Tag Archives: fantasy

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a completely full drive-in parking lot. Whether this is a factor of Covid, or the new Doctor Strange movie only having been out for a week, or both, or some other X-factor… Regardless, I’ve seen a lot of movies at drive-ins relative to my age[1], and some have been crowded, but never packed like this. Man that is a lot of people flashing a lot of headlights, individually, at various moments. But I guess not much more distracting that people getting up to pee or food deliveries or whatever.

I have no segue here, I just like to talk about the drive-in.

See, there’s this teen in need of help, and she occasionally runs into Doctor Strange, who while not the Sorcerer Supreme these days is nonetheless still in charge of the New York chapter house or whatever wizards call their sanctums, and he decides to help her, since that’s what you do in these movies. Then he finds himself traveling the multiverse and fighting demons and the Illuminati and a big bad and pretty much, well, everyone. Turns out the multiverse just isn’t a fan of this guy.

Was it good? It took until the final act for me to say to myself, my, this certainly is a Sam Raimi movie, isn’t it? Unlike I’m sure a lot of people, I did not say this with a heavy heart. Basically, this is a family drama and a second family drama mashed up together, and then turned into a fantasy horror movie, and I completely understand why that is not for everyone, but I kind of dig it, you know?

In retrospect, this may have been the most drive-in friendly movie Kevin Feige has ever signed off on.

What I did not like is how heavily dependent the movie is on watching all of the TV shows Marvel has been pushing out lately. Like, I’ve seen and remember Wandavision, but I feel like you shouldn’t have to? Which is a weird take for a guy reading 100% of Marvel[2], I know, but… you shouldn’t. Needing to watch dozens of movies to keep up is enough to ask. Wanda’s character arc barely makes sense with the TV show for backstory, though, so I’mma call foul there.

[1] Or at least I think I have? Maybe I’m fooling myself.
[2] Close enough, anyway

Fables: Snow White

It’s funny, when you think about it a bit. Snow White has been a main character (arguably the main character; definitely top five all along) in the Fables series for the eleven years of its run that I have reviewed, and yet this is the first time Willingham has named a book after her. It was enough to make me wonder if he was running out of ideas, and… whether that’s a fair assessment or not, I am nearing the end of the series and its associated spinoffs both, brief research tells me.[1]

Anyway, the first bit of the book wraps up the stories of Bufkin and his barleycorn girlfriend Lily (from the Castle Dark arc), and the battle to free of Oz from one of the Emperor’s regional governors. It was… fine? Towards the end, I liked it quite a bit, but I definitely think it would have fit better at the end of a previous arc instead of the beginning of this one.[2]

Later, the story of a bro who shows up claiming to be Snow’s first common law husband, before even Prince Charming, which… my knowledge of the story of Snow White doesn’t precisely fit with her ever having met a man prior to the dwarves, much less pledged to marry one. Which makes the whole rest of what happened feel like this was an excuse to move some pieces around the board in very specific ways.

Don’t get me wrong, the sequence of events told a good story, and I still want to know what happens next, even as I’m left with difficulties envisioning that there has been much of anything left to happen next for quite some time. But the precipitating event here, I just can’t buy it, so everything else is at least slightly tainted.

Oh, well.

[1] I wouldn’t have opted to, but I also don’t own all of them, so I’d need to know what to buy regardless.
[2] Unrelated brief (semi-accidental) research here tells me most of these were at the ends of prior comics, but only collected together in graphic novel format here, all together. Which explains why they felt as odd as they did. I stick by my “end of a book instead of beginning of a book” assessment.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

I would be remiss if I did not first point out that in addition to being otherwise fun and sans commercials, the Alamo Drafthouse pre-show is especially useful for movies that require recaps[1], because they can tell you everything you need to know and with mostly a bare minimum of spoilers involved. Although, because reasons, the No Way Home pre-show had more spoilers by implication than most. Since previews for these are to some extent unavoidable, it had no spoilers that I didn’t already know about, but if you avoid better than me, this is harder to recommend. (Also, you may not have a local Alamo. For this, I can only offer my sincerest condolences.)

All of that to say, there’s a third Tom Holland Spider-Man movie. The last one, you might remember, ended on the second biggest bombshell in MCU history: Spider-Man is both accused (with documentary evidence!) of murder, and has been publicly identified as Peter Parker. Where do you really go from there? Well, if you’re a prospective high school senior trying to get into MIT, and you also know a wizard, you try to magic your way out of it. I mean hell, probably if you know a wizard, you do that whether the other things are true or not, right?

None of that is important, nor per se is the plot, although I enjoyed the plot a great deal and it retroactively made other movies I’ve seen before (but will not link to at this time) better than they were. What is important is that this is the best version of Spider-Man, the one who sees his great responsibility not as simply using his great powers to fight and stop bad guys, but as using his powers to help people. And sure, that involves fighting and stopping bad guys, frequently, especially when you live in a comic book world, but it’s not the most important way to do it. It’s barely an important way at all, to be honest.

I know everyone talks about whether Pete will be the next Iron Man, but… nah. As far as his heart and soul, he’s the next kid from Brooklyn Queens who is just here to step up because someone has to, sometimes. No offense to Sam Wilson.

[1] such as, say, anything put out by Marvel Studios these days

Eternals

Retroactive continuity is a tool honed to perfection in two art forms[1]: soap operas and superhero comic books. These forms share a lot else in common. They are a) both extremely long-form storytelling where b) the people writing today do not have a plan past the next ten or twelve episodes at the most, c) they both have cliques of characters that mostly hang out together but occasionally cross over with other cliques, and even more rarely all come together for some kind of huge event, and they both d) have dedicated, opinionated fanbases who have stuck around for decades but e) are written so that someone can drop in at practically any moment and be able to catch up.

A “retcon” is when a writer comes up with a story idea that does not match the established continuity of the previous stories, continuity that may be established over years or even decades, but then decides that the story idea is good enough to run with anyway, and comes up with a way to mesh their idea into the long-term continuity retroactively, so that this new continuity was always true, it’s just that the audience and often the characters weren’t aware of it.

Which brings me to Eternals, the (if I counted right) 26th movie released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (It is important to now note that this review will contain, and in fact for the eagle-eyed reader perhaps already does contain, mild spoilers. It’s not too late to stop. But it nearly is.) A movie which, early in the first act, reveals that for over 7000 years a group of cosmically-powered people called Eternals, at the behest of a group we’ve heard of before called Celestials (aka space gods like you might have seen out in space, at Knowhere or (possibly but probably not) Ego for example), were sent from the planet Olympia[2] to Earth to defend a barely established mankind from creepy mostly-made-of-tendrils monsters called Deviants, and that those Eternals have been here ever since. Yep, even then.

While that is not the only apparent retcon in the movie[3], it is the least spoilery one, and therefore I am at the end of my review, leaving only two details to add. First, the capsule plot of the movie is that, oops, the Deviants are back, so now the Eternals have to come out of the shadows they’ve been hiding in for at least the past fifteen years and who knows how much longer, to do their jobs once more. Second, to the extent that I am familiar with these characters, which is about half of them: yep, this was written by someone who understood the fundamental natures of the characters, and in particular the portrayal of Ikaris gives me hope that Mr. Fantastic will be done right someday.

[1] and almost certainly badly misused anywhere else. Not guaranteed to be, but it’s the safe way to bet.
[2] I think this is a little funny, but it’s hard to explain why.
[3] I have some opinions here.

Colossal (2016)

Colossal is a movie that is very easy to spoil, so I’m going to be careful for a little while here, and it’s going to be tricky because most of the things I want to talk about fall squarely into that territory. So first, a brief plot summation.

Anne Hathaway gets drunk a lot, so her boyfriend kicks her out of New York City, and she has to move back to her parents’ home (they’re dead already and the house was just left empty I guess?) and figure out how to be a person again, or else get a job at a bar and continue her life-destroying alcoholism. Meanwhile, a giant monster is stomping around Seoul, destroying infrastructure and killing people. These facts are completely unrelated, OR ARE THEY?

I nearly and mostly liked it, despite my complaints below the cut, for which this is your warning that spoilers are forthcoming. I think the more I think about it, the more the scales will tip from the “nearly” side to the “mostly” side.

Spoilers ahoy!

Continue reading

Final Fantasy II

Sixteen years ago, somehow, I played Final Fantasy for the first time, with my only previous JRPG experiences having been an abiding love for Dragon Warrior, deep amusement at Secret of Mana, and unremitting loathing for Final Fantasy VII. You’ll note, if you clicked through, that I had evinced an intention to continue playing the remainder of the Final Fantasy oeuvre. Believe it or not, that was actually true, and I really have been playing Final Fantasy II on and off for all of those many years since[1].

The main difference between the first and second game is that where the first game used “save the world!” as an excuse to string together a lot of random encounters in the world and in various dungeons wherein you could level up and get better equipment and better spells, allowing you to fight harder random encounters and dungeons… In the second game, all of those actions are strung together by an actual plot, with actual characters. I mean, plot and characters as imagined through the lens of the 1980s, but it’s actually there.

I’ll go a step farther, and say that the plot, although largely on rails, feels as if it is reacting to the actions of the characters. Which is impressive! There are three main characters, teenaged friends who get caught up in events, and a floating fourth character, who you are supposed to become attached to but who I largely viewed as a tool who occasionally stole my equipment by leaving the party without warning in any number of various ways.

That said, the game still punishes you for playing a game that old by having bizarrely restrictive spell and items capacities and random bugs that make the nominally most powerful spell in the game be functionally useless. Nevertheless, it was a good game. I mean, if you’re okay with mindlessly wandering the world having random encounters between various dungeons that advance the plot, but that’s just what a JRPG is, you know? (But Dragon Warrior was still better. For one thing, no goddamned chocobos.)

In case you’re wondering if I will play Final Fantasy III: I’ve started it already. (This proves nothing, of course.)

[1] Although I restarted at one point post-2014, switching platforms from DS back to Playstation[2]. (Well, PS2, since manufacturers once upon a time understood backward compatibility.)
[2] Because it’s harder to play a game together on a tiny-ass DS screen[s].

Fairest in All the Land

The last Fables story was also a Fairest story, I guess? Also, the last actual Fables story was kind of a big deal, with repercussions still echoing around the margins. (These are the margins, since this wasn’t a main sequence story, you see.) Downside being, I read that a year and a half ago and only barely remember what happened. Which beats not remembering at all, don’t get me wrong!

Anyway, echoing repercussions aside, Fairest in All the Land is a murder mystery in which a certain mirror that may be evoked by that phrase and Cinderella (who has previously been the star of her own Fables spin-off spy series) square off against… and here we run into a wall called What Exactly Do You Think a Murder Mystery Is, Anyway? But the victims are a who’s who of, er, the fairest… in all… you know what, I’m going to pretend like I didn’t just get that reference.

Plot and plot arcs aside, this book was weird. It’s not that every story segment was drawn and colored by different artists. It’s that the story segments on average lasted three pages each, which… it’s just too many hard corners, is the thing. Whiplash, I’m saying. But the plot was fine, as was the plot arc progression. (And whoever was the artist for the bits that included the Page sisters is good at drawing the Page sisters. Sexy librarians equals best trope.)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

After recently rewatching the other two Narnia movies[1], I have now proceeded to watch for the first time The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This was one of young me’s favorite books, in retrospect because of how it involves episodic exploration of unknown parts in which random events occur. Examples: captured for slavery! found invisible monsters with weird tracks! cursed dragon hoard!

And I guess what I think is, without a cohesive throughline, that’s a bad look for a movie? Because “we’re sailing to the edge of the world and also looking for some lords who went this way before, because of some plot thing or other with green mist that frankly none of us[2] can be bothered to really remember well” is not a cohesive throughline. But it’s a perfect long-form episodic throughline, where you talk about the so-called main plot for maybe five minutes every other episode but mainly focus on the island of the week.

As far as the nuts and bolts of the movie… Aslan: mainly around to tell Lucy she should like herself for herself instead of wanting to be glamorous and older, and to take all the credit for making Eustace[3] a better person, even though let’s be real, it was finally having a friend that turned him around. Because Reepicheep is the best mouse, is what. But despite an interlude about heaven and who deserves to be there and when, the Christian trappings of this movie were… no, I’m doing this wrong. Christian trappings were all over the place, but at the expense of any actually useful Jesus values like forgiveness and loving your neighbor.

Ugh. Christian trappings. Goddammit.[4]

[1] They’re… not great. Like, my reviews might speak well of them? My counterpoint is “seeing this book for the first time on a screen” is its own special thing that takes away from noticing that it’s still only okay. And here I refer only to the first one. The second one is nowhere near as good as that.
[2] Okay, maybe me more than them. I would normally here say, well, maybe I was just too busy with work to pay attention. But I watch really a lot of TV and a good number of movies while working, and actually keeping up with the main plot has never been a problem before. So there’s a decent chance that the lack of new sequel was for a good reason.
[3] Eustace is a Pevensie cousin who is a right twit, until later when he is improved by the power of Narnia. If Aslan wanted to teach a Pevensie a lesson, it should have been teaching Edmund that, you know what, you were a right twit once upon a time too, so maybe cut a bro some slack? But CS Lewis is more offended by girls who want to use make-up and date than he is by toxic masculinity, and so here we are.
[4] get it?

Wonder Woman 1984

So, I got HBOMax, finally. This is good, as there are a pile of shows I want to watch, and bad, as where will I find the time? But the tipping point, of course, was the release of WW84[1]. If you are looking for a comics movie that leans really hard into the four-color aesthetic and into being a comics movie, look no farther!

I said (unless someone else did, but I’m pretty sure I did too) that Into the Spiderverse was the first movie I’d seen that felt like reading a comic, and that is still true.  Nevertheless, there have been plenty of MCU movies that lean really hard into both the comics aesthetic (anything with Thor) and comics sensibilities (anything with Peter Quill). But this is the first DC movie I’ve seen that did so.

It’s not that the plot didn’t make sense, like I’ve heard plenty of people claim. It hung together quite well, start to finish, with only one big complaint on my part[2]. But everything that happens relies of accepting that the logic of comic books is not the logic of the real world. Things happen that are not really magic, which is what a lot of people rely upon to suspend disbelief; instead things happen that rely on accepting that comics science is not the same as our science (much less when you mix science and magic together!), and that is maybe a harder proposition.

In a nutshell: what if we fast forward Diana to, say, the ’80s, where she is working at the Smithsonian on the strength of her knowledge of artifacts and like 130 languages (living and dead), and also she still isn’t over Steve Trevor yet 70 years later? And then she runs into a magic rock at the same time that a mousy new co-worker and an oil tycoon with a secret also run into said magic rock? And then the writers lay down a righteous comic book plot over these facts, with nary a care in the world for if it could even mildly happen or be fixable back to some kind of status quo that allows her to show up in Dawn of Justice even if it could happen in the first place?

In the end, that kind of thing either makes you want to punch some writers, or it’s your bread and butter. It wasn’t particularly good, but it was pretty damned amazing.

[1] Weird thing, with weird corollary. The movie is never referenced in any way besides WW84, at the start and end. Likewise, Diana Prince has never been referenced as Wonder Woman in either of these movies. Was she in her other DCCU appearances? I have literally no way of knowing!
[2] And that was more science-based than plot. Technically a spoiler: if you are going to electrocute someone for something, then you have to electrocute them for doing something equally electrocutable 30 seconds earlier, or else you don’t get to electrocute them now! Consistency, that’s all.

The Baron of Magister Valley

It has taken me over three months to read The Baron of Magister Valley. This is a) not a statement on the quality of the book, and also b) it’s really not okay.

What happened was, I read the first half of the book in a leisurely rush, around child-rearing and comics-reading. That half of the book was great! There were dire plots and secret prisons and just the very best kinds of intrigue, all surrounded by Paarfi’s oh so distinctive authorial voice. I was at each moment excited to learn what would happen next! Just like I should be.

And then suddenly they wanted me to come back to work. Which means I’ve had time for watching about a gajillion movies, but reading has just fallen apart on me. And at a snail’s pace crawl, I found that I just didn’t really care much about the revenge half[1] of the book. My assumption here is that reading the book with any kind of momentum would have prevented this malaise, and I would be glowing here instead of all mehed out.

Ultimately, I think the failures of the book were either the failures of my circumstances, or (less likely but certainly possible) the failures of the source material. Or, so unlikely that I hate to think it after the stretch of great books I’ve previously read by him, it could actually be the book, and this is a failure on Brust’s part.

But whatever the case, a book whose plot I did not care about and whose characters’ motivations were mostly uninteresting to me for an entire half of the story, and the second half no less!, a book who I mostly kept reading because, whatever else was going on, Paarfi knows how to make me laugh? That is not a book I can be excited about in a review. Alas.

[1] I should say here that I’m not actually hurling out spoilers; this book, like the others that “Paarfi” has written, are based on popular works of adventure fictions from the 18th or 19th centuries.