What Makes a Great Villain

Yes my last post was about Marvel, but that was before I saw Black Panther and oh man is there more to say now.

The most common criticism against the MCU is that it has almost no good villains. Loki is good, but can anyone even remember what Whiplash was all about? Or Yellowjacket? Or Malekith? I literally just had to look up that last name. Marvel never seemed to particularly care though. It mattered more for you to like the heroes, after all they’re the ones that’ll be back in the next movie. If you want compelling villains you have to check out the various Marvel TV series that are only technically part of the MCU.

Enter Killmonger, bar none the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Light spoiler warning! That being said if you haven’t seen Black Panther you are missing out on what looks to be a significant pop culture moment.

Erik “Killmonger” Stevens is an outsider with a grudge who attempts to usurp the throne of a hidden and extremely advanced civilization. He actually shares a lot in common with Loki, the previous record holder for Best Marvel Villain, but he edges the competition out by having an argument that’s actually relatable.

Wakanda hid itself while the rest of Africa was ravaged by colonists, then continued to hide while Black people across the world suffered subjugation and racism. Wakanda could have saved them, and with its Vibranium technology it very well could. If he can arm the oppressed around the world they could rise up and change things, with Wakanda in control.

Of course Killmonger is also bloodthirsty and dangerous. The guy scars himself for every kill he makes and there are MANY scars. His plan is similar to what the US used in the middle east and clearly that has gone very well over the past few decades. But the fact that the core idea sits in your head means he’s a little right. And to make Killmonger a little right, then T’Challa, Black Panther, has to be kind of wrong.

That’s how Black Panther makes Killmonger such a great villain. The movie allows its main character to be wrong. Black Panther uses its central premise as an afro-futurist wonderland as a cause for debate and not just a setting. Through conflict, our hero learns something from the villain and comes out the other side changed for it, with a better way to be a hero. That relationship between T’Challa and Killmonger brings to mind another Marvel movie from before the MCU.

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Okay sure, Professor X and Magneto follow the MLK and Malcolm X parallel but that’s not what I’m thinking of here.

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Yeah that’s the one! Wayyyy back in (oh god) 2004, Otto Oktavius walked into Peter Parker’s life on four metal tentacle claws and challenged him. He challenged Peter to take risks and try to get the girl. He challenged Peter to pick himself up and be a hero when he thought he couldn’t. He challenged Peter to save an out of control train. He wasn’t just a big bad villain, he embodied both the best of what Peter could be when he was sane, and the worst when his research took him over, and taught Peter to find his way down the middle of those two extremes.

Killmonger similarly challenges T’Challa to be better. Wakanda can’t just hide like T’Chaka wanted it to, but it also shouldn’t wage war against the world like Killmonger wants. It’s up to T’Challa to forge a new path for his country’s place in the world.

But what makes Black Panther so successful at this is how much time it spends telling Killmonger’s story. The movie is equally his to T’Challa’s, so that when you know his origin story and when you see him cry, you feel for him. That’s what gets his point of view in your head. That’s what makes you think he’s a little right.

That’s what makes a great villain.

-JP

PS, Am I the only one who really liked the Civil War Black Panther suit better than the new one he gets?

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A Decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – A Love Story

When I was young my father gave me this comic book:

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Fantastic Firsts, a massive paperback full of first issue and origin stories for the heroes of the Marvel universe. By this point, just about anyone could name the characters on this cover, but at the time that knowledge was still fairly obscure. Some of it still is! The man in gold right in front of the Hulk is Iron Man!

In his origin story Tony Stark was captured by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War and suffered a deadly injury. He was able to prevent shrapnel from getting to his heart by building a full size vest that magnetized them away, then from there built an armored suit that allowed him to break free and become a hero.

I rather liked that origin story, then in 2008 I saw the first picture of this:

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I had heard an Iron Man movie was coming, but I didn’t expect them to recreate the homemade suit from the comics! The X-Men movies wore leather instead of their costumes, Daredevil had his silly zip-up, and Batman was running around with his nipples exposed. But this movie, the more I saw in the trailers, used the comics origin story as a template for a more modern superhero story.

Then I saw the movie, and this logo for the first time:

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I had seen Marvel before in front of a movie, but never Marvel Studios. I didn’t really know what a studio was! I was 14! What followed was a very good superhero movie that bucked a lot of traditions in the genre, and as I left while the credits rolled I was content. That would be the last time I ever left a Marvel Studios movie during the credits.

In the next few days people told me about a scene after the credits. I didn’t believe them. We tried to find a clip of it on YouTube. Easy to do now, but not then. Which meant I had to go see Iron Man again and sit through the credits to get to this:

I lost my god damn mind. See I had been reading a series called the Ultimates. It was a more 21st century take on the Avengers and in those comics Nick Fury, traditionally white, looked like this:

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He looked exactly like Samuel L Jackson. He looked like Samuel L Jackson and someone actually cast him to promise there was more to come, to promise not only SHIELD but the Avengers. I was locked in.

Then over the next three years I watched the movies fulfill the makeup of the original Avengers comics (give of take an Ant-Man and The Wasp). The Hulk, Thor, and Captain America all got their movies and a promise at the end of their credits.

They Will Return in The Avengers

The Avengers was, in no uncertain terms, a cinematic event. The first of its kind, a team up superhero movie that was also better than anyone could have hoped. The movie climaxed with a moment that still resonates to this day:

Oh yeah, that movie also changed big budget franchise film making forever. Despite the small fact that literally nobody else has been able to pull it off.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has an edge over other wannabes like the DCEU, the X-Men, the already dead Dark Universe, and the Monsterverse (that’s the one with Godzilla and King Kong, the second best connected universe right now). Marvel Studios does only this. WB, Fox, Universal and Legendary are massive movie studios with many projects on the table. Disney may own Marvel now, but they keep hands off and allow the studio to do it’s own thing. It’s own thing, by the way, is tell increasingly complex stories about its characters.

Tony Stark’s arc has taken him from an arrogant weapons dealer to a peace keeper to the man willing to sacrifice himself for the world. Then in phase two, that sacrifice left him traumatized and, when that trauma was stoked, he created something he couldn’t control to protect the world that wound up putting everyone in danger. Coming off of that he surrendered control of himself to the governments of the world, the opposite of where he stood in Iron Man 2, and nearly killed one of his closest friends in blinded rage. Of anyone’s his story is the most complex. While the movies may not have gone all in on his alcohol addiction they’ve given him another one, super heroics. He tried to quit at the end of Iron Man 3 but a call from the Avengers brought him right back. This will probably kill him.

Steve Rogers went from the shrimp who didn’t like bullies to the super soldier who could actually defeat them, and gave up everything to do it. Only he didn’t die and woke up 70 years later to a world he couldn’t recognize but had to live in. For him, World War II never ended, which is why when Hydra revealed itself within SHIELD he found a new opportunity to finish it. At a point he couldn’t see the human he once was, only the super soldier, until his best friend Bucky appeared in the present as the Winter Soldier. For that last tie to who he was he shoved back against the world and gave up his place in it. One wonders if he’ll ever find peace.

Thor’s story is by far the simplest of the founding Avengers. He was poised to take the throne, walking down the path among his people, braggadocios and bold. His father humbled him and sent him to earth where he learned to be mortal, fell for the world and of course Jane Foster, then gave both those things up to stop his brother from exterminating his old enemies. He found his calling as a hero, but refused to take the throne when it was offered to him. Instead he chose to continue his own fight as a hero. Right up until his father died, leaving the throne in the hands of his evil sister. Sometimes greatness is thrust upon us, and after sacrificing Asgard to defeat Hela, Thor once again makes the long walk to the throne. This time, however, he’s solemn and regal. Unlike Cap and Iron Man, his arc is complete. He could fly off into space safely if it weren’t for Thanos’s massive ship bearing down on him.

For these three their stories are likely to come to an end in Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel. Whether by death or retirement we may never see them again. But with them they’ve brought so many more heroes into their world. The MCU has slowly trained its audience to understand heroes and comic book logic to the point that the Vision could just appear in the final third of Avengers: Age of Ultron and nobody has to tell you what he’s capable of. You just kind of roll with it.

That’s the other great strength of the MCU. The sheer power of the brand means that characters who would otherwise never get the spotlight can take center stage with ease. Would we ever see a Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, or Black Panther movie if they weren’t part of this universe? It’s unlikely. They don’t have to explain how their powers work, they just have to get the characters right and we buy into the rest. They didn’t even have to retread Spider-Man’s origin story for the third time in 15 years, they just put him in the world. Thank god.

For a movie studio to have released almost 20 blockbusters in 10 years that are all, at the very least, surface level enjoyable is unheard of. The scope of it all is insane, especially when its thrown into stark view in that class photo header image. (Check out the high res version)

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The greatest thing to happen in my life has been watching my interests somehow become, not only mainstream, but a driving force in pop culture around the world. At the end of Iron Man 2 I had to explain to everyone what a hammer in New Mexico meant. At the end of The Avengers I had to tell everyone who Thanos was. At the end of Thor: Ragnarok I didn’t have to tell anyone what that ship meant. I expect I won’t have to explain Black Panther’s tag either. We’ll see today.

Over these past holidays I found that comic, Fantastic Firsts, and brought it back home with me from my parents house. Flipping through it, there aren’t many classic characters for Marvel to adapt after Phase Three. In whatever comes next they’ll have to look to the present, in newer heroes like Miles Morales as Spider-Man and Kamala Khan as Captain Marvel, Riri Williams as Iron Heart and Kate Bishop as Hawkeye. I cannot wait for that.

Marvel Will Return

-JP

PS, I recently rewatched a bunch of old Marvel trailers, so don’t be surprised if a massive Marvel marketing piece comes out down the line. Maybe I’ll save that one for Avengers 4.

Three Years Gone By

January 10th, 2015 was my first full day in Los Angeles.

January 10th, 2018 marks my three year anniversary of living in LA.

On that first day I woke up on my sister’s couch. I had spent the night there before my apartment would become available that first day.

Today I woke up in my bed, in the house I’ve been living in for about two and a half years now. I have no intention of leaving any time soon, and count my roommates as some of my new family out here.

On the first day it was raining, but still around 60 degrees outside.

It rained again yesterday! Then today it’s supposed to be 57 degrees out. Yet all of that is still better than the endless cold that has gripped most of the rest of the country. Basically I’ve been seduced by the warmth of California.

I hung around for most of the day, waiting until my apartment would finally be available.

My day started at work, then I went to bed around 9 am when I got home. My schedule is weird right now but in the afternoon I’m going to the gym and eating dinner before, well, hanging out until work starts again.

The only occupation I had was “student”, and I hadn’t secured an internship for my semester in LA yet.

I have TWO jobs now. I am an Overnight Vault Technician at Picture Shop, a post-production house in Burbank. I’m basically a media asset librarian. But I’m also a Remote Polygonning Intern with Ubermedia, which involves outlining buildings on maps.

When I finally moved in to my apartment I met my roommates for the first time. They were almost complete strangers, and I knew only one other student in the program ahead of time.

I’m determined to see those old roommates this year. We’ve lost touch a bit but we all live in LA now so there’s no excuse. Apart from them I have my make shift family in my best friends, podcasting co-host, roommates, and actual literal sister. From their friends I’ve found an extended family. It all keeps growing and getting better.

We took our first trip together to buy groceries, bonding over food and plans to cook more than in the past.

In my house we want to start cooking more group dinners and have more parties at the house, not to mention getting Universal Studios Annual passes to go there a bunch together.

That night I crawled into bed, in a room that I shared, anxious about the next day and the semester to come.

Tonight I may nap for a bit before getting in the car and driving to work to start the whole process over again. Like I said, it’s a weird schedule.

After living in LA for three years I am feeling anchored here. One of the oddest things about visiting the east coast for the holidays was how out of place I felt there and how quickly I wanted to return home. I never used to call LA home. I’ve switched jobs yet again for the better, I’ve found some success with a Riverdale Podcast, and I’ve even written a short I intend to make this year. My primary goal this year is to do better with money, save more and hopefully make more with a new and better job. I know this post is weird and self serving, but every time I come back to it I’m reminded of how far I’ve come each year. That’s pretty special for me.

Now to roll up my sleeves and jump into year four.

-JP

PS, but like, on a macro level, 2017 was very very bad.

2017: A Year in Entertainment

This year has felt like it’s lasted ten years. The stress of an election year is now our daily life as we watch the government systematically undo everything the previous administration put into place. There’s almost nothing we could do this year, so its a good thing that our entertainment was at the top of its game this year.

If the world is going to end, let it be known that we were watching some of the best movies and tv, playing some of the best video games, on our way out. Top 10 lists are hard, and I had so much fun doing my year in review last year, so I’m back for another month by month look at my favorite pieces of storytelling in the year. I haven’t watched everything, so if your fave isn’t here I apologize, but hopefully the ungodly amount of pop culture I consume will be enough.

Come on 2018, keep up the momentum.

JANUARY

A Series of Unfortunate Events Adapted the Books Right

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Netflix’s adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s book series is playful. The production design gives the series a sense of unreality that lets you buy into the more outlandish elements of the books. The casting breathes life into, and diversifies, characters seen before in the 2004 movie. It adds a new conspiracy plot that lets you be surprised even if you’ve read the books. But more than all of that, they let you feel the despair of the Baudelaire’s when you think Will Arnett and Colbie Smulder’s “Father and Mother” are coming for the children, only to learn they were never their parents at all. But hey, at least we get Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket so that’s nice!

The Good Place Dropped a Twist Literally Nobody Saw Coming

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In case you’ve somehow avoided the twist in this series, leave now and catch up, because for once to spoil it here is to rob you of the experience of discovery. When Eleanor realized in The Good Place’s first season finale that she and her friends were actually in the Bad Place all along it re-contextualized everything that came before. That the episode ended with Michael’s heel turn and wiping of our heroes memories was even harder to process. Season two couldn’t come fast enough, because nobody knew where the series would go next. Hint, it’s later on this list.

Split is a Straightforward Shyamalan Thriller, Until the Final Moment Changes Everything

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I didn’t plan for the first couple titles on this list to be so spoiler-centric but here we are. The resurrection of M. Night Shyamalan’s career continued this year with Split, where three girls are kidnapped by James McAvoy who has multiple split personalities. The ones in control summon his secret persona, the beast, who has actual super-strength among other crazy powers and a taste for human flesh. But the real kicker comes in the final moments of the film when several people in a Philly diner watch the news report on this. Finally landing on a shot of Bruce Willis, as David Dunn from Unbreakable. The twist was it was a shared universe the whole time! Bring on Glass, the upcoming crossover sequel.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is the Dumbest (for the Best) Action Movie of the Year

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Within the first five minutes this movie teaches you logic doesn’t apply here. From there Vin Diesel skis down a tropical mountain, rides a motorcycle that turns into a jetski, and somehow decides massive fur coats are still in style. They took everything they learned from the Fast & Furious movies to build off two so-so action movies and make one beast of an action movie for the world’s greatest hype man (of himself). Don’t worry about the plot. You’re not here for the plot. You’re here to watch a lot of ass-kickers (Donnie Yen! Tony Jaa!) kick a lot of ass.

Riverdale Premiered and So Did My Podcast

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I knew Riverdale was coming, but nobody could have anticipated it becoming such a runaway success so quickly. I started a podcast recapping it with my friend Kaitlin because we though we would enjoy it, but it turned out Archie Andrews and his friends in a dark murder mystery was something we were all looking for. Between the cruelly attractive cast, sumptuous color pallet, and the dangerous levels of haze in Riverdale, the show grabbed onto us and has kept us with it throughout the rest of the year.

FEBRUARY

Jane the Virgin Broke All Of Our Hearts

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When Michael survived a gunshot at the start of season three of Jane the Virgin, we thought we were out of the woods. It turned out the show just wanted to save his death so it would hurt that much more. While the characters in the show got to jump ahead three years to overcome the loss of Michael, the rest of us are still coming to terms with the death of the beloved character.

Legion Arrived as the X-Men Series for the Psychedelics Crowd

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I had personally sworn off the entire X-Men franchise after X-Men: Apocalypse, but peer pressure got me to check this show out and I’m so glad I did. With a lead played by Dan Stevens who can’t tell the difference between schizophrenia and actual mutant powers, Legion plays with how superpowers can be portrayed, especially the age old psychic mind fight. Finally we get one better than two people screaming at each other, the only difference is this one takes a full season and requires a lot of help from friends. Amid all of this the standout winds up being Aubrey Plaza’s best performed character to date.

The Lego Batman Movie Takes the Piss Out of the Caped Crusader

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When Will Arnett’s Lego Batman dropped into 2014’s excellent The Lego Movie, we were finally treated to a version of the character willing to make fun of his own absurdity. Thankfully Then Lego Batman doubled down on all of that, giving us literally every single Batman villain no matter how ridiculous, insane visuals and bat themed vehicles, and somehow within all of that the touching story of a man growing to accept the family he has made for himself. That and admitting the Joker is the true love of his life.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is, Bar None, the Best Action Movie of the Year

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Usually when a sequel is just a bigger version of the first that’s a detriment. Not so for John Wick, where they’ve discovered the secret might be to diversify more. New kinds of fights, including a demolition derby and a shootout in a mirror maze. New standout characters like Common’s Cassian and Lawrence Fishburne’s Bowery King. With a deeper look into the series mythology, but the same rules, this second outing brought us to an end so huge Chapter 3 can’t come soon enough. Plus no dogs die in this one!

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Declared War

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Rebecca was so close. But then again she always is. In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s second season finale she was about to marry Josh Chan when he ran off to become a priest. In the wake of that Rebecca found comfort in her friends and decided that “Josh Chan must be destroyed.” Finally the cycle was complete and the show was bound for another massive shift in its direction. Somehow amid dragons and zombies, this little show about a woman in desperate need of diagnosis was one of the most exciting shows on TV.

This Is Us Did What It Does Best in “Memphis”

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We all knew Ron Cephas Jones’s William was dying from the very first episode, but that didn’t help when he passed away at the end of this episode entirely focused on Randall and him. The story of a man trying to make peace with his long life before he passed away was touching to say the least. That he took the son he barely knows along for all of it is what made it truly special. Well that and the fact that Sterling K. Brown is one of the most emotionally engaged actors currently working in television. It was hard coming back for the next episode after the emotional journey this one took us on.

Agents of SHIELD Proved You Can’t Trust Anyone5711404-3lmds

Stony Stark first mentioned Life Model Decoys in The Avengers, but it wasn’t until season four of Agents of SHIELD that one actually arrived. Aida quickly propagated until suddenly most of the cast was replaced with evil doppelgangers. The last humans in SHIELD had to fight their way out of their base, trusting no one, in the most thrilling episode the series has ever produced. SHIELD found new life over this year by changing the rhythm of its seasons to allow for multiple separate arcs instead of one big villain for the year, and it was all the better for it.

Get Out is the Most Important Movie of the Year

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No seriously. If you haven’t seen Get Out then you are part of the problem. The movie from Jordan Peele came out and said everything about race that’s been bubbling under our society for years. It made me rethink my own actions and choices in a way I would have been uncomfortable with, had the movie not also been massively entertaining. This is one you really need to see with a crowd of all races because you’ll all be reacting to the moments differently. This one will be a part of pop culture for a long time. Now you’re in the sunken place.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a Great Concept Refined by Excellent Gameplay

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A post-apocalyptic cavewoman takes on robotic dinosaurs in an effort to discover who she is and how the world actually ended. Just about any gamer could be brought on with that statement alone, but the fact that the game is just so much fun to play is what makes it great. Tracking, trapping, and fighting the robotic beasts that have overrun the world is so much fun here that you’ll be bummed out when you have to take on humans. This game could have been the game of the year, if not for the game next on this list.

MARCH

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s Magnum Opus

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This is the game that sold the Nintendo Switch. A Legend of Zelda game (arguably Nintendo’s best franchise) without boundaries, both in its world and its gameplay. Puzzles that can be completed multiple ways and a set of tools that allow for boundless creativity make this game truly special. You’re set loose on a whole continent with only one goal. Eventually you have to take on Ganon. Otherwise, do what you want. It’s an incredible achievement that cannot be understated. It’s also the only game on this list I haven’t played! Yet.

Logan Encapsulates Everything We Feel About Wolverine

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I’ve already written about this movie, but it’s worth mentioning how this superhero-western totally disregards the continuity of the X-Men films and entirely runs on the core ethos of Wolverine as a character. It doesn’t matter what did or didn’t happen in the timeline. Wolverine is wolverine and that’s all you need to know. Add in X-23 for the best gory action in a comic book movie this side of Deadpool and you get the best finale Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine could ask for. If this is the future of the X-Men films, disregarding continuity in favor of story (and just looking at The New Mutants this seems likely) then things are starting to get interesting.

Kong: Skull Island Gives You the Damn Monkey

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The biggest complaint I heard about 2014’s Godzilla was that it withheld the King of Monsters for too long. Well Kong: Skull Island, part two of Legendary’s Monsterverse, gives you King Kong within the first five minutes. From there the feature length allegory for the Vietnam war gives you all the needle drops, John C. Reilly, and beautifully vibrant and colorful money shots you could ask for. Kong: Skull Island is just a solid giant monster movie with Tom Hiddleston running around in the tightest shirt possible. They know. They checked.

Trial and Error was the Best Comedy You Missed This Year

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Trial & Error premiered on NBC in March and proceeded to burn off two episodes a week until the season was done. They tried to bury it, and I won’t allow that. The series was delightful with tons of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jokes, fantastic runners, and one woman with so many specific syndromes its a wonder she’s alive at all. John Lithgow is phenomenal as a man who can’t stop looking guilty of murder, but it’s important to note the whole cast here is on fire. If you didn’t catch this series when it came out it’s all on Hulu now and, thankfully, there is a season two coming next year.

Iron Fist was the Worst Defender (Series)

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Sigh. Iron Fist could have been great. It could have been built around great martial arts fights. It could have had an Asian American lead. It could have been weird and mystical. Basically, it could have been Into The Badlands. Instead it’s the blandlands (I’m not proud). There are two fights across thirteen episodes that stand out, the mythology doesn’t get interesting until the back four or five, and it muddles The Hand so much they stop making sense at all by The Defenders. Iron Fist’s showrunner would go on to create Inhumans. He has not repented for any of this as of yet.

Mass Effect: Andromeda Misses the Mark by a Whole Galaxy

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The fourth Mass Effect title attempted to sidestep the definitive ending Mass Effect 3 gave the franchise by telling a story about people who left our galaxy right before things got crazy. However, in crafting a story about exploration the game loses the best part about the original series, the well developed society of the galaxy. Most races are removed and all of the history the rest shared is swept under the rug so you can relentlessly kill the first alien race you meet in the Andromeda galaxy. Yes, they’re evil, but so were the Geth and we at least attempted to get to know them.

Supergirl & The Flash Teamed Up for a Musical Episode

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In an altogether shoddy season of The Flash, this musical crossover with Supergirl was the pick-me-up everyone needed. It’s not great, in fact most of the songs are covers, but the Rachel Bloom penned “Super Friend” is worth the price of admission. Both shows were bursting with musical talent from the moment their casts were announced, which is why fans had been demanding this episode. I’m not sure if those fans wanted it to be set inside of a movie musical but hey, whatever cuts costs. Besides, the Music Meister was the villain, and he was played by Darren Criss!

Arrow Slowed Down for One Long Brutal Interrogation

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In which Oliver Queen admits he just really likes killing. “Kapiushon” is a brutal episode where Oliver is beaten and broken until he stops lying to himself and admits just that. Luckily the subdued present is made up for by an action packed flashback in which Oliver truly becomes The Hood for the first time. In a staggeringly good comeback season, it’s heartening to see a superhero show break from its usual rhythms and tells a very different story, and one that examines its lead so closely no less.

Power Rangers Morphed Into a Good Teen Drama, Okay Superhero Movie

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As a longtime Power Rangers fan, I had basically accepted this one would be bad when I went to see it. That’s why I was so surprised to find myself vibing so well with it, but mostly as a breakfast club type teen drama. When it came to all of the iconic elements associated with Power Rangers, they didn’t appear until the final half hour and did not do nearly enough. This movie bombed in China too, which means it’s unlikely it will get the sequel it desperately needs. That being said, keep an eye on the five leads from this one. I expect they’ll all be getting good work in the years to come.

13 Reasons Why Made Us Confront Teen Suicide

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13 Reasons Why is a hard watch as an adult. It’s hard to get into that mindset of a teenager and objectively judge acts that, to our eyes, aren’t a the big of a deal. But they were enough to break Hannah Baker. Still, I found myself yelling at the screen during the final episode, furious more than anything that Hannah put all of the blame for her death on everyone around her and none on herself for now seeking out the help she most desperately needed. Despite any problems I had with Hannah’s story, however, Clay’s is excellent. I for one am very excited to see where his leads in season two.

APRIL

Rick and Morty Surprised Us All on April Fool’s Day

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After an agonizing wait for season three, Adult Swim randomly started airing the season premiere over and over again on April Fool’s Day. A joke that’s also a reward, either you believed somebody when they told you and tuned in or you missed it and found out it was real the next day. In one episode Rick and Morty blazed through the cliffhanger they had ended season two on . and created the huge McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce meme. Which of course boiled into awful fans screaming at McDonald’s employees. Because Rick and Morty fans are kind of the worst. Anyway, speaking of shows with long hiatuses…

Attack on Titan Returned After a Four Year Hiatus

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Attack on Titan was the breakout anime hit of 2013, but high production costs mixed with a fairly new studio forced the series to take a long break before coming back with season two. Both a blessing and a curse, season two had better pacing, more horror elements, and tons of reveals, but by the same token the audience was significantly smaller. One thing it kept in common with season one, however, was an excellent theme song. Happily a season three is in production and will come out next year.

Persona 5 Has More Style in its Battle Menu Than Most Games in their Entire Runtime

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Persona 5 already has a cool concept. What if you could enter conceptual space and actually fight people’s perverted desires? Their greed, pride, and lust? But Atlus’s game decided to build on by putting effort into every aspect of the game. The menus, targeting, and animations all stand out from the crowd in a game that feels like you’re playing an anime. Although this is the fifth in a franchise, each game is self contained and stands on their own. That being said, this is also the last one and a great high note to go out on.

Agents of SHIELD Became Agents of Hydra In An Artificial Reality

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Nobody could have predicted that the season that began with Ghost Rider would pull off an extended riff on The Matrix. Our heroes are logged into The Framework, an artificial reality where Hydra reigns supreme and Inhumans are corralled and killed. Most of the cast can’t remember their old lives and the show found yet another excuse to bring Grant Ward back. The arc played a lot on the rise of nationalism in our society and aped a most of the president’s talking points. Ironically, the Marvel comics did a similar arc on paper and it was nowhere as good. All because it forgot something very simple:

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Call a Nazi a Nazi.

Colossal is a Different Kind of Giant Monster Movie

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Anne Hathaway’s refusal to be typecasted in her career continues in this film where she plays an alcoholic who returns home to discover that, at the right time and place, she can control a giant monster in Seoul, South Korea. And that’s not even the biggest (hah!) twist in the movie. It’s a surprisingly small scale (somebody stop me) story with deep and complex characters who’s conflicts just happen to play out on an impossibly grand stage. It’s crazy that both this and Kong could come out the same year, be so different, but both be good.

Your Name Raises the Bar for Anime Films

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Another film I’ve already dedicated an entire piece to, Your Name technically came out in 2016 but didn’t get any US distribution until this year which is all the excuse I need to put it here. With beautiful composition and animation, phenomenal music, and simple but relatable characters, Your Name tells a grand and epic story you might not expect from a body swapping story. It’s now the highest grossing anime of all time, and rightly so. Hopefully we’ll see more like this in the years to come.

iZombie Fed Major Teenage Girl Brain

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In iZombie, the zombies take on personality traits of whomever’s brain they consume. Liv has become a dominatrix, a school teacher, and a bro. But in season 3 Major was officially a zombie, and the show gave a gift none of us knew we needed. Major on teenage girl brain, with all of the selfies, starbucks, and insecurities that comes with. Robert Buckley got to swing big and walk away with the whole episode. He may have been cured of the zombie virus partway through the season, but we’ll always have this.

The Fate of the Furious Needs to Turn the Engine Over

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Let’s be clear, this movie and franchise are amazing, from Vin Diesel driving an exploding junker in Cuba to Vin Diesel being surrounded by his friend’s cars to protect him from an entirely different explosion on an ice field. But something was off this time around, be it the absence of Paul Walker or the obvious beef between The Rock and Vin (an apparent candy ass). F8 may add the Scott Eastwood nobody wanted, but the series needs to fundamentally shift (I’m not planning these) what it is to continue being the juggernaut it is. Last time they did that, they produced Fast Five, still the best in the franchise.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Returned Us to the Satellite of Love

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Mystery Science Theater was off the air for decades, but the Netflix revival didn’t miss a beat. Everything still feels refreshingly cheap, even with real money and a cast of far more experienced actors at the forefront. The jokes come faster now, a little more ADD for the internet crowd, but the idea remains the same. A man and two robots have to watch the worst movies, and the only thing keeping them and you sane are the excellent riffs they make throughout. That’s all anybody could ask for.

The Handmaid’s Tale Showed How It All Comes Crumbling Down

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Easily the most harrowing series of the year, The Handmaid’s Tale’s third episode stands out. It’s flashbacks detailing how a complicit populace allowed the world to change, it’s present shows how a handmaid could be saved by the mere idea of being pregnant, but it’s real power comes through in Ofglen’s story. Alexis Bledel gives the performance of her career as she’s stripped of everything when the government learns she’s gay, then has to watch (as we do), when he lover is taken and hanged in one long painful “how did they do that” shot.

American Gods Began a Road Trip for the Ages

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Two men drive across the country, one is driving for the other, and along the way they keep on meeting supernatural people who claim to be gods of myth, legend, and religion. Neil Gaiman’s book is expertly brought to life by showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green with incredible production design, cinematography, and an absolutely stacked cast. Even from episode one it’s clear this series will be special. Though both showrunners are off the series for season two, hopefully it can continue being just as good.

MAY

The 100 Rang the Bell in a Battle Royale

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The 100 found its focus again in season four by pitting its heroes against an impossible to fight enemy; the literal apocalypse. Instead they sought a means to survive, but once they found a bunker capable of keeping a small selection of people alive it had to be decided which human tribe would take it. That led to the conclave, where Octavia had to take on, and defeat, the warriors from the twelve other grounder tribes. It’s an exceptional episode that takes her character full circle from the girl hiding under the floorboards, to the girl using that skill to win and save everybody underground.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Grows the Team Both Emotionally and Literally

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James Gunn clearly understands his characters on a deep emotional level. They always feel consistent and that’s a strength, the problem with this sequel is not everything is conveyed to the audience so they get it like he does. With a meandering middle, a not great Ravagers subplot, and jokes that don’t land as well as you’d hope, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still shines in its incredible final act. It’s the movie unafraid to end on a shot of a crying raccoon then give you FIVE scenes in the credits.

Sense8, The Gayest Show on TV, Got the Cluster Back Together

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After last year’s single Christmas special, Sense8 finally came back for a proper season two. The plot was still weird and nonsensical but when the cluster came together for a party nothing else mattered. Lito came out and the show went to pride, Wolfgang met another Sense8 and we got to see what two clusters fighting looks like, and Sun hunted her brother down like the terminator. All hope seemed lost when, after the finale, Netflix pulled the plus on the admittedly very expensive series, but good things do happen in this world. Sense8 will be getting a two hour finale next year.

Riverdale’s First Season Ended with an Epic Climax on a Frozen Lake

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Riverdale turned in a solid first season, but it really brought its A game when, in the season finale, the gang has to save Cheryl Blossom from drowning herself in the frozen over Sweetwater river. I have no idea how they intended to keep everyone safe on this shoot but KJ Apa acted so hard here he actually broke his hand punching through the ice and Madelaine Petsch was actually dangerously freezing by the end. From there it seemed unlikely the show could hit harder, but it did the surprise shooting of Fred Andrews in Pop’s diner.

Master of None Came Back for a Sumptuous Second Season

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When season one ended with Dev flying to Italy, I wondered how the series would avoid the cost of filming there. It turns out they just didn’t, and the first couple episodes of the season are entirely shot on location internationally. In fact, the premiere is an extended homage to The Bicycle Thief filmed in black and white. Other standouts of the season are the multiple short stories of New York, I Love You and the multiple time periods of the Emmy winning Thanksgiving. Just about the only thing that wasn’t adored about this season was the central love story.

Alien: Covenant is a Testament on Life, Worship, and Autonomy Wrapped in a Monster Movie

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Look, at a certain point you’re either on board for Michael Fassbender teaching a second Michael Fassbender to play the recorder or you’re not. If you are, then you’ll like Alien: Covenant’s story of horribly unprepared colonists landing on the wrong planet and encountering David from Prometheus, all so he can use them to invent the Xenomorph. It’s his story, his first moments where he met his creator and saw how pathetic he was, that’s driving this new trilogy. It’s the inevitable ending of this one that makes the prospect of the next so exciting.

12 Monkeys Used Time Travel to Air Its Third Season Across Three Days

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In a strange new experiment, SyFy decided to air all of 12 Monkey’s third season in blocks across three days instead of weekly. One wonders if this was done to create a binging experience on TV but it ultimately shortchanged a pretty good season of TV. The high point of which would be a heist episode spear headed by the certifiably insane Jennifer Goines. Even more characters got in on the time travel action and reality even unraveled for a little bit (as these things do). The next season will be it’s last and hopefully after they fix time they can stop that stupid virus that started this whole thing.

Supergirl Ended its Second Season with Epic Fights and One Huge Sacrifice

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In the first couple minutes of Supergirl’s second season, she defeats Superman. He may be brainwashed, but he clarifies he was fighting at full strength. She beat him. She’s stronger than him. The episode only builds from there to a rooftop final battle between Supergirl and Terri Hatcher. But it ends with our heroes irradiating the atmosphere for the invading Daxamites and Supergirl sending Mon-El, her true love, off planet so he could survive. Props where they’re due, the show spent the whole season making us love him only for this to happen, and it worked.

Arrow Cuts Ties with Its Flashbacks in One Big Explosion

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Arrow’s fifth season was a fantastic return to form, but its finale which saw both the flashbacks and present converge on Lian Yu was truly the icing on the cake. Deathstroke came back to help Oliver while Black Siren stood with Prometheus against them. All leading up to the mother of all cliffhangers when the villain uses his final act to blow up every square inch of the island with nearly the entire principal cast on it. After five seasons and 10 years in the show, the time had come to move on from that place.

JUNE

Wonder Woman is the Superhero Movie of the Moment and the Year

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I still feel a rush when I watch Diana climb out to no man’s land. I still get excited when I hear her theme song. I still can’t entirely remember the final act. Wonder Woman was a movie a lot of people needed, a hero for women and the first (and only) good movie in the DC Extended Universe. The fact that it was great is owed in no small part to director Patty Jenkins, who’s WWI era superhero movie has a lot to say about the warlike nature of mankind and the power of love. In a year that began with the women’s march and ended with massive outcries against sexual harassment in the workplace, Wonder Woman was the perfect tentpole to stand in the summer.

My Hero Academia Showed Off in the Anime Fight of the Year

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My Hero Academia followed up their first season with a tournament arc to start the second with added focus on Japan’s very own Prince Zuko, Shouto Todoroki. In episode ten of the second season, he and “Deku” Midoriya squared off in their tournament fight. It was more than a beautifully animated clash of powers, it was an emotional clash of ideals. Where many anime would take several episodes to cover this story, My Hero Academia did it in one, further cementing it as an adaptation done right. Even if you’ve never seen the show before, this fight could convince you to watch. It did for me.

The Leftovers Ended with a Beautifully Performed Understated Finale

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Confession: I didn’t discover The Leftovers until this year, but now I would die for it. As a gripping series about belief, loss, and grief, it told stories no other series would go near. Whether in its first season about living in a small community where everyone has lost someone, its second about learning that there’s no such thing as a miracle, or its third about understanding the difference between the end of the world and the end of your world, the series knocked it out of the park over and over. Plus, my god, Justin Theroux is such a beef cake.

The Big Sick Makes You Want to Fall in Love

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The true story of how Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon met and started dating is the rare case where a dinner story is entertaining enough to fuel a real movie. This one just happens to be a better romantic comedy than any released this year, with the very real problems of Kumail’s parents not allowing him to date a white girl, Emily’s terrifying mystery illness, and standout performances by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents. Their story will make you want a (much less dramatic) meet cute of your own.

GLOW Entered the Ring

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A comedy series that’s a fictionalized version of the making of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling should have been a harder sell. But the amount of talent both in front of and behind the camera brought in a sizeable audience for this Netflix underdog. We knew Allison Brie would be great as Ruth, but it was Betty Gilpin’s amazing turn as Debbie that made the series soar, or at least leap gracefully off the wire and onto her opponent. By the time Debbie realizes wrestling is just a soap opera, the series will already have its hooks in you.

iZombie Blew Up Its Premise In Its Third Season Finale

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It’s my own personal belief that after about three seasons, a series has to fundamentally change itself to remain fresh moving forward. Buffy did this by graduating from high school, Battlestar Galactica did this by revealing the final five Cylons, and now iZombie did this by revealing zombies to the entire world. The series will never be the same again, with tons of recurring characters now zombies and a new world order at hand. The question isn’t whether or now Liv and Detective Babineaux will get back to solving crime, it’s what will all of that look like now.

Baby Driver is an Action Movie with a Soundtrack Decades in the Making

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It shouldn’t have taken this long for an action movie to be relentlessly timed to the beats of an extraordinarily well curated sound track, but thank god when it did happen it was directed by Edgar Wright. Kevin Spacey aside, the film is bursting with good talent and the action all stems from character. Those characters may be simple, but that allows the style of the movie to overtake everything, and let’s be honest that was always the selling point. Baby Driver starts with one of the best car chases (bar Mad Max) put to film and keeps on racing from there.

JULY

Doctor Who Fell as Two Masters and an Army of Cybermen Rose

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Multiple iterations of The Doctor have met, but the season ten finale of Doctor Who market the first time multiple Masters have convened. John Simm’s scenery chewing evil matched with Michelle Gomez’s more conflicted evil, forcing her to choose between her old ways as The Doctor’s own attempts to sway her to good. It was a hell of a way for the 12th Doctor to go, completing his arc from someone who needed others to care for him to the man who would risk it all for a group of strangers. Not to mention Bill’s story, one of the most heart-wrenching ways a companion has departed.

Spider-Man: Homecoming Finds Peter Parker’s Place in the MCU

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Spider-Man works best as a part of a greater whole. Instead of protecting all of New York, he protects the little guy in Queens. He also works best as a little guy from Queens, a teenager. Spider-Man: Homecoming recognized all of this and gave Peter Parker a fun coming of age story set against a superheroic backdrop. The movie has its flaws, most of them stemming from Tony Stark’s inclusion, but it makes up for them with a great villain turn by Michael Keaton as The Vulture. The film proved his appearances in Civil War weren’t dumb luck, Marvel just gets Spider-Man better than Sony.

War for the Planet of the Apes Concludes Caesar’s Story with Cinematic Majesty

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Nobody could have predicted Charleton Heston’s monkey costume movie to eventually spawn the thinking man’s blockbuster. These last three Planet of the Apes movies built around Andy Serkis’s Caesar are marvels of performance, technology, and storytelling. With War for the Planet of the Apes they brought the full weight of Caesar’s life down on him to send him on a dangerous mission of revenge. Successfully mixing character based storytelling and continuing to change the world until it becomes that of the original is hard, yet these movies make it all look easy.

Dunkirk Keeps You on the Edge of Your Seat the Whole Runtime

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Dunkirk is a stressful trip to the movies. Across three separate timelines, this epic wartime story plays out with a the constant sound of a ticking clock in the background. The Miracle at Dunkirk is a well known story in Britain but not in the US, which allowed us to see the story completely fresh. It surprised, it impressed, and it terrified, but most importantly it left a feeling of hope. Miracles are possible. That and a sense that Harry Styles is a much better actor than expected.

Atomic Blonde Gives Charlize Theron Her Own John Wick

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The cold war era set Atomic Blonde is drowning in neon glow and period pop music, but its greatest strength is Charlize Theron, completely willing to throw herself into the action. The whole film comes together in an incredible long take fight that begins on a staircase and ends out on the street in a car, Charlize kicking ass the whole way. Oh, there’s also a plot but that’s not why you’re there. Extra props to James McAvoy, who has managed to use the shaved head X-Men forces him to have to easily look like a psychopath in his other roles.

Game of Thrones Gave Us the Moment We’ve Been Waiting Years For

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A Song of Ice and Fire. Jon Snow was ice and Daenerys Targaryen was fire. Both of their stories were always the most removed from that of Westeros at large. Then in season seven, all of Westeros’s attention turned their way, and they turned to each other. Episode three saw them meet for the first time, something we had been waiting for since the beginning, but instead of getting along the meeting was tense. Luckily it didn’t turn bloody, and they spent the rest of the season bonding with each other. This episode also gets honorable mention for Olenna Tyrell telling Jamie Lannister she killed his son as she died. Olenna always wins.

AUGUST

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later Closed the Circle

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In yet another herculean feat of scheduling, (most of) the Wet Hot American Summer cast got back together to make good on their promise to return to Camp Firewood ten years later to see how they blossomed. In one of those cases, Bradley Cooper grew up to look like Adam Scott. There’s love, drama, resurrections, and a plot by Ex-President Ronald Reagan to destroy Camp Firewood altogether. The series may not be Wet Hot American Summer at its best, but it’s still a satisfying finale for the characters. #JaiBless

Orphan Black Ended Not With a Bang, But With the Terror of Normalcy

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For the five years the Clone Club fought to survive against conspiracies (yes plural) to control them. In the end they got their freedom, but that’s when things get hard. In a moving finale, Sarah Manning has to learn to stop running and live a life. It’s her sisters who steady her, telling her about their own struggles with everyday life and raising children. Bringing Sarah full circle from where she was when the series began. She ran when she was alone, but now she had her family. Then the last lines of the series point out that the title makes no sense.

The Defenders Had Great Character Moments but a Weak Plot

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The Hand is a mess as far as villains go. Their motivation is unclear as are their methods. Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra had simple interests; she wanted to live. But for the sake of a twist she’s dispatched before the final episodes and so is her simple motivation. Luckily Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist are all well drawn enough for their interactions to carry the series. If you didn’t like Iron Fist one episode opens with everyone else fighting him. If you love Jessica Jones, she spends the whole series insulting the plot and Daredevil’s suit. It’s not the epic crossover we hoped for, but when it works it’s absolutely worth it.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy One Ups the Series’ Greatest Set Piece

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A sequel to the “final” Uncharted adventure would have been a bad idea, but a spin-off sequel starring Chloe and Nadine is a great idea. The Lost Legacy only takes about a third of what a normal Uncharted does (if even), but still manages to deliver the vistas, puzzles, and action set pieces it’s known for. Which brings me to the climax, a redux of the train set piece from the second Uncharted that’s even better than the original. You’ll never feel more like an action hero than when you leap off a moving train onto a speeding car, take out some guys, and then get back onto that train by any means necessary.

Game of Thrones Went Beyond the Wall, Then Brought the Dragon and the Wolf Together

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Where were you when you learned Jon and Dany were related while they had sex? In the last two episodes of Game of Thrones so much happened that they strained our collective understanding of time in Westeros. A dragon died, the entire cast shared a scene for the first time, Littlefinger was killed, Jamie split off from Cersei, Jon Snow was confirmed as the true heir to the Iron Throne, and then the White Walkers brought down the wall. No matter what flaws the series had this year, it’s a hell of a way to lead into the final season.

SEPTEMBER

It Proves Pop Horror is Still Possible

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This September, Pennywise scared massive audiences so much that Los Angeles became covered in clown themed billboards for haunted houses and hayrides. It wasn’t just talk though, It is legitimately good and scary. The opening is pitch perfect, but for me the biggest scare was for once CG enabled, as Pennywise bursts from a projector screen to terrify the Loser’s Club. Unlike most horror films, It teaches you the rules through character and action. We don’t know what Pennywise is, but we know he can be hurt, and we know he can be killed. In a fight for survival that’s all you need.

American Vandal Was the Best Series Netflix Has Produced, Don’t @ Me

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The genius of American Vandal is that it takes its premise entirely seriously. Someone drew twenty seven dicks on twenty seven teachers’ cars, and while it looks like it could be Dylan Maxwell, we need all the facts to be sure. Jimmy Tatro is perfectly cast as Dylan, embodying every idiot in your high school class. The cast all look and act exactly like real high schoolers, they reference real apps, and nothing about them is over the top like in other “sexier” teen dramas. Once you’re in on the joke you’ll be shocked by the deeply moving finale.

The Good Place Followed Up Its Twist With a Pitch Perfect Second Season

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Look its getting really hard to discuss the Good Place without dishing on the spoiler so I’m just going to talk about it. They’re in the bad place! But when Eleanor figured that out Michael wiped everyone’s memory and reset everything. The second season premiere gives you that plot into Eleanor realizing again in record time, but it’s episode two, “Dance, Dance, Resolution” that’s a hilarious cavalcade of reset after reset of our heroes learning the secret of where they are. By the end Michael is ready to take the series in another brand new direction, proving all you can predict about The Good Place is how funny it will be.

Teen Wolf Ended After a Shocking Return to Form Season

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Teen Wolf had been in a slump since season four, but in the final stretch of episodes the series really found its groove as Beacon Hills finally became aware of the supernatural in their midst. The big monster was yet another case of prioritizing mystery over character but the individual episodes focused on throwing the pack into impossible situations and seeing how they fight their way out, just like in the good old days. In the finale they got as many actors from the series as possible to return for final epic clash and its a joy to see. If only the whole series had worked like this season.

Star Trek: Discovery Boldly Went Online

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Star Trek fans are still waiting for the newest series in the franchise to make its mark. Visually, Discovery is a treat, but its storytelling has been messy from a two-part premiere missing almost all of the principal cast to the bizarre choice to make the series a prequel set ten years prior to The Original Series. What military goes through such a technological shift in ten years!? Why won’t anyone write a Trek series set after The Next Generation? Discovery won’t answer those questions, but as the first proper serialized Trek it may tell you how the Klingons got their grooves back after losing them in time for TOS.

OCTOBER

Curb Your Enthusiasm Proved Some Things Never Change

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After a years long hiatus, Larry David’s return to TV was welcome to say the least. Curb’s unique brand of calling out society’s weird hangups while vehemently defending Larry’s own is what has allowed it to stand the test of time. In the premiere alone Larry ruined the engagement of a lesbian couple, foisted his terrible assistant onto Susie Greene, and pissed of the Ayatollah so much a fatwa was declared. After all these years nothing has changed, lets all hope it never does.

The Gifted Turned Out to be Good

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Again, the X-Men franchise surprised this year with their first network drama. In it, the Strucker family discover both of their kids are mutants and must go on the run, eventually meeting up with the Mutant Underground. Some of the powers in the series are cool and new, like force fields and teleportation. Unfortunately Andy Strucker’s powers are angry blow stuff up, blech. The Gifted gets extra points for Amy Acker as Kate Strucker, but if they choose not to use her right those points will be rescinded. This series could have been a literal power drama, but instead opted to be about family and low odds. That’s why it works.

Legends of Tomorrow Returned, Somehow Now the Best Arrowverse Show

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It took Legends of Tomorrow over a season to realize it was a comedy. By the time season two ended Legends was good, but in season three Legends has been great. Most of the credit falls to Caity Lotz as Sarah Lance, the single best performer and character across all of the CW’s superhero shows. In season three the team broke time a smidge and now have to find people displaced in it and take them back where they belong. For example, Julius Caesar in Aruba, crashing a college toga party. God I love this show.

Riverdale Broke in for Season Two, This Time With a Serial Killer

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Wow, yeah, Riverdale is on this list three times. While season one kept to a murder mystery, season two decided to step it up with an all out killing spree. It was a hell of a way to start, with Fred Andrews fighting for his life in the hospital, Veronica’s dangerous father Hiram coming to town, and Archie and friends grappling with a safe place suddenly being, well, not. The stand out moment had to be at the end when fan-least-favorite character Ms. Grundy became the second victim of the killer. And there was much rejoicing.

Geostorm is this Year’s God’s of Egypt

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I know, we all thought it would be The Great Wall, but we shouldn’t have underestimated just how dumb Geostorm is. Gerard Butler (a common thread) has invented a space station that can control the weather, but now someone is using it for eeeeeevil. Even the natural born Americans in this movie sound like they’re fighting back an accent, no disaster ever affects someone we know, and the movie refuses to give us the titular planet wide geostorm we all signed up for. Can’t wait for the sequel.

Stranger Things 2 Went Bigger and Deeper

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The little 80s series that became a smash hit came back for a second season they approached more like a movie sequel. The upside down wasn’t done with Hawkins yet, with Will being possessed by the Mindflayer, Dustin raising a mysterious creature he should know better than about, and the new Red Ranger popping up as the scariest/sexiest kid in Hawkins High School. One questionable trip to Chicago aside, Stranger Things 2 succesfully pushed its mythology further and used its characters love and affection to save the day. They even got justice for Barb.

NOVEMBER

Thor: Ragnarok Saves the Franchise with Comedy

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After two movies we all kind of slogged through waiting on the next Avengers, Marvel knew they had to shake things up for the third at-bat for Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. This time they brought in Taika Waititi of What We Do In the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople to direct. Taika is a very different voice than most Marvel directors with a great eye for comedy, and he created a farcical buddy comedy for Thor and the Hulk that easily outpaces the previous films. After this people are going to be much more excited to see the God of Thunder in Avengers: Infinity War.

Lady Bird Recreates Every Girl’s Relationship With Their Mom

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This is a movie I went to see entirely based on word of mouth. I hadn’t seen a trailer or even a poster, I just knew everyone online and in life said Lady Bird is amazing. And they were all completely right. Gretta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a delightful year in the life of a high school senior in the early aughts, as disconnected from her mother as she can be. It’s funny and emotional, a stand out role for Saoirse Ronan, and apparently the best reviewed movie ever on Rotten Tomatoes. If you haven’t seen Lady Bird yet you are doing yourself a disservice.

Mr. Robot Uploaded an Entire Episode as One Long Take

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Mr. Robot still has the confidence and swagger in employed in its first season. It’s also still allowed to do whatever it wants on USA. This season their fifth episode was entirely commercial free and made to look like one forty five minute long single shot. As a tense real-time thriller, Elliot must evade security in the E-Corp building attempting to fire him all while working to prevent a dangerous hack by the Dark Army. Then rioters break into the building and everything goes to hell.  Mr. Robot continues to be the most honest and realistic apocalypse on television and this episode is a microcosm of the entire series.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Found Hope

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Of course Rebecca’s war on Josh didn’t go according to plan. Instead Rebecca’s own past brushes with mental instability came to light and she lashed out at her friends before going full tilt into the “crazy” part of her story. Eventually she ran back to her mother’s fully intent on giving up. But when her mother drugged her to make her happier, Rebecca ran away again. On a plane to West Covina, thinking there’s nothing for her there either, Rebecca takes every pill in her bag with the intention to end it all. Only she doesn’t. She reaches out for hope. It’s a powerful moment in yet another powerful season.

This Is Us Finally Gave Kevin an Incredible Episode

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Kevin Pearson has never been the strongest character on This Is Us. His plots are champagne problems for a talented enough actor who also happens to look like Justin Hartley. In season two his story has mostly revolved around an opium addiction tied to his recently revealed massive football injury he suffered in high school. But everything about his character finally clicked together in a powerhouse scene from the fifth episode of the season. All of the Pearsons are in a dark place (except Randall, he’s the best) by the end of the year. But it’s nice to finally understand the most imperceptible of them.

Future Man Arrived on Hulu

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Future Man, a comedy about a young janitor being chosen as the savior of the future, could have been a movie, but we all would have missed out if that were the case. While the first few episodes are fairly predictable, everything changes once Derek Wilson’s Wolf learns to cook. From there each character goes down a deep emotional journey to be fundamentally changed by the action packed season finale. In case it needs to be stated, the series is also deeply funny, with a standout episode taking place almost entirely in James Cameron’s future home.

Justice League is… (sigh) I Just Can’t You Guys

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Oh look a poster with Superman on it! Look, Justice League is bad. It’s not bad in the aggressive way that Batman v Superman was bad, it’s just disappointing. This shouldn’t have been hard, but with the worst supervillain ever, two directors, and Henry Cavill’s cg upper lip, Justice League wound up missing the mark at nearly every level. The best moments are all Wonder Woman’s and Superman’s, almost like getting to know the character in their own movie helps during the team-up. Of course the moment that really irked me is a Green Lantern’s appearance in a flashback. If that ring isn’t coming back around within the same movie then don’t tease it in the beginning. This is chekhov’s power ring type stuff!

The Punisher Had More to Say Than Simple Violence

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In Daredevil, Murdock & Nelson discovered there was a conspiracy to cover up the circumstances of Frank Castle’s family’s death. Well in The Punisher Frank discovers there was another completely different conspiracy to kill Frank and his family. It’s back to the vengeance for Frank! The Punisher takes time to talk about soldiers and how they’re treated when they return home. It’s much more intelligent than anyone expected and a slew of strong actors anchored by Jon Bernthal, perfectly cast as The Punisher himself, made for by far the strongest Defenders (adjacent) series of the year.

Runaways Was Both Good and Bad

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Runaways has perfectly casted teens who match their comics counterparts, fun and quippy dialogue, and great source material. But it’s also diverged from that source to focus more on the parents in a move that may very well betray the whole point. We’ll know more by the time the season ends. Individual episodes can be really good, but the series is unwilling to come out and say its most comic book elements. All of that being said, they did give us a big Velociraptor (Deinonychus if you’re fancy), achieved principally through puppetry. Suck it, Inhumans’ Lockjaw.

Coco Will Make You Cry, So Basically Classic Pixar

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Pixar knocked it out of the park yet again with Coco, the story of a young boy being trapped in the underworld during the day of the dead. He must get the blessing of his ancestors to return to the real world before the night ends, but that’s easier said than done. Once you find out what the meaning behind the title is, the film sinks its hooks in. When it reaches its end, you’re a teary mess. Or you have no soul, in which case Pixar films aren’t really for you. But how about that Frozen short? Their Christmas tradition is Elsa refusing to build a snowman with Anna!

Call Me By Your Name Captures the Feeling of a Summer Romance

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For my cisgendered ass, it was a little difficult to connect with this movie about a Jewish-American kid living in Italy during the eighties and his gay romance with Armie Hammer. However, what I did connect with was the way the story unfolded, beautiful summer day after beautiful summer day with nothing to do but hang out and have fun. We’ve all had those summers and the movie has the same meandering quality of those days. It’s a beautifully filmed and acted romance, and if you haven’t heard about the peach thing I’ve already said too much.

Crisis on Earth-X Was the Real DC Superhero Team-Up of the Year

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Unlike previous Arrowverse crossovers, Crisis on Earth-X treated it’s adventure as one massive four hour blockbuster and it was all the better for it. Barry and Iris’s wedding is ruined by an invasion from an alternate reality where the Nazis won WWII. The fuhrer is Oliver Queen, Overgirl is the epitome of the master race, and The Reverse Flash is more than happy to help them attack our heroes. With bigger and better action than ever before and all the little character moments you could want. It all builds up to one massive fight with every hero these shows have that blows out every single moment of Justice League. Every action series needs to do a fight in wedding attire, and yes Alex Danvers hooks up with Sarah Lance.

DECEMBER

The Disaster Artist Doesn’t Insult Its Subject

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Tommy Wiseau is more of a mystery than a man. Nobody knows where he came from, where his money came from, or how old he is. He’s also very weird. The Disaster Artist could have spent its time making fun of such a strange person and their terrible movie, but instead it takes a much more objective stance. Tommy is weird, but he also makes Greg Sestero a better actor and we emphasize with him since he’s such an outcast. Tommy may be an outcast, but he also lashes out at his crew and screws over his friend. He’s a complicated man, it’s a complicated story, but its also a pretty funny one.

Agents of SHIELD Went to Space for Season Five

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Agents of SHIELD managed to pick up right where it left off in season four. The team has been kidnapped and sent through an obelisk into a strange space station. Forcing our heroes into space would have been a cool story on its own, but SHIELD takes it one step further by revealing they’re not just in space. They’re in the future, over the destroyed remains on Earth. Oh and also Daisy might have ended the world. That’s a pretty great list of problems and mysteries to solve in the new season.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is All About the Making and Unmaking of Legends

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There’s a moment in The Last Jedi where Luke Skywalker milks a strange animal and it produces blue milk, something that’s been a part of Star Wars since the beginning. It’s kind of a metaphor for the whole movie. This thing we’ve built up over such a long time is actually ordinary and a little ugly to look at. Luke failed as the legendary jedi master, Snoke isn’t as important as you think he is, sometimes the hair brained scheme fails. It’s a rebuttal of many core Star Wars principals in the best ways. There’s also a moment when a guy licks the ground and proclaims, “salt.”

Beyond Skyline Lets the Guys From The Raid Fight Aliens

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Late in Beyond Skyline, Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, and Frank Grillo have to protect a little girl who could have the power to stop an alien invasion. In that moment that child becomes the safest person on the entire planet. Technically a sequel to 2010’s Skyline, Beyond Skyline refuses to even acknowledge the other movie’s existence. Instead we get a tight man vs monster story that leaps from Los Angeles to an alien space ship to the jungles of Southeast Asia that throws every dollar the movie has on the screen.

Jean-Claude Van Johnson Made Perfect Use of Its Lead

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Something about JCVD in his older age has made him more endearing. Maybe it’s just that adding wrinkles made us all realize he’s human just like we are. It’s this fallible Jean-Claude who leads Jean-Claude Van Johnson, where actors are also assassins using their fame as a cover, where eastern European villains build weapons of mass destruction, where one character time travels and all they hear are time cops jokes. Jean-Claude Van Johnson knows its dumb, but it never stops taking itself seriously, which allows it to transcend stupidity to greatness.

 

Pitch Perfect 3 is Exactly What You Thought It Would Be

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Pitch Perfect 3 has a fun musical number every fifteen minutes, sweet moments with the Bellas, and enough laughs to keep you riding high throughout. If you expected much else then this isn’t the franchise for you. This time the film is incredibly low stakes, with the Bellas never once failing with a musical number, then suddenly it becomes incredibly high stakes, with a kidnapping plot late in the game, then suddenly low stakes again riding a wave of good emotion to the end. But what can I say? I liked it.

Bright Isn’t That Bad, But It’s Creators Are

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Maybe I’m naturally in the bag for the fantasy elements of Bright, but the movie worked in its own strange way for me. The depictions of Orcs and Elves in this deeply strange cops run-all-night movie are coded racism to the extreme. The writer has destroyed careers because girls wouldn’t date him. Will Smith works as hard as he can to save the movie, but it’s Joel Edgerton in monster makeup who forms the backbone of the film. While we should all swear off films written by Max Landis, I can’t tell you what to do. Proceed with caution.

Black Mirror Brings the Year to a Close

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In a year that felt like one long episode of Black Mirror, it’s nice to know things could be worse. Six new stories dropped onto Netflix mere days before the year ended. If you’ve seen them all already then you need to binge TV less, if you haven’t than let these lead you into 2018. I recommend USS Callister, the first of the season, which is an excellent homage to Star Trek and its fans while also taking a hard look at them both. Black Mirror is still the ideal science fiction series, using the technology we have to extrapolate a cautionary tale in the near future. If you’re not watching it you’re missing out.

 

Your Name is the Best Chance Anime has at Becoming Mainstream

Around 16 years ago, Spirited Away became the most successful film in Japanese history. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the only hand drawn animated and Japanese animated film to do that. This year it was named the second “Best Film of the 21st Century So Far” by the New York Times. When Spirited Away hit, little 8-year-old me thought that movies like it, anime, would finally become mainstream. I thought we would see them everywhere. I was wrong.

To be fair, Anime (Japanese cartoons) can have a high barrier of entry. Something like Spirited Away is so deeply entrenched in Japanese folklore that it can be impenetrable to international audiences. The fans don’t help either, almost speaking a separate language with coded language like “Otaku (anime fans), “Waifu” (a fictional girl you’d like to marry), “Best Girl” (your favorite fictional girl which is apparently different), and “Kawaii” (cool). They turn their noses up at anime voiced in English (called a dub) in favor of the original Japanese voices with subtitles. Most importantly, however, they can be very unwelcoming of outsiders into their fandom’s safe space. They call those “filthy casuals”.

Yet most people who grew up in the 80s and onward are already deeply familiar with one anime or another. Pokemon, Dragonball Z, and Sailor Moon are all anime that your mother could potentially name. Since my mom reads this blog I know she’ll at least recognize the first of those. In the United States we treat anime as kids stuff along with all other cartoons, except for comedy cartoons aimed for adults. But animation isn’t a genre. It’s a style.

Anime is special because of it’s ability to depict spectacle. The creators use insane cost saving efforts so they can go all out on specific scenes and blow their audience away. This can be in your typical tale of a superhero clash…

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… a gripping science fiction western…

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… sports stories as good as any movie…

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… and romance as far as the eye can see.

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But none of the spectacle or smooth animation in these anime hold a candle to last year’s breakout film Your Name.

Your Name has become the 4th-highest-grossing film of all time in Japan, won the 2016 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, and has been tapped for a live action adaptation by JJ Abrams. But beyond that the film is so visually stunning that just about any frame could be taken and framed as a work of art.

It’s the story of two teenagers, Mitsuha who lives in a small rural town and Taki who lives in Tokyo. They start switching bodies seemingly by chance, each taking a day in the other’s shoes then coming back to their own body to deal with what the other did. They form an odd bond by leaving each other notes scribbled on their bodies and eventually fall for each other.

If only it were that simple.

The spectacle is beyond anything televised anime can produce, obviously it has a greater budget. This movie impresses with it’s lighting, it’s music is perfectly synced to it’s visuals, and most importantly there is no barrier for entry on Your Name. Everyone I know who loves anime adores this movie, but more impressively people who actively hate anime like this movie. This movie is so appealing, so entrancing, that again my mother (hi mom!) could probably sit down and enjoy watching it. If this movie got a wide release in American theaters it would have killed.

The movie isn’t perfect. The lead characters are archetypal teenagers. It has a running boob joke that somehow becomes a major moment of emotional catharsis by the end. There are serious plot holes when you get down to the specifics of the plot. Yet for Your Name none of that really matters.

There’s some kind of magic in the presentation of Your Name. The way everything is so much prettier here than in real life. It looks like how memories feel. It brings to mind the carefree days of being a teenager. In Japan that involves local festivals, part time jobs, and going to cafes after school, all major aspects of their culture. For someone in the US it may elicit thoughts of summer vacation. Late nights with nowhere to be in the morning. A summer job. Exhaustion from doing everything you possibly could in a day. And of course, your crush from a very long time ago you only half remember.

Unfortunately Your Name only got a small and limited release in the States. It is now out on Blu-Ray and, presumably, On Demand services. I sincerely hope everyone watches it. In the mean time we should all keep an eye on the writer director Makoto Shinkai who seems poised to be the next Miyazaki.

I’ve got that feeling from 16 years ago again.

-JP

PS, the live action adaptation is not inherently a bad thing. No adaptation is (and I could do a whole other piece on that). Worst case scenario, it’s not good but drives more eyes toward the original like what happened with Ghost in the Shell.

How the Muppets Adapted A Christmas Carol Best

Christmastime was my favorite time of the year growing up. Actually, it still is. Since I was the smallest one in my house, I was tasked with going up into the attic to grab all of the Christmas decorations. We had lights for the windows and the bushes, decorations for the tree, stockings, and garland for the stair railings. But we also pulled out our Holiday themed movies.

Do you remember how easy it was to pick a movie when you only had, like, five options? Well the few Christmas VHS tapes we had included White Christmas (a classic), Prancer (which was always better in my memory than it was when I watched it), and The Muppets Christmas Carol (the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol ever made).

There are almost twenty screen adaptations of A Christmas Carol. The first one came out in 1917! But none of them do it better than The Muppets. That’s not just because The Muppets allow a very dark story to be accessible for children, though it is a factor. Most of the credit absolutely has to go to Michael Cain as Ebenzer Scrooge.

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When you tune into a Muppet movie, you expect any human alongside them to be pretty game. They’re having a good time and are in on the joke, but Michael Cain made the conscious decision to play Scrooge completely straight and the movie is better for it. In fact, it puts him so at odds with the wonderful and energetic world of The Muppets that you understand why everyone sees him as this dark presence in the world. He’s not just treating people and his employees like trash, he’s kicking a muppet bunny and yelling at Kermit the Frog. What a monster.

But muppets can be dark and scary too, lest you forget Jim Henson made The Dark Crystal (new series coming next year!). Once the Ghost of Christmas Future shows up every moment of levity is drained from the film. The Muppets he sees in his future become grotesque, marked with boils and blemishes. The bright colors from earlier in the movie are gone. And, of course, Tiny Tim dies. Ebeneezer is shown all of this by a puppet who went on to personify death in my subconscious.

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That time is marked by the loss of one of the best elements of the movie, one nobody else has done in the many adaptations. Charles Dickens actually leading us through the movie and narrating for us, in this case played by Gonzo. With Rizzo beside him for extra comedic relief.

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They gave themselves a built in way to convey information without main characters speaking in exposition. Scrooge and everyone from his Christmas pasts speak like they have real history, then Gonzo tells us what that is while dealing with his own side bit. For kids watching the movie, it saves the whole thing and makes it entertaining for them. For anyone older, just appreciate how this allows them to cut parts of the book but still convey their information to the audience.

Also it’s a musical!

The Ghost of Christmas Future may be terrifying but the Ghost of Christmas Present is THE BEST. All the Christmas Ghosts in the movie are new, but the Ghost of Christmas Present is the most on brand of all of them.

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He’s big and jovial and he plays into the distinct muppetness when he finally gets Scrooge to enjoy himself. The other-worldliness of the Ghosts allows them to stand out, but Present’s distinct Muppet-ness allows him be a bridge for Scrooge into that world.

He’s basically a big walking metaphor for the movie itself. Except he dies at the end of his act. So maybe that’s not the best connection.

I may not be in my parents home anymore, and VHS may not be a thing these days, but The Muppets Christmas Carol is currently streaming on HBO GO so you can bet your sweet butt I’ll be watching it again and again this year too.

And at the end they tell you to read the book! Every adaptation should.

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-JP

PS, I do have to admit I don’t like the Ghost of Christmas Past’s design. I have to believe they didn’t intend for her to be as creepy as this.

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Justice Marketing

Justice League comes out this weekend, and if I were to go back in time and tell myself I would be (at best) morbidly curious about it, it would break my heart. The DC Extended Universe has been a series of lows (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad)) and one very high deserved high (Wonder Woman), but Justice League is means to be the big one. Like the Avengers was in 2012, Justice League will become the thesis statement for the entire franchise by default. So why is the general excitement for this one so low-key? It’s a combination of coming from the same creative voices as Batman v Superman, a real low point for general audiences, and a marketing campaign that has left a lot to be desired.

The Justice League marketing is fascinating to look at because it has been going on for almost three years now. It began before filming did and the focus of the marketing has shifted through changes behind the scenes. Every few months it seems like they are trying to advertise for a completely different movie.

Justice League was formally announced Justice League along with a slate of DC movies in October of 2014, not at an event like Comic-Con where they could have gauged an audience reaction, but over an investor call that news outlets could report on. Here’s the full film slate reported then.

2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Suicide Squad

2017

Wonder Woman

Justice League

2018

The Flash

Aquaman

2019

Shazam

Justice League 2

2020

Cyborg

Green Lantern

So far they’ve been on track for this but by now their route has changed. They’ve added a Batman movie, a Nightwing movie, a Gotham City Sirens movie, another Suicide Squad movie. Have you noticed this is all focusing more and more around Batman? More on that later.

Now, because this announcement was not an event of any kind, it is not part of the marketing push. Things could have died down until Justice League truly got off the ground. Things didn’t.

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In February of 2015 Zack Snyder gifted us with the first image of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman under the tagline “Unite the Seven”. This was before Batman V Superman had even come out yet, but the tagline is clearly talking about the Justice League which has typically been made up of seven heroes. Why would Zack Snyder put this out there so early? Did he want to show off the new character design? Aquaman traditionally looks like this:

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Artist: Ivan Reis

I’ll admit it took me a minute to accept the new look. Could it have been meant as a part of the Dawn of Justice marketing? Potentially, but the man is in under a minute of the movie. The point is, if the seven mentioned here are the seven members of the Justice League than why didn’t they put out other character posters for the other seven members to get us excited?

Oh yeah, because they killed Superman.

In March of 2016, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice came out. It left a bad taste in the mouth of fans everywhere. People agreed Ben Affleck was good, Wonder Woman was great, and the Martha thing was dumb enough to make a good meme. But the movie ended with the death of Superman after showing off the other nascent members of the Justice League in a series of quicktime videos.

If you count them, there are five surviving and potential Justice League members. No Green Lantern in sight. So “Unite the Seven” becomes a moot tagline. They would continue to use at least two more taglines before settling on one.

This led to a marketing push that revolves around the League being formed to pick up the slack Superman has left behind. After the negative backlash to Batman V Superman, WB made it clear that these movies would lighten up and even invited many entertainment news sites to visit their set. A lot of those articles came out in June of 2016, just shortly before San Diego Comic-Con of that year. Except the first thing they did was this picture of the league:

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Yup. There he is. There they are.

Everyone and their mother knew that Superman was coming back to life in this movie. In the third film he would rise again, in fulfillment of the scripture. It was actually kind of refreshing for this image to throw off the pretense that he wasn’t. But what makes this image baffling is that since this they have continued to, in almost all marketing forms, suggest that Superman would remain dead for the entire movie. Why? We all know he’s coming, and wouldn’t that build more interest as to how he comes back, or what he’s like when he does?

But never mind that, within the same weekend they showed the first footage from the movie at the convention:

Using what must be most of what they had filmed by that point, they cobbled together a trailer that really does fight back against the tone of the previous movie. It’s got jokes. It’s got color. It’s got the White Stripes. But this also became the template for future trailers. They position batman at the center, bringing these people together. We get a lot of really cool shots centering on Batman, a fun Flash moment, and barely any Cyborg because what idiot decided to make him fully CG!?

WB! You made Green Lantern! You know a fully CG body doesn’t work! Even Iron Man has a partially practical frame! What machine built for combat has so many moving parts visible from the outside! Why is he just a human head if he’s supposed to be half-man and half-machine! This is money you did not have to spend! Bwaaaaaaaaaaaa!

*sigh*

Shortly after this Suicide Squad came out. In the movie both Batman and the Flash show up. Amanda Waller could get in contact with both of them yet still chose to form a team of murderers and psychopaths instead. Listen nobody likes this movie, but at the end Bruce Wayne tells her he’s putting together a team of heroes.

The issue for WB is they, once again, had to push against their own brand to make Justice League look more inviting. Luckily to commemorate their last day of filming in the UK they had the opportunity. Cue the, admittedly good, behind the scenes video:

It honestly looks like this movie was a blast to film. The first signs that Jason Momoa would walk away with the whole thing are there. But pause at 37 seconds. There’s Superman! He’s right there! We all know he’s in this movie what are we doing!?

Anyway they followed this up with the plot synopsis in February of 2017, doubling down on the death of Superman.

In the wake of Clark Kent/Superman’s (Cavill) death at the hands of Doomsday in BvS, vigilante Bruce Wayne/Batman (Affleck) reevaluates his extreme methods and begins reaching out to extraordinary heroes to assemble a team of crime-fighters to defend earth from all kinds of threats. Together with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gadot), Batman seeks out cybernetically enhanced former college football star Vic Stone/Cyborg (Fisher), speedster Barry Allen/The Flash (Miller) and Atlantean warrior king Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Momoa). They face off against Steppenwolf (Hinds), the herald and second-in-command to alien warlord Darkseid, who is charged by Darkseid with hunting down three artefacts hidden on earth.

Then in March we got this teaser poster:

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Nobody will ever hang that poster on their wall. But it does feature the first “official” tagline for the film. “Unite”. This would later be replaced.

That same month they dropped a bunch of character posters:

And finally that month gave us the first “official” trailer for the movie:

Again, it’s a lot of Batman finding the team. There’s some rock and roll, along with a fun cover of the Beatles’s Come Together, which feels appropriate. But it also feels like they’re having a hard time putting all these characters together in one shot that feels compelling. To be honest the first trailer for The Avengers (the only precedent here) is similar, but we already knew all of those guys and the joy was just in seeing them share the same frame at all. Justice League doesn’t have that advantage.

Here’s the other struggle with Justice League. This thing looks expensive already, but consider that trailer doesn’t even have finished VFX. We haven’t seen the villain or its minions yet. We haven’t heard his voice. All we really know is that these five (six) will be there fighting something and that isn’t very exciting. We don’t even have fun moments between characters unless they include Batman.

This would change after Wonder Woman came out in June of 2017 and basically won the summer.

If there’s one thing that’s pretty clear, it’s that Zack Snyder LOVES Batman. He loves Batman so much he turned Superman into a sexy lamp* in his own sequel to inspire Batman. Everyone who watched BvS admitted Batman was good so they made him the center of Justice League.

Zack Snyder loves Batman, but EVERYONE loves Wonder Woman. Since her movie came out there has been a very conscious effort on the marketing side to give us far more shows of her now than before.

For example, the best poster for Justice League dropped at Comic-Con of 2017:

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I can’t get enough of this poster. It looks like an Alex Ross drawing, and artist who’s work is so life-like it makes everyone look like they’re wearing cheap halloween costumes. This is when “All In” became the new tagline, which I appreciate because it also tells you how much WB is banking on this movie. Though, guys, you put the Superman logo right there in You Can’t Save the World Alone.

Still, I’ve also been seeing the crappy version of this poster around town:justice2bleague2bmovie2bbillboard

It’s so lame, but it does put Wonder Woman front and center, something I believe was the point of it in the first place. If she is positioned as the lead, more people will be interested.

At that comic-con they also released a four minute long trailer:

Oh look who’s first! It’s Wonder Woman! There’s Themyscira and the Amazons! There’s also a line that gets by Green Lantern loving heart racing. “No protectors. No Lanterns.” This is a pretty solid trailer, finally giving us a good idea of the stakes and the characters. Except, again, Cyrborg who doesn’t really get a moment here. And clearly, once again, Aquaman will 100% be the best part of this movie.

But then there’s that tag at the end. It’s supposed to be a mystery for who it is but considering how Jeremy Irons says “hope” there it’s clearly Superman. We all know! Everyone knows! By trailer two they put Spider-Man in Civil War!

The narrative took a major shift again around late July of this year when Zack Snyder announced he was stepping away from the movie after a family tragedy. Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the movie with $25 million worth of reshoots. There was a lot to swallow with the news. It was a horrible time for the Snyder family, the movie would become cobbled together from two very different directors with very different approaches, but, you guys, Superman’s mustache.

Justice League’s Man of Steel had expected to be able to finish shooting the sixth Mission: Impossible film before needing to don Superman’s spandex again. That has not been the case, however, as the new scenes that are being shot have required him to jump back and forth from each production. Because of this, a mustache he grew for his character in the Mission: Impossible sequel will have to be digitally removed in post-production. Paramount, which is distributing the Mission: Impossible sequel, would not allow Cavill to shave the facial hair while production was taking place.”

This is my favorite news story and makes me want to see Superman in the movie even more! The whole world needs Superman with a mustache. It was even my Halloween costume.

Anyway, we’re really starting to catch up with the present now, which is when all of the product tie in marketing happens. A lot of those feature Superman. This poster from August features Superman.mp24170322_1200_850_81_s

This new trailer from October features Superman, still says he’s dead, but none of them feature Superman with a mustache. I remain unsatisfied.

I will bet you money that opening bit with Supes is from the end of the movie, after they save everything and he goes home. But sure, lets keep pretending he’s not in this one. You get some Whedon-y lines in this one. But I wish there were less effects shots and more fun character moments. Though, again, Aquaman is having a blast.

That trailer was in October. Now every TV channel is showing off 30 second spots for this one. While the marketing for Justice League has been weird it seems to have found itself in the months since Wonder Woman came out, certainly sooner than BvS did, but not as easily as Man of Steel or Wonder Woman knew themselves.

Still, they are clearly holding themselves back from giving us a better sense of the movie, probably because they’re holding back a large amount of Superman footage. Is this the right decision? Who knows. Early social media buzz is mixed but leans toward the movie being good.

For a movie of this scale and importance its hard to say how much marketing really matters. A Star Wars movie doesn’t need to market itself. People would come even if they never saw a single frame of it beforehand. People showed up to the Avengers to see if the experiment would work and I suspect people will come to this for the same reason. However the experiment in this case is, can WB turn this around? I honestly don’t know. But I hope they do.

So I can get the good Green Lantern movie I need in my life.

-JP

*A sexy lamp is a character who only exists to be pretty and inspire others. They do not carry the burden of narrative decisions and could be replaced with a sexy lamp with no change to the movie.

PS – Imagine if Thor: Ragnarok hid that the Hulk would be in the movie. Yes, the twist would have been more surprising but the trailers would have been so bare that people might not have been sold on the movie. That’s how I feel about the Superman thing.