The MCU Drought

 

Disney and Marvel Studios threw in the towel a few days ago when it came to releasing any films in 2020: Black Widow was bumped out of its slated November release date into next year. This created a domino effect in that all other scheduled MCU films were pushed back, in some cases to 2022. For the first time since 2009, a year will pass without any offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Face it folks, we are in an MCU drought.

This is quite a downer and is completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and how irresponsible many people have been (wear the damn mask already!). Of course, this is simply a First World complaint and pales to other more serious plights going on, but the lack of an MCU film for fans to enjoy is just more proof that the pandemic has uprooted our lives.

At this rate, who knows when things will go back to “normal” or if it is even possible. If this keeps up will any high profile film be released in theaters next year? It is understandable that film studios are hesitant to release films in theaters under current circumstances, even though some theaters are now open. The problem is that even if every theater re-opened, many people would be hesitant to go attend them, not with COVID-19 lurking around. Sure, some would not have a problem but any released film will not earn its full potential at the box office. Take Tenet as an example. At one point, it was one of the most eagerly anticipated films and thought to be the one film to herald a return to the movies after the pandemic ended. Only the pandemic did not end and the film was shuffled around almost as much as The New Mutants. In the end, Tenet turned out to be a box office disappointment. Even though it has earned over $200 million that pales to what was once expected of Tenet.

As for The New Mutants, the fact that it was eventually released is a small miracle and oddly enough wound up being the sole film released in 2020 that was based on a Marvel Comics property, though it clearly was not set in the MCU. Also worth mentioning is that fans already had a property released this year that was set in the MCU…sort of. That was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Whether or not that TV show was considered part of the MCU is open for debate but on paper it was. Another Marvel property coming to the small screens in a few weeks is the Helstrom TV show which will debut on Hulu, though it is not marketed as a Marvel property.  With all that said, keep in mind fans of the MCU will have at least something for 2020 to get through the MCU drought and that is the upcoming WandaVision TV show on Disney+ later in 2020.

WandaVision may be a consolation prize, but judging from its trippy trailer it promises to be a wildly imaginative treat for MCU fans with its bizarre imagery of a 1950s Middle American TV landscape that morphs into more modern sitcoms. Hopefully, WandaVision will be as mind bending and thought provoking as Legion, but with an added bonus that it’s set in the MCU and is a vital cog that lines up with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

But even though WandaVision is supposed to come out in 2020, Disney+ still has not said when it will stream. It is believed to be in December but certainly after the second season of The Mandalorian has finished its run. It’s just too bad that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was not completed enough for it to have streamed this year on Disney+ as originally planned. But at least we know that WandaVision is still on track to come out later in the year.

Yes, the MCU is in a drought but this will not last forever. The pandemic will pass. Theaters will re-open fully and be safe to attend. There will be plenty of MCU fare coming our way. Next year promises four MCU films (Black Widow, Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and a new Spider-Man film) along with two Sony films, Morbius and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which are now rumored to be part of the MCU. Plus, Marvel Studios and Disney+ promised there will be more MCU shows streaming in 2021, starting with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and then Loki and What If…

So, before long, we will have so many plum offerings to make up for our current MCU drought. Hang in there, be patient and wear your mask!

 

 

Tron: Uprising Presents A Bold Digital Realm

As most of us are staying home as a precaution to the coronavirus, one way to pass time is to binge-watch the myriad of TV shows and films available in our physical media collections or streaming services.

Anyone who has Disney+ will see that the streaming service has the animated series Tron: Uprising. This show aired on Disney XD shortly after Tron: Legacy as a holdover to an expected sequel. Sadly, the sequel to Tron: Legacy never happened and the animated series was cancelled. This was a shame because Tron: Uprising was a well-done show that expanded on the world building of the Tron universe.

Below is a quick review of the show that was done for a previous version of Starloggers back when the show debuted. Tron: Uprising may not be as attention grabbing as other shows nor as fondly remembered but it is certainly a notable sci-fi show, which should be on anyone’s queue list; besides there are other things to watch on Disney+ besides The Mandalorian!

Tron: Uprising, the Disney animated series, follows the adventures of a young program called Beck (Elijah Wood), who becomes a heroic rebel leader in a virtual realm that exists within computers. This reality is the Grid that was visited by humans in the films and the series focuses on the programs that exist as distinct entities within the Grid.

The series actually takes place between the two films and has many aspects and references to the films, which will delight fans, while adding nuances and layers to the unique digital world. The cityscapes are wonderfully detailed and build upon the architecture seen in the Tron films. The result is that the digital world seems more complete, more vibrant, and more alive. Kudos to Disney’s animation team for pulling off this feat.

Disney released a preview episode on iTunes, YouTube and on the Disney Channel that sets up the series and is a must viewing to understand what is going in with the regular series. In that preview called “Beck’s Beginning” viewers are introduced to Beck a young happy-go-lucky mechanic and disc player in the distant Grid city called Argon. He has a joyous existence with his friends until the forces of the tyrannical program called Clu arrive and occupy the city.

Clu, is a doppelganger program of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges in the films) that became corrupted, took over the Grid and betrayed the heroic program Tron (Bruce Boxleitner, who reprises his role by providing the voice of Tron in this series).

After Clu’s forces, which are led by General Tesler (Lance Henriksen), kill or derez Beck’s friend, he decides to strike back against Clu’s reign. Tron by this time has become a cult hero who was supposedly killed by Clu. So Beck decides to assume Tron’s identity to inspire a revolution. Along the way he encounters enemies and allies including Tron himself, who passes on the mantle to young Beck.

Some of the graphics of Tron: Uprising are beautiful and faithfully represent the digital world of Tron but while the series is computer animated the series, on the whole, has a more traditional animated feel. It isn’t an obvious approach but it helps distinguish it from the films. But in trying to set itself apart from the films the series goes too far in terms of the characters’ anatomy that are grossly disproportional; characters are drawn with long, giraffe-like legs! It can be distracting but it doesn’t detract from the show. Many sequences are simply stunning to watch and capture the essence of Tron, especially the latter film Tron: Legacy. It’s an auspicious start for an animated series, one can only hope that future episodes maintain the quality seen in the first few episodes.

The digital world of Tron lives on with Tron: Uprising and it can be enjoyed by fans of those films, and even those who haven’t seen them.

The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy: An Honest Assessment

With the release of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy and the entire nine-film Skywalker Saga has come to an end. The film has had its share of controversy, scorn and praise from all parties. Despite what trolls hoped for, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an actual hit film. Now as to its quality, that is another story. Personally, I truly enjoyed the film but am honest enough to admit the latest Star Wars film is riddled with plot holes and faults. Still it did enough to entertain me and others and provided closure to the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. Looking at the three films in this trilogy it is fair to opine that on the whole, the trilogy was badly flawed and can be considered to be the weakest of the three Star Wars trilogies. And that is due to many reasons, especially one: it is clear that Lucasfilm and its owners Disney did not have a clear plan for the sequel trilogy and it hobbled the films overall.

Inconsistent Characters

Looking at the past three films (standalone films aside), it was difficult to tell what was the main story. The only consistent arc that flowed logically was Rey and Kylo Ren’s personal journeys in their understanding of the Force. Not surprisingly, this storyline is what received the most praise. Everything else, not so much.

future jedi finn

Look at Finn’s story in the films. He had a brilliant setup, the world of Star Wars told from the POV of a normal Stormtrooper, and how he comes to believe in a greater cause than his lot in life. As well as his story was set up in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it stagnated in the followup, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, where he became a bumbling comic relief shuffled off to a pointless side quest. Then in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, his story arc had a radical course correction as we are tantalized with him developing Force sensitivity, which hinted at his potential future as a Jedi.

Even more jarring was figuring out who was the main bad guy in these films. Kylo Ren’s story was fine and flowed smoothly as he struggled with his conflicting emotions. But he was set up to be the main villain according to The Last Jedi. In that film, he killed the supposed main boss, Supreme Leader Snoke, and took his title. Meanwhile, Snoke was dispatched too early and the filmmakers were left scrambling to find another villain for the final film. This is why director J.J. Abrams and others hastily resurrected the long-dead Emperor Palpatine. As great as it was to see him cackling and oozing evil on the screen again, his reappearance into Star Wars lore was sloppily handled. If he had been hinted at in earlier films, his revival would have made more sense and not come off as a desperate plot ploy.

Then there are the other supporting characters who were treated as disposable plot beats. Take poor Rose Tico, first introduced as an annoying and self-righteous wannabe crusader in The Last Jedi, which led to toxic online backlash from misogynistic and racist trolls attacking the actress. In The Rise of Skywalker, her role was noticeably reduced to that of a glorified extra and any hints of a romance with Finn alluded to in the previous film were gone.

Aside from Rose, the most contentious character introduced in The Last Jedi was Admiral Holdo played by a badly miscast Laura Dern. This supposedly brilliant military leader did not exude any kind of gravitas as a leader, which infuriated many viewers and emboldened Internet trolls. But hey, at least she had a cool death scene where she used her ship to take out the ginormous uber star destroyer.

Then there was Hux, the First Order leader who instead of inspiring dread and fear like Grand Moff Tarkin became an ineffective joke in The Last Jedi. His character was so mangled that he was mercifully killed off in The Rise of Skywalker after he nonsensically was revealed to be a spy working against the First Order.

Contrasting Visions

The fault for the way they and other characters turned out has to be with the scripts, which reeked of being written on the fly. Another important reason for the disjointed feel of the sequel trilogy was the contrasting visions of the directors of the films, J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson.

abrams johnson

Although both men are talented directors who brought good ideas to Star Wars, their viewpoint clashed wildly. With The Force Awakens, Abrams was clearly doing an homage to the original films, especially Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

A valid criticism of The Force Awakens was that it was too similar to A New Hope: both films opened on a desert planet where good guys and bad guys sought a droid that held vital information. The heroes run into an older mentor type who gets killed and the films end with a space battle to blow up a superweapon planet. Be that as it may, The Force Awakens was a fun film that served as a soft reboot and reintroduction to the world of Star Wars for a new generation. It also set up many plot threads that Abrams left for future directors to follow up.

The problem was that the next director, Johnson, obviously was not interested in doing that. Instead he had a mindset of doing a deconstruction of Star Wars. Luke Skywalker, set up as a long-lost would-be savior in The Force Awakens, turned out to be a bitter old man without any hope. His final moments disappointed fans who were itching for him to decimate the First Order.

rey the last jedi

Rey, who was to be the next generation of Jedi, had a mysterious past and was seeking to learn about her parents. Was she related to anyone in the Original Trilogy? Why was she so powerful with the Force? Johnson obviously did not care with the casual dismissive announcement that she came from a family of nobodies. Something that had to be retconned later.

Supreme Leader Snoke was introduced as a trilogy’s final threat was unexpectedly killed by Ren. Meanwhile, Ren was hinted at in the film of having a redemptive arc but instead turned his back on Rey and embraced the dark side of the Force.  Both films are clear evidence that there wasn’t a coherent vision with the trilogy.

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Top 10 Most Anticipated Films Of 2020

As we settle into the new year it’s that time to look ahead for what films await us in 2020. A quick look will show that the superheroes will be taking a breather on the big screen along with some of the more notable franchises. Still, there are plenty of promising offerings for this year. As before keep in mind that not all of the films will actually be released in 2020 or on the dates listed below, and some of them will turn out to be disappointments, while something that may not even make it into the other mention list will turn out to be tomorrow’s classic.

10. Black Widow (May 1):

Finally! Black Widow gets her own overdue solo film, but is it too late? The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MC) Phase Four offers the MCU take on spy thrillers that is obviously a flashback/prequel film (no spoilers for anyone who has not seen Avengers: Endgame).

Tomorrow war

9. The Tomorrow War (December 25):

Chris Pratt stars as a soldier in a future war against aliens. The catch is that humanity is forced to recruit soldiers from the past to win the war. If this is anything like the classic Edge of Tomorrow then genre fans are in for treat.

8. Antebellum (April 24):

Very little is known about this horror thriller from the producers of Get Out and Us. It has something to do with a writer trapped in between our reality and one during the period before the Civil War. But their credentials and the disturbing and mysterious imagery shown in the trailer make this film a must see.

7. Free Guy (July 3):

Think of this film as a live-action Wreck-It Ralph, sort of. Ryan Reynolds stars as a Non-Playable Character (NPC) in a Fortnite-like video game who evolves beyond his programming. Now aware of his limited existence, the NPC decides to take a more proactive role in his virtual world and become the hero.

6. Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5):

Gal Gadot returns as the titular Amazonian warrior in this sequel that takes place in the 1980s. The more modern setting juxtaposed with Wonder Woman’s heroics are refreshingly different from Wonder Woman’s grim World War I backdrop. Another plus is that the previous film’s humor and kinetic superheroic action will continue in this sequel.

5. BIOS (October 2):

Tom Hanks stars as a dying scientist and the last person on Earth who builds a robot companion for his dog and the trio embark on a journey where the robot has to learn to be more “human”. Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik helms this sci-fi film which combines the retrospective nature of Hanks’ classic Cast Away with high adventure.

4. Godzilla vs. Kong (November 20):

The epic showdown between two of the biggest and most famous kaijus takes place in the fourth Monsterverse film. Many have complained about the previous film’s (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) poorly defined characters and plot, but many others cheered the jaw-dropping visual treats of giant monsters battling to the death. Hopefully, the latest Monsterverse film will deliver more of this to fans.

3. A Quiet Place, Part II (March 20):

The first film about a family surviving in a world overrun by lethal aliens was a chilling and tense surprise thanks to John Krasinski’s (who also starred) masterful direction. A Quiet Place, Part II continues the journey of the family from the first film as they venture beyond their home to the outside world and learn they don’t only have the aliens to worry about.

2. Dune (December 18):

Acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve, having won accolades for his work on Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, gives us his take on the most revered sci-fi novel of all time. This version of Dune promises to be more faithful to the source novel than the David Lynch film from the 1980s. Already boasting an impressive cast, expect Dune to be lavishly presented with exceptional production values and effects. Also note that this version of Dune will only cover the first half of the novel, which is about a young messianic figure’s trials on a desert world in the far future, whose actions will reshape the universe.

1. Tenet (July 17):

Director Christopher Nolan’s newest film is clouded in secrecy but appears to be a high-octane spy thriller about preventing World War III. Tenet stands out from say another James Bond or Jason Bourne thriller by being laced with disorienting and not-so-subtle twists in the vein of Inception.

In fact, some are already speculating Tenet could be a sequel or spinoff to Inception only this time the emphasis is on time. Even without the off-key imagery of time flowing backwards in several spots, Tenet looks like another provocative, mind-bending action-packed fest from the auteur.

Other Upcoming Films:

 Bill and Ted Face the Music (August 21): The Wild Stallyns are back in another goofy time travel adventure; Bloodshot (March 13): Vin Diesel stars in the first live-action Valiant superhero film about a mercenary with nanite blood; Eternals (November 6): The other MCU film coming out this year will showcase the history of the MCU spanning millennium and characters; Ghostbusters: Afterlife (July 10): A new take on Ghostbusters which hopes to recapture the nostalgia for the original films; The Invisible Man (February 28): Elizabeth Moss portrays a woman haunted by her supposedly dead abusive lover who is actually alive and invisible;

Malignant (August 14): Writer and director James Wan adapts his graphic novel about a man with an alien tumor that gives him superpowers;  Morbius (July 31): Sony brings to life another Spider-Man villain turned anti-hero; The New Mutants (April 3): Just when we thought the final Fox X-Men film was dead and buried, we find out it will actually be released; Onward (March 6): The first Pixar film of the decade features two elves who are brothers that set out on a trip to revive their dead father; Raya and the Last Dragon (November 25): In this Disney animated film, a warrior searches for the last dragon; Samaritan (December 11): Sylvester Stallone stars as a long-lost superhero;  Sonic the Hedgehog (February 14); Internet rage changed the look of the popular video game character, now it’s up in the air if the film will actually be good;  Soul (June 19): The second Pixar animated release features a new soul who discovers the afterlife; Venom 2 (October 2): Tom Hardy returns in the sequel to the surprise superhero hit about the anti-heroic alien symbiote; Underwater (January 10): Scientists are trapped on the ocean floor and are preyed upon by mysterious creatures; The Witches (October 9): Robert Zemeckis directs this adaptation of the Roald Dahl fantasy book; After Yang (TBD); A father and his daughter try to save her robotic nanny; Stowaway (TBD): This variation of “The Cold Equations” takes place on a journey to Mars;  Voyagers (TBD): Reportedly this film is marketed as Lord of the Flies in space.

 

The Mandalorian Returns Star Wars To Its Space Western Roots

mandalorian poster

The Star Wars franchise is many things; a space opera, a retelling of ancient myths and societal archetypes, an allegory of political and current events. But one thing the very first Star Wars film was noted for was being a space western. This aspect has been revered by fans for decades but the films have moved away from its space western roots aside from the last Star Wars film, Solo: A Star Wars Story. But now, Star Wars firmly embraces its space western roots with its first live-action TV show, The Mandalorian.

The new streaming show on Disney+ stars Pedro Pascal as the titular character, a mysterious bounty hunter with no name (actually he is called Mando fleetingly in one episode) who dons the same suit of high-tech armor worn by the villainous Boba Fett seen in the original films. Unlike that bounty hunter, the Mandalorian has a certain warrior code he lives by. The Mandalorian takes place five years after the events of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and the Galactic Empire has fallen. It takes place in the lawless Outer Rim Territories which are rife with criminals, loners and other desperados. When The Mandalorian begins, the title character callously hunts down his prey without mercy and speaks very little as he strolls into seedy alien bars.

Werner Herzog Client

He is hired by a mysterious Client (Werner Herzog), once affiliated with the Empire, for an assignment to capture, dead or alive, a fifty-year-old target on another planet. After a Wild West-type shootout with guards in a remote town, the bounty hunter finds out that the target is actually a cute and adorable infant child of Jedi Master Yoda’s species. Already the Internet is flooded with images and memes of this cuddly Baby Yoda. Come on and give us the toys and plushies of this charming baby already!

Baby Yoda

The moment he encounters Baby Yoda, the Mandalorian appears to be torn over the child’s welfare. He takes to the speechless infant who already displays a great affinity with the Force. Baby Yoda is also is wanted by the Client for unknown but obvious nefarious purposes, so the bounty hunter’s protectiveness of the baby puts him at odds with the galaxy. What is so remarkable about this development and the show itself is that we never see the Mandalorian’s face, it is always hidden behind a helmet. Yet, with few words and Pascal’s subtle performance, the bounty hunter displays deep character. Maybe it’s because he sounds a lot like Clint Eastwood from those spaghetti westerns, maybe it’s because his expressionless visor forces us to read into how the bounty hunter is feeling or what he is thinking. It could be that his reluctance to allow any harm to come to Baby Yoda lets us know that he is more dimensional than the more famous Boba Fett. This is why the character and the Disney+ show itself has taken everyone by storm. Continue reading