Back in 1995 when Hollywood attempted to bring Mortal Kombat to the big screen, it became one of the industry’s better live-action video game movies. However, its PG-13 rating prevented it from bringing the blood and the gore that the games have been known for. 25 years later, a new live-action version is out with a brand new vision by debutante director Simon McQuoid that delivers on the R-rated material that fans know and love.
In this reboot, Mortal Kombat follows a cage fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan), who tries to provide for his family after his career takes a nosedive. We find out that he has been chosen to participate in a tournament that determines the fate of the world. Joining him in this cause are some characters that fans of the games are all too familiar with. We get introduced to army comrades Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Jax (Mehcad Brooks), who first recruit Young and have been keeping tabs on the legend of Mortal Kombat. The conniving criminal Kano (Josh Lawson) also becomes part of the team as well as warrior monks Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang). Earthrealm’s finest fighters are recruited by the thunder god Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) to take on the likes of sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and his own team of fighters for the fate of Earth.
The film does set the tone with its action-packed opener by providing a backstory to Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Talsim). The set pieces and the fight choreography in the scene immediately grab your attention with the gritty and bloody throwdown that happens between these two adversaries. Things start to sizzle down once the story focuses on our main guy Cole Young, an original character made specifically for the film. Cole seems like a way to help those who aren’t familiar with the source material learn about the world and the lore that the film is building. The only problem is that the character doesn’t immediately connect with the audience as his development kind of gets rushed like the rest of the cast. We don’t get to spend much time with the classic characters like Liu Kang or Sonya Blade since the plot kind of rushes along.
The standouts from the film would have to go to Kano and Sub-Zero. Lawson brings comedic relief as the one-eyed rogue bandit who acts like a rat only looking out for himself. The actor brings enough of the personality from the games into the character, which works throughout the film. Sub-Zero also becomes a force to be reckoned with thanks to the amazing fight scenes that Talsim does. He brings a sinister demeanor with his character as he tears through the streets with his icy abilities.
What the film does well are the stellar fight sequences that remind you of how great the games were in promoting martial arts. Much of the cast has some background in different fighting styles, which helps make the film more grounded and authentic when it comes to the action sequences. Some of the CGI may feel a little off, but it does complement the amazing fights that build up on the screen. The film even brings in some of the fatalities that the games are known for. Just seeing the fights bring in some sort of realness as much of the characters experience pain and can get hurt if they’re not careful.
The film feels more of a set-up to what the games are known for. We are introduced to these characters as they prepare for the tournament to defend Earthrealm, but it doesn’t seem like we get to the main attraction as we are treated to more of an appetizer than the main course. The film can only do so much with the number of characters that are available from the games, but it doesn’t feel earned when we are shown material that doesn’t fully deliver. The lore of the games is what makes Mortal Kombat worth investing in, but the film doesn’t seem like it wants to get to the main event until it is warranted for another installment.
As a whole, Mortal Kombat is a visual spectacle that relies on the fight choreography that happens to add some blood, guts, and special effects to craft a new take on the popular fighting games. It can be a little over-the-top at times and it seems like we are getting an origin story to set up this team of warriors like many superhero films. What we get is a first half that kind of goes at a slow pace and puts in a lot of explanation into these characters that deserve more screen time. The second half is where the film truly shines as it picks up on the action to deliver some amazing fight scenes. This version is definitely a step in the right direction for more installments in the future.
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Mufsin is a contributing writer and Host at All Ages of Geek. You can follow him on twitter at @MufsinM
Buckle up animation geeks, creative genius Momoru Hosada’s next film Ryu to Sobakasu no Hime (“The Dragon and the Freckled Princess”), or simply Belle, is just around the corner! First announced in December 2020, Hosada’s Studio Chizu has officially set itsto release to July of 2021.
Belle marks Hosada’s ninth project and follows the protagonist Suzu as she traverses between reality and a virtual world called ‘U’. Suzu is a 17-year old high school girl who lives with her father in the rural town of Kochi as Japan’s countryside population continues to decrease. Seeking comfort and direction after the loss of her mother, Suzu finds and enters an online world called ‘U’, where she becomes her avatar “Belle,” a famous singer in this alternate reality. As Belle increasingly becomes the center of attention, a mysterious and infamous dragon-like creature appears before her. Amidst the ever blurring boundaries between reality and the virtual, the two of them must embark upon a courageous journey of challenges, discovering love, friendship, and perhaps who they truly are along the way.
Mamoru Hosada and His Belle
Hosada’s previous work, Mirai, which premiered internationally at the Cannes’ Directors Fortnight in 2018, garnered an overwhelmingly successful reception and was nominated for both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. The film went on to win the 46th annual Annie Award for “Best Animation of the Year.”
Hosada is not by any means new to this degree of positive reception. His worldwide recognition had been amassing long before the success of Mirai, winning over many an animation fan’s hearts and staunch support with his prolific storytelling. The most notable of his past work includes The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and The Boy and the Beast. Known for their deeply emotional and thought-provoking narratives, Hosoda’s stories have a penchant for drawing extraordinary experiences from seemingly ordinary characters living worlds touched by hints of fantasy. From the first looks of Belle, it certainly looks like Director Hosada aims to continue that trend.
In his official statement released by Studio Chizu, Hodsada said “BELLE is the movie that I have always wanted to create, and I am only able to make this film a reality because of the culmination of my past works. I explore romance, action, and suspense on the one hand, and deeper themes such as life and death on the other. I expect this to be a big entertainment spectacle.
“I have directed films in the past, exploring the implications of the Internet and how our younger generations will transform the world with their own amusement. At the same time, the Internet has a more negative side to it, where people slander others without a second thought, filling it with misinformation. In spite of this, I believe that it is marvel that will expand the possibilities of humanity. I wanted to depict this massive shift in our relationship with the Internet in a way that would pave a path towards our future.
“The unprecedented events of last year have accelerated the paradigm shift in our online interactions with one another, be it the workplace or our personal lives. As this era continues to change, unbound from the shackles of yesterday’s common sense, capturing this global phenomenon felt like an inevitability.
“Yet, the things that we must cherish, largely remain the same. Legacies we have inherited from generations past will continue to exist and adapt to the new age and new tools that will now shape it. This shift is more apparent than it has ever been because of the era in which we currently live.
“I hope you can enjoy our world that is now evolving at the speed of light while savoring those things that really matter to us, in this film.”
Studio Chizu has assembled an impressive team of Japanese and international creatives for crafting Belle’s stunning visuals. Among the long list of creatives working alongside Dir. Hosada is Jin Kim, the artist who designed characters in some of Disney’s most iconic features such as Frozen,Big Hero 6, and Tangled. Both artists have greatly admired each other’s work for a long time from afar — and it’s no wonder why! They have great taste; each artist’s respective style is stunning. Belle marks the first of, hopefully, many more collaborations to come. Another creative who joined the project is Eric Wong, a visionary architect-designer from Britain, who constructed the 3D landscape of ‘U’, conceptualizing from Hosada’s original design. Ross Stewart and Tomm Moore, big-time animators of the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, are involved as well. They are known for creating The Secret of the Knells, the Oscar-nominated feature Song of the Sea, and this year’s Oscar nominee Wolfwalkers. For anyone who has seen any of the aforementioned movies, you will know that their animation style is distinctly enchanting and incredibly different from Hosada’s. It is incredibly exciting to imagine how this will all mix together. An international collaboration of this scale makes Japanese animation history as the first of its kind. The amalgamation of all these different styles, I can imagine, could dramatically alter the course of Japanese animation to come!
My Thoughts On the Trailer:
First off, I cannot express how excited I am for this movie to drop. The trailer is absolutely stunning with its visuals — from its color palette to the mixture of 3D and 2D animation, to the shifting of art styles as we move between realities. It gives us a glimpse of how each creators’ distinctive style will look meshed together.
The contrast between Suzu and Belle is striking and translates well to the screen, creating a rift between how one wishes to appear and how one actually appears to the world. While Suzu and her classmates in the real world largely reflect Hosada’s more simple design, Belle shines with Jin Kim’s iconic Disney flair. Suzu looks like your average girl with brown eyes, brown hair falling below chin length, and light freckles dusting her face. Belle, on the other hand, is ethereal: her eyes are unrealistically huge and crystal blue, her luscious pink hair flows down to her legs, and even her freckles form the most beautiful and intricate patterns on her face. She truly looks like a princess.
The world in which the two exist are drastically different too. We see glimpses of the idyllic countryside as Suzu ambles through her rural town: clear waters sparkling under the setting sun, to the monolithic clouds floating against the devastatingly blue skies, to the sweeping empty fields passing outside a moving train. The natural landscapes are dense and full of vibrant detail, a stark contrast to the landscape of ‘U’. Virtual reality looks to be composed of block-like skyscrapers resembling the green and gold chips one would see inside a computer’s motherboard. While it seems to be full of geometric complexity, the world simultaneously feels hollow as well. It looks one-dimensional in comparison to the vivid images of the countryside. It is interesting to see the juxtaposition between Hosada’s simpler-looking Suzu living in a more intricate-looking world, and Jin Kim’s extravagantly detailed Belle existing in a more empty looking world. I’m excited to see how Hosoda synthesizes these visual elements throughout the movie in relation to the plot and more importantly the film’s theme.
What captured my attention the most, however, was the song featured in the extended trailer. With Belle set to be a famous singer of ‘U’, I’m willing to bet that the music will play a big role in the film. The trailer’s evocative song paired with its astounding visuals was genuinely enough to move me to tears — even without a clue of what was going on! If the music in the trailer is reflective of the soundtrack to come, then I’ll be prepared to cry at multiple points throughout this movie!
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T. Wu is a contributing writer at All Ages of Geek. You can follow T. on Instagram @kata_the_clown.
Time loop has been used over and over as a plot device thanks to the success of Groundhog Day. Recently, different genres like horror and comedy have reinvented the use of it in hits such as Happy Death Day and last summer’s Palm Springs. Hulu is tackling the topic once again in the new action flick Boss Level starring Frank Grillo as he reunites with director Joe Carnahan after working together in The Grey.
The story follows Roy Pulver (Grillo), a former military operative who finds himself stuck in a time loop as he survives assassins, bullets, and accidents in order to find a way out of his predicament. Most of his day starts the same with him waking up to a man swinging a machete at his head and a helicopter hovering his apartment with an assassin shooting through his window. Much like a video game, he must go through the same process as he speedruns through a series of events as he becomes better at avoiding certain obstacles without getting killed. Every time he dies, he must start the day all over again. With each new loop, Pulver gathers new information that gets him a step closer to finding out why this is happening to him.
Outside this mysterious life he’s living in, Pulver is a man living a civilian life as he tries to reconnect with his ex-wife Jemma (Naomi Watts) and his son, who has no idea that Roy is his father. Jemma is employed by Mel Gibson’s Colonel Clive Vector as she works on a top-secret project. It is quite obvious that Gibson and Watt’s characters have something to do with Pulver’s situation. The film also has a bunch of assassins that have personalities of their own who are all after Pulver, which also ties into whatever his ex’s employer is doing. Boss Level makes the traditional route with this sci-fi action flick with the use of time looping. It makes some fun moments with Pulver narrating the events with his self-awareness of his situation and delivering some cheesy one-liners.
The film brings out various chess pieces that you would find in a typical action film like an array of assassins from a Chinese swordfighter to Black German twins carrying RPGs. It’s funny when Roy gives each of his assassins certain nicknames like Mr. Good Morning or even Roy #2. Even though much of what you see may sound ridiculous, the film does keep you entertained during its 86-minute run time. The movie frames itself much like a video game as you keep track of Roy’s progress as he goes into harder levels from a roguelike or a beat-em-up.
Even though Boss Level doesn’t live up to the standard like Edge of Tomorrow, it does try to create an environment in order for us to care about what happens to Roy. His enjoyment in killing his enemies and being able to stay alive for a moment over hundreds of attempts is a joy to watch. We don’t get enough of that as the film shifts its focus on Roy’s family life as he tries to become a better father to his son with each sequence he goes through. Even the villains come out as nothing special as Gibson’s Vector and Will Sasso’s Brett have no motivation other than to reset the world from its mistakes and start anew.
Grillo does have that action hero quality as he makes good use of his charisma and the numerous attempts he makes to maneuver his way to reach his goal. The film makes great use of the actor’s effectiveness in action and drama. With Roy already getting used to the fate that has befallen him, this allows him to treat everything that happens to him as funny to him and the audience. In many ways, the film does feel like a throwback to 80s action films with Grillo sporting the cool jacket and the shades. Some of the jokes are funny while others can feel flat despite the situation that it addresses.
Boss Level is truly Grillo’s film as he takes center stage in a sci-fi troupe that audiences are all too familiar with. It just takes some reinventing to make time loop stories unique, which this film tries to do and works in parts. Carnahan makes great use of the camera work as it focuses its attention on Grillo’s various attempts to stay alive and solve his unfortunate circumstance that he finds himself in. If high-octane action is what you want, then stay for a crazy ride.
Boss Level is available now to stream on Hulu.
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Mufsin Mahbub is a Writer and the host of The Geekoning Podcast at All Ages of Geek. You can follow him on Twitter @MufsinM
On August 26th, 2020, the world lost Joe Ruby, the co-creator of one of the biggest, most well-known shows of all time: Scooby-Doo. He was 87 when he passed away from old age. While his life may have ended, the legacy that he left behind will remain as an eternal part of our lives. Even if you’ve never watched any of the shows/seasons (or even the movies), you’ve at least heard of it and the numerous pieces of merchandise available worldwide. In honor of Joe Ruby’s passing and the world he helped create, I will be sharing with you, the readers, my experience with Scooby-Doo and how much it impacted my life.
The earliest memories I have with Scooby-Doo was when I saw Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?. While I didn’t have cable at my house, there was a relative of mine or a friend of the family that we would visit that had access to cable. I even remember some of the after school latchkey programs (that I attended when I was little) that had cable, and Scooby-Doo was one of the many shows airing during my time there. After watching some of the shows, two of the live-action movies, and Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, I would check out any other animated movies from the library. I might’ve not seen all of them, but I’ve enjoyed each one that I watched. Each one had its own interesting synopsis and plot twist, not to mention the monster that was the main focus of each movie.
As I grew older, I didn’t watch Scooby-Doo as often as I would want to. I would mainly focus on other series and my studies. However, the memories and my enjoyment of the series never faded. It wasn’t until years later, that I found my copy of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island on VHS and watched it again. To my surprise, the movie’s animation, story, and even voice acting still holds up. Out of the many Scooby-Doo animated movies, Zombie Island is the one that will always remain on the top 10 list of my favorite movies. Looking back, most of my exposure to Scooby-Doo was through the many animated movies. I remember, back when the library had VHS tapes, I would check out any Scooby-Doo movies that I would discover. I must’ve watched Scooby-Doo and The Loch Ness Monster at least a dozen times when I checked it out. As far as I can remember, the only animated Scooby-Doo movies I’ve ever watched was Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Scooby-Doo! and the Witch’s Ghost, Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders, Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase, Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster, Scooby-Doo! Meets the Boo Brothers, Scooby-Doo! and the Ghoul School, and Scooby-Doo! and the Reluctant Werewolf. Back then, I had no idea that there were so many animated movies for the franchise, which blew my mind when I got older. At the time, I naively thought there were only a handful of animated movies for Scooby-Doo. I had no idea that (at the time of this article’s publication) there are 38 animated films with the 39th coming out this October. I had to lean back in my chair when I found out about this. I wouldn’t say that I think it’s excessive, I’m just surprised that they made this many. The ideas for each case are definitely worth being made into a movie (otherwise we would have a five-part arc for each said case) and while the synopsis for a few seemed a bit out there, I enjoyed the ones I’ve seen so far.
While I didn’t have very many good memories of the first live-action Scooby-Doo! movie, Monsters Unleashed definitely left a better and stronger lasting impression on me. The whole idea of the gang facing real versions of monsters they’ve unmasked in the past just felt perfect. It also brought me back to what they went through when they were on Zombie Island. Sure, there may have been moments that seemed almost over the top with its cheesiness, I feel like that was the point. It’s a live-action adaptation of a cartoon, so of course the main villain and certain scenarios are going to give off that vibe. Even having Scooby brought to life through CGI was necessary, I mean, look at how he moves about in the show, it makes the movie all the more perfect. It also brings up the question of what happens to the criminals after they served their time in prison. Honestly, it brought up a number scenarios that I never thought about when I was growing up. While I never researched the previous roles of the main actors and actresses (I was only a child at the time), I feel like they did an amazing job bringing the gang to life. All-in-all, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleased is the live-action Scooby-Doo! movie to watch.
With the current events that we’re going through (the ongoing pandemic), I was able to visit some of other shows that were available. At the moment, I was able to watch some episodes from Scooby-Doo! Where Are You?, What’s New Scooby Doo?, and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. It was fun to see the difference in not just the animation, but how the main characters are written and what mysteries they’ll solve. The monsters were both terrifying and intriguing in both their design and the lore that surrounded them. From what I’ve seen so far, Mystery Incorporated definitely has an all-around focus on the characters, the story, and the mysteries. Everything is connected in some shape or form, which definitely keeps the viewers engaged. Even with all of that, there’s still plenty of classic Scooby-Doo humor sprinkled throughout the episodes.
With What’s New Scooby-Doo?, it felt like a refreshing upgrade to the show that started it all: Scooby Doo! Where are You?. It’s not just with the animation quality and the voice acting, the characters felt more fleshed out. In each episode, the main gang and the side characters had their own personality. I’m not saying that they didn’t have any personality in the original show, it just feels like more effort was put into it. Like every show of Scooby-Doo!, the monsters were fascinating to watch on screen, some being classic monsters from the original show. While the classic first show will always remain as, well, a classic, What’s New Scooby Doo? gives off the feeling that it was what Scooby-Doo! Where are You? strived to be back then.
Other than re-watching What’s New Scooby-Doo? and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, the most recent thing, that was Scooby-Doo! related, was when the show did a crossover episode with long-running series Supernatural in the legendary episode Scoobynatural. Fans of both series, including cast members, had been waiting for some type of crossover to happen. In season 13 of Supernatural, fans finally saw their fantasy become a reality, and honestly, it’s definitely one of the best episodes and one of my favorites in Supernatural. Not only was this the only animated episode (which clearly had so much effort put into it), but the episode was more enjoyable knowing how much of a fan Sam and Dean Winchester were of the show. Like Monsters Unleashed, it answered questions about what would happen if the two worlds collided and the characters. I feel like, even if you haven’t caught up with the show, you could watch it without worrying too much about getting lost on any key plot points. Other than the recap at the start of the episode, it doesn’t leave new viewers scratching their heads in confusion.
While Joe Ruby’s time on earth has ended, the show he has helped create will live on forever. The numerous pieces of pop and geek culture that were inspired by his work and the various crossovers in shows will also continue to carry on his legacy. The way Scooby-Doo! has impacted our lives will forever remain in our memories. Joe Ruby, we thank you for being part of the creation of such a beautiful series with many different styles of telling the story of Scooby and the gang’s adventures.
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) is the most important stupid-ass stoner comedy film of the early-2000s. The film was written by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (American Reunion, Cobra Kai), and directed by Danny Leiner (Dude, Where’s My Car?). Starring John Cho as Harold Lee and Kal Penn as Kumar Patel. The story follows the duo’s iconic misadventure to American fast-food chain White Castle after getting indubitably “not low.”
I acknowledge off-top that much of this movie is goofy as hell, as it should be. But this film is also groundbreaking, not only subverting its genre but subverting the Hollywood standard for who gets to lead a franchise. I was the only South Asian kid and brown film buff in a deep, dead sea of deeply salty microaggressions and crystal clear racism — with no real resources or vocabulary to express how I was being othered. Now, I’m a goddamn GigaChad with a pretentious enough vocabulary to describe my “deep, dead sea of deeply salty microaggressions and crystal clear racism” line as a whimsical use of thalassic imagery to express the poignant realities of adolescence in the diaspora. Harold & Kumar centers a lot of its comedy on pointing out systemic injustices and microaggressions. Through the film’s humor, in middle school, I was able to understand why the world around me seemed so hostile.
Throughout the movie, Harold & Kumar confront their bullies and people attempting to take advantage of them. They regularly defy authority. Neither are emasculated or desexualized.
A breakdown of moments from the film that stuck with 11-year-old me, inspiring autonomy and helping me parse my environment.
Kumar shrugs off his med school interview, despite being a competent student. In the current space of mainstream Desi American stories, the strict parent / rigid traditional career path trope is a tired one. At the time, it was refreshing to see Kumar’s apprehension towards societal boxes and family pressure. Kumar is the first rebellious Indian kid I saw in western media.
Kumar speaks Hindi to communicate with a gas station employee and get directions. The character knowing/speaking his mother tongue is framed as useful and vital.
Kumar later confronts the white “Extreme Sport Punks” who pick on the Indian gas station employee, making fun of his accent and trashing the store.
Throughout the film, cops get critiqued for over aggression and racial biases.
The duo attempt to jaywalk on an empty street at night, comically, out of nowhere, a wild cop appears.
Kumar stands up to Officer Palumbo abusing his power, which escalates to Harold getting arrested.
While in jail, Harold meets Tarik, a Black man falsely imprisoned.
Tarik: You wanna know what happened? I was walking out of a Barnes & Noble, and a cop stops me. Now evidently, a black guy robbed a store in Newark. I told him, “I haven’t even been to Newark in months.” So he starts beating me with his gun, telling me to stop resisting arrest. I kept saying, “I understand I’m under arrest. Now please stop beating me.”
Police brutality and themes of surveillance extend further in the sequel, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008). Kumar attempts to smoke a smokeless bong on a flight to Amsterdam. An elderly passenger, already cautious of Kumar’s (brown) presence, sees the bong and thinks, “BOMB.” Harold & Kumar are profiled, then apprehended as terrorists. The duo spends the movie on the run from the highly incompetent Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, who continually jumps to the most extremist conclusions (e.g., that Harold & Kumar are a North Korea Al-Qaeda terrorist tag team).
These films truly are a crash course on blatant American ignorance.
Harold & Kumar have another run-in with the Extreme Sport Punks. The punks refer to Harold as Mr. Miyagi, and our duo ends up commandeering the punks’ douche-truck. As they drive off, Kumar yells, “Thank you, come again!” in a thick Indian accent, throwing the stereotypical phrase back at the bullies.
Harold confronts his co-workers who were taking advantage, trying to pile him with all the work while they party. Harold goes off, “You guys think you can just party all weekend and leave all your work to the quiet Asian guy in your office! Huh? … I’m not doing your work anymore.”
There are a lot of real moments in this stoner flick. You couldn’t do a weed movie starring a Korean and Indian American without their experiences being inherently political. Unfortunately, where the film falters is that like nearly all of 2000s American comedy, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle suffers from a ton of homophobic jokes I can’t endorse. Suggesting that a character is gay isn’t a punchline. Also, filler-dialogue featuring straight dudes talking about the women they find hot = very cringy. I have no problems acknowledging and having a deep appreciation of the booty, but the way sexual attraction is written in American comedies from this era is just highkey degenerate-worship.
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is the first time I saw myself represented in a movie. Two non-stereotypical Asian characters with grounded relatable ambitions, frustrations, and authentic BFF banter were the lead protagonists of a mainstream feature film!? Within a minute of Kumar’s introduction, all of my self-confidence and unfounded belief that I could make movies were validated and fortified. For me, John Cho and Kal Penn served as enough empirical evidence that I could make it in the industry.
Yeah, Harold & Kumar get their car stolen by a horned-up Neil Patrick Harris and ride a stoned cheetah. However, they’re still some of the first legitimately cool non-stereotypical representation we had on-screen — and that was huge for young aspiring filmmakers, creatives, and minority youth coming into their own.
2020 has been a rough year for movie-goers. Like nearly all other aspects of society, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to movie theatres being shut down across the world, stalling nearly every new movie in 2020’s release. Those who look forward to circling release dates on the yearly movie calendar must rely on movies produced by subscription-based streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, or the occasional indie flick that is released through video on demand. One such indie that was quietly made available this July is a creepy little Australian film called Relic, and it might just be the finest film to come out since the start of the shutdown.
Best described as a horror movie but with an equal blend of suspense and drama, Relic finds first-time director Natalie Erika James observing the darkest corners of family tension while delivering one of the most original takes on the haunted house subgenre in years. The film first premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January before being picked up for distribution by IFC Midnight. It begins with Kay and her daughter Sam traveling to her mother (Sam’s grandmother) Edna’s secluded home in the woods after they were informed that she hadn’t been seen for some time. For several days Kay and Sam assist a search party in looking for her while they stay at the house, which is littered with black mold and sticky notes left by Edna with simple reminders such as “take pills” and “flush toilet”, suggesting that her memory is deteriorating. Sam begins to encounter a number of strange occurrences in the house, including strange knocks and other sounds coming from within the moldy walls.
After Kay begins having nightmares of an old cabin covered in a mold similar to that in the house, Edna mysteriously appears in the kitchen one morning and makes nothing of her own disappearance. A doctor visits the house and though Edna has no recollection of where she’s been, he finds a large bruise on her chest and suggests Kay and Sam stay with her for a little while longer to ensure she can take care of herself. As Edna interacts with her daughter and granddaughter in different and sometimes disturbing ways, it becomes clear that she is suffering from dementia. Kay laments over the thought of putting her in a nursing home, while Sam offers to move in with Edna to help take care of her. Though she shows brief moments of compassion (mostly towards Sam), Edna’s mood soon becomes hostile and unpredictable and she exhibits strange behavior such as eating photographs thinking it will preserve memories. This leads Kay and Sam to wonder if there is potentially something worse afflicting Edna than just her memory.
The film takes a potent look at dementia and utilizes a classic allegory that reveals how truly sinister it can be, and the effects it can have on everyone involved. There is heavy symbolism throughout, primarily involving characters being portrayed through windows and in the reflections of mirrors in many shots. The windows of Edna’s home are symbolic of her memories, and as they become clouded with mold so too does her mind. The peculiar stained-glass window on the front door of the house is especially noteworthy, with Edna mentioning that she hates the window at one point. James expertly uses this symbolism to subtly foreshadow the larger events of the film even in its simplest moments.
Most of Relic’s 90-minute runtime is a slow burn of tension and suspense that finds the director hiding keys to the film’s revelation in plain sight. Because of this, Relic is one of those films where you don’t really realize how good it is until the very end. The symbolism and foreshadowing are what make the film truly stand out, which may lead viewers into something they weren’t expecting at first; but if they pay attention to the film’s strong hidden messages, the payoff is an extremely satisfying reward. Relic is much more than mere metaphor, however, featuring a unique approach to the dark family drama before revealing one of the most inventive horror movie twists in some time. Director Natalie Erika James displays veteran craftsmanship in her first full-length picture and has a bright future ahead of her, certainly being a name to become familiar with. Relic is arguably the best film to be released during quarantine and is yet another example of the filmmaking talent coming from Australia. Relic is available to rent through video on demand from Amazon Prime Video, Youtube, and Google Play.
As for Maul, we already know how his story ends in Star Wars: Rebels. But one scene with Maul in the show’s epic conclusion has been overlooked by many fans. In The Phantom Apprentice, at 11:36, we see Maul on a holo call with some of the galaxy’s most notorious crime lords. On the right, we see the public leader of Crimson Dawn, Dryden Vos! Remember the main villain from the Solo movie with the face scars? Yep – that’s him!
In the middle, we see Marg Krim, the powerful leader of the Pike Syndicate from the preceding story arc with Ahsoka and the Martez sisters. Krim is the Pike who Ahsoka uses a Jedi mind trick on. Seeing Krim alive in the Siege of Mandalore arc shocked me because I expected Maul to butcher him for his failures in the previous arc. Maul had threatened the Pike, and then Krim went on to fail yet again. On the left, we see the return of Ziton Moj, the leader of Black Sun. He’d been involved in previous seasons of the show and became Black Sun’s leader after Savage Opress killed Black Sun’s ruling council. One thing that makes this scene rather funny is the history between Krim and Moj. In Disney’s canon, Moj tries to coerce Krim into merging the Pike Syndicate with Black Sun by kidnapping Krim’s family. Moj’s plan is ruined by Ventress and Jedi Master Quinlan Vos rescuing Krim’s family. Then, Black Sun sends a fleet to attack the Pike base on Oba Diah – where Ahsoka and the Martez sisters are later held prisoner in season 7. Needless to say, knowing the history between Krim and Moj makes it a bit humorous to see them side by side on a holo call with Maul. It’s also quite ironic that Maul tells the three crime lords to go off the grid because, in canon, Maul spends many Imperial years trapped in a Sith temple on Malachor. In 3 BBY, Maul escapes the temple but is finished off only a year later by Kenobi on Tatooine. Because of Maul’s years-long absence and subsequent death, there is a void in Empire-era villains that needs filling for the small screen. Disney could easily just have Vader become more prominent and involved, but a part of what makes Vader so compelling in the OT is the combination of his intimidation factor and how little of him we actually see. His presence is felt throughout the trilogy, but he’s not actually in it all that much. But because he has such a small amount of screen-time, when he is on the screen, he grabs the audience’s full attention. Christopher Nolan did something similar with Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. The Joker’s presence is felt throughout the entire two-and-a-half-hour-long movie, even though he only on-screen for half an hour. While this might seem like a lot compared to Vader through a film-to-film lens, keep in mind that the Joker’s character arc was condensed into a single film, whereas Vader’s spanned a trilogy. Whenever Ledger’s Joker was on-screen, he held the audience’s full attention – much like Vader. Disney recognized this. In the thirty-seven-and-a-half hours of Star Wars: Rebels, Vader only received twenty-five minutes of screen-time. There’s a reason Vader only gets a handful of minutes of screen-time in Rogue One. If we were to see him all the time on-screen, he becomes oversaturated and less menacing. So the question becomes: who should fill the void? I think they should bring back another EU villain. I can’t think of any villain who’d be a more interesting antagonist for a pre-ANH Han Solo than Prince Xizor. (Maul wouldn’t be feasible – the force gives him too much of an edge).
When I first watched Maul’s Clone Wars scene with the cameo appearance of Ziton Moj, the Falleen dressed in purple robes, the first name that came to mind wasn’t Moj, it was Prince Xizor. The dark prince of Black Sun, as he was sometimes called, was the main antagonist in Shadows of the Empire, the first Star Wars multimedia project (1996-1997). Shadows of the Empire told the tale of what happened between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The SotE multimedia project had everything but actual film footage – unless you count video game cutscenes. Along with the game, there was an audio drama, a novel, comics, a junior novelization, toys & action figures – heck, it even had its own soundtrack! Unfortunately, Disney’s decision to discontinue the beloved Expanded Universe in 2014 means that Shadows of the Empire is no longer “canon.” But just because something isn’t deemed “canon” by Disney doesn’t mean it isn’t real Star Wars content. (Not to mention it was all canon in the Lucas-era of Star Wars before he sold it to Disney). But regardless of your opinion on any of this, a lot of the original Expanded Universe content doesn’t contradict Disney’s canon anyways – particularly the EU content that chronologically comes before Return of the Jedi.
I think it would be a missed opportunity to not reincorporate one of the EU’s most well-known villains into the canon. They did it with Grand Admiral Thrawn with Star Wars: Rebels, so it is certainly within the realm of possibility. If Disney plays its cards right, then perhaps they can have Ziton Moj reveal that his real name is Xizor. Lucasfilm could provide some back story for why he’d kept his true name a secret. Or better yet, Xizor could be Moj’s right-hand man who betrays and murders Moj, becoming who we know him to be from the Expanded Universe. Or, in classic Xizor fashion, the dark prince could use his wealth to bribe Moj into handing Black Sun over to him. And I can’t think of a better way to reintroduce Xizor than to have him be the villain for the only “Big Three” Star Wars character he never had to face in Shadows of the Empire: Han Solo. Xizor was in other EU content as well, but his most prominent and significant role was in SotE.
If “Solo 2” ends up being a Disney+ show, (which is more likely than a Solo 2 movie due to the pandemic’s effect on movie theatres, and since the first Solo movie was the first Star Wars film to be a box office failure), exploring the criminal underworld during the time of the Empire would be a very intriguing premise to fans. Han Solo’s backstory in both canon and the EU involved a lot of dealings with the criminal side of the galaxy. It’s more fleshed out in the EU, and it would be amazing to see his canon pre-ANH days in a Disney+ series. Just think about the possibilities for such a show: Greedo and Rodian Gangs, Jabba and his fellow Hutts, Boba Fett and Mandalorians, Maul & Qi’ra, and the return of the cold, cunning, despicable Xizor and his iconic human replica droid, Guri. It wouldn’t feel stale and recycled if Xizor is used as a villain for a Han Solo series because, in Shadows of the Empire, Han is frozen in carbonite the whole time. Xizor already has his own musical theme from the SotE project, and the soundtrack could be incorporated into a canon show. It wouldn’t be the first time Disney’s used EU music in its canon: the Javyar’s Cantina theme from the Knights of the Old Republic video game was implemented in both seasons of the Star Wars: Resistance television series. With the pandemic, creating a new orchestral Star Wars soundtrack becomes extremely difficult because of how COVID necessitates social distancing. An orchestra requires lots of people gathered in close proximity playing musical instruments together. To make matters worse, many of these instruments are impossible to play with masks because they require the user to blow into them (wind instruments). SotE has a soundtrack already, so a lot of the music could be edited to fit the hypothetical show, and it would be fitting for a show with Xizor.
If you haven’t played Shadows of the Empire, I would highly recommend it. It’s on N64 and PC. Though I’m warning you: the swoop bike chase on Tatooine is very difficult with a keyboard and mouse! The book is also fantastic, as it tells the meat and potatoes of the SotE story, fully tying together the end of Empire and the beginning of Jedi with an incredible story. And the comics, oh the comics! The SotE comics are some of the most beautifully-colored Star Wars comic books I’ve ever seen. Definitely check them out!
Since the turn of the 21st century, superhero movies have rapidly evolved into the most anticipated theatrical events year after year. By the 2010s there were multiple superhero movies being released in a calendar year, to the point where studios were pitting their own comic book universes against each other at the box office. Having always dominated the ticket sales, superhero movies have now become critically acclaimed pieces of filmmaking that frequent yearly top 10 lists. With costumed crime fighters now dominating Hollywood, let’s take a look at the films that are not only classics and/or masterpieces, but also hold the most influence in the superhero genre.
It is certainly fitting that Superman, the first superpowered crime-fighter, was the first to receive his own big-screen blockbuster (and subsequent franchise). At the tail end of one of the most influential decades in film, Superman had an ambitious vision in an age before superhero movies were sure-fire box office hits. It was the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its release, with a $55 million budget that seems very modest by today’s standards. However, it grossed $300 million and was praised for its special effects and storyline that stayed faithful to the hero’s comic book roots, and was nominated for three Academy Awards. Superman was groundbreaking in every way and laid down the blueprint for its entire genre, but it took well over a decade for the superhero movie phenomenon to gain a firm hold on audiences.
By the turn of the millennium, Hollywood had finally begun to invest in several superhero movies; and though earlier releases were financial hits, they had struggled to maintain the critical appeal of the Superman franchise. Tim Burton’s Batman franchise started out strong but quickly became a laughable mess, and while Marvel entered the scene in the late ’90s with Blade, it was more of an action/horror hybrid than a straightforward superhero movie. But Blade’s success inspired the comic book giant to invest in their more well-known characters, and their famous team of mutants were the first to be brought to theatres in the year 2000. A critical and commercial hit, X-Men could easily be considered the first modern superhero movie and foreshadowed Marvel’s eventual dominance over the genre. Moreso, the movie and its sequels showcased the ability to center a storyline around an entire team of heroes, laying the groundwork for eventual crossovers like The Avengers and Justice League. It also established the importance of casting for superhero movies, with Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Patrick Stewart (Professor X), and Ian McKellen (Magneto) being perfect for their roles.
SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004)
The first half of the 2000s saw the beginning of superhero movies becoming a bonafide global phenomenon. While several quality pictures had been released, they were still not considered to be quite in the conversation of respectable cinema, despite widespread acclaim and awards for similar movies such as Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. That all changed during the summer of 2004 when Spider-Man 2 took the box office and the critics by storm. Spider-Man 2 was the first superhero movie that you had to see. Not only did it deliver all the action-packed heroics for a summer blockbuster, but it is arguably the first modern movie in the genre to have an added focus on narrative, acting, and production quality. It captured all the drama of both Spidey and Peter Parker’s lives without feeling convoluted and demonstrated that the best superhero movies often let the villains steal the show. Even after a lackluster sequel and two-and-a-half reboots, Spider-Man 2 remains the most formidable of the wall-crawler’s outings.
THE INCREDIBLES (2004)
The year 2004 truly was a turning point for superhero movies. Four months after the release of the aforementioned Spider-Man 2, Disney and Pixar released what was and probably still stands as the most ambitious superhero film of all time: The Incredibles. Not only was it the first theatrically-released superhero movie to be a fully animated feature, but Pixar also abandoned the popular route of adapting famous comic book characters and opted to create their own entire superpowered universe for the film. Nonetheless, The Incredibles was heavily infused with comic book traditions and expanded the concept of a superpowered household juggling heroics with common family dilemmas. It created an entirely new avenue for the genre, which opened the door for movies like Big Hero 6 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, as well as its own sequel.
IRON MAN (2008)
If 2004 is the year that superhero movies cemented their position on the Hollywood scene, then 2008 was the beginning of their revolution over the entire industry. Said revolution was actually rather quiet and started with a hero who was far from a household name but quickly established himself as one of the most bankable characters in box office history. Marvelbet the house on a relative unknown with Iron Man but must have known that Tony Stark’s huge personality (thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s career-reviving performance) would kickstart the most impressive cinematic franchise ever. Iron Man chose to reflect the evolving world by focusing on a hero who used advanced technology over supernatural wonders, which became an overarching theme for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tony Stark’s lasting success also opened the door for other unsung characters in comics to get their chance at praise and recognition (e.g., Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Shazam, etc.).
THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
Call me crazy, but no matter how captivating or innovative they are, it seems that every newly released superhero movie is still chasing The Dark Knight. Vastly improving on the already-stellar Batman Begins, no superhero movie raised the bar higher for the rest of the genre more than Christopher Nolan’s second Batman feature. Powered by an unrelenting narrative and legendary performances, The Dark Knight is as close to cinematic perfection as it gets. Batman and his gallery of rogues were a flawless vehicle for Nolan’s vision, and his emphasis on intense realism changed the way audiences perceived superhero movies as societal commentary. Most importantly, The Dark Knight was the first superhero movie since Superman to be widely recognized in the awards circuit and was nominated for an unprecedented eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film won two Oscars for Best Sound Editing and a posthumous Best Supporting Actor for Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker.
Two of the biggest critiques that fall upon superhero movies are that they often take themselves too seriously and must hinder the maturity of their content to the PG-13 landscape. Enter the long-overdue Deadpool, which was the first film starring a major superhero to get the R-rated treatment. An instant smash with comic book geeks and casual fans alike, the movie managed to balance a nonsequential narrative with comedy, action, and romance, something that had led many previous superhero movies to fall flat on their face. There is perhaps no superhero movie truer to the comics than Deadpool, as every raunchy, self-aware aspect of Merc with the Mouth is brought to life in his film adaptation. He breaks the fourth wall, he makes pop culture references that may not even exist in his universe, and he leaves his enemies with blade and bullet wounds instead of at the steps of the police station. You would have to do some strong convincing to suggest to me that Ryan Reynolds isn’t actually Deadpool. Perhaps the film’s biggest triumph is that it proved an R-rated superhero movie could be a critical and commercial success. And as he himself so eloquently put it in the sequel, Wade Wilson is why we got the Wolverine movie we always deserved (not to mention Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker).
WONDER WOMAN (2017)
It’s rather astounding that it took so long for the industry’s leading lady to get her own movie. One of the oldest characters in all of comics (she debuted way back in 1941, twenty years before Spider-Man and the X-Men), Wonder Woman finally got her well-deserved shine in easily the best movie of the DC Extended Universe. It was the first superhero movie with a female lead since the critically panned Catwoman and Elektra movies from the early 2000s, and the first to feature a female director. Wonder Woman finds Princess Diana of Themyscira intervening in WWII where she shows that a feminine touch can make all the difference in battle, and examines the greater theme of a woman’s place in a world run by men. The action scenes are some of the best in any superhero movie, and it looks as if Gal Gadot is going to be the face of the DC movie empire for the foreseeable future. It also pushed the initiative for Marvel and other comic companies to start prioritizing their female characters in movies, as evidenced by Captain Marvel and the upcoming Black Widow. The sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, has faced a series of delays but is currently slated for October 2nd, 2020.
BLACK PANTHER (2018)
Arguably the most culturally relevant superhero movie ever, Black Panther exceeded its own high expectations and arrived with an impact like no other in 2018. After being introduced in Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa of Wakanda took center stage in his own movie, which has a strong case for the best in the MCU in terms of pure filmmaking. Many people forget that Blade and Spawn, two black superheroes, both had movies in the late ’90s, so Black Panther sort of represents the modern age of the genre coming full circle. Featuring an established black cast with an acclaimed black director, the filmshowcases its themes of black power and excellence without letting them become the film’s sole identity; it’s not a black superhero movie, it’s a superhero movie with black characters. Its political messages meshed perfectly with the story, and Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is considered by many to be the best villain in the MCU. Black Panther made history in a number of ways, including being the first Marvel movie to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR/ENDGAME (2018/2019)
It may be cheating to put both Infinity War and Endgame under the same entry, but I really consider them two parts to one giant picture. Over a decade of interwoven storylines and intricate worldbuilding came to an epic culmination with a pair of movies that featured nearly every character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and saw the stakes climb higher than ever. Infinity War is especially noteworthy because it is the first superhero movie to feature the villain as the main character and driving force behind the story. Thanos grew from lurking in the shadows of The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy into becoming the most powerful and infamous villain in cinema. While Infinity War might be the superior picture, Endgame provided the greatest experience for the fans that had followed the Infinity Saga since the summer of 2008. The cheer that erupted from the midnight showing I attended during that famous final scene expressed the pure joy of hundreds of fans who had waited their whole lives for this moment, and it didn’t disappoint. And with the departure of some of the names that made the MCU the powerhouse that it is, here’s hoping that the next ten years will bring some familiar faces back into the fold.
It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot after getting back into manga. Its main character is incredibly strong and violent just like guts and Kenshiro. He’s in a different place in time meaning past or future, in this case, he’s in the slight future. He can just shrug off what would normally destroy someone and he’s got a softer side that is sometimes shown, oh yeah, and he’s also got 5 bullets lodged in his chest that he just leaves there to let you know how tough he is. So why isn’t Riki up there with these two juggernauts of violent anime and manga?
I think it comes down to timing and characters. Created by Masahiko Takajo in 1988, Riki-oh came out the year fist of the north star was ending and a year before berserk so he’s right in that sweet spot of one giant ending and one forming. In terms of setting the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which prisons are privately owned and the rest of the world is destroyed by warfare so very fist of the north star. Riki is sent to a maximum-security prison after assaulting a yakuza who hurt a child he befriended and he is also on a quest to search for his younger brother. Since the first arc takes place with Riki in prison you have the warden and assistant warden as well as plenty of prisoners that he faces which is very entertaining. The movie ends after this arc but the manga goes through so many more stories and characters but the problem I think lies in some of the characters just not being very memorable. Most of them are only being remembered from the movie because of how over the top they were which is exactly how they act in the manga. Speaking of the movie it’s a good and fun adaptation while only changing a handful of things and with some of the effects looking laughable but only because of the time period when it came out and trying to be so accurate to such an over the top and gory manga.
In the end, I do think more people should at least check out this amazing series, I know I had some complaints but it may have only been a problem for me. Riki-oh definitely has an interesting story, if you want to check him or his movie out from the small bit I’ve told you then I highly recommend it. It’s not for everybody but if you like it and we can get a few more fans for it then that’ll make me all the happier!
When I think about the way I feel about the end of Game of Thrones, versus the way I’ve felt about others of my favorite series coming to an end, immense disappointment fills my crushed, crushed soul. I’ve had to say goodbye to beloved characters before, but never in such an offensive way.
The only series I was ever more invested in was the Harry Potter series. I remember vibrating with excitement while waiting in line for the last book. I read it slowly, over four days, enjoying approaching the end. And while I’d never say it was the height of literary achievement, I felt appropriate emotions along the way to saying goodbye to the characters I had grown to love over the years. I grieved those who died. I cheered on those who found love. The villain was clearly identifiable and vanquished by the last page. Overall it was an emotionally satisfying ending, though I was, of course, sad to let it go.
Even sadder was the knowledge that it was a once in a lifetime experience coming to an end. The fandom, the speculation, the hours devoted to discussing, creating, waiting for the next book was all over as well. I’d never feel it again.
Except…I did. A decade later, in 2017 I was probably just about the last person in the world to get on the Game of Thrones bus. Despite having studied A Game of Thrones in undergrad a few years previously, I didn’t get into the story until the 11th hour. I binged the first seven series and then settled into the year+ wait for the final season to return in 2019. And I found myself launched into a fan community older, wiser, and perhaps even more fervid than the Harry Potter fans.
It felt like the perfect fill for the vacuum Harry had left in my life. The stakes in Game of Thrones were higher. The characters were more mature and handling sometimes more adult problems. The landscape was wider, more detailed, and certainly more cynically depressing. It was a balm to a grown-up Harry Potter fan such as myself. I began to love Jon, Dany, Arya, the Hound, and all the rest in the same way I had once loved Harry.
Then it all came crashing down. Industry influences of money, time, and creative deficits led to the steep decline in quality in that final season. In other words, creators wanted to move on to bigger and better-paying projects so they wrapped things up as quickly as possible and turned in their final drafts. The intrusion of finances into art is painfully visible, and makes those final episodes unwatchable, particularly when it comes to gaffs such as the infamous coffee cup. As an adult viewer, this abrupt departure from the spectacle brings to mind only money-grabbing. You shouldn’t be able to see the seams on a story, but you can see them here and they are all green.
Worse, perhaps, was the “subversive” final twist that turned a hero to a villain in an episode with little buildup. But I suppose this also fits with being a fan in adulthood, a time full of other abrupt reversals in all you know to be true. This is particularly accurate for those who have come of age in the information age, when the internet can be counted on to “well, actually….” any truth you hold dear. The hero isn’t really a hero. Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America. Bill Cosby’s legacy isn’t funny. Danaerys really did just roast all those people.
It seems a general consensus across the fandom that Dany’s reversal could be accepted if the form, the way of the storytelling, was adequate. However, the way the story is set up here, including the abandonment of logical storylines in favor of a quick exit, seems to lead the viewer to the only conclusion available: none of this ever meant anything.
For those who grew up with satisfying ends to previous series like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones is the worst sort of story. Harry ended with hope, empowerment, and a call to resist and defend against the dark arts wherever they may arise. To have found such a satisfying ending years ago in childhood reading a simple novel, but not in adulthood in one of the most expensive, modern HBO productions of all times, seems wrong. Game of Thrones, rather, has all the bleakness of the “real world.” Its ending seems to say everything is about money and nothing really matters.
In trying to recapture the joy of a childhood favorite, I, and many others, stumbled into Game of Thrones, a tale that could not sustain itself or the expectations of its fans. The sheer lack of effort to tell the story well or in a way the maintained meaning is a serious eff you to fans like me who had experienced better, more satisfying stories in much simpler forms.