D23 Expo 2022: A Great Disappointment For Marvel

For some time, fans expected the presentation by Marvel Studios at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) to pale when compared to this weekend’s D23 Expo 2022. The last D23 convention was jammed with exciting announcements about Marvel Studios. Being that D23 is prepared by Disney and devoted to its properties, one would think all mind-blowing announcements and presentations about Marvel Studios would be revealed at D23 after this summer’s SDCC. For weeks, the rumors have been flying fast about pending casting announcements for upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) projects. Supposedly, Deadpool 3 was to be announced with a special appearance by Ryan Reynolds; Henry Cavill, Denzel Washington, Jodie Comer, and numerous actors were to be announced as being cast for several MCU films and TV shows; the cast for the Fantastic Four would be revealed. Did any of that happen? NOPE.

There weren’t any major, new announcements, except that Matt Shankman has been officially announced as the director of the Fantastic Four film, and Armor Wars has been re-confirmed as going into production. The Marvel Studios presentation consisted of films and TV shows that we knew about. We did get some casting announcements such as Ke Huy Quan appearing in the second season of Loki, and that Tim Blake Nelson will appear in Captain America: New World Order as the Leader, With that last revelation does this mean that the Hulk will appear in Captain America: New World Order? The Leader is a Hulk villain, after all.

We did learn that a lot of footage and trailers were presented at D23 about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Echo, Loki, The Marvels, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and Ironheart. Too bad, most of us cannot see them. Based on Twitter and other social media feeds by those lucky enough to have attended the presentation, the footage sounded great, but no one else could see the footage. All we received were TWO trailers. One for Secret Invasion, which has the look of a solid spy thriller, and Werewolf By Night, a one-shot film coming next month on Disney +. It is both surprising and concerning that Werewolf By Night will stream on October 7, less than a month from now, but it is only now we are seeing any footage. Honestly, the black-and-white trailer makes Werewolf By Night look very campy while evoking the mood of an old Universal horror film and a grindhouse film. But it could be good.

Perhaps the most intriguing news coming out of the Marvel presentation was the revelation of the Thunderbolts lineup. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), U.S. Agent (Wyatt Russell), Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Red Guardian (David Harbour), Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). Basically, the lineup seems like a reunion of cast members from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow, plus a return of a villain from Ant-Man and the Wasp. So, no Abomination or Baron Zemo as everyone expected. Still, just the inclusion of the Winter Soldier is enough to get excited over the Thunderbolts.

As it can be seen, there wasn’t any announcements about other MCU projects. No news on Blade, Deadpool 3, zilch about the X-Men, not even anything on the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, which is supposed to be streaming in a few short months, or Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3. Keep in mind that an exclusive trailer for that film was shown already at SDCC. They could have at least released it to the general public.

Even if Disney could not show exclusive footage to the general public for their MCU projects, at least release an image. Let us see a better look at Namor or Kang! Releasing two trailers does not cut it.

On the other hand, the Star Wars presentation was better, with its highlight being the release of the trailer for the third season of The Mandalorian. With the Star Wars presentation, not everything was shown to the general public, but at least enough was released. Even the Disney animated films presentation from yesterday was more interesting.

Blame it on our unrealistic expectations and for giving in the hype and speculation, but aside from the few thousand people who attended D23, the Marvel Studios presentation was a disappointment for everyone else. This was the first live D23 since the pandemic and the excitement was wild, Disney could have made some exciting and surprising announcements on the level of Avengers: Secret Wars at SDCC, but nothing new was revealed. Overall, the Marvel presentation was almost as disappointing as the presentation by Warner Bros. about their upcoming DC films and TV shows at SDCC. Yes, that bad.

Disney definitely dropped the ball at D23 with Marvel Studios and the MCU. Hopefully, future conventions and presentations will improve, but we should temper our expectations and be realistic.

Prey Introduces A New Kind Of Predator Film

Prey is the latest in the Predator film franchise and it premiered recently on Hulu to well-deserved praise. The film stands out from the previous Predator films in many ways, such as not having Predator in the title, taking place in our distant past, and having a different kind of protagonist. Yet, despite these changes, Prey still has the core elements of a classic Predator film, while bringing forth a fresh, new take for the franchise.

Amber Midthunder stars as Naru, a young Comanche woman in North America during the early 1700s, who is a healer but wants to become a brave hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). While tracking prey with her dog, Sarii, she spots an alien ship entering Earth’s atmosphere, which she interprets as a sign to prove herself as a hunter. After Taabe allows her to join his hunting party, Naru comes across tracks and signs of an unusual creature lurking in the wilderness near her tribe’s location. This nearly invisible creature is revealed to be a Predator who systematically hunts predatory animals until it works its way up to its most formidable targeted prey: humans. Before long, the paths of the Predator and Naru cross as she faces her ultimate test as a hunter while armed only with ancient tools and her wits.

Based on the premise, Prey differs from the typical Predator film not just with it taking place in the past but more importantly with its protagonist. Unlike the other films, the main hero in Prey is a young woman who does not have any modern weapons or any concept of dealing with extra-terrestrials. In fact, the people in the film think the Predator is some kind of demonic entity. Getting back to Naru, what made her situation more meaningful is that she is much more vulnerable to the Predator unlike the bulked-up action heroes brandishing modern weapons in previous films who had some kind of chance against the formidable alien hunter. However, Naru shares the same trait that the previous heroes had in that she uses her wits and physical skills to go up against the Predator, which evens the odds when the two confront each other.

So much of the film relies on the character of Naru, as she not only has to fight the Predato,r but prove to herself and her tribe that she is a brave warrior. Amber Midthunder brilliantly brings her character to life and makes her a sympathetic underdog whose braveness and cunning makes her an underestimated prey for the alien.

As for the Predator itself, despite four previous films (not counting the Alien Vs. Predator films), the creature is still a terrifying killing machine with nasty alien weapons. What is interesting about the weapons is that although they are advanced, they are not as high tech as the ones used by other Predators. This makes sense since this film takes place hundreds of years in the past.

Having the film take place in the distant past was a brillaint idea and something that was long overdue. Ever since the end of Predator 2 hinted that the Predators have visited Earth for a long time, this revelation opened up so many possibilities, but the following Predator films failed to take advantage of this, unlike the Dark Horse Comics series. Having Predator films take place at different times and locations should be fully explored. Who would not want to see a Predator film taking place in feudal Japan? Or having the alien hunter face off against Vikings? Hopefully, if there are more films, they could go in this direction.

On a technical level, Prey is topnotch with beautiful outdoor cinematography (credit goes to Jeff Cutter), tight editing, and minimal use of CG. Director Dan Tractenberg, follows up his 10 Cloverfield Lane with another suspenseful yarn with thrilling fight scenes and genuine moments of tension. To his credit, the director uses his limited amount of screen time to infuse the film with organic character moments, which embellish the humans onscreen.

As mentioned before, it would be great to see more Predator films in this vein. After the previous dismal film, The Predator, it seemed that the franchise was creatively extinct. Thankfully, Prey invigorates it with a simple, tight and innovative film that emphasizes the tenuous relationship between predator and prey.

Godzilla Vs. Kong Is The Epic Clash We’ve Been Waiting For!

Ever since Godzilla and King Kong have made their way into recent films with modern fx technology we’ve been wating for the inevitable clash between these two legendary titans. Fans had their dreams answered with the new take of Godzilla vs. Kong, and boy does this film deliver!

First of all, let’s be clear. Godzilla vs. Kong is not Citizen Kane or even Blade Runner. It does not feature any deep, meaningful storylines or characters, it just gives viewers a classic slugfest between the two iconic film legends. What characters there are only exist to provide brief explanations, theories and to move the plot along. It is clear that Legendary Entertainment has figured out that from Godzilla, its first entry in their Monsterverse cinematic universe, that audiences have little patience for human drama in these films and only show up to see detailed and powerful battles between giant monsters as they destroy their landscapes. The fourth Monsterverse film wisely, depending on your point of view, puts aside human drama and intricate plots and just sprinkle these elements to service the film and give the giant monster legends a reason to fight.

The film begins with Godzilla unexpectedly showing up off the coast of Florida and decimating the location of Apex Cybernetics. While the world believes the mighty Alpha Titan has gone rogue, there is more to his attack. At the same time, the other Alpha Titan, Kong is introduced as being held inside a massive dome on Skull Island that recreates his primordial kingdom. Apparently at some point before this film, he was captured and placed there to protect him from Godzilla, who would otherwise seek out Kong and battle him since he is a competing Alpha Titan. But Kong wants out of his gilded cage and is somehow able to communicate with Jia (Kaylee Hottle) the young, deaf daughter of Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), one of the many scientists studying the giant gorilla. Ilene meets another scientist, Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard), who wants to use Kong to lead his team into the Earth’s core. Lind believes in the Hollow Earth theory, which he thinks is the home of the gigantic titans and the source of a new kind of energy.

At the same time, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown reprising her role from Godzilla: King of the Monsters), her nerdy friend Josh Valentine (Julien Dennison), and Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), a conspiracy podcaster find out that Apex is also interested in exploring the inner Earth and obtaining the energy source. How does this relate to Godzilla and King Kong and other kaijus that pop up? Watch the movie to find out.

Actually, the threadbare plot is nonsense and is not fully explained, but who cares? It’s just a means to get the two giant kaijus to duke it out. Director Adam Wingard delivers the goods when it comes to epic clashes. Godzilla vs. Kong lovingly revels in beautifully choreographed shots of massive battles between the titans and other creatures. Modern cities are just a playground for these giants to stomp around in and destroy during their battles as humans can only do their best to get out of the way.

Keep in mind, that despite the film’s thin plot and underdeveloped characters, the actors give it their all and keep things moving at a fast pace to the point that we don’t mind the human interludes in between monster scenes since every human interaction directly deals with either Kong or Godzilla. This actually helps inect some personality into the monsters, especially Kong. In reality, this is more of a Kong film with Godzilla as a feature character who pops up to challenge the giant ape throughout the film. The result is that Kong has more character than expected and is placed in unique situations that is outside of what is often given to the screen legend. Not only does this reveal that Kong is far more intelligent than we thought, but he’s humanized to the point that even if you are on Team Godzilla you can’t help but root for him during critical moments in the explosive battles. Honestly, it was hard to pick a side, Team Kong or Team Godzilla, as we have reasons to root for both monsters who get their standout moments and demonstrate why they are the kings of their domains.

Needless to say the film’s stunning visuals alone are worth taking a chance to see in theaters. Of course, only go to a theater if you are fully vaccinated since you can’t tell beforehand if you’ll be stuck in the theater with selfish maskholes! Otherwise, be sure to stream this in the best home theater environment possible because Godzilla vs. Kong is a pure delight for kaiju and action fans.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the culmination of nearly a decade’s worth of Monsterverse films and is, at the moment, the final film in the Monsterverse. Hopefully, being that the film has captured the imagination of so many and is being well received despite its faults, maybe we can revisit the Monsterverse since there is more to explore, especially with King Kong.

José Soto

Top Ten Films & TV Shows Of 2020

2020 has certainly been a strange and troubling year with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the entertainment industry.

As the film studios and theaters suffered greatly from the mass closures for public safety, the television arm of the entertainment industry saw a boon since they had literal captive audiences eager for any new content.

Films

Even though many films scheduled for 2020 were postponed for the year, there were many other films that either had limited theatrical releases or managed to come out in the early months of the year before COVID-19 created the lockdowns. Hopefully as the now-availalbe vaccines are administered throughout the population, 2021 will see more of a return to normalcy as theaters will be able to safely re-open.

Please note many films that were released solely digitally or through streaming platforms were not considered for this list; a film had to have some kind of theatrical release even if it debuted in few theaters at the same time they were released digitally. Here are the ten best theatrical films of 2020.

10. Onward

Pixar’s other animated cinematic offering for 2020 was an uplifting and fun adventure that took place in a world where mythical and magical beings and creatures exist today. In the film, two elf brothers set out on a road trip across the country to temporarily resurrect their deceased father. As with most Pixar films, the characters and their emotions took center stage as the two realized their brotherly love for one another. 

9. The New Mutants

The sole Marvel film of 2020 turned out to be the coda of the Fox X-Men films, which was a surprise given it has been delayed so many times. Fortunately, The New Mutants turned out to be a decent superhero film about teenagers coming to grips with their superpowers and life as the film was tinged with chilling horror elements.

alone at the midnight sky

8. The Midnight Sky

George Clooney directed and starred in this introspective sci-fi film based on a book by Lily Brooks-Dalton. Clooney played a lone scientist in an arctic outpost who tries to warn the crew of a returning spacecraft not to come to Earth because it has undergone an extinction-level event. The film was a quiet and captivating character study of the scientist and the spacecraft crew as they struggled to survive in their hostile environments.

7. Underwater

Director William Eubanks is perhaps the most underrated director of sci-fi films today and his latest film continued to demonstrate this. Underwater may be filled with the usual tropes of a crew in an underwater research station being hunted by unknown, Lovecraftian creatures, but it was well crafted, claustrophobic and had the right amount of jump scares and unexpected character studies which elevated this film. 

6. Greenland

Gerard Butler starred in a surprisingly effective disaster film that smartly focused on a single family when cometary fragments crashed into the Earth. By staying with the family as they tried to make their way to safety, Greenland was able to directly show how the catastrophic event affected the family as they grappled with fear, uncertainty and confusion. 

5. Sonic the Hedgehog

Who would have thought that 2020 would have given us a winning film based on a popular video game character? It is more remarkable given the negative reaction to the first trailer which led to Sonic being radically re-designed more to fans’ liking. The effort paid off as Sonic the Hedgehog was a fun and endearing road trip/buddy film that delighted many viewers and not just fans. The road trip/buddy aspect of the film may be familiar but it worked as Sonic, the cartoonish alien, experiences life on Earth for the first time. 

4. #Alive

This South Korean film took a tired zombie/survival trope and reinvigorated it. In the film a young adult gamer is trapped in his apartment during a zombie apocalypse and as he undergoes bouts of loneliness and struggles to keep his sanity, he learns about survival and finding one’s inner strength. This character study made the film very engaging as we found ourselves rooting for the young gamer.

 

3. Color Out of Space

Nicolas Cage was in rare form in this macabre adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story. This horror/sci-fi yarn was quite unsettling in its first half which told the story of a crashed meteor’s unearthly physical effect in a nearby farm. By the second half, Color Out of Space metamorphized into a vivid and disturbing body-horror ordeal that was literally mind bending and shattering as the meteor’s alien influence transformed all life surrounding it, including the hapless farmer and his family. 

love and monsters dog

2. Love and Monsters

This exciting and more light-hearted post-apocalyptic film was a actually a coming-of-age story about a young man who learned to believe in himself as he set out across the ruined landscape of the U.S. to find his supposed true love. Sometimes it is compared to Zombieland, though that is not entirely accurate. In truth, Love and Monsters focused less on laughs and more on its endearing characters and imaginative, giant mutated animals that the film’s hero and his companion dog had to face during his difficult journey.

1. Soul

Two big films were released on streaming platforms (and had very limited theatrical releases), even though one of them (Wonder Woman 1984) had much more buzz and attention, Soul was not only the better of the two films but the best film of the year. The underlying themes may go over the heads of the younger viewers, though they and everyone else will be delighted by the film’s plot of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), as a struggling musician who dies and refuses to go to heaven. From there, he sets off on a spiritual and metaphysical quest to return to life filled with solid characters and relationships. 

Not only is Soul perfectly animated and chock full of visual delights, but like the best of Pixar, it examines the larger questions in life and its script is unexpected. At its heart, Soul is about…life and what one makes of it. However, it also forces the viewer to contemplate and appreciate the simpler and most relevant aspects of life, and in this tumultous year, this may be the most important message of all. 

Honorable Mentions:

Bill & Ted Face the Music, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), The Invisible Man, Peninsula, Possessor, Vivarium

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Supernatural Carries On In The End

Supernatural aired its very last episode “Carry On” a couple of nights ago, which brought an end to the long-running horror/fantasy series about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), and their adventures in hunting supernatural forces. As a series finale it left me feeling unsure about how I felt about it. But the more I think about it the more I feel that its penultimate episode “Inherit the Earth” would have been a better finale.

*Major Spoilers will follow*

“Carry On” was a fine episode and basically served as a coda to the lives of the Winchester Brothers. Some may think the very last episode should have been some kind of epic throw down against the forces of evil but Supernatural ended the way it began with a monster-of-the-week episode. In this case, a nest of vampires. Honestly this was the least interesting element of the episode. What followed after the vampires were killed was more important. OK, final warning on spoilers ahead.

Dean died after the vampires were killed after being impaled on a metal rod sticking out of post. It was a bit of a surprise and kind of underwhelming as far as deaths go. That is because the two brothers (and their allies and enemies) have been killed before multiple times in the show and then resurrected. It was hard to believe this was it. Or that the show creators felt this was best to finally kill Dean off in a sort of mundane manner. Yet others may feel it was appropriate that the great Dean Winchester not die in some epic battle but during a humdrum mission. I disagree, and find it surprising that Sam would not try to find a way to resurrect his brother.

winchester heaven

The scenes that followed with Sam Winchester mourning his brother with only Dean’s recently adopted dog for company was heartbreaking. However, by this point I was wondering if the show ran out of money because of the lack of guest stars. Sure, we got to see Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) in heaven with Dean, but none of the other mainstays like Castiel (Misha Collins) or Jack (Alexander Culvert) showed up. I read that this episode was filmed after the show’s shutdown ended (thanks again COVID-19) and the showrunners did not want to risk bringing in many people unless necessary. Still, the lack of mourners/guest appearances robbed the impact of Dean’s sudden passing.

As Dean explored heaven (basically shown as the empty backwoods and roads of middle America), scenes were intercut showing Sam moving on with his life as the song by Kansas, “Carry On Wayward Son”, the show’s unofficial theme song, played. He fathered a son he named after his brother; we don’t see who the child’s mother was, presumably it was his girlfriend Eileen (Shoshannah Stern), but we never got a good look; and Sam grew old and died with his adult son at his side. Cue to tears as Sam and Dean Winchester were finally reunited in heaven. The end.

As I mentioned earlier “Carry On” was fine by itself but the nitpicks kept nibbling me. It was great to see at least Sam being able to live out a normal life past hunting monsters, but it was sad that Dean was not allowed this destiny and God knows he deserved it since he was the more spiriturally troubled of the two. His death while being a Hunter was appropriate, but it should not have felt so mundane.

The previous episode “Inherit the Earth” could have and probably should have served as the series finale for Supernatural. The Winchesters had their final confrontation with Chuck/God (Rob Benedict), after he wiped out all forms of higher life on Earth. In their confrontation, the brothers were outmatched by Chuck, but he was defeated by Jack the Nephilim, who absorbed his powers. Afterwards, Jack became the new God and restored the universe in a cosmic reset before he vanished to become one with reality.

“Inherit the Earth” concluded with a great montage showing all the characters the Winchesters met during Supernatural’s run as the two drove off in Dean’s car while Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” played. To me this was how Supernatural should have ended. A bit open ended as Sam and Dean Winchester ride off into the open road looking for their next adventure now that they and the world were finally free of Chuck’s control.

If it matters that much to any fan, it’s best to stop watching Supernatural with its penultimate episode and just imagine Sam and Dean Winchester lived happily ever after hunting ghouls, evil ghosts, demons and whatever supernatural force came their way. If not then consider “Carry On” to be an acceptable, if sad, coda or epilogue to their lives and the show itself.

José Soto