What Effect Did Loki Have on the MCU Timeline? Series Review and Theories

Loki aired its last episode, which means that I can put all my thoughts into an article, review it, and ponder theories about it. Naturally, there will be spoilers from throughout the season. Without further ado, let’s get right into it! 

As a long-time fan of Tom Hiddleston (since Wallander), seeing his career grow was already a privilege, but now it’s just pure happiness. Ever since he was first introduced in Thor (2011) as the mischievous god Loki, I couldn’t wait to see more of what he would do with this role. I think it's completely fair to say that he loves this character dearly and, more than anything else, he understands it. After 6 appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we finally arrived at Loki's glorious return in the form of a Marvel TV series on Disney+.

Loki gives us the version of the character who escaped with the Tesseract during the time heist in Avengers: Endgame. From a character development standpoint, this is the Loki from 2012's The Avengers. This Loki obviously didn’t go through all the same changes as the Loki we lost in Avengers: Infinity War. So people were wondering (and rightfully so) how well the series would work. This version of Loki still has a very rocky relationship with his family. He still believes in his "glorious purpose" and can't see the bigger picture. Marvel didn’t disappoint, though. After his escape from New York, Loki was immediately arrested by the TVA (Time Variance Authority) and recruited to help by Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson). 

The first episode served two very important purposes: 

  1. Getting to know what the TVA was about. 
  2. Confronting Loki with the events he would have gone through if the time heist hadn’t given him an opportunity to escape. 

That second purpose was the answer fans were looking for after Endgame. By showing Loki what happened to him, his family brought out the side of him who was always there, the one Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Frigga (Rene Russo) saw and we all grew to love. Tom Hiddleston’s performance through those moments was incredible. It sure brought out some tears. 

After learning about the variants (people who disrupted the Sacred Timeline) and why it was important to keep them under control, the series revealed that the variant Mobius was after was, in fact, another Loki. They didn’t beat around the bush, and by the end of episode two, we met Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), aka "Lady Loki."

The endeavor of the two Lokis was both mesmerizing and exciting to watch through the rest of the season. I, however, want to share my only two criticisms towards the whole show. 

From the moment they hinted at it in Episode 3 through to the season finale, I just hated the idea of making Loki and Sylvie’s relationship romantic. It would have made much more sense to give them a sibling kind of relationship since Thor wasn’t around to fill that role for them. Even better, I would have loved to see Loki discovering self-love by seeing things through Sylvie’s eyes. I honestly thought that’s where all of it was headed, but they just had to make it weird. Like, disturbingly weird. 

That kiss in Episode 6一even if I do agree with others that Sylvie used it as manipulation to achieve what she wanted一almost made me turn off the whole thing. I know many people don’t like it and a few who do, but people, please, it is just utterly weird and creepy. Some bring up the argument that something like this would be very Loki-like, but I have to disagree on that point. 

The other thing I didn’t really like is how it started as a Loki-based show and then it turned into a Sylvie show. I do think Sophia Di Martino was the perfect casting, and she did an amazing job with the character. BUT the Loki we came here to see basically got reduced to a secondary character. At points, he was nothing more than a helpless love interest and a stepping stone to Sylvie’s goal. They made him seem like he was a bit dumb and definitely way too naive. By Episode 3, I started seeing the signs of this, but it got progressively more true by the end of the season. In the last episode specifically, Loki was basically just tagging along. 

That said, this didn’t stop Tom Hiddleston from being the absolute highlight of every scene he was in. He is Loki; he understands this character like no one else can, and it shows in everything he does. I think it is one of the main reasons why many love both Tom and Loki so dearly. 

I am still trying to digest everything we saw and all the information we got from the show, but these two things definitely bug me in this near-perfect entry to the MCU. 

Looking ahead, what effects will the events in Loki have on the MCU timeline?

It seems that WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier served more as character developments while also setting up these characters’ places in the future while the true start to MCU's Phase 4 is in the last episode of Loki. 

First and foremost, we were introduced to the next main villain of the MCU in the form of He Who Remains played by the amazing Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country). The show doesn’t reveal much at first, but people following MCU news closely know that Majors was cast as Kang, the villain in the next Ant-Man film. Kang the Conqueror is a time-traveling supervillain in the Marvel comics. He had several versions of him appear throughout the stories mostly fighting the Avengers and Fantastic Four. To quote He Who Remains himself from the last Episode: 

"If you think I'm evil, well, just wait 'til you meet my variants."

He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) waits at the end of time

It's in this scene that He Who Remains revealed to Loki and Sylvie that they had two options. Option 1 was to kill him and, with that, break the Sacred Timeline, pushing it into war with his other variants wreaking havoc. Option 2 was to take over control of the TVA from him and preserve the Sacred Timeline indefinitely. With Sylvie being dead set on revenge, combined with not believing a thing that He Who Remains is telling them, she chooses Option 1.

With that one moment, the MCU changed at its core. 

I had a theory on why we haven't had a Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer yet. With the rumors already surrounding the movie, I said that the reason we didn’t get a trailer is because the events in Loki will have a serious effect on it. I now whole-heartedly believe that I was right. We already know that there are two confirmed returns in Spider-Man with Alfred Molina reprising his role as Doctor Otto Octavius from Spider-Man 2 and Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Rumors have been going around ever since, that previous Spider-Man actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield will be in the film. With the events of Loki in mind, there's now a logical way that both Tobey and Andrew could return, each one as a Spider-Man variant. 

Also keep in mind that the big boss himself, Kevin Feige, hinted that you need to see the MCU TV shows to fully understand the upcoming movies. 

Spider-Man is just one of the stories that could be highly affected by the events of Loki. We don’t yet know much about this year's upcoming films Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals, but I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if they also acknowledge the events from Loki. For certain, though, there are three other upcoming films that will have strong ties to the show: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is already very revealing just by its title. Jokes are flying around that poor Doctor Strange will have to clean up all the mess Loki and Wanda caused. Elizabeth Olsen has been confirmed to reprise her role as Wanda in the film, and rumors are that Tom Hiddleston will appear as Loki. Given the events in Loki, there are endless possibilities of where Doctor Strange’s story can go, and it would be impossible to even guess which way Marvel will take it. But, with Benedict Cumberbatch also returning in Spider-Man as Doctor Strange the chances of… well… madness… in his upcoming solo film literally multiplied. One thing is for sure, we are definitely not ready for what’s to come in this new era of the MCU. 

Natalie Portman from San Diego Comic-Con (2019) (photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez)

Thor: Love and Thunder will be affected, not just because Thor is Loki’s brother and is rumored to return in this movie, but also as part of answering the big questions about Jane (Natalie Portman). We haven’t seen her since Thor: The Dark World, and Thor: Ragnarok revealed that Thor and Jane broke up. So it definitely came as a surprise when Marvel announced the Phase 4 movies and TV shows that Kevin Feige happily announced that Natalie Portman will make her return. During the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con where this was announced, Natalie herself even held up Thor's hammer, Mjölnir. This suggests we may see Mighty Thor from the comics in which Jane Foster becomes worthy to wield Mjölnir the same way Captain America did in Endgame. BUT, with Loki in mind and Jane Foster being MIA from the MCU for so long, one can’t help but wonder if this version of Jane is gonna be a variant.

Here's my logic: We know that Mjölnir got destroyed by Hela (Cate Blanchett) in Thor: Ragnarok. Thor brought it back from the past during the time heist event in Endgame but it was returned to its original place by Captain America in the end. So at the moment, Mjölnir is in little pieces in the current MCU timeline, right? But then why would Portman have held up Mjölnir at SDCC? Given all that, I believe that the Jane Foster we are getting in Thor: Love and Thunder will be a variant. I might be completely wrong, but as the title of this article says I am giving you all my theories. 

Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania is likely going to be the film most affected by Loki. I believe that the TVA and the Citadel are both places existing in the Quantum Realm. In Ant-man and the Wasp, you can see a subatomic city structure for only just a second. Although it wasn’t confirmed by the end of Loki Season 1, I still stand by this theory. I think that what we see there is the TVA headquarters. Also, as I previously mentioned, we’re gonna see a version of He Who Remains in the next Ant-man movie in the form of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). 

The suspicious quantum realm city from Ant-Man

I won’t speculate about the upcoming shows like Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, or Marvel's What If...? because while I do believe Loki could have an effect on them, I also think that the major multiverse events will happen in the movies more so than in the shows. But, at this point, it is all a waiting game. 

Our favorite God of Mischief made sure that we are not without excitement, entertainment, and fun. Loki managed to add even more layers for us to love in Loki while also giving us many things to look forward to. We don’t know yet when Season 2 will arrive, but one thing is for sure: Loki still has a lot of things to do, and I can’t wait to see it! I won’t try and speculate which way the story will go because I strongly believe it will be affected by the previously mentioned films. I'm confident saying that the future is bright for the MCU. Maybe, even brighter than ever before, and I honestly can’t wait to see what else they will come up with. 

What's your take on the Loki series so far and how it's going to impact other MCU films and shows? Let's speculate in the comments!

Black Widow Movie Review

I just came home from the cinema, and my head is buzzing with many thoughts about Marvel’s return to the big screen. But, before I get into it, I will have to put a big red: SPOILER WARNING. You’ve been warned. 

The MCU had been going strong since WandaVision graced our TV screens, but we had to wait a tiny bit longer for the return of the movies. When they first postponed Black Widow, I don’t think any of us thought that it would end up getting pushed back till the summer of 2021. Yet, here we are. 

There was a lot of speculation about what Black Widow would be about and where it would be on the timeline of events, but I don’t believe anyone guessed correctly I certainly didn’t. My theory was that Natasha is closed inside the Soul Stone and she would somehow relive her memories, but slowly she would realize what’s been going on. I was completely off track, which led to the very sad realization that this indeed was the last appearance of Scarlett Johansson in the MCU. This realization is due to the fact that Black Widow takes place between the events of Civil War and Infinity War when Natasha is on the run. 

At the beginning of the movie, we get a look into Natasha’s childhood with her father, mother, and little sister in Ohio. It sure seems idyllic until the eagle-eyed Marvel fans (aka me for example) start to chuckle. Natasha didn’t know who her parents were, and that is made clear throughout the MCU timeline. She is in fact very surprised when Red Skull reveals her father’s name to her in Endgame because she didn’t even know that. Therefore, we can already tell that something isn’t quite right in the scenario, even though it is nice to see a happy moment from our beloved Black Widow’s childhood, even if we soon find out that it was all an illusion. The people she treated as family betrayed her very early on and she and her little sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) are tossed back into the Red Room where the Widow training is happening. 

The movie fast forwards 21 years as Natasha is on the run from Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) after the events of Civil War. This is where we also meet Yelena again as she is on a mission and as she overpowers the target, a red substance is thrown at her. But instead of turning into a mindless monster, (which is something one could expect in a situation like this), her head actually clears up and it turns out that ever since Natasha escaped they have used very successful mind-controlling chemicals on the next generation of Widows. Yelena gets rid of the tracking device that is inside her and soon the samples of the ‘cure’ (let’s call it that) end up in Natasha’s hands.

Yelena (Florence Pugh) Alexei (David Harbour) and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson)

That’s the catalyst for the movie. It is so much more than just a superhero/action film from that point. Natasha has to deal with a lot. She goes from one broken family (The Avengers) back to another one only to find out that the famous Budapest events (referenced by her and Clint a lot) were all for nothing. It turns out that she had tried to kill the leader of the Red Room and the Widow program Dreykov (Ray Winstone) and her arch-nemesis had actually survived. 

Now before I get on with the review, I want to share a bit of a fun story that happened at this big reveal. I am from Hungary, and we've been waiting to find out what role our capital: Budapest, would play in the MCU since it was first mentioned in Avengers (2012). There was a line in the movie referring to events that probably aren’t funny to an international crowd, but the whole cinema here laughed out loud when it was said. Natasha says that after the bombing, which was supposed to take out Dreykov, she and Clint had to fight through the Hungarian Commando. We all laughed at this because TEK (the previously referred to Commandos) has quite a bad reputation here in Hungary because in a lot of cases they are deemed to be incompetent. So Natasha saying that they had to fight through them like it was a big deal made over 90 people laugh in the cinema even though I am sure they didn’t think of it as a source for laughter. 

Ok back to the review. 

Once Natasha realizes that what she did to close down her past and save other girls from the same fate was unsuccessful, a much darker thing comes back to haunt her. As it turns out, the day they tried to kill Dreykov they also killed his daughter because as she put it, “There was no other way.” It’s clear very early on that this decision never left Natasha’s mind, and that she has struggled to come to terms with what she did. To find forgiveness. It sits heavily on the film the same way their “parents” betrayals do. 

Natasha Romanoff

They soon figure out that in order to find the Red Room they have to get the help of their fake parents. First, they have to save Alexei (David Harbour) from prison - he was betrayed and put behind bars by Dreykov - and get to Melina (Rachel Weisz) who still works for the Red Room and is responsible for the chemical compound that controls the widows. Once they arrive at Melina’s home we get to witness one of the most important scenes in the movie as the two girls’ trauma catches up with them. I have to admit that I was unsure about Florence Pugh’s casting as Yelena up until this moment in the movie. Here she proved it once and for all that she is pretty great. It broke my heart a little as it also showed us that Natasha’s past has been darker than we could have imagined. Yelena represented the child who was unaware that nothing she saw or experienced during their three years as a “family” was true, while Natasha was old enough to know that it was nothing more than an act. Both of their hurt was real and deep-cutting. 

I really liked the more quiet parts of Black Widow. It once and for all proved that one of the original six deserved to have her own film and we still had a lot to learn about her. She is smart, strong, brave, and everything that’s worth looking up to. It definitely gave me more strength to keep going on my journey and do everything I can to one day be part of the MCU. 

I know a lot of people complained about Taskmaster being a letdown and while I do understand them, I do not agree with them. The tragedy of this character, and showing the true evil of the story is simply fantastic. Taskmaster is none other than Antonia Dreykov (Olga Kurylenko) aka the daughter of Dreykov, who was used by her own father the same way other girls were. He was controlling the mind of his daughter without any remorse. He even has the audacity to thank Natasha for giving him one of his greatest weapons. 

Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko)

The movie's conclusion is amazing. Natasha not only finds forgiveness for what she did, but she also realizes that there’s still hope for her and her other family. They set Yelena up as our next Black Widow flawlessly and Natasha shows up at the end of the movie the way she looked in Infinity War, which gives a bittersweet touch to the whole story. 

I was ugly crying once the realization fully set in that this was our last time with Scarlett. She has been such a highlight of this Universe and she was an example for girls to look up to. She has been and always will be an inspiration. 

And the reason I will forgive Black Widow for coming out this “late” in the game lies in the end credit scene. 

Yelena goes to Natasha’s grave (with the dog she mentioned she always wanted) and that’s when FREAKING VALENTINA (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) to whom we were introduced in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier shows up to give Yelena her next target. It is none other than the murderer of her sister: Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. Now, my theory with this big-ass surprise, in the end, is that we will meet Yelena again sooner than we thought in the upcoming Hawkeye series. I mean, it would make sense, but I also know that there’s no point in creating theories when it comes to Marvel because they like to mess with us a little. 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

All in all, Black Widow was a perfect entry in the MCU. Sure, we could have gotten it sooner, but to be honest I kind of don’t mind getting it like this. They did a wonderful job with tying the knots together,  and Scarlett’s last appearance couldn’t have been any better, even if it was bittersweet in the end. I sure will miss her. 

Thank you Black Widow. 

Thank you Marvel. 

I am sending my therapy bill. 

What did you think of the movie? Leave a comment below.

Great Directors and Why I Hate Them: Quentin Tarantino

Allow me to introduce you to this new series of articles! Full disclosure, as well as a disclaimer, I don't actually hate any of the directors in these articles. (HA! I just baited your click!) I speak in hyperbole merely because it's funny. However, in my experience, it’s become apparent that simply declaring, "I’m not a big fan of (insert popular director),” causes people to infer that you actually "HATE THIS WRETCHED ABOMINATION OF CINEMATIC ARTISTRY!" 

But, let me be perfectly clear here... not being a fan doesn't equate to hate or disrespect for the artist. Just because I don’t like strawberry ice cream doesn’t mean I hate “happiness milk.” ‘Cause I love it, I’m just lactose intolerant (okay, maybe this example got away from me).

That's why in this series I will attempt to explain myself, a filmmaker, and the hills I will DIE on when it comes to certain directors and the types of film choices they make. I will also do my best to include contextual examples and even offer feedback on what I think would improve their style in a hopefully objective manner. This is not crapping on these directors, this is merely an attempt to voice my opinion and see what you all think about these incredible artists and create a dialogue. 

Without further ado, let’s do this (oh shit)...

First up: Quentin Tarantino. I know. How taboo, right?

Quentin Tarantino at the premiere of Inglourious Basterds.

I’m going to start with someone who is possibly the most jarring example of a great director that I have issues with. Saying you don't like Tarantino to a film lover or filmmaker is akin to saying, "The Beatles suck!" to anyone with ears and a soul.

Again, I do not hate Tarantino’s films. On the contrary, I find him as one of the most important directors in modern cinema. His method of storytelling and nearly flawless ability to capture genuine human interactions is something to be admired by anyone looking into script writing. Hell, his writing style is the central focus of many writing courses in college. The only people I can think of capable of rivaling his style are the Cohen brothers

It is his directing style, however, where I take umbrage.

The problem: 

For however consummate Tarantino truly is in writing organic human interaction, he has a tendency of leaning into this form of realism far too much for what was initially promised as the focused genre. That's especially true when he promises the most bombastically violent and action-packed film since the last most bombastically violent and action-packed film he made. And, oh brother, does he deliver on that promise… eventually. 

For me, looking at this picture is basically identical to watching the protracted "dialog" scenes in a Tarantino film.

BUT, dear God it takes so long to get there.

Tarantino focuses on the realistic aspect of the characters and their conversations, and more recently has leaned into the action like he originally promised: bombastic and action-packed. The problem being that this form of hyper realistic narrative is extremely difficult to inject in such a cinematically action-driven story. And if you go in thinking it’s just an action movie and get a strong character study, which is easy to do, this can take you out of the brilliance of his films. Additionally, part of his realism is to include over-saturated storytelling. He tends to give far more information than is needed. I don't care what Kurt Russell thinks about coffee! Just please get to the point.

The example:

Imagine if Tarantino were given a Batman film. Here’s how I believe it would go:

Tarantino knows that you are already painfully aware of Bruce Wayne’s past and, correctly, assumes you don’t need a recap. So, he won’t go through the dead parents or training montage and instead we’ll get a Batman movie where he's already Batmanning as Batman. The opening scene is two criminals having a long-winded conversation about sandwiches or something only to reveal after 5 minutes that they’re torturing a family for money. 

Then Batman shows up. 

But it’s more like a stalking serial killer from a horror movie. We don’t see him, but he takes out one of the guys surgically. The other finds his partner, we see Batman’s silhouette ominously emerging from the shadows behind him, then the title screen: Batman: Rogues Gallery. Strong 30-minute opening! A different take on a famous franchise. VERY Tarantino.

Then we get about an hour's worth of Edward Nigma and Victor Zsasz collecting various villains and cryptically speaking about a "plan" they have. This is the over-saturated part I was talking about: lots of conversations that don’t go anywhere, characters that we begin to relate to that die offscreen immediately after being developed so the time we spent with them didn’t matter, and all the while Bruce Wayne isn’t even in the picture anymore.

Now the good stuff. The villains—Riddler, Zsasz, Black Mask, Penguin, Two-Face—all storm Wayne manor, take Alfred hostage, and keep him in the master bedroom, torturing him. Again, Batman is nowhere to be seen. Now we get a character study of all the villains as Alfred questions them, picking their brains and learning about them and their motives. Brilliant acting and some of the best lines put to paper.

Finally, Batman shows himself. He uses their vulnerability to dismantle all 5 villains in a BRILLIANT 5-minute action scene. Some of the best fight choreography and stunt work in any film. The film ends with the villains subdued, Alfred dying from his injuries, and Batman contemplating whether he will take their lives or not as he holds a since-passed Alfred in his arms.

Who am I kidding, I'd KILL to see this Tarantino-style movie that I just made up!

All this, however, is in a 2 1/2 hour BATMAN movie, where he’s maybe a side character at best. There's 10 minutes total of great action, but it ultimately flatlines for a casual viewer who isn’t a Tarantino fan. 

There isn't anything wrong with creating a character-driven action drama, but you can't forget the action part.

And you know the media attached to this will be showing nothing but Batman and how dark and twisted the movie would be, forcing you to go in expecting a comic-book Batman film with a Tarantino twist instead of the other way around. And we know the other way around works! Just look at Joker, for crying out loud. Not to mention, that big hour-long part where nothing happens could be cut entirely, like some pretty big spots in most Tarantino films. That extra hour could make this unwatchable to some audiences.

You're reading this on paper (internet screen?), which is much easier to digest. Imagine going to see a Batman movie where there's only 5 minutes of actual Batman, or even Bruce Wayne, and, instead of ANY action, there's far more character study with an emphasis on the study part. There isn't anything wrong with creating a character-driven action drama. However, you can’t forget the action part. 

I created this example rather than using one of his existing films because many of us already have an opinion on Tarantino’s existing films. His legacy is sound. Regardless of whether or not you like his work, that opinion is already formulated. With this hypothetical example, we can view Tarantino's formula more objectively. Even if this movie that doesn’t exist (yet) sounds super badass (man!), you know there will be people that hate the concept.

The solution: 

So let’s fix that right now, and easily: The title. 

Name the movie The Rogues Gallery. That’s it. In any and all press, exclude Batman. Promise that this will be a movie about the villains and what makes them tick. Offer nothing else. People will only expect to go in getting to know the villains, not see Batman Batmanning with batarangs and a bat-bat (that’s a baseball bat in the shape of a bat symbol). Give me what you promised, damn it!

This is the face I imagine Tarantino would make reading my article.

Tarantino does this a LOT! Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was awesome and tons of violent action, then its sequel, Vol. 2, took a weird turn that I couldn’t appreciate as a viewer until I wasn’t a stupid high schooler. Inglourious Basterds (still the movie I HATE most in his catalog) barely featured any of the "Basterds" we actually went to see and, instead, had 10-hour-long conversations about nothing and everyone died anyway (but Christoph Waltz is the F’n GOAT). The Hateful Eight had a bunch of characters (9, I think?) with background information we didn't need to appreciate the whole story, and it only got really good after everyone started dying (which is why there’s a 4-hour version). And Death Proof… I won’t even get into that mess... though the last 20 minutes were awesome.

What I would suggest to Tarantino, or any filmmaker, is to know your own themes. If you’re making a character drama with action, tell me that’s what it is. Don't tell me to expect TONS of action when I'm only getting one (albeit very impressive) fist or gun fight while the actual point of the film is to understand what the characters truly embrace out of life. Tarantino is very capable of great action and action-driven plots, but I love his character study and would appreciate knowing which film I'm getting when going to see it. Creating an audience expectation for a film that is heavily objective can really create dissonance in the community and generate animosity with your audience. Know what you're writing, know your themes and genres, and most importantly, know what you are promising.

What are your thoughts on Tarantino as a director? What directors do you feel have a similar problem with setting the wrong expectations? Drop your thoughts in the comments. #ComeAtMeBro #ThisWasABadIdea 

Why Korean Movies and TV Shows Should Be on Your Watch List

I have to admit that Train to Busan wasn’t the first Korean movie I saw. It was actually The Host from acclaimed writer and director Bong Joon Ho. Back then, I don’t think I really appreciated that movie. I think I only watched it because everyone seemed to be talking about it. Years later, I went back and watched it again, and it was amazing. It gives a new shade to the monster genre and a depth that you probably didn’t even think was possible from a movie with a big monster in it. It’s not as much about the action as it is about the connection between the characters, the different relationships, and how they change. Although I have to admit, the action sequences are pretty damn good as well, especially the one at the beginning when the monster first attacks the people on the beach. But, I needed time (and an extra kick) to truly appreciate Bong Joon Ho’s movie. 


Gong Yoo (left) and Ma Dong-seok (right) in Train to Busan

In 2016 a new zombie movie rolled into the cinemas, and this time around, it came from Korea, not from the United States. It came at the right time when it seemed like that not even ‘The Walking Dead’ would be able to keep the zombie genre alive. In my personal opinion, Train to Busan single-handedly saved zombie films and is without question, the best one ever created. Yes, I know that is controversial to say, but I am standing by it with all my heart and soul. Once it came out, I managed to get it on Blu-Ray, watched it at least 50 times if not more, and I can’t get tired of it. I even got my hands on the novel version (it wasn’t an easy task).

I watched Seoul Station which plays in the same universe as Train to Busan and tells the story of how it all started in Seoul. This movie was such a huge success internationally as well, that we also got a second film called Peninsula which heavily involved the Americans, and not to throw any shade, but it sadly shows. Peninsula is nowhere near as great as Train to Busan was, and except for the opening scene on the ship, it fails on almost every level as it is heavily influenced by the simple curse of “More money, bigger effects and losing the heart and soul of the movie”. The characters are a bit flat and grey and they are your typical “genre characters”.

Not too long ago, we also got the news that James Wan (master of horror if you ask me) got the rights to create the American version of Train to Busan and I am not really happy with this news, to put it lightly. I love James Wan, respect him, and would LOVE to work with him one day, but I honestly wish that no one would ever touch Train to Busan. This movie was so good story-wise, in character building, and in the genre itself that it doesn’t need any remake/reboot. It needs to be left alone and exist perfectly on its own, please and thank you. I could go in-depth of why I think Train to Busan is the perfect zombie movie, but since I want to talk about other Korean movies and tv shows as well, I will link the video from the YouTube Channel ‘Wow Such Gaming’ in here because he explains it flawlessly:

After watching Train to Busan and falling in love with two actors Gong Yoo (he played the main character Seok-woo) and Ma Dong-seok (he played the absolute badass Sang-hwa) I did my usual ritual… I stalked them on IMDb and watched MANY of their movies and TV Shows. 

As I mentioned in my previous article, Ma Dong-seok will star in Marvel’s The Eternals this year, which I am overly excited about as it will be his first appearance in an American film. I would highly recommend some of his movies first for you all to fall in love with him. The two movies I love him in (besides Train to Busan of course) are two huge movies from Korea: Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds and Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days. In the first one, he only appears in the end but in the second one, he is one of the protagonists. These movies are mind-bending and I can guarantee you that they are very different from what you are used to. The first one tells the story of a firefighter who after his heroic death has to go through 7 trials in 7 hells over 49-days to disclose how he lived his life. He has the help of three guardians who are trying to succeed in defending him during the trials so he can be reincarnated as he is considered to be a model citizen. In the second movie, the Last 49 days we find out who the three guardians were in their life on Earth, and it is one of the most beautiful stories about how our lives can intertwine.

Watching these two movies made me realize why Korean movies are so appealing to me. The story-telling can be confusing at first because they are going deep from the beginning. They do not introduce their characters the same way other movies would, instead they go deep into the stories of their characters and the reason behind how they act during the main act. They don’t follow the so-called rules of story-telling. Therefore, when you fall in love with the characters on your screen it feels more natural, more human, as you find out who they really are and can get genuinely surprised when new characteristics are introduced through them. 

A TV Show I would like to recommend that stars Gong Yoo from Train to Busan, is called Sseulsseulhago Chalranhashin: Dokkaebi or as most people know it: Goblin. This series is mind-blowingly beautiful in every way possible: as a drama, as a romance, the cinematography, the story-telling, and the character building. It’s definitely a high peek of Korean television. Gong Yoo plays the titular character ‘Kim Shin’ aka ‘Goblin’ whose quest is to find a bride to break his immortal curse as he is a 939-year-old guardian of souls. It is at times heartbreaking, but all together just an absolutely breathtaking Korean TV drama. A must-watch. 

Still from the movie Forgotten

Netflix is a wonderful ally when it comes to Korean TV and Film, especially if you live outside of Korea. They have Korean originals and TV Shows and Movies (including the previously mentioned Along with the Gods) that are available to watch for the international crowd as well. The first Netflix original I saw was Forgotten. If you like heavily elaborate twists and true mind-bending… you HAVE TO watch this film. I adore Forgotten on the same level as Train to Busan (someone, please count how many times I already wrote down this title). Forgotten is about Jin-seok (played by Kang Ha-Neul) who’s brother returns after being abducted but he is a completely different person, so Jin-seok starts to search for the truth, and oh boy… the things he finds out and therefore we find out are so mind-blowing, that there’s no way you can guess ANY of the steps in this movie. It is masterfully done, every step, the way the story unfolds is something that should be taught to film students everywhere. It definitely changed my view on movies in a major way, especially on thrillers, as this counts as that. And what stands in the spotlight here as well? THE CHARACTERS. 

Another Netflix original I would very highly recommend to everyone is another TV Show called Kingdom. Kingdom is once again a major contender in the zombie genre BUT it plays during the Joseon period. It’s not just a simple zombie series, oh no… not even close, it is also a royal drama series with intricate story-telling and (once again) characters, who will very quickly grow on you and you can’t help but hold all your fingers crossed for them. This series easily knocks The Walking Dead out of the park, without any question. It focuses heavily on how greed is even worse than the dead coming back to life to bring chaos and destruction while also adding mystery and depth to its story. 

This article is very long. But hang with me as there are a few more titles that I need to mention as a must-see for anyone who would like to dive into Korean cinema (and oh boy, I hope you all do):

There are so many more Korean TV shows and films we could talk about, but I tried to highlight some of my favorites in this article. I’ve only really started to get into Korean cinema the past few years and I do regret not getting into it earlier. It’s so different from what I am used to that it is actually refreshing. I would give out a warning though… once you get in don’t be surprised if it completely sucks you in. As a matter of fact, I started learning Korean back in 2020 so I can watch and enjoy them without subtitles. 

Bong Joon Ho with his Oscars

Just to mention one last thing. Because I can’t leave without talking about it. Bong Joon Ho directed one of the best post-apocalyptic movies with a mostly American cast (khm… Chris Evans… khm) and I truly and fully believe that everyone should watch it. It’s called Snowpiercer and with it, you will glance into what Korean film-making and story-telling are like. It’s also worth it to mention that Bong Joon Ho is an executive producer on the SnowPiercer TV show on TNT as well. 

Why Video Game Movies Always Come Up Short

I like video games.

That shouldn't be a shocking statement if you've read the other articles I have on the site. I even dedicated an entire article just to talking about old Adobe flash games that I played as a child. I also like movies, and my blog on my website *shameless plug* covers movies quite a bit.

Naturally, this predisposed me to watch a whole bunch of video game movies over the years. The many films came rushing back to me as I watched the latest trailer for the new Mortal Kombat movie, and this question kept coming back to me:

Are we ever gonna see a good video game movie?

Sure, we've had enjoyable video game movies—your Sonic The Hedgehogs, Lara Crofts, Mortal Kombat, if you will. And there are films and games that pair together to tell a bigger story. But there's also been the god awful—Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros., and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation to name a few. None of these have been good in my view. The highest I'd rate them would be a below-average or average grade. 

All of this kept running through my head as I was watching the trailer, and my excitement for the movie started to slowly leak out of my body the more I watched. I realized I'd been here before, excited to watch the latest video game movie thinking 'this'll be the one', only for it to turn out like it always does: hollow and disappointing. I asked myself why this is the case, and I reckon I've got a pretty good idea why.

You can't play a movie.

I mean, of course, you can’t play a movie, but that’s beside the point.

The interaction audiences have with movies and video games is quite different. Movies are mostly passive unless you decide to pass the TV remote between your mates. In contrast, video games are generally one of the most audience-interactive modes of entertainment we have.   

A lot of AAA games developed these days have production values on par with most modern movies. However, I believe that video games' interactivity lends more weight to the experience because it’s you controlling the events instead of just being along for the ride. I think this is always there in the back of gamers' minds when they're watching these video game movies. 

It would make sense that when you watch the Tomb Raider movies, you're reminded of all the action set pieces you've played through. You're inevitably going to compare them to the scenes in the movie. Thus, most of the time you've either seen it before and played it in the game or it's just not as exciting as the game.

This interactivity also allows video games to connect with audiences in a completely different way compared to a movie's passive nature. The best way to explain this would be by using an example. Let's just pick a random game as an example…

Ah yes, Yager Development's 2011 underrated gem Spec Ops: The Line, that'll do nicely. (This choice isn't surprising for those that know me considering I recommend this game to everyone any chance I get.) Spec Ops is a great example of how video games' stories are inherently unique to the medium.

For the purposes of this post, I'm only going to be looking at the game's story because the gameplay isn't anything to write home about, and that's not what I’m talking about today.

In Spec Ops, you follow Captain Martin Walker as he and his fireteam of Delta operators travel through a sandstorm-ravaged Dubai. They're searching for a way out of the city when they discover survivors of the storm and are fired upon. This inciting incident leads Walker and his team along an inexorable path in a downward spiral as they delve deeper and deeper into the city. This concludes in a hideous maelstrom of violence and death as the player's control over Walker is called into question. Players becoming unwitting passengers as the war crimes start piling up.

This basic plot isn't anything groundbreaking or revolutionary. The developers are very open about their inspirations from Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness. Where the game's story takes on a new level is when the player's direct interactions with the game world are used to show the state of Walker's fractured psyche.

At this point, I'm going to be talking spoilers for the game, and there are also some images that some of you may find distressing.

The best example of this is towards the end of the story when any semblance of buddy-buddy warfare has crumbled along with the squad's mental state. Your squad member Lugo was hanged by civilians in a refugee camp. Walker and Adams are surrounded by the civilians, and the player can choose to fire into the air to scare off the civilians or gun them down without mercy. This choice may not look like much, but if we were a passive observer (like with a movie), we can't know what kind of options Walker has. This would stop us from being able to analyze his actions with as much depth as we can as the interactive player.

See, that's the thing. The fact we control the characters and make decisions for them gives us an insight into the characters that we can't get from watching a movie portraying the same events.

However, this control being taken away from us in-game is also a way games can affect us on a much deeper level than movies can. Going back to Spec Ops, specifically the white phosphorus scene, Walker and the player encounter heavy enemy resistance outside The Nest. At this point in the game, the mission for Walker has morphed from fleeing Dubai to rescuing civilians held past The Nest. The team knows that they can't win a straight firefight against that, and we learn that a mortar is nearby loaded with white phosphorus.

White phosphorus is a horrible chemical that does horrible, unspeakable things to humans when they come into contact with it. I'm not going to list them here; you can look that up in your own time if you so wish. Using the chemical is also a war crime in certain situations. Lugo even states that the team knows what the chemical does and is reluctant to use the weapon, bordering on being insubordinate. He even flat-out states that there's always a choice, to which Walker replies, "There's really not."

We've already experienced these movies… every time we pick up the controller. 

This entire dialogue is played out in cutscene, a passive movie-watching experience that cuts away from your interactive gameplay. You can't stop it. You can't try and rationalize another way out of the situation. All you can do is watch as Walker commands his squad to set up the mortar and fire on the enemy encampment. However, the game drops back out of the cutscene with you looking upon the battlefield through the targeting system of the mortar, unable to stop until you have killed every last one of the enemies.

Except that not every person at The Nest was an enemy.

Do you feel like a hero yet?

Right at the end of the set-piece, you fire upon a huge mass of people that you believe are enemy combatants. After you walk your team through the scorched earth that you created, watching soldiers try to escape their fates, their screams assaulting you, you're greeted with a terrible sight—civilians that you had set out to save, their bodies burnt and hollowed out by the white phosphorus.

It's easily one of the most horrific acts Walker commits in the entire game.

But he wasn't the one pushing the button and giving the commands.

That honor goes to the same person you see when you look at your screen right now.

That person is you.

That scene, more than any other in the game, shows how games draw the player in and can put them in the character's headspace so easily. Movies just can't get close to that experience.

That's why I don't think we're ever going to get a good video game movie. Because we've already experienced these movies… every time we pick up the controller.     

Do you have a favorite video game movie? What movie game franchise do you want to see on the big screen next? Let me know down below.

Author's Note:

This post delved into some pretty dark subject matter. If that's dredged up some stuff for you on a personal level, know there are always people on hand to help you through it.

All around the globe, there are countless organisations there to help you through any tough times you may be having. You can link here to search for a mental health organisation in your country.

Stay safe and I'll catch you all next time. -Rohan

The Future of the MCU

The MCU. Love it or hate it, you simply can’t deny its effect on how movies have changed thanks to its "planning way ahead of time" strategy. Let’s be fair here, other big franchises are trying to do exactly what the MCU has done successfully. 

10 years of character, story, and world-building came together in Infinity War and Endgame and once it all came to a conclusion some people rightfully asked: ‘What now?’ I am one of those people who blindly believe in their favorite creators and let me tell you… I wholeheartedly believe in Kevin Feige. He is an absolute genius in my eyes. And trust me, I don’t call many people that. So even when they started announcing the new MCU titles I cheered like a 5-year old even though I had never heard of some of them and a few just seem downright strange. (Doctor Strange… get it? Not funny? Fine.) WandaVision was one of the titles where I was like: ‘I don’t know how I feel about this’.

Truth is that I’ve never really cared about Wanda or Vision on the same level as I cared for Captain America (who’s my absolute favorite) or Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Spidey and I could go on. It’s not that I disliked their characters oh no… no. I can assure you that I wept like a child at the end of Infinity War. I also adore Elisabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, but logically, Vision’s dead, and Wanda is grieving so what could this show possibly be about and how are they back together and why does it look like a sitcom and there were so many more questions. Then it simply arrived on Disney Plus and officially blew away almost everyone who sat down and watched it every Friday.

Still for the final episode of WandaVision

The care that went into the story and the building of this post-blip era showed from the beginning to the end. Wanda’s struggle and how they chose to tell her story after losing everyone she loved is probably the smartest decision they’ve ever made at the MCU and it was the perfect opening to Phase 4 without any question or doubt. I think one quote from the series says it all: 


What is grief, if not love persevering?” 

WandaVision closed down its run perfectly by leaving open many questions and creating new possibilities for the future. So what is the future of the MCU? 

By the time this article sees the light of day, it is highly possible that the next chapter of the MCU has already started its run with ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’. Yet another TV Show with Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan returning as the titular heroes and probably the best duo on screen. If you want to watch something funny dear readers, you should watch interviews with Mackie and Stan because they are absolutely hilarious together so I am expecting some great laughs from them. How their story will affect phase 4 is another interesting question. We left them at the crucial moment where Steve Rogers handed his shield to Sam (The Falcon). We also know that Winter Soldier and Falcon are not exactly friends (the co-worker's promo hints at this even more and it’s hilarious) and that they might have a bit of a harder time working together (I am sensing a type of buddy-comedy that I am honestly dying to see). I personally LOVE that Zemo (Daniel Brühl) from Civil War is back. I think he is definitely in the top 5 MCU villains list (even if we could argue whether he is a villain or not). It will be interesting to see how he has changed since we last saw him. The fact that he chose a purple mask to instill fear in people by evoking Thanos already gives away a bit of his character. The question with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is how much connectivity will it have to WandaVision and then how will later projects connect with it. I mean, sure, this is the question in every case when it comes to the MCU, but I believe that now that we have the TV shows next to the movies and the knowledge that WandaVision will heavily connect to Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, and Spiderman… well, it begs the question. Are we getting even more connections than we are used to? Will there be an even bigger web to unfold when it comes to connecting the lines? Let’s look at it this way. 

WandaVision -> Other projects -> confirmed connection 

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier -> Other projects -> High possibility of connection 

Loki -> Other projects -> Big question 

Let’s stop here. We know that Loki is the very same Loki who got away with the tesseract when the time heist went a bit wrong on Tony, Steve, Scott, and Bruce’s end. Therefore, if we go by what they said about time travel and its rules in Endgame, it means that whatever happens with Loki happens on a different timeline meaning that it won’t have an effect on what happens in other MCU titles. Unless they pull a trick on us, logically Loki is a standalone series that’s bringing back everyone’s favorite God of Mischief. I might be completely wrong and then you are free to refer back to this article if I go into denial.

 
Another title that we can be pretty sure about is Black Widow. Sure there are theories out there (mine included) but as far as we are all concerned Black Widow takes place before Natasha becomes an Avenger. It will also be the first MCU movie to drop in Phase 4 so I’m just saying, anything is possible. 

We have two more familiar faces showing up this year. Hawkeye with his series and Spiderman with his movie. Hawkeye is still a bit of a mystery and we know that Kate Bishop will enter the MCU through it (played by the amazing Hailee Steinfeld) but story-wise they are keeping everything a secret. Spiderman, however, will possibly be our first official look into the multiverse if we believe all the casting news of course. News? Or just rumors? Or even better an elaborate marketing campaign to get people even more hyped (even if I don’t know how that could be possible)? 

What really interests me are the new heroes that will get introduced this year. Shang-Chi, the master of Kung Fu, will be the first one to arrive. He first appeared in 1973 in Marvel Comics but his first solo comic didn’t come out until 1983. Seeing his story come to life in the MCU opens new possibilities for them to expand their world in a new direction. It will be interesting to see how he will become part of the Avengers team or if he will become part of the team at all. 

The other newcomers this year who will open a completely new world will be the Eternals. Their story is one of the greatest from Marvel and I have to be honest, it’s one of my personal favorites next to Captain America.  When they announced it and when Angelina Jolie stepped on the stage, I almost fainted. Jolie is something of a hero for me and I look up to her in many respects, so I think I can safely say that I am very VERY excited to see this movie. There’s one more actor they cast in this movie that I am really excited about, Ma Dong-Seok. Being a major Korean cinema fan, it was mind-blowing to see him among the cast. He is an excellent actor and I would highly recommend checking out his work in other movies including Train to Busan (Busanhaeng). Important to note is the arrival of the first deaf superhero in the MCU played by Lauren Ridloff who is a well-known deaf actress (The Walking Dead, Sound of Metal). 

Another great thing about Eternals is the director: Chloé Zhao who’s now on a winning streak for her beautiful movie Nomadland. Seeing her step into the director’s chair gives even more hope for this movie (even though we already established that I have blind faith in Marvel :D). 

The cast of Eternals and their director Chloé Zhao at SDCC


The future of the MCU doesn’t stop in 2021 though. We could go on and on about what’s to come and just to give you all a brief look through: 

Captain Marvel 2

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

She-Hulk

Blade

Ms. Marvel

Thor: Love and Thunder

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3

What if…?

Secret Invasion

Armor Wars

Black Panther 2

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

If you ask me, a completely biased fan of the MCU, I would say that the future couldn’t be any brighter and that it’s an amazing time to be a fan of these films. Seeing how their shows and films make a lot of people utterly excited and gives them a platform to create theories of their own is beautiful, to say the least. Even the weaker entries into this big build-up are welcomed and will find their footing in the Universe. Knowing that they plan years ahead with their stories and how they build up their characters is what makes them special for me and the reason I trust them, without a doubt. 

It is an amazing time to be a Marvel fan. 

What is your favorite Marvel character and what movie or TV show are you most looking forward to?

SPOILERS and YOU: A Guide to "Twists"

Vader is Luke’s bad guy. Rosebud was the name of a 2-hour long question. From the beginning, Bruce Willis was in the movie the WHOLE time. 

We live in a time of SPOILERS everywhere. One of the big questions about it, if you haven’t heard, is "Does knowing the twist of a movie or video game actually ruin the whole story for you? Or was the whole thing only hanging on the twist alone, making the story weak by comparison.”  Well, much like buttholes, everyone has an opinion. And I have a butthole because I’m one of those "everyones." So, let’s explore my… "opinion" in this article, which I’m certain no one asked for.

Here’s a short story for you to set up the discussion:

A woman walks into a room with a glass of wine, sits next to her husband, and says, “I love you so much. I just want you to know that I couldn’t make it without you.” The husband says, “Is that you talking, or the wine?” The woman says, “Neither. It's me talking to the wine.” (pause for laughter)

This is an example of subverting expectations, otherwise called "the twist." This twist is what can be "spoiled" for an audience if they know about it before experiencing it. 

Let's science this bitch.

Expectation subversion a commonly-used tool in telling jokes. You set up the story and tell it in a way that forces the audience to logically think of how it's going to end. By the end of it, you have presented a "twist," forcing the audience to rethink the story and see it in a new way with new information. In joke-telling, you have to make this new information work without the need to think too long about it. It needs to hit quickly, register fast, and invite the audience to laugh at the jab. The audience laughs not because they were tricked but because they feel rewarded for deciphering the information correctly. 

And that's the word I want you to focus on when it comes to the twist: the REWARD

Ok, lesson over. 

Now my big question: Is giving key information about a story actually spoiling that rewarding experience?

Let’s take that concept of reward and try to contextualize it to a shared experience. Given the subject matter, I believe many people familiar with this website and its contents have completed a little unknown Indie video game called Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. If not, get the hell off the internet and go play this masterpiece of a game and have your life changed forever. NOW! If you prefer to trudge on, please be forewarned: MAJOR ACTUAL SPOILERS AHEAD! Let's do this.

So after Nathan Drake dies… ok, just kidding (always wanted to do that). 

Zoran Lazarević: A mug only a mother can love... after a whole bottle.

The entirety of Uncharted 2 tells you the story of Nathan Drake and company trying to blah blah blah. If you made it to this part, you know the story. The point is that the focus of the story always sustained itself to one primary objective: finding the Cintamani stone. The only character that actually knew what was going on was the antagonist, Zoran Lazarebitch (great joke, and I don’t know how to do the accented c on my keyboard). When you finally realize what all the cryptic information about the stone actually meant and what it did, it was a proverbial "kick to the nuts."

I’ll never forget what I felt when Drake said, "You gotta be shittin' me," after realizing the stone's true purpose. When he knew something was up, I knew something was up. When he received the new info, I figured it out with him. Granted, he was quicker than me to grasp the concept, and then he told me, but I was there for the ride every step of the way. WE earned this together. And everything in my soul felt that reward. This is subversion done correctly.

So, for Uncharted 2, is knowing this key information spoiling the rewarding experience?

Well... EVERYTHING about the information gained in your first playthrough affects how you experience the story on the second playthrough. Noticing the twist being foreshadowed throughout the game and putting the information together actually AMPLIFIES the reward felt each time you play it. That’s why so many people play the game multiple times a year even to this day.

That's why I'd refer to this as "good" subversion.

Now for an example of bad subversion (dun dun duuuuuun). For this one, I'm going to exploit my headache-inducing memory at the expense of making my article work: Game of Thrones' series ending. (Sorry, Michelle!) Obviously, SPOILERS AHEAD.

Honestly, this would have been an improvement.

Unlike Uncharted 2, the Game of Thrones series is all over the place. There are characters making decisions on things everywhere for different reasons all the time. When they eventually act on those decisions, their actions are arbitrary at best. If you think about their actions for more than half a nanosecond, you'll notice toward the end of the series that all the characters started acting in different ways (like complete dumbasses) than we recognize because they needed to get to the predetermined (bad) ending the show-runners created. The result was that every character's decision was forced to trigger that "twist effect.

When the subversion itself is done well, as in Uncharted 2, the media in question gets noticed and elevated to artistic ranks. It’s no wonder why everyone is trying to capitalize on this "expectation subversion" mechanic. But when you continue to do the "expectations" part for years and then "subvert" only in the final minutes, it has an opposite effect on the people taking in the information: they feel no reward and, instead, feel cheated.

So how does knowing Game of Thrones' key information affecting that rewarding experience?

The setups were cheap thrills that kept me watching through the end of the series but then left me feeling punished for retaining all that info by the end, making me a sad, sad boy. Many current shows are actually guilty of this same tactic. And that’s by design. Not the sucking part, but trying to keep people guessing and then forcing the twist at the end. Bad subversion.

By the way, if you're loving this topic, dive into it more in this video from Overly Sarcastic Productions, which inspired my article: Trope Talk: Plot Twists.

So, knowing the twist in a story will absolutely change the experience. That said, it can either hurt or enhance your experience. If I spoiled the punch line of the joke at the beginning for you, it wouldn't have had the same impact. It would have weakened your experience and cheated you out of a laugh. Knowing the end of Uncharted 2 won't lessen the impact of such an incredible story because you need the whole story for the impact to matter. In contrast, knowing the end to Game of Thrones does spoil the ending because you know that the cheap thrills they give you aren't leading to a rewarding payoff.

People will experience things differently, that much is known. People also want to have control over how they consume those experiences. When someone changes that organic experience for someone else by forcing information on them about a story, it can rob them of the intended emotions created by the storyteller. Everyone has the right to choose what information they want going into a story, and that’s always fine. But please keep in mind not everyone thinks like you.

As a writer, I create stories that I hope will "wow" the audience. I want the reader to enjoy the journey, and I hope they'll want to return to that journey and experience a new kind of joy each time. Even if knowing the big "twist" doesn’t ruin their reward, it would deny them that FULL experience I initially intended. It robs them of that gut punch from the reveal, something that storytellers usually work very diligently to create. So, to all the people that get a rise out of spoiling things for others, I say this:  

Don't be asshats… um... please

You made it to the end! This is for those of you that didn’t TLDR.

What stories have you had spoiled for you? Or what are some great, or terrible, twists that you'd like to praise or vent about? Let's chat in the comments, but let’s try to keep things spoiler-free. (You know, like I didn’t.)

The C-List Heroes We Need in the DC Cinematic Universe

Picture the scene, dear reader. It is 2003, and my good self, an avid Comic Book fan is browsing the shelves of my local comic book store. I'm tired of the constant stream of big comic events that pit entire casts of A-list heroes against a cataclysmic threat that is on the brink of consuming existence as they know it, rebooting the universe and, once it’s all over, they all get reset back to issue #1. Or the age-old tale of one top-selling hero battling against another in a crossover event that, for some reason, needs to be collected across multiple comic titles that aren’t usually on your pull list, but you have to buy them all in order to get the full story.

The growing need to break from the norm of superhero comic books is strong and, so far, going unsated. I'm just about to give up when, like a shining beacon of curious hope, two brightly coloured covers leap out from one of the lower shelves where the graphic novels live. The books in question are Formerly Known as the Justice League and I Can’t Believe it’s not the Justice League. Take it from me, dear reader, these are two of, if not the best, books about C-list Superheroes that have hit hard times. From writers Keith Giffen & J.M Dematteis and artist Kevin Maguire, this is a comic series about an unlikely and sometimes unwilling bunch of would-be heroes that are just trying to be relevant in a world inhabited with more powerful and successful superheroes.

The stories contained within, while being a call back to the JLA International era, are also full of chaotic, over-the-top scenarios with some suspense and a lot of humor thrown in for good measure. And because they are so well written, there are even some subtext and plot points that build toward a big event that comes home to roost down the line in a future, much bigger book. Heavily impacting on the lives of the entire DC universe.

This is world-building at its finest, and it's done with characters that even a seasoned comic book reader wouldn’t expect.

I mean, seriously, who would’ve thought I’d care about Blue Beetle? Never mind how his storyline would impact an entire universe and do what it did to Wonder Woman? See, I bet you’re intrigued after reading that right? These books are fantastic and surprisingly, despite their more comedic tone, lead into one of DC Comics' most lauded and dramatic stories, Infinite Crisis.

So, this begs the question: if these stories can be told so well in comic book form, why can’t they be translated to the big screen? They are ripe for adaptation, and I think they would truly solidify the DC Cinematic Universe in the same way that the story arcs in the Marvel Universe have done.

DC's TV outings have been a big success. The CW's Arrowverse showed that a plethora of heroes could be mined for small-screen stardom. The Arrowverse went so far as to have big crossover events taken straight out of the comic books that inspired them, pulling these off to great fanfare given their limited budgets. And, for the most part, they showed their big-screen counterparts how to actually handle the heroes living through these events. Also, Titans and Doom Patrol showed that show creators could cater to an older audience of comic book fans to great success without making them brooding affairs of despair.

original artwork by Wayne Talbot

It is on the big screen that Warner Bros and DC have had mixed results, at least critically if not financially. Unlike Marvel’s offerings and their ability to tie both motion pictures and TV shows together in one big universe, DC has faltered along the way. And while their more recent offerings are showing some cohesion, they have yet to build a foundation that isn’t plagued by cracks.

There is a definite divide in the fanbase, with the more extreme fans decrying any negativity towards the overly dour and somber world these heroes inhabit, a world in a perpetual state of infighting and self-doubt. 

It is a world without hope, something that a universe that Superman inhabits should never be without in its darkest hour. Yet in the movies of this DC universe, much-needed hope is as rare as color in a palette of browns and greys.

For the less venomous within the fanbase, the seemingly rushed attempt to create a world that all these heroes inhabited together has been viewed as being forced and built on a lack of understanding of the core elements of the heroes and also the villains themselves. Now, don’t get me wrong, I will be the first to admit that some of the casting has been fantastic. Margot Robbie’s turn as Harley Quinn is a bright spot, first in the critically panned but financially successful Suicide Squad, and then in Birds of Prey (which I really enjoyed).  Warner Bros definitely seem to be giving more thought and effort to Harley’s place in the world than any of the main trinity going so far as to hire director James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy fame to helm the Suicide Squad sequel. With Gunn bringing his own flavor to the impressively cast follow-up, I have hope in the DC’s cinematic universe that I was so very much lacking until very recently. 

original artwork by Wayne Talbot

Now, I don’t know if the creative teams behind these movies have met in boardrooms, or (more than likely in recent times) over a Zoom call, but since the release of Wonder Woman 1984, they now have a key element in adapting the Formerly Known as the Justice League titles to the screen in the form of none other than Max Lord, as played by Pedro Pascal. (Pascal is so hot right now.) Albeit his portrayal leans heavily on Lord’s used car salesman aspect of the character. If Warner Bros and DC were to expand his story past WW84, maybe to atone for his deeds in the movie, which would be an interesting way to move him forward and allow him to bring the other characters along for the ride.

The premise in the comic book is that Lord wants to create a team of superheroes for hire, made up of lesser-known heroes who have either retired or are at the lower rung of the hero ladder. A group is formed, and misunderstandings and hijinks ensue. But the beautiful thing about the stories contained within are the relationships between the characters as they find their feet and try to make their way through the chaotic world they live in. We get to see Blue Beetle and Booster Gold’s bromance. We learn about the innocence of Mary Marvel (who can easily tie the Shazam movie into the rest of the world) as she tries to find her place among the more seasoned heroes in the group. We see the marriage of Sue and Ralph Digby, which also leads into a truly heart-breaking storyline in the event Identity Crisis. These books even contain a dry-witted cameo of Batman, whose jokes are unnerving for those around him.

These two books are the root of some truly brilliant pieces of storytelling that would give Warner Bros and DC a really solid foundation on which to build a world of intertwining events. They would add substance, stability, and a much-needed sense of humor and self-awareness to a currently disjointed collection of movies that continue to divide fans. DC superhero movies have long been a victim of needing to be a serious affair.

From Christopher Nolan’s crime drama Batman movies to Zack Snyder’s bombastically dour Dawn of Justice, but given recent releases like Shazam and Birds of Prey, it seems that some things might be changing. I mean the Snyder Cut of Justice League is on the way, and the precedent of its reworking and subsequent release is a worrying one given it as essentially the studio giving in to the social media mob and collective throwing of toys from the pram. But if Warner Bros and DC really want to try and build a sustainable and expandable cinematic world to rival that of Marvel’s, they need not look far. The inspiration or countless pieces of storytelling are right at their fingertips, simply waiting for someone to actually read them.

DC fans, what do you think of bringing these C-list heroes and stories into the cinematic universe? Let's discuss in the comments.

Does Warner Bros Releasing Its 2021 Movie Lineup On HBO Max Matter In The Long Run?

2021, and still in quarantine.  COVID-19 brought us a completely new way of life.  We have had to learn how to adapt our home-life to accept our work-life, school-life, and gym-life.  Companies have had to adjust to working from home, even if they were reluctant to at first.  We have spent more time bathing in hand sanitizer, abiding (hopefully) by new state regulations, keeping our distance, and yet becoming more connected to people we never would have been able to before this.  (YAY THIS WONDERFUL COMMUNITY!)


Wonder Woman 1984 is the first of big titles slated to open at home.

In order to appease our new way of life, companies have also had to adjust how they do business.  This has resulted in many small businesses unfortunately closing, and large businesses completely re-doing their business plan.  Movie theatres, among so many others, have been hit extremely hard.  This has caused closures of theatres (in some cases permanently), large movie releases have been delayed, and the largest business that we never thought could be held back, the film business,  was basically placed on hold.  Due to this, one company has decided to release all their 2021 film line-ups directly to a TV near you!  That’s right…Warner Brothers is releasing their entire 2021 lineup on HBO Max (you know, just like the title says).  But why does this matter? We’re going to break this question down and see how this does matter, both from a consumer and a business point of view.

Live-action film Mulan, which was released at home on Disney+ for $30

First, we’re going to look at the business side.  Currently, the release date that has been set for the movie will be the same date that the movie will simultaneously be released onto HBO Max for one-month access.  This allows studios to maintain the relationship with movie theatre distributors while adjusting for the at-home streaming needs.  Those who do not have access to HBO Max, since it is localized, will have the ability to “safely” see the movie in theatres if they so desire.  Warner Brothers are considering this an experiment.  They released the hit, Tenet, in theatres during the pandemic, and ultimately lost hundreds of millions of dollars.  Releasing their line-up to an in-home streaming service is keeping them in the game with the likes of Disney +, who released Mulan earlier this year, as well as attempting to catch-up on lost revenue from the year that is 2020.

Historically, studios have viewed streaming services as the enemy, as they were taking away an integral part of the experience, i.e., going to the theatre.  Because streaming services are their own companies, if studios were to give their movies to them, the studios would then lose control of the distribution of the film, as well as lose the box office statistics.  Studios viewed the theatre as the only feasible way to make money, as it is considered a 1:1 profit relationship.  However, that is also because there has simply never been another option to finance box office film budgets.  It could be the whole “old school” thought process getting in the way, and resistance to change.  Now, though, especially due to the pandemic, studios have had to begin looking at releasing their films to streaming services.  With this new option, it is thought that the only way to be profitable is by releasing it to a streaming service they own, i.e.  Warner Brothers and HBO Max.  This is not only an experiment but also a gesture of goodwill pointing towards the potential future, and Warner Brothers are willing to be the guinea pig.  With 35 million subscribers, they will be giving audience members the chance to see hit movies, on either platform they desire (movie theatre or streaming at home), ultimately and potentially, increasing the viewer numbers. 

However, will it bring box-office smash numbers?  The initial thought is no, not likely.  There is so much money spent on the movie theatre business that many of you may be asking how will releasing on a streaming service increase revenue?  Let’s look.  If there are 4 people in a party going to a theatre, and tickets are ~$8 each.  That would be $32 for the box office, as food sales do not go into box office numbers.  If there are 4 people in a party at home, let’s estimate that the movies will be $30 (as that was the cost of Mulan) on top of the subscription fee.  That is an approximate ~$2 loss at the box office, for 4 people.  The trick here is the company is ‘assuming’ that everyone will be following the pandemic rules, and not going to other people’s houses.  What if a group of friends gets together, or 3 families sit in on one purchase of the movie?  That will actually result in a major profit loss.  If the 3 families are of 4 people, to make math easy, that would have been $96 which is now dropping to $30, resulting in a $66 profit loss.  We are obviously not in the board rooms to hear the meetings; however, this potential streaming option doesn’t look to be as profitable at first glance.  Will this mean the quality of movies has to drop?  Has this pandemic really shaken up foundations to that extent?

Are we destined to have to say goodbye to the deliciousness that is movie popcorn?

Now from the consumer side.  If you, like me, are thinking, “But what about the movie-going experience?!  The popcorn?!  The butter?!  The surround sound?!  The giant screen?!  THE BUTTER?!,” it may be time to begin mourning the loss of that delicious popcorn and it’s butter.  However, we can now think about the convenience; the comfort of our couch, home-made snacks, family movie time, and not having to put on pants or a bra to see a hit movie!  It can also result in savings for a family because, as stated above, we were only discussing box office revenue.  The movie theatre does its part for a family by providing the food and drinks, so a trip to a theatre for a family of 4 could easily be up to the $70 range, depending on what extra snacks and drinks are purchased (a key contributor to theatre profits).

The other side of this is, what if you don’t have that subscription service?  The way it seems Warner Brothers will be looking at it is if they release a hit movie they have already spent millions on that has people sign up for the service they didn’t already have, that would be more than the price of the film.  Those people would then continue the subscription service to watch some of the shows provided exclusively on that service (oh, hey Game of Thrones).  Once the movies that have been made prior to 2020 are released, it could be that film production budgets reduce, TV production budgets increase, making the two more similar in production values, and the subscription service more attractive for retaining customers.

So, does it really matter that all hit films from Warner Brothers will be released on HBO Max in 2021?  My thoughts are - I am stoked to see Wonder Woman 1984 at home with no bra on!  What do you think?  Leave a comment below!

 

References:

Alexander, S.(2020, December 3). Warner Bros will release all of its new 20201 movies simultaneously on HBO Max, The Verge, https://www.theverge.com/2020/12/3/22150605/hbo-max-warner-bros-movies-2021-simultaneous-release-matrix-godzilla-suicide-squad-space-jam

Zeitchilk, S. (2020, September 18). ‘Tenet’s’ dismal U.S. debut has some calling for a change in Hollywood’s approach to the blockbuster, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/09/18/tenet-box-office-hollywood-future/

Star Wars: The Good, The Bad & The Indifferent

This article contains spoilers

Star Wars became a pop culture phenomenon the moment it hit the scene. The sweeping, adventurous science fiction space opera, filled with intense family drama, discovery of self, and inner strength has won the hearts of millions worldwide. Despite its ongoing success and ever-growing, deepening fan base I have yet to meet someone who loves every single film, animated series, video game, book, and graphic novel. The scope of the Star Wars universe is so vast and diverse that it has attracted just as a diverse audience who can’t seem to agree on what makes this universe so magical.  George Lucas revolutionized the film industry with his determination to bring his abstract ideas to life. Who would have thought an ongoing space drama would ignite the imagination of the whole world? 

Safe Space: The Original Trilogy

If someone told you they never watched Star Wars before, where would you make them start the story? The way George Lucas intended it? Episode IV, A New Hope? Or would you suggest starting at the beginning with Episode I, the Phantom Menace? I have heard of parents introducing their children to the saga in the sacrilegious way of starting with Episode I. Those poor misguided younglings… 

There is something sacred about the original trilogy. The saga started out as an underdog, with everyone involved having minimal expectations of its outcome. The success it saw overnight upon its release astounded it’s creators, paving the way for the next two installments. Out of the three original movies of the trilogy, everyone has their personal favorite, but everyone agrees the original trilogy is the best trilogy. It doesn’t matter which of the three movies you love:  A New Hope as it is the introduction into the universe we’ve all grown to love; The Empire Strikes Back is where we see new and diverse landscapes, learn more about the mysterious Force and see a budding romance between two very opposite beloved characters; or The Return of the Jedi where we see the rebellion finally claim victor over the evil Empire and a final resolution to the complex family issues that span two generations. 

 Do you remember the first time you watched these magnificent films? How did you feel then? How do you feel now when you revisit them?

 There is tangible magic that breathes life into Star Wars. We can all feel it. We get excited about it. Even casual fans are passionate about it. It is unanimous: the original trilogy is the best trilogy.

 What Happened: The Prequels

No one asked for it, but when we all first heard that the Star Wars universe would once again be gracing the silver screen we ALL were excited. Where would the story pick up? How would it be developed? How would George bridge the gap between the last generation to the next? How would Anakin Skywalker’s descent into darkness be brought to the fore and how would this all leave us feeling? 

When Episode I, The Phantom Menace, was released I was young enough to “enjoy” it for what it was. I had become a huge fan by the time I was twelve years old, but even at that young age, I wondered what the heck George was thinking. Nothing about the sequels was close to what I had remotely imagined the story would be like. When “Old Ben” briefly reminisces about his good friend Anakin Skywalker the storyline played out very differently in my mind from what George delivered to us as cannon. 

I will never forget the feeling of betrayal and utter disappointment as I watched, on premiere night Episode III. Unpopular opinion: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith is the worst of the prequels. Here is why: The first twenty minutes of the movie seemed like it was filmed by amateurs, in a silly, comedic blooper-like medley of insulting jibs and ridiculous puns as the fate of the Galactic Republic is at stake. Twenty minutes of film that should have hit the editing room floor and forgotten forever. Twenty minutes of on-screen time that could have been used to a sweeping portrayal of the downfall, the onslaught massacre of the Jedi. Instead, we get less than three full minutes to mourn the key figures of this endangered, almost extinct order, as Order 66 sweeps the galaxy. 

By the end of that film, I wanted to rage, as “Annie” did. This Annie is NOT okay. George got lost in the details, forgetting what mattered most. He lost focus, and those closest to him, in his creative realm, let him wander in the madness. He had forgotten the big picture and got sidetracked too many times along the way. The story we were left with was cobbled and lacking. The key players felt like cardboard cutout marionettes dancing to an off-kilter haunting unmelodic tune. 

I haven’t gone full dark side. Yet. There is some good that came from the prequels. Ewan McGregor was magnificent as Obi-Wan Kenobi. I am beyond excited to see him return. Duel of the Fates is one of the most memorable, intense pieces of classical music created in modern times. The lore of Darth Maul was so compelling that fans demanded he is resurrected from the dead and given a key role in the animated series the Clone Wars. We got introduced to Boba Fett’s back story.

For a clip of Duel of the Fates click below:

https://youtu.be/8G3BKjGjJmA

I have found in many discussions that younger people tend to like, even love the prequels. It’s what they grew up on. I can understand that, from a certain point of view.

 

 

What are some things that you enjoy about the prequels? 

The Mouse Becomes Our New Hope: The Sequels

Would you believe I predicted Disney would acquire Star Wars? I was ten years old and, in mixed company, someone asked me who my favorite princess was? I took a moment and thought about it. I wanted to say Ariel, but the moral of her story was to change yourself to find your prince. I wasn’t okay with that. Then, I wanted to say Belle, but she too sacrificed her independence at the incessant demands of a beast-man. Jasmine was a bit cocky to be a role model, running away from home thinking that’s how she could escape her problems. None of these princesses would do.

Who is the best princess? Princess Leia: composed, diplomatic, strong-willed, can handle herself when things get tough, not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, unwilling to change herself for a dashing, rascal smuggler. She is a true role model. 

I gave my answer: Princess Leia. I was told to pick a Disney princess. I refused and repeated my answer. “But she’s not a Disney princess!” “Yet,” I finished. The “yet” prompted a response from two grown men not even invested in the conversation. “That will never happen, little girl!” “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” were the unsolicited replies I received. What other Empire would have the resources to acquire Star Wars? There is only one answer: Disney. 

When I heard the news that Disney had officially acquired Star Wars and there was to be a sequel trilogy I was ecstatic. This news gave me a new hope (pun intended) that everything I had hoped to see would come to fruition. 

They did not disappoint. Love them or hate them, the sequels paved the way for our expanded view of the galaxy we love. As someone who has read every expanded universe novel, I have enjoyed watching the creators of the new stories pull influence and ideas from this lore and sculpt it into something new. New tales are being told within the universe, but the Galaxy still feels like home.

(Featured here is my personal Star Wars collection.)

Kylo Ren was everything his grandfather, Vader, should have been. I had been waiting to see a villain of his caliber since the original trilogy. I finally received him. The ongoing battle between dark & light, the return and departure of beloved old characters, and nostalgia re-lived was the cathartic experience we all were hoping for.

I do understand some of the gripes people have about the new trilogy, but overall I am willing to overlook some of their imperfections for what they have given us in return. Disney wants to give us fans what we want. They are listening. 

The Standalones 

Rogue One was a breath of fresh air for all of us tired of the Jedi/Sith drama. We got to see the story told from the point of view of the normal people of the galaxy fighting to make a difference. The execution of the film captured the Star Wars essence without trying too hard or making things feel forced. (No pun intended). I went to see it with some friends and afterward, I turned to them and said, “You ask me why I continue to read Star Wars books and keep up on the lore. THIS is why. These are the stories I keep tuning in for.” 

Solo: A Star Wars Story was a fun ride. Alden Ehrenreich was an odd choice for me as a young Han, but I did my best to enjoy the story for what it was. There will only be one Han Solo: Harrison Ford. 

When it’s Mando season, every Friday or Saturday you get asked, “Have you watched the Mandalorian yet?” Everyone wants to know if it’s “safe” to talk about the new episode. The hype for what is going to happen next is alive and well. The story is beautifully crafted and delivered and we are compelled to stick with our favorite characters as they brush shoulders with some key players for the galaxy at large. 

Jon Favreau gets it. He understands the bigger picture. He is creating with all of us in mind. For this, I am thankful. I hope to see this mentality from creators in the future for the next Star Wars projects. 

Epilogue

Star Wars is a story that binds us together, flowing through our imaginations, keeping the human spirit bound to the determination to make the galaxy a better place. Whatever story, timeline, or character you are drawn to keep the imagination alive for the next generations.

Why do you love Star Wars? Share with me in the comments so we can keep the lore alive.