Avengers: Infinity War review: Fun, bold and manages to (mostly) live up to the hype.

Avengers: Infinity War. This is what it’s been building up to ever since Thanos swivelled around in his chair in a post-credits scene. It was a simpler time back then. We only had one Avengers team and it consisted of only six heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye. It’s been six years since then; six years of build up, of new superheroes, of new villains, of Thanos bidding his time. Now, after all that time, Thanos is seeking out the Infinity Stones and it’s up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to stop him in one single, epic outing.

And that’s really what Avenger: Infinity War is. If you remember as a kid, you would watch cartoons and programmes and occasionally they would have a ‘feature length episode’. Avengers: Infinity War feels like a feature length version pf Marvel’s already impressive catalogue of superhero movies. Or to put it in comic book terms, it’s the crossover event, where they pull all the characters into one large scale conflict. With comics though it was often a way to sell more comics by forcing the reader to purchase a series they didn’t usually buy. Disney/Marvel did the same thing with their movies, encouraging people who otherwise wouldn’t have cared about characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange to see their movies or risk not knowing what was going on in Captain America: Civil War or Thor: Ragnarok. Basically, Infinity War is your reward for having sat through every Marvel film up to this point.

With that much hype weighing upon the film it would have been very easy for it to crumble under the sheer pressure of having to live up to the immense expectations. What’s more impressive is that Infinity War kinda does live up to its hype. It’s by no means a perfect movie and decades from now no one is going to be debating that Infinity War is better than Citizen Kane or Gone with the Wind, but for what it is and what it’s trying to live up to, Infinity War is pretty damn entertaining. There’s lots of action, some emotional beats and there’s a fair bit of witty banter from the heroes as we’ve come to expect from Marvel films.

Chadwick Boseman, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johanssson and Sebastian Stan reprise their roles as Black Panther, Captain America, Black Widow and Bucky Barnes to fight Thanos in Disney/Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War.

Guy can control reality and time…fights him with guns and spears.

In fact, one of the main points that this film gets right is the balance between action and comedy. Some of the most recent films, such as Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Thor: Ragnarok tried to overlap the action and comedy so much that the humour sometimes undercut the tension. Sure, it was funny but it sometimes left the films feeling deflated, robbing them of any emotional poignancy. Infinity War managed to straddle the line quite well, though in part that may be due to the length of the film. At two hours, forty minutes, Infinity War is the longest Marvel film to date, and that allows the Russos to really separate the comedy and the action and allow each to have its place.

Thanos was also fairly compelling as a villain. As the Mad Titan, it fit with the character that his motivations and plan should be completely insane. He wants to wipe half of the universe from existence so that the rest can live better lives. Even if he’s right, which there’s no evidence of, he’s willing to commit genocide and he spares no thought or compassion for the people he’s erasing or the hurt it bring upon those left behind. It’s quite interesting to watch characters try and dissuade him, only for Thanos to stubbornly hold to his plan. It’s rare to see a villain with such conviction and force of will, whose end goal isn’t god-worship or total dominion.

The biggest flaw of Infinity War is, as you might expect, the number of characters. While the film handles the cast size well, and everyone has a job some of those jobs are little more than ‘punch that monster’. Which is understandable, because when you have this many superheroes in one spot, you’re never going to be able to give everyone their moment or showcase everyone’s abilities. But it also means that there’s a lot going on and on a lot of different planets across the universe from each other. It can get overwhelming and distracting at times.

Josh Brolin as the Mad Titan, Thanos, in the Disney/Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War.

That moment when you have an idea to end world hunger but no one wants to commit genocide.

Regarding the ending, it is bold. Even though some, or all, of it may get rewritten in Avengers 4, it’s still a fairly gut wrenching conclusion. And I think it’s also necessary to think of how this will be perceived by casual viewers. A typical audience may not spend their days immersed in the rumours and background stories of Marvel Studios. They may only know what film is coming next by the trailers that show in the cinema. Not everyone has Marvel’s schedule committed to memory. So when a film ends as drastically as Infinity War did, well, they may just believe that it is permanent.

Marvel is it’s own worst enemy in this regard. The fact that we have schedules and do know of upcoming releases mean that we can tell there are likely to be some shenanigans in Avengers 4. And maybe that might render some of the emotional pull of Infinity War moot, but I think that Infinity War deserves to be judged based on its own merits and flaws, at least for now. For example, Captain America: Winder Soldier wasn’t good because it followed on from Avengers or because it led into Captain America: Civil War. It was good because it was interesting, entertaining and had emotional, personal stakes for Steve Rogers that got audiences invested. Maybe Avengers 4 will wind up making Infinity War look dumb but for now, it should be appreciated for what it is: fun.

If you though Avengers: Infinity War wasn’t fun, hit me up in the comments. Or you can catch me through social media. They’re all there at the side. Otherwise, feel free to peruse previous posts to PreposterousProse, such as the Black Panter review or Thor: Ragnarok review. Finally, if fiction is more your forte, you can read my second novel, Carrion Youth, for free, over at swoonreads.com.

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Bolivar Trask confirmed for Avengers: Infinity War (Maybe)

As April looms ever closer, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are clamouring for any morsel of information they can glean from the various titbits and releases from Marvel. The most often recurring variant of question is ‘will X die in Infinity Wars?’. And it’s not an entirely illogical question. The word ‘war’ is right in the title and people die in wars. And this is supposed to be the greatest threat the Avengers have ever faced. So, it would make sense that someone on the team is going to die, right?

Couple this with the fact that an official poster and a second trailer for the film dropped this week and there’s a wealth of new material for fans to obsess over and extract theories from. What’s amazing is that some eagle eyed fans actually managed to spot Peter Dinklage’s name in the vast cast listed at the bottom of the poster. The Infinity War post is already very busy, with almost every recognisable character getting a spot somewhere, as well as some side characters for some reason (I’m looking at you Wong), and I find that there’s a little bit too much orange and red going on to be comfortable for the eyes. But amongst that, some fans still found Peter Dinklage’s name.

Of course, the reason that Dinklage’s name is important is because we have no idea who he is in the film. One of the most common theories is Pip the Troll, a character closely associated with the space gem The only problem with this is that Pip the Troll is a joke character and in a two and a half hour film that already has to pack in a dozen or so more Avengers and their own comedic side characters like War Machine, Falcon and, again, Wong, the question should be asked whether we need a joke character. And the answer should be no. Though there’s always the possibility that Marvel is trolling us, keeping us speculating about Dinklage’s role, only for him to show up in a post credit scene as Pip the Troll, in much the same way Howard the Duck did. But that would be equally infuriating.

Official Avengers: Infinity War poster from Marvel Studios

Iron Man doing the Jesus Christ Pose = definitely gonna die.

Hopefully then, the reason for Dinklage’s inclusion is more important than Pip the Troll. And I don’t say that just because I like the actor. But if this film needs to be two and a half hours, then any unnecessary characters should be on the cutting room floor. Maybe if this was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, I could get behind Dinklage as Pip the Troll, as that film already seems set to feature Adam Warlock. But for Infinity War, Dinklage’s presence needs to be something more valuable to the story in order to be worth the addition. Besides, the space gem, in the form of the tesseract, is already likely in the hands of Loki, following the destruction of Asgard. Having Loki simply switch sides, like the underhanded rogue he is, saves time and doesn’t require needless complexity and extra characters.

Given that Infinity Wars is set to feed into the next Avengers film in the same way that Civil War feeds into this one, we can assume that Thanos is either defeated or in some way routed by the end of this film. His defeat could in some way be brought about by the interference of Utat, a watcher, who are cosmic beings and the oldest in the universe. This could feasibly feed into the fourth Avengers film if the threat in that one was Aron, the Renegade Watcher. In this scenario, Dinklage could play Utat. However, while this theory is more interesting than Pip the Troll it still seems unlikely.

First of all, the road to the fourth Avengers film has been set out for quite some time. Consider that along with the fact that the Watchers are generally tied to the Fantastic Four which was under rights to FOX until recently. While, maybe, they could include a one off character from the FOX properties they just bought, it’s improbably that the entire fourth film would be based off of one of those properties. So whoever Dinklage is, it’s not someone that has just been bought in by Disney. That also eliminates Bolivar Trask, the character Dinklage played in Days of Future Past. It’s also unlikely then that the X-Men will swoop in to help save the day.

Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask in X-Men: Days of Future Past

Not shown: Avengers Infinity War

As such, the most likely answer to who Peter Dinklage will play in Avengers: Infinity War is also the most obvious. Since speculation began about Dinklage’s role in the film, theories have abounded that he’ll play one of Thanos minions, known as the Black Order. The probable pick would be Black Dwarf. Notably Black Dwarf is not a reference to his height, in case you were thinking that it would perfect casting to cast the actor famous for Tyrion Lannister as another Dwarf. If anything the name is a reference to a theoretical star end  of the same name.

If true, what this means is that Dinklage might not actually appear on screen and will instead be present in the film mostly through voice acting, like James Spader did for Ultron. This is a good idea because henchmen can sometimes be rather one note, especially if they’re mostly CGI. A commanding voice actor can help audiences engage with the character even if all they’re doing is following orders. Or, this could just all be wrong and Dinklage is playing someone we haven’t even thought of.

Got an idea who Dinklage might be playing? Or think that he’s reprising his role as Bolivar Trask and the X-Men are totally in Infinity Wars? Then hit me up in the comments below and let me hear your opinions. Or you can use the social media option of your choice. I’m on almost all of them. If you liked this article and would like to stay up to date with content like this, follow this blog and you’ll be notified when new articles are posted. In the meantime, check out the wealth of other posts on this site, such as the Black Panther film review or the review of Jessica Jones season 2. If you’ve still got a hankerin’ for readin’ after that, you can also find my own original fiction novel, Carrion Youth, available to read for free, over at swoonreads.com. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Jessica Jones Season 2 Review: Needs More Kilgrave

Of the pre-Defenders line up, Jessica Jones was the stand out series that everyone raved about. Whatever people’s opinions of the other three (Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist) most would agree that Jessica Jones, with it’s no nonsense kick-first, blackmail later main character, it’s charismatic and manipulative villain and strong story structure, made for riveting entertainment. So now that we’re post-Defenders and looking down the barrel of what can only be considered phase two of the Netflix-Marvel partnership all eyes were on Jessica Jones season two as it launched this week.

And it’s disappointing. Though some disappointment is to be expected given how good the first season was. Doing that twice was always going to be a feat in of itself. But what’s most disappointing is just how far the series has seem to sunk. It’s not actively bad or irritating in the way that Iron Fist was. It’s just sort of lackluster because you can see so many of the beats and turns of the story coming from a mile off. Season one kept viewers on their toes, never quite knowing that Kilgrave was up to or how Jessica would decide to deal with him. Unfortunately, so much of season two is so predictable that it almost feels like I’m watching a show that I’ve already seen.

Following on from Defenders, Jessica Jones, played by Krysten Ritter, is back in business and working as a private investigator. Mostly this means taking pictures of cheaters. But she’s also dealing with some of the fame and trauma left over from killing Kilgrave. Now, everyone wants to pay her to deal with their problems, despite her insistence that she’s not a killer.

Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Eka Darville all reprise their roles as Jessica Jones, Trish Walker, Jeri Hogarth and Malcolm Ducasse in the season season of the Netflix-Marvel superhero series, Jessica Jones.

Not featured: Copious amounts of booze.

Meanwhile, Trish is busy trying to investigate IGH, the group who paid for Jessica’s medical bills, in a bit to do some real journalism rather than the puff pieces she’s known for. But her investigation drags up a lot of old personal memories for Jessica, including her parent’s death. At first, Jessica doesn’t care, as she’s never done when terrible things have happened to her. But when the terrible things start happening to other people, Jessica sets out to uncover what IGH is and what it did to her, which puts her and Trish squarely on their radar.

Of course it’s not quite as simple as that. Which is great, but IGH also isn’t as much of a consistent threat as Kilgrave was. In the first season, Kilgrave unified the whole case. Through his actions with Hope Shlottman and his pursuit of Jessica, it became personal or pertinent for Jessica, Trish, Malcolm and even Hogarth to capture or bring an end to Kilgrave. . Kilgrave was a complex character, at times almost sympathetic, despite how heinous his crimes were. In part, that was down to the fantastic casting of David Tennant. With IGH, it feels like they want it to be as complicated or sympathetic as Kilgrave, but without a central actor behind it all, IGH just doesn’t have the same looming, dread and the season as a whole falters because of it.

This season of Jessica Jones also doubles down on the feminist message, though it’s a lot more heavy handed in the earlier episodes. Jessica Jones has always been inherently about the strength of women and how men use them. Kilgrave’s mind control powers were a clever and powerful way of tackling rape culture and Jessica’s ability to overcome what had happened to her allowed her to no longer be controlled by him. But the best part about it is that those themes are inherently in the story. No one has to spell out that Jessica as a super powered woman, being controlled by a man with mind powers is about moving blame from the victim to the manipulative men who commit the crimes.

Janet McTeer alongside Krysten Ritter in the second season of Netflix-Marvel's superhero series, Jessica Jones.

Perfectly under control.

Unfortunately, season 2 wants to continue that thread, even when it doesn’t make much sense. Jessica constantly levies the criticism of  ‘a man who likes to control women’ against the scientist behind IGH, and phrases like that get thrown around a lot in the early part of the season and it becomes increasingly laboured and heavy handed. Mostly because this season seems to be more about post-trauma, family relationships and addiction than a specific women’s issue.

The problem here is not the message itself. The problem is when the message begins to interfere with the story. These shows are written as entertainment, and while entertainment can highlight important issues through a medium where people might not be exposed to it otherwise, when that message gets in the way of good storytelling, then it’s no longer entertainment. At that point, it becomes propaganda. And, hey, propaganda is fine. Sometimes propaganda is necessary. But here, in an series intended for entertainment, it comes off as clumsy and distracting from the plot.

Basically, Jessica Jones season two is good, but predictable and you’d be far better off just re-watching the first season. If you thought it was amazing or that the feminism in the series was spot on, feel free to correct me in the comments below. Or hit me up on social media. I’m on almost all of them. If you enjoyed this article, check out my previous posts, such as my review of The Defenders or Black Panther. Of if fiction is more your thing, you can also read my second novel, Carrion Youth, for free online exclusively at swoonreads.com. Until next time, thanks for reading

Lady Bird Review: Strange and Endearing

At first glance Lady Bird is your typical coming of age teen drama. The slice of life story follows Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPhearson as she navigates parents, boys and school, falling into the expected pitfalls of acting out, falling for the wrong boy and hanging out with the wrong crowd. However, Greta Gerwig’s direction paints the story as very quaint; a loving ode to family, friends and to Sacramento itself.

Saoirse Ronan stars in the titular role of Lady Bird, a seventeen year old girl who is dissatisfied with her place in the world. She thinks of her hometown as boring and wants to go to New York to study…something. It’s not quite clear what she’s planning on studying, but based on her school interests and grades she’s not good at math and she’s not cut out to be an actress. What’s important though is that she feels stifled in Sacramento and sees New York as an exciting escape.

Until she gets there, she goes through two boyfriends, loses her virginity, fights with a friend and constantly disagrees with her mother, played here by Laurie Metcalf. Though both actresses are up for Academy Awards, this is easily one of Metcalf’s best roles, effortlessly portraying a woman who’s desperately holding everything together. Through the film, her mother makes small, seemingly innocuous comments, that irritate Lady Bird but it’s not until the end, when her mother attempts to put her thoughts down on words, that we realise that Metcalf’s character finds it just as difficult to express herself as her daughter.

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf star as daughter and mother in Lady Bird, a nostalgic teen drama set in Sacramento in Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig.

Side by side but miles a part.

In fact, there’s so much going on in the background that seems as interesting or more interesting than Lady Bird’s story. There’s the depressed drama teacher, or her friend’s crush on her teacher, or her father’s struggle for work. Most of these threads are barely explored or given any resolution. Instead, they simply exist to give life to this mundane city and depict a world around ‘Lady Bird’ that she’s too young to see or understand. By the end we get a sense that she’s beginning to grasp how complex the world is when she talks about driving around the town she grew up in. She describes driving around corners and past stores she once walk by and how emotional she felt to see it from this new angle.

Set in 2002/3, the film also manages to comment on the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent war in Iraq. That might seem strange for what is essentially a teen drama wrought from Gerwig’s nostalgia but it’s woven into the film, becoming part of the background as much as the people and the city. Though it might be passed off a little too flippantly for some, (Lady Bird dismisses terrorism as a reason to not go to New York as ‘Republican’), its existence and the character willingness to move forward despite it, engenders the whole film with a sense of optimism.

And normally that would be that. I’d be wrapping up this article and telling you where else you could read my stuff. But because this is Oscar season the question of whether this is a good film gets a bit more complicated than it’s strange but equally enjoyable. The question must now also consider whether Lady Bird is better than films like Get Out or The Shape of Water, films no one would compare to Lady Bird otherwise. Or whether Laurie Metcalf’s acting in this film was better than Allison Janney from I, Tonya, which is horribly difficult to quantify.

Oscars 90th Academy Awards, tonight at 8pm, March 4th 2018

Looking forward to seeing who wins…so we can bitch about it until next year.

Here’s the thing, while Lady Bird is an impressive, thought provoking piece of cinematography, it’s also something of a subtle hit. So when you line it up against films such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, or The Post, it shrinks back because it lacks the same cultural significance and grandiose of other films on the Oscar nomination list. For as good as this film is, when it comes to Best Picture, I’ve heard far more suggestion for Three Billboards than any other film. Granted, the same could be said for La La Land last year, and Moonlight made a surprise victory, so maybe the same could happen here but truth be told, even if Three Billboards does miss the coveted top prize, I can see Darkest Hour or Get Out being much more likely to sneak out the win than Lady Bird.

In terms of Best Director, Greta Gerwig has more chance of snagging that award, though she will have stiff competition in terms of Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro, both of whom who are more established and proven. However, the cinematography of Lady Bird is beautiful, so if Gerwig does take Best Director, it would be absolutely deserved, any not just some cheap attempt to sooth the tempers of feminist action groups. For Laurie Metcalf, it’ll be a crying shame if she doesn’t win Best Supporting Actress but I don’t like Saoirse Ronan’s chances for Best Actress. She did a stellar job in Lady Bird, and totally deserves the nomination, but that’s a tough category filled with women who are doing the best performances of their careers. Not to mention, this is Ronan’s second nomination within two years. If she doesn’t win it here, chances are she’ll have another opportunity in 2020.

As ever, you can check if I’m right by watching the Academy Awards show tonight. Feel free to tweet or message me about how wrong I was. Until then you can read my thoughts on I,Tonya which also has a few nominations to its name, or you can find numerous other articles and editorials for your entertainment. If you enjoyed this post and would like to stay update with new content, follow this blog or follow me on my various social media profiles. Last but not least, you can also find my book, Carrion Youth, available to read, over on swoonreads.com. Until next time, thanks for reading.

I, Tonya Review: The Truth is Out There

I, Tonya is a film about perspective.The characters talk about the truth a lot but it’s the truth that they hold to be true. When it comes to the abuse, Tonya’s mother, played by Allison Janney, claims that Tonya is exaggerating, or when her husband, Jeff Gillooly, played by Sebastian Stan states that he never hit Tonya, while scenes show the character hitting her. It sounds like the film is fractured and confused but it’s simply playing with perspective. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

If you’re unaware, I, Tonya re-enacts the real life scandal of Tonya Harding, an American figure skater who was the first American to complete a triple axel and in fact is only the second woman to ever do so. From there the story gets rather murky and changes depend on who you believe. If you believe Tonya Harding herself, she had nothing to do with the attack on her fellow figure skater, Nancy Kerrigan. If you believe her husband, Nancy knew about the plan from the get go, but that the plan was only ever to send Nancy a death threat and that fellow conspirator Shawn Eckhardt took it too far. Or if you believe the media and the stories that followed, Tonya herself executed the hit on Nancy.

Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress, Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in the mockumentry/re-enactment I, Tonya.

Puddin’

The reality is somewhere in the middle and it’s quite likely that we’ll never know for certain who knew what. The film isn’t exactly committed to trying to convince the audience of one particular understanding of the events, but rather just depicts the events and the character’s understanding of them. Such as when Margot Robbie as Tonya fires a gun at her husband and then turns to the screen to tell us that she never did that. Or when Tonya reenacts Rocky Balboa’s techniques for getting into shape and her coach casually turns to the screen to tell us that she did train like Rocky. The film is full of these instances of of events either being contradicted or supported by the characters.

What I, Tonya does well is that makes Tonya Harding sympathetic. In the aftermath of the scandal, Tonya Harding became something of a joke but seeing her being relentlessly abused in the film, first by her mother, then her husband, constantly struggling to match up to the figure skating professions idea of what a figure skater should be, despite her class and upbringing and finally being banned all together. How much of it is real doesn’t really matter when you understand that Tonya is just a young girl who struggled her whole life for something that no one wanted to give her. She laments that it can’t be just about the skill because when it comes to technical ability, she’s the best. But no one wants an uneducated, poor, divorced redneck to be the face of America.

Nor does the film attempt to justify the attack on Nancy though. Instead it paints it for what it was, an epic blunder. The plan is basically to get Nancy to miss Nationals by sending a death threat that makes her sit out the competition. When this plan stalls, Shawn Eckhardt, sends in his friends to break her leg. But they mess that up and only bruise her knee. She sits out nationals but has recovered by the Olympics, where she wins silver. And if that sounds like an epic fail, wait until you hear that in order to avoid detection, one of the hit men would change their parking space every fifteen minutes, despite sitting outside the wrong arena. Or that Eckhardt professed to be a counter-terrorism specialist. The whole thing becomes laughable when you come to understand that no one had the faintest clue what they were doing.

By the end, Tonya tells the viewer that “there’s no such thing as the truth…everyone has their own truth”.  This comes across evidently in the film as the audience comes away with the sense that what people believed about Tonya mattered more than what was actually true. The figure skating judges believed that Tonya was unworthy of representing America, so she was unworthy. The media decided that she hated Nancy Kerrigan and personally planned the violent attack, so that became the penetrating story. And the result is that everyone else gets 18 months in prison whereas Tonya gets banned from figure skating for life.

Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress, Allison Janney as Lavonna Fae Golden in the mockumentry/reenactment I, Tonya.

I wish I had a mother of the year award so I could bludgeon you with it

Overall the film is a very interesting take on the Tonya Harding scandal made entertaining by the acting abilities of all involved. Allison Janney and Paul Walter Hauser are uncanny as Lavonna Fay Golden and Shawn Eckhardt, the latter in particular being deserving of a mention because at least Janney is nominated for an Oscar. Hauser’s spot on performance will largely go un-awarded though so he deserves a special mention here. Margot Robbie tries to do a Charlize Theron by dressing down to become Tonya Harding. Which is sort of insulting because Tonya Harding is not an ugly girl, especially at 24, which she is for the majority of the film. She’s more down to earth looking than Robbie’s model looks and Robbie never quite looks right in the role, but she makes up for it with her acting. While she doesn’t manage to transform herself into Tonya Harding completely, her performance is captivating and compelling, showing a depth of range and ability that deserves the Oscar nomination. On whether she deserves the win…eh, it’s a tough category.  Winning would be understandable but losing wouldn’t be a travesty.

And that’s I, Tonya. If  you enjoyed this review, be sure to click the follow button at the side to stay up to date with new content on this blog. While you’re at it why not check out some older reviews and editorials; there are over 250 posts to keep you satisfied. Or if fiction is more your speed, you can find my novel, Carrion Youth, over on swoonreads.com. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Black Panther review

Black Panther has been one of the most anticipated Marvel films of recent memory. There’s always a certain level of hype around Marvel’s superhero outings but the real, looking forward to it all week, booking tickets early, arriving before the crowds kind of eagerness only comes out with the big get togethers or the big risk films. Black Panther quite possibly fits best in the latter category but while other films are risks in terms of money or for the franchise, Black Panther is a social risk.

It’s unlikely that you won’t have heard by now that Black Panther is the first superhero movie to feature a predominantly black cast. The hero is black, his love interest is black, he hails from a black country full of black people, his house guard is made up of black women with shaved heads, his sister is a black genius providing tech support, his best friend who betrays him is black, the villain is black, the rival who winds up supporting the hero is black. If there’s a trope that you can think of it’s almost certainly in this film and it’s played by a black person.

Some of you might be wondering what’s the risk? Black people have been in movies for years. But some other people are also questioning why this movie had to be made at all. Afterall acting is about talent, not the colour of the actors skin. And that would be fine and true if we lived in a world where such things as acting weren’t influenced by ideas of marketing and profit. So it becomes a case where many black people aren’t cast in films because a white actor might bring in more money or because of some notion that only black people go to watch black people in films. Like you could make a film full of black people and show it in some black neighbourhood in America and it would sell well but it wouldn’t sell as well outside of that area.

Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan as the cousins Black Panther and Killmonger in Marvel's Black Panther.

Awkward family reunion…

Therein lies the risk. Black Panther is a battle cry, a standing up and being named and shouting in its loudest, proudest voice that it can make just as much money as any Marvel movie full of white people. The risk is that if it doesn’t work and people don’t see it or it doesn’t make its return then it will seem to confirm all of what people say about black actors in film. They’ll say that it appealed to a key demographic but failed to get anyone else into cinemas. Though as it stands, that’s unlikely to happen. Black Panther is currently set to outstrip Captain America: Civil War in terms of opening numbers.

Beyond race, Black Panther is just a very strong, entertaining outing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther is dramatic and funny, balancing between an almost Shakespearean premise and a very modern representation of the oppressed seizing power. T’challa’s relationship with his little sister is light-hearted and natural, the fact that he’s king never seeming to intrude on their familial closeness. Contrast that with his cousin, Erik Killmonger; two men with drastically different life experiences who can’t connect because of the troubles of their fathers. Black Panther has one of the most complex protagonist-antagonist relationships yet and there’s a whole lot more that could have been explored which the film just doesn’t have time for.

The actors themselves really sell the roles. Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan are the linchpins of a strong cast but it’s Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira who steal every scene they’re in. Honorable mention goes to Winston Duke as M’Baku who stands out despite a very limited appearance. In the hands of a lesser actor, the role could have been one dimensional, but Duke brings a real personality to the character.

Winston Duke plays the gorilla faced rival M'Baku in Marvel's Black Panther.

Does M’Baku mean arbitrary in Wakandean?

For all that Black Panther does right, its flaws lie in the final battle between T’challa and Killmonger. The battle takes place in vibranium mines on the track of a hover train between social pillars while the two costumed characters fight. The result is a very CGI heavy fight which fails to impress because the visual effects distract from the actual combat. There’s also nothing intense about the fight. I enjoyed the build up but it’s clear that T’challa has to be around for Thanos’ arrival, so of course he’s going to overcome Killmonger. So all in all when it comes to the final fight, it’s just sort of lacking.

Part of the reason for this disappointment is because Erik Killmonger is a very well developed antagonist. The film spends almost as much time depicting Killmongers journey as it does to T’Challa. So much so that it almost feels like he deserved more than one film. Instead his life long ambition is snuffed out relatively quick but the repercussions are felt thereafter as Wakanda does become less isolationist. It’s rare for an antagonist to actually change the hero’s ideology in a superhero movie.

So Black Panther has a lot to be celebrated, whether it be culturally, racially or just purely from a cinematic perspective. Or maybe you thought it out and out sucked? Well then get on the comments below and let me know. Or if social media is more your speed, I’m on most of them so fire me a tweet, a post or a message on your preferred platform. Also, if you want to read more from me, you can find my novel, Carrion Youth, available to read over on swoonreads.com. As ever thanks for reading.

Vikings Season 5 Episode 10: Senior Moments

Contrary to the mostly critical reaction to Vikings season 5, I’ve been quite forgiving of this season. It’s understandable that, this being the first full season without Ragnar Lothbrok, there would be some kinks to iron out. And I stand by my reviews, which you are free to read and take issue with if you want. Each episode is a solid effort at entertaining and progressing the story. However, the season as a whole is a waste of promising starts and unfinished thoughts, accumulating in a finale that is utterly frustrating.

The decision to structure the final battle as a mosaic of character moments before and during the fighting must have seemed inspired. Rather than having another battle episode so soon after the last, they could frame this battle from the perspective of each character, jumping throughout the timeline of the battle. As an idea, it’s a creative solution to avoid repetition. In execution however, it just simply doesn’t work.

The point of building up to something is the satisfaction of seeing the thing you’ve waited forever to see actually happen. It’s like two characters falling in love and then having their first kiss happen off screen. The final battle depicted in ‘Moments of Vision’ is unintentionally anticlimactic because we don’t really get to see very much of the battle. We see little flashes here and there of individual characters being killed or spared but it’s impossible to know how the battle is actually going.

Peter Franzén as King Harald Finehair requests that Queen Astrid, played here by Josefin Asplund, cuts his hair in the midseason finale of Vikings season 5.

Astrid: Demon barber of Vestfold.

The intention here was for the battle to be emotional, by showing the characters preparing for battle and then immediately showing the same character in the thick of the fighting, allowing the viewer to connect with that character, rather than perhaps becoming distracted by the progression of the fighting if it had been shown linearly. The problem is that with so much jumping back and forth there’s never really any time to mourn. A character meets their end and the episode instantly jumps to another. The episode lurches around so much that it’s difficult to feel anything other than motion sickness.

Of the deaths themselves, they’re more irritating that sad. What was the point of Björn setting aside Torvi and taking a new Sami wife just for Saefrid to die here? Or for Astrid to be seen by the child during her rape? Their storylines become meaningless because their characters were killed before anything could come of them. Of the character deaths, Halfdan’s was the most sad and his was one of the few character moments that I enjoyed. His talk with Björn about having found something worth living for outside of family and land put the character in perspective. Halfdan was a character defined by being the brother of Harald Finehair but this season put considerable work into making the character stand on his own, only for that journey to put him at odds with the brother he once stood with.

The story of Halfdan and Harald is contrasted with that of Ubbe and Hvitserk. While Harald does not hesitate to slay his brother is pursuit of his goal, Ubbe is unable to deal the same blow to Hvitserk. Hvitserk doesn’t even attempt to stop him, Ubbe stops himself every time, eventually turning and leaving his brother. This isn’t done to suggest that Ubbe loves his brother more than Harald loves his, I believe. Instead, it demonstrates how far Harald will go to achieve his dream. For the sake of Kattegat, Ubbe is not willing to kill his own kin, but Harald does.

Clive Standen makes a foreboding return as Rollo in the midseason finale of Vikings Season 5.

How unlikely is it that he brought Gisela with him?

Despite these nice character moments and juxtaposition, ‘Visions of Moments’ still fails to impress over all. While I can appreciate the creativity and the artfullness of the episode, it lacks substance and cohesion. The result is confusing and frustrating rather than emotive, trying much harder to do what a simple straightforward narrative could have achieved. Sometimes the simplest option is the best, an idiom that this episode would have done well to remember.

Peppered throughout the battle were scenes from Kattegat and Iceland. Margrethe is becoming literally insane, teasing the decision to murder Björn’s children in order to move Ubbe up the line of succession. Wisely she doesn’t follow through, probably realising that her head would be next on the chopping block when Björn and Torvi return. Floki, meanwhile, continues to broker peace, though it turns out to be too little too late. In a last ditch attempt to change human nature, he offers himself up as a human sacrifice, though we have to wait until the next part of season 5 to actually see it. And just as the dust settles on the battlefield, Clive Standen rows back into town. Of all the things to look forward to in Season five part b, I’m excited to see Rollo, especially in the absence of Ragnar.

If you enjoyed ‘Moments of Visions’ of thought it was a fitting end to the season, let me know in the comments below. Or send me a comment/tweet via your preferred method of social media. I’m on most of them. If you liked this post and would like to read more, subscribe to keep up to date with new content. And be sure to check out some older posts, such as earlier Viking season 5 episode reviews or this review of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. And if you’ve got your fill of reviews and editorials, I can also offer fiction. You can read my original novel, Carrion Youth, for free online over at swoonreads.com

Vikings Season 5 Episodes 8 and 9 Review

Before I get into the review proper, let me apologise for the lack of review last week for episode 8, ‘The Joke’. I came down with a touch of the flu that seems to be going around at the minute and just didn’t have the energy or mental fortitude to write the review. So this week is going to be something of a combined review, looking at both episodes 8 and 9 of Vikings’ 5th season.

If there has been one consistent criticism of this season of Vikings it is that Ivar has been written too strong. It’s understandable how viewers might feel like that after Ivar and his army rolled over the Saxons repeatedly, but narratively it made sense. There would be little point in Ivar winning by the skin of his teeth in England, only to turn his attention back to his homeland in Kattegat. No one would follow him after such a narrow victory and he wouldn’t really be seen as a threat to Lagertha. Everything before episode 8 was building Ivar up as a credible threat to the Kingdom of Kattegat.

Within the story, Ivar’s seeming invincibility also works because he’s operating from a position of strength. After they take York, thanks to Ubbe’s tactics and memory of Ragnar’s advice, he is able to make use of his position to defend and outsmart the attacking Saxons. That’s not to suggest that Ivar is simply lucky or taking credit for being in the right place at the right time; it’s his tactics and understanding of his enemies that allows him to lure them into situations where he can press his advantage. But, as episode 8 shows, when the sides are flipped and he can’t manipulate the situation, he loses that position of strength.

Alex Høgh and Josefin Asplund as Ivar the Boneless,and Astrid as they listen to the outcome of the battle.

Wait…wait…oops, too late to help.

This is shown in the way that Björn and Ubbe are able telegraph Ivar’s tactics and effectively cut him off, such as utilising the Sami in the woods to negate their use for flanking. Feinting an attack on the ships also allows them to divide the army, lessening the force they have to defeat. Ivar has been built up as an amazing strategist throughout this season and here he is completely outplayed by his brothers. And given the change in circumstances, it makes sense for Ivar to be defeated here without making it seem like that writers just allowed Lagertha and her army to win in order to prolong this Harald Finehair plot.

If episode 8 does have one flaw, it wastes a little too much time on the will they/won’t they prelude to the battle. This is a fight that Vikings has been setting up for over twenty episodes; they weren’t fooling anyone into believing it wasn’t happening and it would be anti-climatic if it hadn’t. Also I found the arguments that brothers shouldn’t fight a bit hard to stomach given that Ragnar and Rollo were at odds numerous times over the past four seasons.

Speaking of Rollo, episode 9 throws Ivar and Harald a saving grace in the form of Rollo’s Frankish soldiers. It is odd that Rollo is able to send his men, a portion of the Frankish army to fight in foreign wars, although maybe he’s able to play it off as part of the deal to keep raiders away from Frankish shores. Mostly though I’m just disappointed that Clive Standen is unable to make an appearance, or Morgane Polanski as Princess Gisla. Their relationship was one of the most interesting parts of season 4 and it’s a pity we can’t see more of it in season 5.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Bishop Heahmund pledges his allegiance to Queen Lagertha, played by  Katheryn Winnick.

God? What God?

Missed opportunities aside, Björn attempts to negotiate peace with Ivar and Harald, which doesn’t work, setting the scene for another battle in next week’s finale. One interesting moment worth noting is that Ivar attempts to have Björn killed but is stopped by Harald because it’s not their way. This is probably pretty smart, given that Hvitserk secured the use of the Frankish soldiers on Rollo’s orders that Björn be spared. Over in Lagertha’s camp, Heahmund pledges his sword to Lagertha, a little too quickly for my taste. Heahmund’s lusts have always been in conflict with his religion but he is overly mesmerised by Lagertha after barely talking. I can buy that Lagertha might be a more acceptable ally for him over Ivar but it would have been preferable if he at least struggled with the choice or if Lagertha’s previous experiences with Æthelstan helped influence him.

In Wessex, Æthelstan’s son Alfred becomes ruler after King Æthelwulf dies of a bee sting and Judith basically forces her first born to give up his birthright. He does and then immediately begins making murder eyes at his brother. This only works if Æthelred is betting on Alfred’s failure so that he can swoop in and save the day, otherwise he gains nothing by refusing the throne and then being upset about it. Sure he might be bitter, but wouldn’t he be more upset at the betrayal of their mother than Alfred? Meanwhile, in Iceland, Floki’s settlement continues to struggle to settle. As with every week, this storyline continues to be so detached from everything else that whether it’s good or bad doesn’t matter because it’s irrelevant.

And that’s the review for episode 8 and 9 done, just in time for the part 1 season finale next week. I think we’ll continue to see a culling of the old guard so to speak, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lagertha and maybe Floki die in episode 10, entitled ‘Moments of Vision’. Though Floki may be the only thing keeping people invested in the Iceland story, but I definitely don’t see Lagertha continue to fend off Harald and Ivar for much longer. It may not be a complete victory for them either but I believe Lagertha will be a casualty either way. To find out how it actually plays out and my thoughts on the episode, check out this blog next week for a review of the finale, all being well. While you wait, you can find my reviews for previous episodes here. To keep up to date with new content you can follow this blog directly or through various social media profiles. If that’s not enough you can also read my novel, Carrion Youth, for free online, over at swoonreads.com. Until next week, thanks for reading.

Vikings Season 5 Episode 7 review: Sami Marriage Customs

After six episodes of losing men, kidnapped lovers and allied enemies, Lagertha finally caught a break. Not only has her son returned to her in this time of need but she also made a valuable alliance with the Sami, somewhat evening the odds against Harald Finehair and Ivar the Boneless. Though not everything is sunshine and daisies now. With Björn comes Harald’s brother, Halfdan, and though he says that he’ll fight with Björn, Lagertha is weary of trusting him. As she points out, his brother gave his word not to go to war and didn’t keep his promise.

Over in Vestfold, trust issues abound also. Ivar’s biggest concern is whether he can trust Bishop Heahmund. Again, these two actors play well off each other and it’s interesting to see the two characters discuss how their religions view something as routine as the moon. But at the core is Ivar’s desire for fame. Ivar wants to be so charismatic and magnetic that people from all walks of life will be drawn to him and praise him. He already recognises Heahmund’s worth as a warrior and wants Heahmund’s respect in return.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Bishop Heahmund, and Alex Høgh as Ivar the Boneless play a board game in season 5, episode 7 of History's Vikings.

Ivar strikes me as the type of player to knock over the board if he starts losing.

Bishop Heahmund, however, does not seem to want to see Ivar as anything other than an inconvenience that God will eventually provide escape from. The determinism discussion is one that has gone on in religious communities since the dawn of time. While the discussion itself is interesting in that we get to see how Heahmund, Ivar and Hvitserk view their own actions, a more immediately practical effect of the conversation is how Ivar dismisses his brother over Heahmund, and that Heahmund is privy to this exchange. Heahmund, though pious, we know from events in the series, is capable of indulging in his darker urges from time to time. He’s not to type to simply sit back and wait for rescue. It seems unlikely that Heahmund will outright betray Ivar, because that would get him killed, but could he cause dissension between the brothers? That seems plausible, and not particularly difficult given already strained relationship between the sons of Ragnar.

Speaking of the sons of Ragnar, Björn and Ubbe are now together in Kattegat and both are making some serious relationship decisions. Björn has what has to be the most amicable divorce ever shown on television, all while making eyes at a Sami Chief’s daughter. Ubbe then immediately kisses Björn’s ex-wife, Torvi, which his wife, Margrethe, witnesses. Not to be deterred, Margrethe confronts Ubbe and tells him of her ambition to go from being a free slave to Queen. It’s getting all very The O.C. in Kattegat. Most of this likely won’t mean anything. Even if Ubbe does end up ruling, it’ll probably be temporary but more probable is that he continues to support Björn, and Margrethe will be murdered before anything can become of her. The most significant development is Björn’s marriage to Snaefrid, which is first of all an important alliance but could also signal that Björn is ready to more seriously rule his father’s kingdom.

Snaefrid was one of the stand-out characters of this episode. While Alexander Ludwig is likeable and has done an excellent job of channelling Travis Fimmel’s Ragnar Lothbrok, there was the risk that Snaefrid would be overshadowed by his character. Snaefrid is silent for a large part of the episode, communicating only through an ambiguous stare, but when her character does speak she commands the scene, and not just because she’s talking about chewing reindeer balls. (Whether that’s a legitimate method of castration is debatable, though it is banned in Norway for what it’s worth.) Her gentle mocking of Björn and confidence solidified the character as engaging. It’s the type of character that I hope we get to see more of. Though hopefully Björn doesn’t become a character with numerous adventures that could be developed but aren’t.

Despite having such a large role last week, Astrid is relegated to one scene in ‘Full Moon’. Initially it seemed like the sickness was just a result of the violent sexual assault from ‘The Message’ but if that was the case it seems risky for Astrid to proclaim that she might be with child. Instead, her awkwardness and apprehension can be interpreted as her knowing that even if she is with child, it is likely not Harald’s. And she’s still possibly unsure as to whether Harald knows or not. It’s possible that the peeking child is a red herring, but more probable is that he’s a Chekov’s gun. Maybe Harald doesn’t know yet, but that gun will fire.

Alexander Ludwig as Bjorn Ironside, meets Snaefrid, played by Dagny Backer Johnson, in season 5, episode 7 of History's Vikings.

It’s not like Ragnar’s courting abilities were much better.

The rest of the episode is filled with side stories of Floki’s settlement in Iceland and Alfred’s visit to Lindisfarne, both of which are unnecessary and distracting. The Icelandic settlement has devolved into another power struggle, and an illogical one at that. It’s pretty simply resolved by Floki simply not taking any title or role as King, which has never been his ambition. If anything, Floki is the seer that people go to for advice and gives cryptic statements that confuse as much as they help. Meanwhile, Alfred’s plot was fairly pointless. He didn’t learn anything of note about Æthelstan, so all it served to do was make some heavy-handed nods towards Alfred’s future church reforms and some sort of dual spirit prayer. Don’t get me wrong, I like both these characters. I just wish they were being given something interesting and worthwhile to do.

With ‘Full Moon’ wrapped up, all that’s left is to wait for the big battle in next week’s episode, somewhat humorously titled, ‘The Joke’. While you wait for episode 8, you can read up on reviews of the first six reviews here. There are also film reviews, such as the recent review of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Or you can find my review of Battle of the Sexes on moviequotesandmore.com. If all of that has whet your appetite, satisfy your hunger with some original fiction by reading my novel, Carrion Youth, for free online over at Swoonreads.com. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Vikings Season 5 Episode 6 Review: Stranger in a Strange Land

Another week, another Vikings review. This week in episode 6, entitled ‘The Message’, Ivar makes a plan with King Harald Finehair, Astrid undergoes horrific circumstances in order to warn Lagertha, Floki’s group has a mole and Björn’s fate in the desert is revealed. Starting from the last point, despite the dire situation Björn and Halfdan were in at the end of last week, theirs is actually the most simple and disappointing part of this week’s episode. They simply block the swinging swords and escape under the cover of the sandstorm. They’re later seen sailing for Kattegat, reducing this storyline to naught. Hopefully, after this war with Harald and Ivar, Björn will return to the Mediterranean, similar to how Ragnar returned to England and Paris. For Vikings to set up this location and these characters with their relationships, it would be underwhelming if this wound up being a one and done excursion that ended in failure.

Instead, much of the run time was devoted to Astrid this week. Astrid is an odd character and one that I’ve never fully connected or engaged with. She showed up last season as a lover of Lagertha while also acting as something of a bodyguard. Largely though her function seemed to be to bolster the ranks of Lagertha’s all female council. Despite generally being loyal, she has shown some shades of rebellion, namely when she was upset at Lagertha for not trusting her and slept with Björn as a means of revenge. But as the story has shifted further and further away from Kattegat, Astrid’s role hasn’t felt important.

This season suddenly thrust the shieldmaiden into the forefront of the looming war between Harald and Lagertha. Her kidnapping by Harald was unexpected but it also seemed like Harald was able to offer her something that she wanted. Though she was Lagertha’s lover, she would never be queen, but she could be with Harald. Again, she’d disagreed with Lagertha previously, and this seemed like an opportunity for her realise some of her ambition. And she really seemed to be coming around to the idea, frolicking and flirting with Harald at the beginning of this episode. By the episode’s end though, it was all revealed to be an act, and Astrid was being gang-raped by some fishermen to ensure a warning got to Lagertha.

Astrid, played by Josefin Asplund, makes a traumatic sacrifice to warn Kattegat of impending attack in 'The Message', episode 6 of season 5 of History's Vikings.

Astrid, just before the scene in question.

It was a horrible situation for Astrid to be in and seems to underline her loyalty to Lagertha. Worse still is that in the next scene, Lagertha is praising the fisherman for being an ally of Astrid’s. It was more surprising that they delivered the message since they run a lot less risk of just taking what they wanted from Astrid and then just saying they delivered the message without actually doing so. Hopefully, Astrid finds some way of exacting revenge on these men before the season’s end, but that’s only if Harald doesn’t discover Astrid’s treachery before they attack. There was a child just outside during that rape scene.

One of the consistently enjoyable scenes of this season is the interaction of Ivar and Heahmund, first from a far on the battlefield and now in their jail discussions. Ivar connects with Heahmund and reveals details of his life that he wouldn’t with anyone else. Though it’s not as friendly as Ragnar and Æthelstan, Ivar does seem to trust Heahmund, confiding in him in the way one might to a Bishop or Priest. It’s interesting how Ivar is engaging with the religious figure despite not following the religion himself.

It’s also notable that Ivar knows not to make this about religion. Heahmund states that he will gladly die for his faith, but Ivar points out that he’s a prisoner of war. If he isn’t going to be killed because of his faith, he can’t be considered a martyr. Ivar takes the steam out of Heahmund’s argument, leaving Heahmund only with the choice of fight and live or refuse and die. Ivar is trusting in Heahmund’s desire to live, of the weakness of the flesh and his love of fighting. And by the episode’s end, Heahmund is on board with killing more ‘heathens’.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers' Bishop Heahmund is brought before Ivar to choose whether or not to fight for the Vikings in 'The Message', the sixth episode of the fifth season of History's Vikings.

He’s crazy but at least he’s on our side.

The rest of the episode is devoted to the young Prince Alfred and Floki’s people arriving in Iceland. In Iceland, they find it doesn’t quite live up to Floki’s hype but they’ve set to go inland and find the hot springs and fertile volcanic ground. Alfred, on the other hand, makes a promise to his grandfather, King Ecbert, to drive out the pagans and restore the kingdom. Part one of this plan is to visit Lindisfarne to connect with the memory of his birth father. While the intention of this quest is interesting, what can Lindisfarne really teach Alfred? Much of Æthelstan’s personal understanding and revelation of God came after his abduction in places such as Kattegat and Wessex. This is likely just a narrative opportunity to underline Alfred’s piety and possibly provide another vision.

Perhaps it’s all the turkey I’ve consumed in the past week, but this episode was rather detached. There were a couple bright spots, however, ‘The Message’ is very evidently gearing up for a battle so much of this episode is just posturing and moving the pieces into place. Though given the whole ‘two moons’ deadline it’s unlikely that the battle will even come next week. Hopefully episode 7, ‘Full Moon’ will feature more Ivar and Heahmund and less rape.

As always, thanks for reading. If you’d like to read my previous reviews of this season of Vikings, you can find them here. While you’re there you might also one to check out my film reviews such as my recent review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. To keep up to date with content posted to this blog, hit the subscribe button or follow me on social media. I’m on most of them. Finally, while you polish off the last of the mince pies, you can read my own novel, Carrion Youth, for free online over at Swoonreads.com. Until next week.