I admit, I only kind of half pay attention to the new Star Wars and Marvel shows on Disney Plus. Both have so thoroughly over-saturated the market that there's just no excitement about either franchise anymore. A lot of the stories in Star Wars in particular feel like they're scraping the bottom of the barrel for any idea that some bean-counter feels is worth filming. Marvel at least has the advantage of progressing a continuous narrative forward, even if it's currently moving at a glacial pace. Star Wars is widely regarded as having shat the bed with the sequel trilogy (I still haven't bothered to watch Rise of Skywalker), so now it's completely fixated on just back-filling the details adjacent to the parts of the franchise that were actually good, while insisting that the same handful of characters have their hands in everything important that has ever happened in this universe. Anyway, sorry for the Star Wars tangent; I'm supposed to be talking about a Marvel show right now. I wonder how long it will be before Disney gets so desperate that they start crossing-over Marvel and Star Wars?

Anyway, the point is that I've been kind of "meh" about almost everything that Marvel has put out since Infinity War. So "meh" that I couldn't even be bothered to write reviews or impressions of most of it. So much of the content just feels like it's running in place from a narrative standpoint, or that it's just an elaborate setup and tease for bigger, more important future content. Just get to the Fantastic 4 and X-Men and Kang the Conqueror or Dr. Doom or whoever the next big bad Thanos-wannabe is going to be already!

Loki - Kang
Loki Episode 6, © Disney, Marvel.
WandaVision - witchcraft
WandaVision Episode 9, © Disney, Marvel.
Marvel's shows feel largely like teases for the good stuff that's still just over the horizon.

I went into She-Hulk expecting more of the same: a show that serves only to bridge the gap between Endgame and whatever is next, instead of really being a story in its own right. But after a couple episodes of only half watching, I found myself putting my laptop away and actually paying attention as we got further and further into the season. The reason is that She-Hulk doesn't feel like filler content; it feels like an actual TV show that exists for its own sake and is content to tell its own story.

Yeah, sure, it's still tied into what's going on in the broader Marvel universe. OG Hulk gets kid-napped by aliens and disappears for most of the series, which is definitely a tease for some bigger things happening out in the periphery. But while shows like Loki seemed to exist only to build some interest and intrigue about what's going to happen next, She-Hulk is just a show about Jennifer Walters coming to terms with her new, public identity as She-Hulk.

This leads to a more personal, intimate super hero story than I'm used to seeing from the never-ending parade of comic book movies that always have to have apocalyptic stakes. Yeah, sure, Spider-Man deals heavily with Peter Parker balancing his personal and social life with his hero duties, but the focus on teenage and high school drama isn't something that I relate to as much anymore. And yeah, both WandaVision and Loki get very personal, but neither of those allow us to see the heroes living their lives in real life. They both take place in highly exaggerated or outright fictional realities. So She-Hulk feels different. It's largely about Jennifer Walters' life now that she is a super hero. Not her life as a super hero; her normal, everyday life since becoming a super hero.

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Prey © 20th Century Studios.

I really did not want to watch this movie. But my partner wanted to watch, so we put it on, and I watched. I'm just so burnt out of all the constant sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes of 30 and 40-year old nostalgia franchises -- not to mention the impending proliferation of nostalgia reboots of 20-year old franchises from the early 2000's. The endless onslaught of terrible Alien, Terminator, and Predator movies has just been exhausting. At least when older movie IPs like Friday The 13th or Nightmare On Elm Street were making more sequels than one can count on a single hand, the producers knew that those movies were B-grade schlock, and treated them as such. Now, these studios think that releasing a new Predator movie every few years should be treated with the same anticipation and reverence as the release of The Phantom Menace, as if it's all some huge, monumental deal that deserves all of our attention. And much like The Phantom Menace, it always seems to turn out to be incoherent garbage.

So imagine my surprise when Prey actually turned out to be good.

The structure is similar to the original Predator movie. A group of warriors goes out into the jungle to hunt an enemy, only to be systematically hunted and killed from the shadows by the Predator. Except this time, instead of being a bunch of beefy, roided-out macho marines with machine guns, our heroes are 18th-century Comanche with bows and arrows and tomahawks.

Despite trying to follow the outline of the original Predator, Prey doesn't work particularly well as a horror movie. The aforementioned glut of Predator and Alien vs Predator movies has completely desensitized people like me to being able to see either the predator or xenomorph as a frightening movie monster. At this point, they are both borderline jokes.

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The first season of The Mandalorian seems to have unnecessarily gotten my hopes up for the future of Star Wars on Disney+. Every Star Wars show since has been a disappointment to some degree, with the possible exception of The Bad Batch (which I never got around to finishing). At best, they have been watchably acceptable. At worst, they've been boring slogs.

Call in the fan service calvalry!

The 2nd season of Mandalorian falls into the "acceptable" category, though it was a substantial decline from the first season. I like Mandalorian's first season specifically because it felt new and fresh, and wasn't reliant on excessive fan service. It expanded the Star Wars universe, instead of making it feel like there's nothing going on beyond Emperor Palpatine and the Jedi. But we knew that Mando was looking to dump The Child off on a Jedi, so it was eventually going to intersect back with Jedi storylines eventually.

Mandalorian - Ahsoka
The Mandalorian © Walt Disney Corp.
Mandalorian - Luke
The Mandalorian © Walt Disney Corp.
It should have been obvious that Mando's storyline would eventually intersect with Ahsoka and/or Luke.

And that's exactly what happened in season 2. I was OK with the appearance of Ahsoka and Luke. Mando was, after all, looking for Jedi, and as far as Star Wars fans know, they are the only 2 Jedi left alive in the galaxy. So of course Mando was going to find one, the other, or both of them. Ahsoka herself was a really cool character who was well cast. Her cameo was about the only one that I genuinely enjoyed, in large part because the episode that she was in is one of the strongest episodes of the season. Luke showing up as a deus ex machina at the last minute to save the day was frustratingly cliche, but tolerably so.

And that wasn't even the end of fan service cameos in Mandalorian season 2. This one season also threw in R2-D2, Bo Katan, Boba Fett, and Dark Troopers. Forgive me if I missed anything. It was ... a lot.

On the other end of the spectrum, is The Book of Boba Fett, which is all fan service all the time. Boba's appearance in season 2 of Mandalorian was, in my opinion, the worst part of Mandalorian. When rumors of Disney wanting to make a show about a Mandalorian bounty hunter started going around, it was assumed that the show would be about Boba Fett. I hated the idea. Boba Fett should have stayed dead. When it was revealed that the show would be about a different, new Mandalorian character, I was less annoyed. I was relieved that it wasn't more Star Wars fan-fic circle-jerking.

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The Northman © Universal Pictures.

The Northman was another Hollywood movie that I wanted to see in theaters but missed. Just like The Last Duel, even if the movie ended up being bad (which they weren't), I wanted to see it in theaters to support the continued production of movies like this -- movies that aren't just another in the endless onslaught of comic book movies and nostalgia reboots from the late 80's and 90's. I want Hollywood to keep making these sorts of serious historic dramas.

But I haven't been to a movie theater in over 2 years thanks to the COVID pandemic. I would have been willing to go to the theaters for this (as well as for The Last Duel), but stuff kept coming up. We kept putting it off until, before we knew it, The Northman was out of theaters. But I'm no hypocrite. I also haven't seen any comic book movies in theaters either. I waited to see Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Batman until they were on streaming, and I still haven't seen Multiverse of Madness.

Much like The Last Duel, Northman is a brutal and dirty movie. Nobody gets blood-eagled, but there is plenty of violence, both grotesque and cathartic. Even the non-violent parts of the movie are grotesque and intense. Grown men built like trucks scream at each other, dance around, and even occasionally cry. This movie is constantly bombarding the audience with weird stuff, and it's all mesmerizing.

Northman threads a fine line between completely believable historical fiction and some mythological elements. On the one hand, I would believe the movie if it told me that it was inspired by true events. On the other hand, it's never entirely clear if the mythological content is actually supposed to be interpreted as really happening, of if they simply reflect the characters' belief in their gods and magics. Either way, the gritty, dirty, realistic settings are occasionally juxtaposed with beautiful and imaginative fantastical imagery.

The Northman - gritty setting
© Universal Pictures
The Northman - fantastical imagery
© Universal Pictures
The gritty, realistic setting is juxtaposed with imaginative fantastical imagery.
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Stranger Things season 4

I never bothered reviewing the 3rd season of Stranger Things because I didn't really have strong feelings about it one way or the other. Season 3 was a bit of an improvement over season 2, but both were a resounding "meh" for me. The first half of season 4 is also kind of "meh", but I think that it's worth talking about this time around because it both succeeds tremendously where seasons 2 and 3 failed, but also then kind of ruins any goodwill that it had built up.

The fundamental problem that I have with Stranger Things after the first season is that a continuation of this same story simply doesn't need to happen. The first season worked so well, in large part, because of its intriguing mysteries. Aside from sequel bait, all the important questions and mysteries of season 1 were solved, and the first season felt satisfactorily resolved. If this show was going to have sequel seasons, then I think a more anthology-like approach would have been more appropriate, with each new season telling a new story, with new characters, confronting a completely new and unrelated horror, and solving completely new and unrelated mysteries.

By continuing with the same story, the audience gets to bring everything we know from the first season into the new story. Even though seasons 2 and 3 went in their own directions and took different inspirations compared to the first season (season 1 being kind of Twin Peaks meets E.T., season 2 being inspired by Aliens and Terminator, and season 3 being a play on a Body-Snatchers concepts), neither season 2 nor 3 introduced anything tremendously new. There wasn't much mystery because the workings of the Upside Down, the mechanics of the demogorgons, and the machinations of the secret government labs were all established. Season 3 shakes things up a bit with a body-snatchers plot and an ending that actually destroys the status quo and moves our characters forward with their lives, and is perhaps the only reason that season 3 did not feel quite as stale (for me) as season 2 did. But the fundamental problem was still the same: we've seen all this before, more or less.

Season 4's "monster of the week" approach feels fresh and new.

This is where season 4 kind of shines. It's new monster, Vecna, isn't just another demogorgon. He's something that feels completely new and threatening. His motivations are unknown, and despite being explicitly inspired by Freddy Krueger, the mechanics by which he operates are completely new compared to the previous monsters. This finally gives our characters an actual mystery to solve. For the first time since season 1, the threat of Stranger Things is finally mysterious and unknown again.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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