Jessica Jones: Season 2 – A Netflix Review

I really enjoyed the first season of Jessica Jones.  The series had such a strong concept.  It definitely wasn’t a super hero show, yet it featured a character with super human strength … who didn’t necessarily want her powers.  She mostly just wanted to be left alone.  The series felt far more like a thriller than an action-adventure.  With David Tenant’s Kilgrave, the series also struck a deeply disturbing psychological note.  Krysten Ritter’s Jones wanted to forget about her past by drinking herself silly, wasn’t interested in being nice, and certainly wasn’t out to save the day.  I believe, overall, it may be the strongest of Netflix’s Marvel series due to excellent pacing, interesting characterization, a consistent tone, and a cohesive plot.

So, as you have probably guessed, I very much looked forward to the second season.  Unfortunately, I knew by the first episode that this season would be different.

At the risk of sounding too harsh, all thirteen episodes of season two disappointed me.

Jessica Jones: Season Two is cliched, boring, and a disservice to the first season.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but Jessica Jones herself has gone from being charmingly cranky to just annoying.  The huffs, the sighs, the eye rolls, the monotone vocal delivery — she’s become one-dimensional.  All of those things seemed appropriate in the first season.  Combine those things with the second season’s primary antagonist and she’s comes off as, well … a brat.

And that pretty much describes everyone in the second season.  Trish Walker, who was pretty interesting in the first season, is now a shadow of her former self and incredibly unlikable.  Malcom is all over the place — a doormat one minute, a boy toy the next, and then a ruthless businessman?  Wasn’t that Foggy’s character arc?  Hogarth, the heartless lawyer, actually turns out to be the most sympathetic of all, but in doing so utterly contradicts every other previous appearance of the character.  Luke Cage makes no appearance at all, which is a shame because Colter and Ritter had great chemistry and made season one very enjoyable.  Kilgrave appears for five minutes, and those five minutes were a delight.  Ritter and Tennant are amazing on screen together, which is partly why season one succeeded so well.

Season two lacks any plot in which the audience can invest.  Season one featured a real mystery and characters that were truly opposite of Jones that allowed her to shine all the more.  In season two, everyone is kind of like Jones, which is, frankly, depressing.  Everyone is damaged goods.  There is no character representing hope, or nobility, or morality.  When Jones is forced to be these things, it doesn’t work.  She’s not especially hopeful, or noble, or moral.  She’s fun when she gets to be the “bad cop” working off of others serving as her foil.  It’s not fun when an entire show drowns in hopelessness, immorality, and dreariness.

The show also falls prey to the worse of the genre’s cliches.  Unresolved family issues that create arrested development — check.  Evil version of protagonist with the same basic power set — check.  Clandestine corporate entity that creates protagonist and antagonist for murky reasons at best — check.  Misjudgment of audience’s interest in “origin story” — check.  Mommy issues — check.

In my opinion, the first season of Jessica Jones may be the best of all the Netflix Marvel shows.  The second season, unquestionably, is the worst.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

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Black Panther – A Movie Review

This is NOT just another Marvel movie.

Black Panther gamely partakes in the Marvel Universe while largely operating as a standalone action movie striving to deliver a societal message of great relevance.

Let’s start with what I determine to be the most important aspect of Black Panther.  I am a forty-one year old white male.  My whole life, I’ve enjoyed white superheroes depicted in comic books, cartoons, toys, and movies.  Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton, Toby Maguire, and Hugh Jackman are but a few.  Let’s not forget to mention the action stars that peppered my youth such as Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russle, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Tom Cruise–the list can go on an on.  It wasn’t until my own daughters were born that I realized women and people of color weren’t given characters who reflected their identity–not in the way that I always enjoyed.

So Black Panther ISN’T just another movie.

For many, Black Panther represents a cultural shift.  It signifies an important moment in our society, a moment that says those who were previously underrepresented will now be given time to shine.  And guess what?  Those who are typically underrepresented on film are letting the world know there exists an audience hungry for more.  It’s no accident that Wonder Woman financially overachieved.  It’s not happenstance that Black Panther DOUBLED the previous Thursday night ticket sales record for February.  The numbers say it all.

I’d like to quickly mention another interesting detail.  My friends and I regularly go to superhero movies on either its Thursday or Friday opening night.  I write this on Saturday morning, February 17th.  We attended the 9:00 p.m. Black Panther show on Friday night, February 16th.  As soon as we entered the theater, it became obvious this superhero movie was different.  There were more African American women, men, and children in the theater than I’ve ever seen before at a premier.  I instantly felt in the minority and a little out of place.  The irony was not lost on me, nor should it be lost on you.

Let’s talk about the actual movie.

First of all, they have created with Black Panther a world unto itself.  Wakanda, the African nation in which Black Panther rules, felt solid, real, and established.  This utopia drew me in completely.  Its glorious technology felt tenable, as did its ancient rituals.  The clothing, the environment, the language, the customs, the unique neighboring tribes–it all struck me as genuine.  The filmmakers successfully created a world that I hope will live on in the Marvel movies for decades to come.

I also loved that they introduced an entirely new technology concept to the Marvel Universe.  Yes, vibranium has been seen in Marvel movies before, but never to this extent.  The full potential of the metal is explored in Black Panther, and I imagine Tony Stark is going to be very jealous.  However, the filmmakers didn’t just use vibrainum as a means to an end.  It wasn’t just the reason they had a Black Panther suit or weaponry or ships.  It also served a cultural purpose to the Wakandan society.  They made it clear that vibranium influences their way of life, and has for generations.  This kind of storytelling and world building is greatly appreciated by those such as me.

The supporting cast in Black Panther also made the film radiant.  His mother, his sister, his general, his friends, his challengers, his mentor–they all had distinct personalities and they all utilized a charisma specific to their character.  No one wasted a moment on screen.

As for the story, I believe Black Panther broke new ground for Marvel movies.  Marvel always does action, humor, and general story pretty well.  They are very good at blending one movie into the next.  No one is denying that.  However, I don’t believe Marvel ever tried to say anything socially relevant … until now.  Black Panther challenges itself not just to deliver an action-packed feast full of visual splendor.  It also tries to say something–something specific not only to people of color, but to all races, all peoples, all creeds, all governments.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s definitely there.  Do they hit you over the head with it a little too blatantly at times?  Sure, but so did The Post, and it’s up for an Oscar.

When I saw the previews, I felt a little apprehensive about Michael B. Jordan’s villain–Killmonger.  I didn’t like that he also wore a Black Panther suit in the previews.  This is a tried and true mistake superhero movies make time and time again.  Hulk fought a version of himself.  Spider-Man has fought a version of himself.  Superman has fought a version of himself.  Iron Man has fought a version of himself.  The Flash regularly fights versions of himself on his TV show.  You get the idea.  I’m glad that they found a sensible reason to have Killmonger in the Black Panther suit that organically served the story well.  When you see the movie, it makes perfect sense.

Killmonger brings me to my only complaint about the film.  It bothered me that the only black American male character in the entire movie was depicted as angry and out for revenge.  I may be reading too much into it, but it seemed as though a subtext existed that black American males cannot save themselves–only outside benefactors such as Wakandans can come rescue them.  We know this is not true, especially in the Marvel Universe.  We’ve seen upright American men of color in the Marvel movie and TV universe before such as Luke Cage, Falcon, and War Machine.  And I realize that it would have been awkward to sandwich those characters in only to serve as a parallel to Killmonger, but it still bothered me a bit, especially because I’m positive that this is, for many people, their first Marvel movie.  They may not even know about those other African American characters.  In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the only other major American male in the movie was Everett K. Ross, a white intelligence officer who helps save the day.  See what I’m saying?  Am I way off on this one?

Speaking of subtext, I loved the fact that Wakanda absolutely relied on its women to thrive.  From the military to the sciences, women were the driving force of order and progress in their society.  Black Panther may have been king, but the women ruled in every other way.

I believe Black Panther succeeded on all levels.  It kept the overarching Marvel story line moving forward while also delivering an epic standalone film that delivered relevant social commentary.  Even if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie before, you can go into Black Panther and enjoy it as an entity unto itself.  In fact, I encourage you to do so.  Though plainly obvious by now, I highly recommend Black Panther.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Star Wars: Screaming Citadel – A Book Review

I’ve greatly enjoyed the various Marvel Star Wars series, but Star Wars: Yoda’s Secret War left me a little unsatisfied.  I’m very happy to say that the next installment–Screaming Citadel–righted the course and returned the series to its high standard.

Of course, this volume is not just comprised of the Star Wars series.  It also has issues from Doctor Aphra.  Obviously, the two comics crossed over with each other to deliver this story as  whole.

Doctor Aphra has an ancient crystal supposedly housing the sentience of a powerful Jedi.  She needs the Queen of the Screaming Citadel to access it for her, and she needs Luke Skywalker to entice the queen into doing so.  You’ll have to read the book for the details on using Luke as bait.  Doctor Aphra sells it to Luke as a chance for him to encounter an actual Jedi master, and it’s a chance for her to witness a remnant of the ancient past because she is an archaeologist after all, albeit a bit of an immoral one.

That’s a pretty good premise to achieve what this story is really all about–watching Luke and Aphra interact.  I believe Doctor Aphra is one of the greatest additions to the Star Wars universe in decades.  She first appeared in the Darth Vader series, and she won over the audience so thoroughly that she quickly earned her own title.  Honestly, though Aphra works best when pitted against the pure of heart, or at least those on the side of the Rebels.  She’s Aphra, so of course she manipulates Luke, double-crosses him, saves his skin a few times, then cheats him again.  That’s just who she is.

It’s also interesting to see a rebellious streak in Luke as he jaunts off with Aphra without telling Han, Leia, or anyone else for that matter.  We know his dad didn’t always follow protocol, so these little deviations are always revealing when Luke is concerned.  It’s also fun to see him beginning to realize his power.  This particular story takes place soon after A New Hope, so Luke has not yet begun to completely understand what he has at his disposal–though this book does depict Luke having some pretty cool moments with his burgeoning abilities.

We also have quite a bit of Han, Leia, and another invaluable addition to the mythology named Sana Starros.  All three get their moment to shine as Han finds more and more of the hero within, Leia further establishes herself as the capable leader she is, and Sana Starros slowly reveals more and more of her past to the reader.  Guess what?  Not only does she have deep connections to Han Solo, but it’s heavily hinted that she is also tied to Doctor Aphra as well.  The specifics may surprise you.

And, as always, Aphra’s versions of C3PO and R2D2 steal the show.  They are named 0-0-0 and BT-1.  They are basically the murderous, demented, evil version of our favorite droids, and they are forever a delight.

The story of Screaming Citadel itself is entertaining.  The art is very pleasing to the eye and keeps the plot moving at a quick pace.  At times the faces of the characters based off of real life actors look almost photo realistic, which is sometimes jarring when the rest of the panel does not look so true to life.  Of course, the best quality of the book is simply seeing all of these characters play off of each other.  It’s refreshing to have such rounded, charismatic new characters as Aphra, Sana, Triple-Zero, and Bee-Tee 1 making waves with our legendary favorites.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

 

Thor: Ragnarok – A Movie Review

I love the first Thor, but the sequel—The Dark World—left me unimpressed.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for the loveable cast of The Dark World, I’d like it even less.  There’s a lot to be said for having Natalie Portman, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, and Stellan Skarsgard all in the same movie.

However, when I think about the super hero genre staling, The Dark World strikes me as a classic example.  Of all the super hero movies (and let’s face it—there’s a lot), Thor needed perhaps the biggest push into new territory (X-Men is also on alert).

When I first saw the trailer for Ragnarok, well, let’s just say I got very excited.  The music, the visuals, the humorous dialogue, the absolute weirdness of it all—it felt refreshing.  Unfortunately, I’ve been fooled by trailers before (I’m talking to you, Suicide Squad).  Therefore, I retained a certain amount of restraint going into Thor: Ragnarok.  I’ll never let a trailer break my heart again.  (That’s probably not true.)

Here’s the good news—Thor: Ragnarok broke convention in many fresh, fun ways.  In fact, that’s how I would describe this movie—fun.  There is no more Shakespearean tragedy, no more deadly serious monologues or pensive stares off into the distance.  Ragnarok moves at breakneck speed with one hilarious zinger after another.  It barely takes place on Earth, and this led to a lot of spectacular alien locales.  In other words, it absolutely lived up to its trailer.

You saw Hulk and Valkyrie in the trailers, and they exceeded my expectations.  They are fantastic.   Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster is worth the price of admission alone.  There’s a breakout character named Korg who pretty much stole the movie (and was voiced by the director—that’s no accident).  Hiddleston as Loki is always wonderful, and Hemsworth gave us a hilarious, likable Thor.

According to Norse mythology, Thor was a bit of a buffoon.  Strong?  Definitely?  Smart?  … Not so much.  While I don’t expect them to go the full dimwit route with Hemsworth, it was nice to see a Thor who wasn’t quite so deadly serious.  I read that the director wanted Thor to be the coolest character in the movie, and I think they mostly succeeded at that.  I’m totally okay with funny Thor, though I am curious to see if they maintain that level of humor with him in the subsequent Avengers movies.

Was Ragnarok perfect?  No, but so few movies are.  The story was perhaps a little too fast and furious to the point it didn’t always seem cohesive … or even logical.  Hela’s backstory left me scratching my head a bit.  Don’t even get me started on the total absence of Thor’s earthly supporting cast and the complete disrespect shown to his Asgardian companions.  And while no one is doubting Cate Blanchett’s acting abilities, those talents were largely unnecessary for the role of Hela.  She was pretty standard stuff as far as villains go.

The absolute success of Ragnarok is that it showed us something new.  I’ve never seen anything quite like what we saw on the Grandmaster’s planet, and that was a ton of fun.  At this point, as far as the superhero genre is concerned, I just want to see something original.

Happily, they took it even a step further.  Fans of the comic book won’t be shocked by a few of the developments occurring at the end of the film, but I think the casual fan will.  I personally couldn’t believe they did what they did—it was pretty bold.  Again, I’ll be interested to see if some of those developments continue into the other Marvel movies.  If you wanted the Thor franchise shaken to its core, you will be very pleased.

Oh, and there’s a certain cameo at the beginning of the film that completely won me over.  We love Hulk and Thor, but I also loved Thor with this character as well and can’t wait to see more.

So, while Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t a masterpiece in terms of story, I think it definitely broke new ground in terms of visuals and storytelling daring.  It ignored several of the genre’s tropes and even made fun of some of its own past sins.  I think if the super hero genre is to survive, especially the traditional ones like Thor, they are going to have to really defy convention and challenge expectations.  Ragnarok is proof it can be done well.

 

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Doctor Aphra: Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker – A Book Review

First appearing in Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra quickly became a personal favorite of mine.  In fact, along with Rey and Ahsoka Tano, I’d say she’s one of the most significant Star Wars characters to appear within the last ten years.

Consequently, because she regularly stole the spotlight in Darth Vader and even Star Wars, Marvel gave the good doctor her own series.

If you’re unfamiliar with Doctor Aphra, she is amoral, brilliant, and snarky as can be.  An archaeologist by trade, Aphra is not bound by such things as decency and preserving life.  She does what it takes, usually with a smile on her face.  Make no mistake, though — she is not insane.  She’s perhaps a sociopath, but of the really charming sort.

The beginning of this volume, titled Aphra, gets us off to the perfect start.  The first several pages succinctly establish Aphra’s character.  We immediately meet her hilarious supporting cast: the murderous astromech droid designated BT-1, the protocol droid specializing in torture named Triple 0, and the seriously disgruntled Wookie called Black Krrsantan.  Why does such a delinquent crew tolerate one another?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

However, soon enough, Aphra became less enjoyable for me.  I hesitated to write this review for a few weeks because I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and then, last night, it hit me.

Doctor Aphra had a really tragic father figure in Darth Vader.  Their bond, though completely toxic, also had an element of fun in that you could tell, somewhere deep within their crooked souls, they actually cared for one another in a strange familial aspect.  Since we know Darth Vader one day will actually live up to his role as a father, it proved ironically endearing to watch him with Aphra.

I feel that Aprha takes a serious misstep when it introduces her actual birth father.  After such a long story arc with Vader, it struck me as far too soon to put Aphra back in this role.  Yes, she is clearly her father’s better and often puts him in his place, which was an interesting juxtaposition with what we’ve seen previously, but by the book’s end you realize she does care for her father, just as you realize Vader cared for her.  In my mind, this plot would have worked far better further down the road after we got to see more of Doctor Aphra as character devoid of any paternal influence.

In fact, I think Doctor Aphra shines best in Star Wars: Rebel Jail.  In that volume, Aprha is mostly interacting with Princess Leia and Sana Starros (who also has great potential).  These three women are all about the same age and have differing perspectives on life, priorities, and laws.  It was an absolute blast to read their story when forced to work together.

I’d hoped that we’d get more of that sort of thing with Doctor Aphra’s first solo outing.  I really wanted to see her fully in charge of her adventure without, frankly, any sort of patriarchal influence.  I will, of course, continue to read Doctor Aphra, by no means is this volume a deal-breaker.  She’s an incredibly charismatic character who can fit into virtually any spot of the Star Wars universe, and I can’t wait to see her further cement her place in the vast mythology.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Spider-Man: Homecoming – A Movie Review

I have to be honest, even though I thought Tom Holland’s Spider-Man proved one of the best parts of Civil War, I did not feel excited about yet another reboot of his own movie series.  I absolutely did not want to sit through poor Uncle Ben getting killed yet again, Pete getting bitten by a spider again, another turbulent romance with Mary Jane, and then a retread of the same villains we’ve also already seen.

Why didn’t I have faith in Marvel?

My mistake.

Spider-Man: Homecoming won me over completely.  It avoided all of those things I most dreaded.  Instead, we’ve got a Spider-Man finding his way months after Civil War.  This Spider-Man movie felt completely fresh and absolutely a part of the larger Marvel Universe.  Other than the web-slinging and the colors of the suit, Homecoming departed from much of what has already been done with Spidey on the big screen.  Tom Holland looks like an actual high school student.  He acts like an actual high school student.  He sounds like an actual high school student.  He’s got a whole new group of supporting characters.  Even Aunt May is a big departure from what we’ve already seen and they had some hilarious ongoing gags about her attractiveness.

As you’ve seen from commercials, Happy Hogan and Tony Stark play huge roles in this film.  This also sets it apart and makes it far more funny than any previous Spider-Man movie.  Tom Holland has great chemistry with pretty much everyone, but especially with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau.

In terms of tone, Homecoming is pretty lighthearted and humorous.  However, that’s not to say it doesn’t have some serious action scenes and real suspense.  I wouldn’t say it’s scary at all, but the Vulture is definitely an intimidating villain in both appearance and action.

Speaking of whom, Michael Keaton undeniably crushes it as the Vulture.  He delivers a multifaceted character who is both sympathetic and even likable.  I love how they set him up, the motivation they give him, and then his mindset.  I think that, along with Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, he is the best cinematic Spidey villain yet.  Maybe even the best contemporary Marvel movie villain, for that matter.

What delighted me most about Homecoming, though, is that it genuinely surprised me several times.  There were huge character revelations that I didn’t expected that made the story all the more intimate and definitely increased my investment.  I cared about virtually every character in this movie!

Spider-Man: Homecoming managed to somehow surprise while keeping a funny, light tone with real moments of suspense.  Tom Holland oozes charisma while emanating Peter’s intellect, charm, youthful indecision, and — most importantly — innocent heroism.

Against all odds, I am fully committed to this third Spider-Man reboot.  Here’s hoping Tom Holland will serve the anchor to Marvel’s cinematic universe for many years to come.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Guardians Of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 – A Movie Review

I’ll be honest and admit that when Guardians Of the Galaxy came around back in 2014, I wasn’t all that into it.  I didn’t even make it to the theater for a viewing.  Truthfully, even when it came out on video, I didn’t think it was all that great.  Funny?  Sure.  Different from any other Marvel movie?  Definitely.  Fun?  Yeah.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

So, with all that being said, I’d like to say that I LOVED Guardians Of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

I won’t spoil anything in this review, but I found this installment far more funny.  These characters aren’t even trying to take themselves seriously anymore, except when they are – more on that later.

It also has a better plot that is no longer beholden to the Infinity Stones.  Elements touched upon earlier in the film came into play later in the film, especially in regards to the jokes.  But, even in terms of story, it all went full-circle and came together nicely.

The visuals are absolutely amazing.  As I watched the film, I stopped and appreciated the nuanced aliens, the diverse machinery, and how this film truly looks like it could span a universe.  (Maybe I should have said galaxy there, huh?)  It’s a feast for the eyes, to be sure.

There also existed a very cool message regarding family.  Again, I won’t spoil anything, but if the first film served as a reason to come together, this film serves as a reason to stay together.  As you can see from the advertisements, Nebula plays a far greater role, as does Yondu.  These two characters have familial ties to particular Guardians, ties that make for interesting plot developments.  I loved this film because of these character developments.  We’re seeing these characters change and grow in ways we haven’t seen in many other Marvel movies.

Of course, that’s not to say that this is a character study – not at all.  For the most part, these characters all have uproarious comedic moments.  I mean, I’m talking scenes that will make you absolutely guffaw.  Yes, I said guffaw.   But then, every once in a while, truly touching scenes arise.  Scenes that were emotional, sentimental, and tugged on the old heartstrings.  Happily, these moments did not at all detract from the film whatsoever – they only served to amplify the story line.  Were they a little syrupy?  Sure, but they worked well in a movie like this.

I also really liked that this film did not necessarily follow the tried and true sequel format.  It actually followed far more of a comic book or cartoon structure.  Once more, I won’t spoil anything for you, but this movie gives us an opportunity to see the Guardians in different situations, different dynamics, different groupings, and in different settings, and they each shine as a result.

Obviously, I loved this film far more than its first installment.  However, this movie would not have been possible without its predecessor.  I don’t mean that in the literal sense, of course.  Rather, I mean that by all the groundwork being laid in the first movie in terms of character, those characters now have a chance to break their own mold and grow in ways delightful.

Baby Groot is adorable.  Drax is hilarious.  Rocket is more abrasive than ever.  Gamora lets down her defenses.  Star-Lord becomes more than just a guy who cracks one-liners.  Nebula and Yondu?  You’ll have to see for yourselves.

Oh, and there are some fantastic cameos.  I can’t even touch upon those.  I will say this: be sure to sit through ALL the credits.  All of them.  And watch them closely.  There’s a lot going on even during the credits that’s a lot of fun.

That’s really the operative word – fun.  This is a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I love it for its own sense of irreverence.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)