The Return Of Obi-Wan Kenobi

The latest Star Wars TV show to stream on Disney+, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is naturally focused on the noble Jedi Knight and his story of redemption ten years after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. When we last saw Obi-Wan (reprised by Ewan McGregor, who played the character in the prequel trilogy), he was devastated after his Jedi apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), turned to the dark side of the Force, assume the identity of Darth Vader and decimated most of the Jedi Order. The show picks up years later on Anakin’s home planet Tatooine where Obi-Wan is in exile watching over Anakin’s young son, Luke (Grant Feely), from afar.

This version of Obi-Wan is a far cry from the confident and brave warrior from the prequels. Obi-Wan Kenobi, who goes by the name of Ben, lives a quiet life in solitude and generally avoids contact with other people. He also manages to avoid the prying eyes of dark side followers called Inquisitors, including Third Sister Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram). For some reason, Reva is obsessed with finding Kenobi and capturing him for the Inquisitors’ leader, Darth Vader.

On the planet Alderaan, Luke’s twin sister, Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair), is kidnapped to lure Kenobi. Her adopted father, Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), travels to Tatooine to ask Obi-Wan to help find her. After some prodding, Obi-Wan Kenobi realizes he has a duty as a Jedi to help his friend and sets out to rescue Princess Leia. After rescuing Leia on the planet Daiyu, the Jedi Master is pursued by Reva, and later Darth Vader, across several worlds. Before long, Obi-Wan realizes that although he left the Jedi lifestyle years ago, he cannot let go of it and his responsibility to the cause of freedom in the galaxy.

Unlike the other Star Wars Disney+ TV shows, at certain times, Obi-Wan Kenobi feels more like an extended Star Wars film, even the end credits follow the style of the films. But at other times, the limits of television are obvious in terms of scope and budget. Of course, this has no bearing on the quality of the show, which is excellent, but the clash in style and scope may offput some viewers. However, the show is a near-perfect presentation about one of the most revered Star Wars characters. In the prequel films, Kenobi was a supporting character but thanks to McGregor’s performance the Jedi rose in stature to the eyes of many fans. Unlike the conflicted and bratty Anakin, Kenobi was a noble and gallant presence who personified the perfect Jedi. To see him as a hollow, pessimistic, and timid person hiding in the sands of a remote planet at the start of the series was disheartening to watch. Disconnected from the Force and taking pains to avoid conflict, it was disturbing to see how far Kenobi had drifted from the courageous Jedi way. It was also realistic. But, when he slowly regained his connnection to the Force during the show, well, those moments were very gratifying. Of course, McGregor’s performance is stellar as always and his love for the character clearly shows.

One of the best moments was during a flashback sequence that had Obi-Wan dueling with Anakin before he became Vader. The sequence was a brilliant way to reunite the two actors as it showed not just the arrogance of Anakin, but Obi-Wan’s hubris, which would blind him to Anakin’s fall later on in Star Wars Episode III.

There are many other thrilling and inspiring moments throughout the series, such as the final duel between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader; Kenobi reconnecting with the Force in dramatic fashion; Kenobi’s interactions with young Leia; Vader’s moments of quiet rage and explosive and vindictive menace; suspenseful chases and battles; and the fanatical nature of Reva, who hid a tragic backstory. At first, Reva came off as a one-dimensional, cartoonish villain but through the course of Obi-Wan Kenobi, she became more nuanced and complex as her cause was finally revealed. A lot of credit has to go to Ingram who delivered a commanding performance.

There are many great scenes with secondary characters who had their shining moments and left an impact. Take Rupert Friend as the Grand Inquisitor, his savage putdowns of Reva were epic. Then there was Indira Varma as Talla, a Rebel spy masquerading as an Imperial officer. She had a natural chemistry with Ewan McGregor and her inner strength and sacrifice was truly inspiring. Kumail Nanjiani gave an inspired performance as Haja, a con man pretending to be a Jedi and later has a spiritual change of heart. Blair did a fine job as Leia as she captured the essence of the Rebel princess and we saw the laying of her emotional foundation. And finally, the onscreen rivalry of McGregor’s Kenobi with Vader was completed with the return of Christensen, who shone as Skywalker/Vader. As noted above, their friendly rivalry was well executed in the flashback scenes as we witnessed the underlying insecurity of Skywalker. Christensen pulled this off fantastically with subtle facial revelations.

Despite its greatness, Obi-Wan Kenobi had its narrative flaws, which were alarmingly blatant. Take the fourth episode (arguably the series’ weakest, though it was entertaining), where Talla clumsily slapped around some stormtroopers in an Imperial base and defeated them. Or later in the episode when Kenobi threw on an Imperial cloak as a disguise and obviously hid Leia underneath him as they walked around unnoticed among oblivious Imperial personnel. Then there were the common Star Wars space and time puzzles where characters instantly travel from planet to planet, non-fatal stabbings from lighsabers, and spaceships with broken hyperspace engines being able to traverse star systems and avoid Imperial star destroyers.

Thankfully the merits of Obi-Wan Kenobi far outweigh its negatives. It was great to see Ewan McGregor return to a role that he made his own, but now as the central character. It was also fun seeing other actors from the prequel trilogy reprising their roles and seeing how the prequels connect more strongly with the original trilogy of Star Wars films. Even though it is a limited series and its main story feels complete, there is talk about continuing the adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi: Jedi-In-Exile. It’s not clear what direction more episodes would take without feeling repetitive, but they would be welcome.

José Soto

Jurassic World: Dominion Is A Thunderous Epic Conclusion

The final film in the second Jurassic Park trilogy, Jurassic World: Dominion, has been released to mixed to negative reviews, which is puzzling. Yes, it has its flaws, but on the whole, the film is a sprawling dino-epic that is a satisfying conclusion (for now) to the Jurassic Park films.

Jurassic World: Dominion takes place several years after Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and we see the global impact of that film’s end where bioengineered dinosaurs were released into the world. Visually striking montages and imagery highlights a modern world forced to co-exist with the diverse prehistoric fauna. However, most of the larger dinosaurs have been captured and relocated to a private sanctuary in Europe run by Biosyn, a corrupt bioengineering company that is supposedly studying the dinosaurs to derive medical treatment for humanity. In reality, the company, which is run by Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), have bred a giant prehistoric species of locust that they release which soon threaten the world’s food supply.

This comes to the attention of Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), who recruits her former lover, the paleontogist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to help her get to Biosyn’s headquarters in the dinosaur sanctuary to get DNA samples of the locusts in the facility. As the two make their way to Biosyn, the company sends out poachers to the Sierra Nevada region to kidnap Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who is the first cloned human. She is hiding out in the snowbound forests with former raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and former Jurassic World theme park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). The trio soon learn that Blue, the raptor that Grady once wrangled on Jurassic World, is living nearby with her young raptor, which Lockwood names “Beta”. The poachers kidnap Maisie and Beta, which leads Grady and Dearing to Biosyn and their plot to control the world’s food supply with their locusts.

Colin Trevorrow returned to direct the finale of his Jurassic World trilogy and he certainly can deliver action-packed thrills and intense scenes involving high-speed chases and dino battles, as well as genuinely suspenseful moments. While some of the set pieces seem familiar such as humans stuck in a crumbling infrastructure and chased by vicious and hungry prehistoric predators, other scenes are truly inventive and capture the awe of seeing dinosaurs in our modern world as they rampage through cities and farms. For a moment early on, there was a threat that the film would be bogged down and overlong with the two plotlines headed by the OG and new heroes of the franchise, but thankfully Colin Trevorrow kept the action and plot moving briskly. The anticipated team up of both groups was well worth the wait when it finally happens. It was great seeing the original Jurassic Park heroes back together, which includes Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who as always steals the show with his quirky, but charming speeches. Other characters from both trilogies make memorable appearances and the film has numerous Easter eggs and references to the previous films, which were fun to spot.

While it was great to see the old familiar characters, the true star of Jurassic World: Dominion were the dinosaurs themselves. In addition to the beloved species such as tyrannosaurus rex, velociraptors, dilophosaurus, and so on, this film introduces new and terrifying creatures like the giganotosaurus, who naturally duels with the t-rex from the previous films, dimetrodons (though they are not dinosaurs), and a the long-clawed therizinosaurus. The only complaint about these dinosaurs is that individually they do not get as much screen time as one would expect. Even Blue, the raptor from the other Jurassic World films does not appear a lot. For the most part, the prehistoric animals are presented as just that, animals. They are background material that move the plot forward without much personality. This means there are no unique standout terrors like Indominous Rex or Indoraptor who took on monstrous auras. By the way, it should be pointed out more accurate feathered dinosaurs do appear in this film. Still, in this world that has co-existed with dinosaurs, many people in the film have lost their sense of awe with the animals, which is a shame but inevitable. This is how it is with our society. Once something that is extraordinary becomes commonplace, that thing becomes familiar and taken for granted.

The film does have its faults such as some convenient plot holes. Seriously, it is hard to believe the surveillance at a high-tech headquarters would have allowed our heroes to pull off their deeds unnoticed. Then there is the now common complaint of deceptive marketing where trailers feature scenes that do not appear in the final film. Also, while for the most part the special effects were wonderful, there were a few instances were the CG was spotty, but to his credit Trevorrow actually uses live-action effects quite well. Of course, Trevorrow is no Steven Spielberg, but he definetely has made his mark on the recent films, which will be well regarded in the future when people start hungering for more Jurassic Park/World films.

Is this the actual end of these films? Most likely. The story has reached its logical conclusion as reflected in the final moments of the film, which impart a powerful and hopeful environmental message. For now, it is best to let the franchise rest for some time. They can either find some way to continue the adventures of a world where dinosaurs co-habitate all corners of the world with us or the franchise could be rebooted to present a more faithful and brutal adapation of the original source material. No matter what, to paraphrase Malcolm, the Jurassic Park films will find a way. Until then, we have a great batch of films to enjoy with repeat viewings, including Jurassic World: Dominion, which is a thrilling and thunderous epic of a finale to the Jurassic World trilogy.

José Soto

Halo Falls Short Of Its Video Game Roots

Halo is the latest video game franchise to get a big-budget onscreen adaptation. This one is now appearing on TV on the Paramount + streaming service and from the conclusion of the first episode, it was clear that this live-action series was going to do things differently. The main character, the Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber), who is the vanguard of humanity’s war against an alien force known as the Covenant, takes his helmet off to gain the trust of a girl he just saved. This marks a radical departure from the games where to date, we have never seen him without his helmet.  While this is a small detail and doesn’t detract from the episode, in retrospect it was a sign that this show was going to tell a very different story than what is portrayed in the famous video game franchise.

The main idea of the Halo games is that Master Chief is, at most times, a lone warrior fighting against impossible odds on strange aliens worlds against overwhelming foes. These being a group of hostile extraterrestrial races called the Covenant that vow to wipe out humankind in a war that Earth is losing. He encounters the strange ring-shaped world dubbed “Halo” at the start of the very first game and has to figure out its mysteries and stop the Covenant from using it to destroy all life in the galaxy. The Halo TV show however is somewhat of a prequel and starts with Master Chief and other super soldiers named Spartans arriving on a human colony, Madrigal that is invaded by the Covenant.

On the planet he encounters a lone human survivor, a young girl named  Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha), who he brings back to humanity’s headquarters on the planet Reach. Eventually he takes her to a sanctuary world, then she escapes back to Madrigal to try to lead her people against an oppressive government. Meanwhile, Master Chief aka “John” finds a Covenant artifact that he seems to have some strange mystical connection to, and he uncovers details of his past where he was kidnapped as a child by a Dr. Halsey (Natascha McElhone) who created the super soldier program to make the other Spartans as well. These other Spartans also start to question their origins, while Halsey deals with her daughter (Olivia Gray), who is upset by her absentee mother.  Notice that the plot of a war against a group of aliens hellbent on humanity’s extinction is not mentioned other than at the start of the paragraph?

This is the biggest issue I have with this adaptation, that the main focus of the games is basically a subplot in this show that seems to fade to the background other than a few scenes here and there. There are only 9 episodes in this first season and the story needs to be tight and focused, but it seems instead to be set on world building and character exposition to the detriment of what should be the main plot of Earth and its struggle against a genocidal group of aliens who see humans as an affront to their religious beliefs regarding the Halo artifact. There is even one episode solely devoted to Kwan Ha and her journey on Madrigal finding out about her past. This can happen if this was a network TV show with 20-plus episodes, but not with a streaming TV show with limited episodes.

In the games, the Covenant believe that the Halo is a sacred structure that, when activated, will take them to paradise. The reality, *spoiler alert*,  is that it is a weapon created by an ancient race called the Forerunners who used it to destroy life in the galaxy to starve a parasitic race called the Flood of their food source. The Forerunners then re-seeded the galaxy with life, including humans and the Covenant races, on different planets. None of this is explained or shown to the audience, probably since they expect fans of the games to know this, but for non-gamers who will be clueless about this. I can understand that they might not want to overwhelm viewers with larger amounts of backstory and game mythology, and establishing the characters is important, but it seems like they wanted to tell a very different sci-fi story than what is told in the various games. It’s as if they are more interested in the machinations and political intrigue of Earths’ government, the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), as well as Dr. Halsey and the UNSC’s questionable tactics regarding the creation of the Spartans, as opposed to what should be the desperate attempt to survive against the onslaught of the Covenant. 

The positives of the show are the design and look of the Spartans and Covenant when they show up. They look very much like their video game counterparts. And the few scenes of action we do get are very good. The first, fifth and last episodes show the Master Chief and other Spartans in action fighting against their foes. It’s a real treat to see and does offer a glimpse of what the show can be. Obviously, it can’t be non-stop action as opposed to the games, but it’s really about what the focus of the show should be. The season ends with the Chief seemingly taken over by his AI assistant Cortana (Jen Taylor), as they escape with artifacts that can lead them to the location of the Halo ring world.

Hopefully the second season will have him finally arriving at the Halo itself to set off the chain of events that happen in the first game, and we can have the politics of the UNSC in the background, with the fight against the Covenant at the forefront of the show. As a generic sci-fi TV show, Halo is fine, but as an adaptation of the numerous games, it seems to fall short. Having said that, Paramount + has renewed the show for a second season and it has good streaming numbers, so there is an audience for it. Maybe with this new set of episodes, we will see a story that can bridge the gap between both fans of the game and newcomers to the franchise, and satisfy both groups, as the best adaptations of other media do.

C.S. Link

Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Is A Wild & Scary Summer Ride

Kicking off the yearly cinematic entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for 2022 is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the long-awaited sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange. While the first film introduced the supernatural and trippy side of the MCU, the sequel runs wild and amps up the horror elements of the MCU and introduces fantastic new characters and concepts. As with Spider-Man: No Way Home, this film deals with the mind-bending nature of the multiverse and fleshes it out more.

The sequel to Doctor Strange is directed by horror auteur, Sam Raimi, who returns to the world of film adaptations of Marvel Comics superheroes while embracing his horror film background. He replaced the original director and it turned out Marvel Studios made an inspired choice with Raimi, who has the skills and the superhero and horror background to create a splendid fusion of both genres for the MCU.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness brings back the sorcerer, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home. He is attending the wedding of his former lover, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) when a nearby attack in the streets of New York City attracts his attention. A giant, cyclopean cephalopod is after a teenage girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and after Strange and fellow sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong) rescue her, she reveals she is from another universe. America Chavez has the uncontrollable ability to travel through different universes and is on the run from someone who wants to kill her and take her power. The film also features Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who is in grieving after the events of WandaVision. Soon enough her and Strange’s paths cross as he embarks on a mission to protect Chavez. This leads him through the multiverse itself as he struggles to find a way to defeat Gomez’s pursuer and confront his own flaws.

This film works on so many levels that cannot be appreciated immediately by some. It relies heavily on the history of the MCU and has references to Marvel Comics that will delight fans and alienate some non-fans. It walks a fine line between servicing fans with many references and Easter eggs while not going overboard. Despite what the title implies or what over-speculation has led some to believe, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness manages to restrain itself while being an effective and fast-paced thriller with many blood-curdling moments. Sam Raimi revels in his horror roots and delivers his best film in years. Unlike some MCU films that lack identity, Raimi is able to inject his own distinctive and bombastic directorial vision in the film. What he presents may alarm some expecting a family-friendly ride, but it is so well done. A lot of the imagery is downright squeamish and disturbing, but Raimi does not go too over the top. Needless to say the special effects are excellent and many of the images look like dreams which came to cinematic life.

A criticism with The Batman was that it was a bit too indulgent and went on too long. With Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it is the opposite. Its main problem is that it could have used a few extra minutes to allow it to breath and let many emotional moments sink in. It’s very fast paced, but tetters on the brink of losing control as the film jumps from one plot point to another. Raimi has said that his original cut of the film was about a half hour longer but Marvel Studios made him cut the film to fit a two-hour run time. Hopefully this footage will turn up later on to let us judge them. But the film still holds itself together thanks to the terrifc talent both behind and in front of the camera.

Benedict Cumberbatch once again turns in a fine performance as a self-deluding, arrogant hero who has to admit some hard truths about himself in order to succeed. The other actors have ample amount of screen time to leave an impression, including Xochitl Gomez. As the newest superhero of the MCU, Gomez’s America Chavez is full of heart and spunk, but is never obnoxious or overbearing. Plus, she has an engaging sub plot as she struggles to deal with her past and grow.

Elizabeth Olsen delivers an excellent performance as Wanda as we feel her pain and can certainly empathize with her situation over having lost her children during WandaVision. Then there many new characters who have small but significant appearances in the film. As mentioned earlier, beware of over speculating about who appears and dampen expectations. In the end, this works for the film and keeps it from having the same failed fate of Iron Man 2 or Avengers: Age of Ultron where those films tried to cram in too much to set up other films. Even though Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has many characters and moving parts, the core of the film is still on Strange. More importantly, the film does not hesitate to shine a light on his character flaws, which are not admirable.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is another strong win for the MCU and Marvel Studios, which leaves one begging for a followup. Thankfully, the end title card promises that Doctor Strange will return. Let’s hope it does not take six more years for a third Doctor Strange film.

José Soto

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Dashes Past The First Film!

[WARNING: SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW]

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is delighting fans of the classic video game franchise during its cinematic premiere this weekend. It is probably the best video game adaptation to the big screen yet. It is full of material straight from the Sega video games Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and Sonic The Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles (S2&K), which makes the film a bit predictable for diehard Sonic fans, but is still a fun time throughout for all.

The story starts about 8 months after the events of the first film, Sonic the Hedgehog, with Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey, who is as zany as ever playing Sonic’s foe) still stuck on the mushroom planet (a reference to Mushroom Hill Zone from S2&K) escaping with Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), a big red echidna. Robotnik promises Knuckles that he would take him to Sonic’s (voiced by Ben Schwartz) location on Earth, which ties into Knuckles’ trait of being gulible. Tails (Colleen O’Shaunessey), a two-tailed yellow fox, then arrives on Earth to warn Sonic about Knuckles and the two soon become friends. I won’t be covering the rest of the movie’s plot so that people can have a chance to experience it for themselves, but I will now get into the most interesting easter eggs, which covers MAJOR spoilers for the film, so beware.

The first reference that I loved was when Sonic and Tails was in a bar in Siberia, and Sonic does the iconic “Sonic Adventure” pose while in midair. That moment made my heart jump in excitement, and is one of the many reasons as to why the director Jeff Fowler and the filmmakers clearly care about the source material. The scenes at the bar was also very funny, by the way. The next BIG reference is, of course, Super Sonic and the chaos emeralds. Going into this movie, I would have never expected the inclusion of Super Sonic, but I was so happy they added the golden god into the film. Super Sonic first appeared in Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and quickly becomes a staple for Sonic games, so how could they not include him in this film? The next reference is literally big, The Death Egg Robot! This giant robot first appears in Sonic 2 like Super Sonic, but it is WAY bigger than any form the games include. It was really cool to see this giant robot in the film since, again, its a staple of the Sonic franchise.

Finally, the thing that got me most excited, but kind of worried, about a potential Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is with Shadow in the post credits of this movie. Shadow is a robot made by Dr. Eggman’s uncle Gerald in the Space Colony Ark. His backstory is very complicated, so I won’t get into it here, but that’s what worries me about the third film. They are basicially jumping 5ish games, as well as their characters, which are very important. He was first introduced in Sonic Adventure 2 and rose to be a fan favorite charcter of the franchise. However, I don’t think the story of Sonic Adventure 2 would translate well into a movie, it’s complicated and feels like it would be a weird plot to include in the Sonic films. The plot follows this girl named Maria, who was Robotnik’s granddaughter, and Shadow’s friendship with her. But she is killed by a guard on the Space Colony ARK and now Shadow hates humanity and wants to explode the Earth. The other problem is that the game included a lot of charcters we haven’t seen yet in the films. Amy, the Chao, Omega, Rouge, and Gearld, to name a few. I’m worried that they may jump the gun and go too crazy, but I still have faith in them, so I’m excited.

Overall, as a long-term Sonic fan, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is everything I would have asked for in a Sonic movie. The first just felt like a generic movie with Sonic in it, but the second one feels likes it’s Sonic’s movie, and I love that. It’s way better than Sonic the Hedgehog because that movie walked, but this movie can dash! The first film had to set up our characters so they could go crazy once introductions were out of the way. This movie is full of easter eggs and references to past Sonic games so fans will love it. It is also a fun and action-packed movie so anyone can sit down and enjoy this film. I cannot wait for Sonic The Hedgehog 3 and what it will bring to the table of an already full family of fans.

Angelo Soto