We’re Ba-ack!

Hello friends,

It has been a long time, hasn’t it?

Looking at my list of posts on this site, I see that my last post was in early January of 2019. A lot has changed since then, for all of us, it was a different time, in many ways a different world to the one we all live in now. I have left this site pretty neglected since then, focusing on other things, among them the many re-launches of my new site, The Opinionarium, which I am happy to say is now up and running fully and is where you should go for new reviews and opinions on Arts and Entertainment type stuff.

Despite all that though, there is still a small but constant stream of traffic to this site, even though I haven’t posted in nearly two years and most of what is posted here is out of date and poorly indexed, a small trickle of readers (more than read anything new I have put out) still visit this site fairly regularly, so I want to take this opportunity to say thank you. Thank you, because that small stream of hits showing up on my analytics page is all that has kept this site alive. Every time I think that I should delete all the posts here, my hand is staid by the sight of another 7 or 8 views of old posts.

Why would I delete the posts at all I hear you say? Well, in part because they are so old, so out of date as to be almost irrelevant in late 2020, most of them are reviews of productions long-since ended, situations long since past, but also because it was always my intention when I launched the new site, to retool this site for another purpose. That is still my intention, and I think I am getting closer to a solid idea of what I want to do with this site, and I think it is probably more posts like this one, probably some samples of my fiction writing (which was always going to form some part of Mindcast’s make up from the beginning), and other general musings which don’t quite fit with what I am trying to do with The Opinionarium.

I don’t know how often new posts will appear here, but I am, right here and now, committing to making more content for this site. I have major plans for 2021 for The Opinionarium and Mindcast will, I think feature heavily in those as a repository for more journal-type updates and other small projects. In the short term, I am going to finally get round to properly indexing the back-catalogue of posts on this site on the Archive page to hopefully make it easier for you all to find older posts.

So, stay tuned for more (but different) Mindcast and check out The Opinionarium for more of the reviews that you have enjoyed here.

Gone When the Morning Comes

Two years ago (or near enough as makes no difference), I started this blog and went to see an early preview of Bat Out of Hell: The Musical at the Opera House theatre in Manchester. It seems appropriate therefore that both Bat and this blog, at least in their current forms, should come to an end also at the same time.

I was pleased to be able to attend the final matinee yesterday afternoon (5th January 2019). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a ticket for the evening performance but perhaps this was just as well as I would probably have to be carried out in a bucket.  As with my first trip my twenty-first was a bit of a spur of the moment decision.  I decided that I could not let Bat close without seeing it just one last time.  The show has just meant too much to me over the last two years, and I know I am not alone in that.

All good things, as they say, must come to an end and Bat Out of Hell has been a very good thing, not just for me but for a great many people.  I saw the show 21 times all told over the course of its Manchester run and the two West End runs, however my total pales in comparison to those of other Bat Fans, some of whom have seen the show nearly as often as some of the cast have performed it – more in some cases.

Over the past two years the show has evolved, entire scenes have been moved and restructured, songs have been dropped, reinstated and moved, and a number of cast changes have occurred.  However, there have been constants, a large number of the original cast who performed in Manchester were still on the stage last night.  It is the relationships that have been formed around this show which I think have made the biggest impact on cast, crew, production team and audience alike.  It certainly has been for me.  I have made friendships through this show amongst the cast and audience alike which would never have occurred if I hadn’t made that rash decision to take in a matinee in February 2017 and write a review of what I had seen.  I have even on at least one occasion been recognised at the Stage Door by another audience member who had read one of my Bat posts.

This blog has also evolved, and my ambitions for it have evolved beyond what I think is achievable with Mindcast in its current state.  My intentions for this blog have always been wide ranging, including reviews and opinion pieces as well as (in theory) more creative pieces of writing.  During the long – longer than intended – quiet period over the last half of 2018, it became increasingly clear to me that part of what was restraining my enthusiasm for contributing more posts was a too confused notion of what I wanted to achieve with this blog.

So I came up with a plan, I would start two new blogs, one for reviews and opinion pieces the like of which I have posted here in the past, and one for the more creative stuff; short poetic pieces based on my own photographs, samples of my longer form works in progress, things of that nature.  The intention was to close Mindcast completely.

However, I logged on and looked at the stats on this site and realised that there was still a decent amount of traffic on the site, despite my neglect of it for the last several months.  Not high numbers every day, but one or two nearly every day and largely focused around the Bat posts.  In all likelihood I would have re-posted some of the posts I am most proud of on the new blog, however, given this regular traffic, I decided it was best to leave them where they were.

So, Mindcast will remain in place, however I will be redesigning and retooling it and it will become the repository for the more creative side of my output.  To be perfectly candid with you, my dear readers, this is almost entirely because it was much easier to come up with a title for a new reviews and opinion blog than for a new creative blog.  So from now on, those types of posts will go to my new site The Opinionarium (I will include a link once I have finished setting it up).

I am sorry to be leaving behind Mindcast in its current form, just as I was sorry to leave behind Bat Out of Hell yesterday afternoon.  However, just as they began together and their current forms have come to an end at the same time, what has been begun with Bat and with Mindcast will go on in new and exciting ways.  The relationships built up over the last two years, around the show and around the blog, will endure, the creative processes and personal evolutions which have taken place will continue.  

I look forward eagerly to seeing what comes next for all everyone involved in Bat Out of Hell: The Musical and I can’t wait to show you what I have planned for the future of this blog and The Opinionarium.  It may have been the culmination of four decades of Jim Steinman’s vision, but these last two years are just the beginning…for all of us.

Monday Musings #2 – Back in Action

I’m sorry it has been so long since I posted anything.  I needed a bit of a break after the Marvel stuff and then life sort of got in the way for a while, but it’s a new month and Mindcast is officially back in action.

So what can you, my dear reader, expect over the next little while.  Well, more of the same but a little bit different and much more of it is the basic answer.  I am sticking with the day/theme format because I like it and because, frankly, it makes it easier to plan posts in advance and keep things going.  I want to try to vary things a bit more though and post more often on some of the more neglected threads.  Thanks to the Marvel catch-up, the TV and Film threads are both massive, while other threads have very few or no posts on them, so I want to try to redress that balance a little bit.  That said, simply because the source material for Film and TV posts is often easier and quicker to get through, these will probably continue to be the big hitters.

While we’re on the subject of the Marvel catch-up, I want to make very clear that I am never, ever going to do anything quite like that again.  While it was a fun idea to traverse the entire MCU in one go and write about it, and while I think I got a fair few good posts out of it, it was exhausting and by the end, I was frankly sick of seeing the Marvel Studios logo.  That being said, there are other franchises and box-sets that I do want to revisit and catch-up with, but I will do so in a much more casual and occasional manner than was the case with the Marvel stuff, mainly because I won’t have a deadline like I did with that.

But it’s not all about looking backwards, I do want to write about some more current stuff, particularly in Film and TV, but on other threads too.  For TV it is going to be a little more difficult because my relationship with television has moved so solidly away from the broadcast model (I don’t think I have watched a TV programme as it broadcast in real time for about 4 years now), but I will try to keep up with recent things on Netflix and Amazon a bit more.  Films should be a bit easier now as I have invested in an Odeon Limitless membership so should be able to see films as they are released more easily, and can go and see random things without worrying about wasting the ticket price.

I have been trying to get out and about a bit more over the last few weeks too, so hopefully that will translate into a few more Theatrical, Social and Foodie posts in the near future too.

I am also very conscious that the Schedule and Archive pages are a bit of a mess at the moment.  I want to do something a bit different with them to what I have done in the past, but I am not entirely sure what yet.  Either way, they both basically need completely rebuilding which is going to take a while to do, especially for the Archive which now consists of over 60 posts in all so patience may be necessary (as much for me as anyone else).

All in all, I feel good about the future of the blog, and hopefully, if all goes well, we can start to build a bit of a community around Mindcast, and start to get to a place where I can improve the look and content of the site, beyond what I am currently able to do.

Here’s to a bright future, but for now, it’s just good to be back.

Wednesday Book Corner #8 – Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

Every so often you read something that takes you completely by surprise, and Story of Your Life a short story/novella (I’m never sure where to draw the line between the two) by Ted Chiang certainly was that for me this last weekend.  Part of a collection called Stories of Your Life and Others all by the same author, I picked this one out because it is the story that the movie Arrival is based upon and I thought I might finally get round to watching that at some point in the near future.  Having found out that it was based on a short story, and being the read-the-book-first-type chap that I am, I of course immediately bought the collection on Kindle and started reading this story.

Story of Your Life, like The Man in the High Castle which I wrote about last week, is one of those sci-fi stories which is just a little bit different.  Sure, this one does have alien visitation but they are of a very different order to the usual invasion/imminent threat type arrivals that many sci-fi stories revolve around.  These aliens have simply come “to see”  The story is told from the point of view of a linguist assigned to try to learn the aliens’ language and establish communication working alongside a physicist whose assignment is to establish scientific dialogue with the visitors.

In the course of learning the alien languages (it turns out their written language is entirely distinct from their spoken one) Louise and Gary (the linguist and physicist respectively) learn that the aliens do not experience the universe sequentially as we do, but instead perceive cause and effect simultaneously.  As she immerses herself in the written language of the aliens, Louise begins to experience the universe in the same way they do, leading to a very interesting and, in my experience, unique narrative technique of future recollection.  As Louise recounts her experiences with the aliens, some events trigger memories of events during her daughter’s (to whom the whole narrative is addressed) life, events that at the point the narrative is being set down have not yet occurred.  Louise is remembering things from the life of a child who has not yet even been conceived at the time she is writing, but they are memories, not flashforward scenes, but recollections.

At first, the grammatical gymnastics which had to occur for these future recollections to be set down on the page were mildly confusing, but as I became used to them, and the reasons for them became clearer I began to see that this story is truly a remarkable piece of work.  I hesitate to use the word genius, but I am not sure that Chiang’s work here doesn’t deserve it.  I can honestly say I have never read anything quite like it, and if it is an indication of Ted Chiang’s work overall, I am very much looking forward to reading the rest of this collection in the near future.  No doubt the story will lose some of what makes it so fantastic in the transfer to the screen, some things just aren’t possible to convey outside of written media, which, now that I come to think of it, is one of the major points of the story, but I am looking forward to seeing how this story fares in movie form.

Regardless of whether you have seen or plan to see the movie, however, if you are a fan of good short fiction, I heartily recommend getting your hands on a copy of Stories of Your Life and Others and giving Ted Chiang a read.  I don’t think you will regret it, I certainly don’t.

TV Tuesday #20 – MCU Catch-Up, Part 28: The Punisher, Season 1

It seems a little strange to be finishing the MCU Catch-Up thread with The Punisher.  Partly because it is a TV series rather than one of the movies, but also because it is so unlike any of the other MCU output that it almost feels like it shouldn’t count.

That’s not to say it isn’t any good, it is, very good indeed, but there’s no denying that it takes a very different approach to the rest of the stable, even within the Netflix productions.

Frank Castle, The Punisher, has returned to New York to continue his quest to find out why his family were killed and to make those responsible pay for it with their own lives.  He is contacted by Micro, a former NSA analyst, who claims he can help Castle achieve his aims.  Together they uncover a vast military conspiracy involving Frank’s former unit and pit themselves against Homeland Security and Castle’s former best friend in the process.

In what seems to be becoming a bit of a pattern for the Netflix corner of the MCU, the law enforcement in question eventually come round to being uneasy allies with Castle and eventually he and Micro are able to return to their old lives, or build a new one in Frank’s case being as how he’s legally dead and all.

I am not ashamed to say that I loved this show.  Most of its strength comes from the excellent cast that was assembled for it. Jon Bernthal reprises his role as Frank Castle from Daredevil season 2 and maintains the same standards in continuing to portray The Punisher as a complex, broken, desperate man.  Bernthal’s performance is utterly compelling from first to last.  It is particularly good though when paired with Ebon Moss-Bachrach as David Lieberman/Micro.  The pair’s relationship is far from easy, even explosive on occasion but my goodness it makes for excellent television.  Lieberman is also a broken, desperate man, and has also lost his family.  Unlike Castle, however, he can get them back and, unlike Castle, he does not have the additional trauma of having been a black ops soldier beforehand.  Lieberman was an analyst comfortable in an air-conditioned room while he served his country, not on the front lines with the blood and explosions like Frank.  Frank resents comparisons between himself and Micro precisely because of those differences.

In opposition to this pair is Amber Rose Revah as Dinah Madani, a Homeland Security agent who Micro had previously contacted and who is also pursuing the same conspiracy from within the system as Frank and Lieberman are.  I feel like I have seen Amber Rose Revah in something else prior to this but I can’t for the life of me think what and a brief scanning of her credits has not enlightened me.  Either way, she was excellent in this portraying Madani as a driven, ambitious, committed, by-the-book agent but still managing to be warm and charming, a balance that very few portrayals of similar characters of any gender have managed to achieve.  I particularly liked her relationship with Michael Nathanson as Sam Stein, Madani’s partner, and I would have enjoyed seeing it grow and flourish had Stein not been this series’ good-guy sacrifice.

Rounding out the main quartet as Billy Russo, a back-stabbing, family-murdering, honey-trap-being [expletive deleted] and former best friend of Frank Castle during their military service is Ben Barnes.  I haven’t seen a lot of his work, but in what I have seen I often find Barnes’ characters trade off his good looks, and Russo certainly did, which I find generally uninteresting, however this time around the writers and directors actually gave Barnes something deeper to work with and boy-howdy did he rise to that challenge.  Given that the story arc of this season also took away those good looks, it will be very interesting to see what happens with this character in the second season when it is released later this year.

The Punisher also has a phenomenal supporting cast with both returnees from other shows and new characters all absolutely excellent.  It is very rare that there is no single speaking character who doesn’t jar at some point, but there really wasn’t in this show.  From Lieberman’s family to Frank’s ass-hole workmates at the construction site, everything fit together perfectly and was utterly engrossing and utterly believable.

Having said at the beginning of the post that The Punisher felt weird to finish with because it was so different, I have to also say that I think it was its difference that made me like it so much, and certainly made it a pleasure to cap off the watching portion of this catch-up with.  After two months of costumed heroes and super-powers it was great to watch a story that was so human, so grounded in a recognisable reality of military sacrifice, and the human cost of war.  And seeing such a different story being told in the same universe as all that other stuff and losing none of its integrity or humanity, even benefitting from the contrast, was truly refreshing.  I will be making a special effort to watch Season 2 when it is released.

And so we come to the end.  From Iron Man to The Punisher‘s first season, with only a couple of omissions due to availability, my Marvel Cinematic Universe catch-up is complete.  I plan to write a short post over-all on Monday about the experience of doing such an epic franchise catch-up and why I am never going to do anything like it in the same way ever again, along with a brief discussion of the MCU overall including the stuff I have watched since the catch-up on Monday, but the catch-up is done.  I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed watching and writing it.

Friday Film Club #15 – MCU Catch-Up, Part 27: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

The final film that is included in this catch-up is Thor: Ragnarok.  I must confess, I wasn’t hugely enthusiastic about the prospect of this one.  Partly this was because I was starting to get a little bit Marvel fatigued by the time I got to this one, but it was also because, love the God of Thunder though I do, I couldn’t really see that there was much left to do with the character as a solo prospect for the moment.

To an extent, I feel I might have been right as the basic premise of this movie is not hugely different from the first two.  The Allfather has been keeping a millennia-old secret (this time it is Thor and Loki’s older sister, Hela, goddess of death) which is about to kick off and spoil Thor’s Day.  That being said, though the premise was very similar, the way it played out and the consequences for the future of the Asgardian characters (at least into Infinity War and its sequel) were very different and so Ragnarok actually turned out to be a pretty satisfying flick.

There is a very clear and very deliberate change in tone for Thor’s third outing both in the tone and in the cinematography, both of which definitely bring the Asgardian thread in line with the Guardians of the Galaxy which, to judge from the trailers, will fairly useful in Infinity War as a bridge between the Guardians and the rest of the MCU.  There is a lot more humour in this movie than its two predecessors which I think was needed, but I was glad to see that it was not over-done and did not detract from the darkness of the overall story.

Joining Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston (both of whom seemed a lot more comfortable in their roles than ever before) and the rest of the Thor core cast was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk.  And honestly, when it is it not an utter joy to see Mark Ruffalo on screen.  When we meet him he has been fully Hulked-out since the last time we saw him way back in Age of Ultron, only returning to Bruce Banner when Thor manages to locate his Quinjet and play a recording of Black Widow reciting the lullaby that brings him down.  Banner’s confusion but total adaptability to the situation was a great moment in the movie.

Also joining the cast this time around were Cate Blanchett as Hela (who looked like she was having a wonderful time being a destructive goddess of death) and Karl Urban as Skurge, an Asgardian who takes over from Heimdahl as keeper of the Bifrost before becoming Hela’s Executioner and henchman.  I have to say, I really liked Skurge because, although he does some pretty unpleasant things for Hela, he does them because it is his job and because the things are going to be done by somebody so he figures he’ll take it on so no-one else has to. He doesn’t like it, it weighs on his conscience and in the end, he takes up arms against Hela and fights to protect the remaining people of Asgard.  Plus its Karl Urban, so there’s that.

Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie was fantastic (although for personal reasons I am still annoyed by the Invisible Bi aspect of her character), and there was Jeff Goldblum (I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Jeff Goldblum), what more could you possibly want from a movie.  Well, it turns out that the other thing you want is a soft-spoken rock creature with a Polynesian accent leading a slave rebellion, and Ragnarok delivers on that front too.

The one criticism I do have of this movie, and to be fair it applies to a lot of the more recent MCU movies, it is the over-reliance on CGI.  Now I don’t mind CGI, especially in a film like this where you’re dealing with alien creatures, alien environments and a Hulk.  And when it is decent environment work and properly done Motion Capture work, as a lot of it is here, it looks convincing and adds a lot to the feel of the movie.  What I object to, and there was a lot of it in this movie as well as in Doctor Strange and a couple of other more recent movies is when, for whatever reason, a scene is done without Motion Capture and you end up with cartoons in the middle of the action.  There were a few instances of this here, even in some of the Motion Capture stuff, where I wondered why I was seeing a Final Fantasy-style image of Hela, and why Korg (the aforementioned rock man) was quite so under-rendered.  Badly done CGI like this does not add to the experience but detracts from it.  CGI can be great, but I do wonder sometimes if a move back towards the use of miniatures and practical effects might be preferable in some circumstances.

So that’s it, MCU movie catch-up complete!  I have seen Black Panter and will be seeing Infinity War at some point over the next couple of weeks, but they were what I was catching up to so I will write about them separately in a summary post in a week or so.  Meanwhile, The Punisher closes out the TV part of the catch-up on Tuesday.

Wednesday Book Corner #7 – The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

It is the 1960’s and North America is still recovering from the Second World War.  The Easter and Western Coast States are ruled over by the regimes of the victorious Axis Powers, the Reich to the East and the Japanese Empire to the West with a central band of supposedly independent States down the middle.

When sci-fi is at its best it does not tell us stories that are really about the future, or technology, or even outside alien influence.  Sci-fi is at its best when it reflects us, as we are now, and shows what could be, what might have been, and what must never be.  Philip K. Dick achieves this in The Man in the High Castle with great success.  I nearly said he does it effortlessly, but the author’s acknowledgements are full of textbooks and scholarly papers about the Axis regimes as they were, so clearly there was a lot of effort put into getting an extrapolated alternative history to be plausible and believable.  I dimly recall reading somewhere, also, that Dick had considered writing a sequel to this novel but could never face having to go back into that world and having to face the darkness that it required.

With that in mind, it is perhaps telling that the main narrative threads in the novel occur in the Western “Pacific States of America”, ruled by the Japanese Empire, portrayed as more civilised and benevolent, than their Reich counterparts, and in the Central “Rocky States” which are ostensibly independent of either power, though it is mentioned that their government is a puppet to the Reich’s power.

In the Post-War years, once the globe was carved up by the Axis powers, the Empire seems to have forsaken expansionism, content to rule over what it possesses and return to Buddhist ways.  The entire society seems to be governed as much by the I-Ching Oracle as by any force of bureaucratic government.  PSA society is completely in thrall to the Oracle’s revelations as well as to the ideals of keeping Place and saving face.  One of the American characters we follow, a purveyor of Americana, antiques of the bygone American Golden Age and early American History, chafes against these societal structures, but even as he does so even in his own mind, the phraseology, the syntax of his own internal thoughts are entirely in keeping with the codes of the society he is convinced he hates.  Even as he chafes against it, he is obsessed with it.

Meanwhile, the Reich have continued to expand and enforce the Final Solution on non-Arian races.  Africa, we are told is a wasteland with all its people wiped from the Earth, whether through nuclear bombardment or through camps it is not clear.  In addition, the Mediterranean Sea has been drained to create farmland, rocket technology makes inter-continental travel fast and efficient, and Mars and Venus are being colonised in the name of the Reich.

In amongst all this Juliana Frink, estranged wife of Frank, a Jew in hiding in the PSA, finds herself on a quest to find the Man in the High Castle, the author of a novel featuring an alternative history where it was the Allies, not the Axis Powers who won the war.  The reality reflected in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (the title of the novel within the novel) is a great example of the genius of Philip K. Dick’s imagination.  While the victors of the War are the ones we know in our history, the way that victory is achieved, and the fallout from it, is not the same. In The Grasshopper Lies Heavy the Allies carve up the world between themselves in much the same way the Axis powers have done in the the world of this novel, and eventually their thirst for power and overreaching bring them into conflict with each other, destroying each other, themselves and everyone else along with them –  an event which looks like it could easily be on the cards for the reality of The Man in the High Castle.

By creating a third reality in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, one that is neither our reality nor Juliana’s, Dick makes his point much more forcefully than he could have done by simply reflecting our reality back at us from The Grasshopper‘s fictional pages.  His point, it seems to me, is that no matter its primary source, unchecked power is doomed to consume not only everything in its path but eventually itself as well as well as that history is not a fixed line.  What happened is not necessarily the only thing that could have happened, and what is to come has no fixed path.  The Man in the High Castle is, to me a quiet call to arms, a modest manifesto, a diminutive cry in the dark calling each and every one of us to resist being swept up in the sanctity of History, what he calls in the novel Historicity, and to avoid being swept away by the course of events.  It seems to me that Dick is telling us here to learn from what has gone before, apply it to the present, and shape a future that does not give unchecked power the space to grow un-fettered and destroy everything the human race has achieved and could achieve.  But perhaps I am just being an English Literature Graduate all over it.

A quick word on the TV adaptation of The Man in the High Castle. I have seen a few episodes of the first Season and from what I can tell, and contrary to my usual philosophy, I do not believe that it is necessary to have read the book before seeing the adaptation.  It seems to me that although the basic premise and some of the characters are used in the TV show, the details of the story and the overall tone are quite different.  To be honest, they would have to be, the novel is very cerebral, by which I mean it takes place mostly within the internal monologues of the central characters with little to no interference from any external narrator.  It is a style which is very enjoyable to read but almost impossible to do any justice to on screen, so of course, some fairly major changes had to be made, particularly with a view to making multiple seasons out of a 300-page book.  The TV show looks good though and I will definitely be giving it a second look in the near future, and for anyone interested in the work that spawned it, I do not think you will regret spending some time with this excellent novel.

TV Tuesday #19 – MCU Catch-Up, Part 26: The Defenders

Well folks, we really are on the home straight now.  After this, there are only two more posts left of this series.

Anyway, to the matter at hand.

Despite my total loathing for one-quarter of the team, I was very much looking forward to The Defenders because I loved the solo shows of the other three, even taking into account the slight drop in quality of the second season of Daredevil.  I was intrigued to see how four such different characters (even more different to one another than the core Avengers team) would interact.  Obviously, we had already seen Luke and Jessica team up to an extent in her first season, but adding into the mix the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen and Whiney Britches (“I am the Immortal Iron Fist!”) was always going to be interesting.

For the most part, I was not disappointed.  The interplay between Luke and Jessica picked up where it left off and Matt Murdock slotted into the third slot nicely as the third reluctant hero of the group, even reverting to the scarf over the eyes version of his identity hiding efforts.  And Danny Rand was…also there.  Actually, that is slightly unfair and I am letting my bias against the character get in the way ever so slightly.  The Iron Fist is, of course, a fairly major factor in the war against the Hand to such an extent that this really could have been Iron Fist Season 2 plus the others showed up. It’s just a shame that he is still such an unrelentingly unlikable character, a sulky man-baby who brings nothing more than a scowl and a light show to the party.

The interplay between the main quartet was not the only potentially dicey aspect o the venture, however.  After all, they each come with their own supporting cast (most of the more annoying ones from Iron Fist were mercifully absent), and although there has been some overlap of characters between the shows, most notably Claire Temple who had aided each of the reluctant heroes at some stage in their solo outings, it was fascinating to see characters from each of the shows coming together as they are gathered to the police precinct for protection.  I was particularly fond of a scene between Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page and Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker where they were being all journalist-y at each other (if anyone fancies putting together a spin-off where the two of them solve New York’s problems through awesome investigative journalism and occasional enlistment of psychotic vigilante veterans and/or dodgy black market super-soldier serum, I for one would be very much happy to spend 45 minutes a piece watching that happen).

And then there is the Hand itself, so-called we now learn because its rulers are five (like fingers, you see – it’s very sophisticated this metaphor) disenchanted students of Kun Lun who have discovered a way to cheat, nay even reverse, death.  Making return appearances, of course, are Madam Gao from Daredevil and Iron Fist and Colleen Wing’s former Sensei, Bakuto, but we are here introduced to the other three fingers, including the main leader, Alexandra Reid, played by Sigourney Weaver.  Whoever thought to approach Weaver for this part deserves a lot of praise because she was absolutely perfect (as you might expect) as a woman impossibly ancient, tired and dying, again, but this time with the prospect of a permanent demise which scares her more than she is willing to admit, possibly even to herself.

Also returning is Elektra Natchios, or at least the Black Sky weapon which has possessed her body.  Elektra’s presence in this miniseries absolutely made up for the disruptive effect she produced in Daredevil and the weakening effect she has on Murdock led to some pretty great fight scene opportunities for the others as well as the redemptive self-sacrifice angle for Murdock in the final episode.  She also put a nice big check mark in the pros column for this show by offing Stick, who I have been hoping to see taken out of the picture since he first showed up in Season 1 of Daredevil.

All in all, as crossovers go, I think The Defenders is a pretty successful one, and it will be interesting to see the effect the experiences of it have on the main characters as well as their supporting casts in future seasons of their own shows (Misty Knight lost an arm for goodness sake, that’s bound to come up in Season 2 of Luke Cage), indeed the ripples of these events were evident, if not at the forefront of the recently released second season of Jessica Jones, adding to her unwanted reputation as a hero and Trish’s desire to be one.  But these are discussions for other posts at other times.

Friday Film Club #14 – MCU Catch-up, Part 25: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

After Sony’s two attempts at kicking off Spider-Man franchises, I have to say I was a little nervous about the MCU/Sony tie-up for Homecoming, and honestly, I think I was right to be.  To be clear, I think Tom Holland is an excellent Spider-Man.  He’s a great performer, he can do a decent American accent (unlike certain Neurosurgeon-cum-Sorcerers we could mention) and he isn’t too much older than the character (unlike his two predecessors who both were and looked, much older than Peter Parker should be).  I really like Tom Holland’s Spidey.

But…

But there is a lot wrong with this film and it comes down to the same thing that has brought down a lot of other Marvel character movies that were produced outside of the MCU franchise.  That problem is futzing too damn much with the source material.  Since when does Peter go to super-brain high-school?  Why isn’t he a photographer? Does this Peter even own a camera outside of his smartphone?  Why is he vlogging? It’s not like he can actually post those videos anywhere?

And that’s just the issues with Spidey himself.  Now as for other characters.  I think Zendaya is a great performer and when I eventually get round to watching The Greatest Showman I am sure I will be bowled over by her performance, but I was completely underwhelmed by her character in Homecoming.  Are we really not over the Daria style disinterested teen girl trope yet?  It’s been done…to death…then dug up and done to death again.  And I wasn’t entirely sure why the character was even there until in the dying moments when Michelle is declared Decathlon Captain (not as athletic as it sounds) and reveals “My friends call me M.J.”  Then all was revealed, she is to be Peter’s love interest in any future sequels.  Except there’s one problem.  You can’t just call any random girl M.J. and go on like you didn’t just totally rewrite a massive chunk of Spidey-lore.  I think I smell Sony’s grubby hands all over that decision.

I think a lot of the other massive deviations and massive missteps in this movie may well be down to Sony’s influence too.  The clunkiness of Michael Keaton’s Vulture, the sexing up of Aunt May (although to be fair Marisa Tomei’s performance was very good and the “everyone fancies Aunt May” through joke was funny for a few minutes).

However, this film is not a complete wash-out, there are a lot of positive things to say too.  First of all, the tieing-in with the MCU.  I thought that this was done very well.  I loved the idea that the Vulture, true to his name, had made a living by illegally scavenging tech and equipment from the detritus left behind, first by the Chitari invasion (Marvel’s The Avengers/Avengers Assemble) and then in subsequent hero-related skirmishes.  The idea of Peter’s cover for his Spider-Man efforts being a Stark Enterprises Internship was great and the interplay between Peter and Stark was great.  It was also nice to see Pepper and Happy worked into the mix, almost making it feel like there was an Iron Man story happening in parallel to the Spider-Man story we were watching.  And as for those Captain America motivational videos…well what can we say?

I also loved the interplay between Peter Parker and his best friend Ned, played by Jacob Batalon.  I wasn’t sure where the character had come from, as it is not one I had encountered in the Peter Paker/Spider-Man sphere before, although there was a similar character in the Miles Morales Ultimate Spider-Man comics though with a totally different name.  Either way, the comic relief given by Ned’s well-meaning but clueless questioning of Peter once his alter-ego is revealed was a delight.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming was enjoyable, but could have been a lot better, in my humblest of opinions.  I am looking forward to seeing Tom Holland’s Spidey in future MCU match-up movies, beginning in with next week’s release of Avengers: Infinity War but I am not wildly enthusiastic about any upcoming solo-outing sequels in conjunction with Sony.