phenomenal performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody earned him the award for Best Actor.

The presenters did a fantastic job keeping the show moving along, but each still got ample time to shine: whether that was Jason Momoa in a pink velvet suit, Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson representing the upcoming Marvel movie Captain Marvel, or a whimsically attired Melissa McCarthy. There were some missteps – Awkwafina and John Mulaney’s presentation of Best Animated Short and Best Live Action Short was particularly cringe-worthy, and there was a bit of difficult with the Makeup and Hairstyling team from Vice, who didn’t seem at all prepared for their victory (which, considering they were only up against two other nominees, neither of whom had any chance of winning, is a little peculiar). And the performances were not all the best: I’m not particularly fond of either Lady Gaga or Bradley Cooper, so having to watch them cuddle up together while singing “Shallow” was rather boring – similarly, the Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack is not even remotely comparable to that of the original, so “The Place Where Lost Things Go” could not be helped by the impressive vocals of Bette Midler. And as for “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings”, well…the less said about that, the better.

In the end, it was Julia Roberts who presented the final award, for Best Picture, and it was the cast and crew of Green Book who took the stage to accept that award, much to the surprise of critics who had predicted a clean sweep for Roma. Personally, I was expecting The Favourite to win, and was shocked by the result: Green Book has been clouded in controversy these past few months. Spike Lee even got up and tried to leave the theater after the movie was announced Best Picture, and his anger is in some ways understandable: the Academy does seem to still be stuck in a thirty-year old worldview, especially when it comes to race relations and diversity. It’s a shame, because up to that point we had seen an astonishing number of people of color take the stage to accept various awards, including Ruth E. Carter, the first African-American woman to win the Best Costume Design Oscar; and Regina King, who was Best Supporting Actress for her work in If Beale Street Could Talk. Presenters had included civil rights activist John Lewis, sports legend Serena Williams, and comedian Trevor Noah. After so much progress was achieved last night, to suddenly find ourselves talking about this setback is pretty disheartening. And I say this with all possible respect for Green Book, which is a very good movie, and whose stars, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, are both terrific actors (Ali even won the Oscar for Best Supporting Oscar last night, also for Green Book). It seems inevitable now that every time Best Picture is called, the entertainment industry collectively rolls its eyes: that’s no surprise. What is somewhat surprising is how willfully blind the Academy must have been, deciding that this was the right choice. Over A Star Is Born, yeah, of course. But over films like BlacKkKlansman, or Roma? No, Green Book probably didn’t earn that win. I would much rather have had Black Panther take the award, to be honest. The progressive superhero movie won just three Oscars, and could have made much more of a positive impact than Green Book.