Saturday 24 August 2019

The Boys: Never meet your superheroes

Firstly, a confession. I’m suffering from small screen superhero fatigue and am not alone. This may sound disingenuous from a self-confessed comic book geek, but the proliferation of franchises, from virtually every competing Hollywood studio, has become exhausting! So much so, I’ve stopped following most of The CW’s Arrowverse - annual crossover event notwithstanding - and quickly abandoned the defunct Marvel Netflix spin-off series before Disney did.

However, Amazon Prime's The Boys came out of left field. Here is a darkly visceral deconstruction of the superhero trope as chilling commodity with a protagonist/antagonist suffering from PTSD.

Worthy of comparison to Watchmen?

Guest post by Nick Smith.

We human beings are advanced. Like, really advanced. We can reach for the stars, share pictures of ourselves worldwide in the blink of an eye, and twiddle knobs like nobody’s business. Ever see a turtle crank up the volume on a boombox? Didn’t think so. Despite all our abilities and achievements, we still dream of being greater. Stronger. Faster. Less visible in a world where our anonymity is dwindling. It’s part of our evolutionary survival instinct, to be extraordinary.

Our fascination with superpowers has accelerated over the past century. No longer the province of gods, special abilities can be owned by the boy or girl next door – at least in fiction. Millions flock to see such miracles in Hollywood blockbusters. V for Vendetta and The Dark Knight, graphic deconstructions of these high-flying guys and the comic books that spawned them, are regarded by some as literature.

The super-obsession has trickled down to TV and streaming services, with dozens of adaptations vying for our attention. A mere ten years after the movie version, HBO is launching a lavish-looking series based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen comic book. But before those capes have had a chance to unfurl, way out of left field comes The Boys, currently the darling of fanboys, housewives and Amazon-and-chillers alike. There are similarities with Moore’s work as well as Grant Morrison’s Zenith (superheroes as pop stars), John Smith’s New Statesmen (superheroes as political pawns) and Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass (superheroes boosted by social media), inevitable considering the cross-pollination of comics and the popular central question, "what if these larger-than-life characters existed in real life?"

In the case of The Boys, the answer would be: a disaster! Imagine a rock star terrorizing a hotel room, give him the powers of a deity and make the hotel room the entire planet. You’d better bring him some red M&Ms real quick before he throws a heat vision tantrum or undresses the housemaid with his X-ray vision. The death of wrong-doers is justifiable to this kind of supreme being, as is exploitation of women and religious faith.

Sound cynical? Welcome to the world according to Garth Ennis, writer of Preacher, another sceptical look at the shock-and-aw-shucks land of the USA, co-developed for the small screen by Ennis fan Seth Rogen. Rogen and Supernatural guru Eric Kripke help to keep The Boys palatable and entertaining, although the show yaws from comedy to dark drama and back again. Like Shazam!, this adaptation works best when focused on comedy – but this humour is sometimes crass and pitch dark.

The Boys tells the tale of a team (one could almost say a league) called the Seven, owned by the Vought International company. The Seven are led by Homelander (Antony Starr), an aloof figurehead with mommy issues who considers himself above the law. "I'm the world's greatest superhero," he boasts, "I can do whatever the *@!* I want." He’s accompanied by The Deep (Chace Crawford), an amphibian HR nightmare; Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), whose powers and disregard for human life almost match Homelander’s; Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), who speaks only with his fists; A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), fast as lightning and a little bit frightening; Translucent (Alex Hassell), who uses his invisibility for some peeping Tomfoolery; and Starlight (Erin Moriarty), a wide-eyed newcomer who helps the audience navigate this arena in time-honoured TV pilot fashion. It’s Starlight who adds a ray of optimism to the cynical proceedings. She asks, "since when did hopeful and naive become the same thing?"

Vought wants the Seven to become part of the American military, increasing the company’s controlling political interests. When Hughie Campbell witnesses a tragic A-Train accident and Vought tries to buy his silence, he’s enlisted by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and a motley, barely-CIA-sanctioned group called “The Boys.” They exist, as Butcher puts it, to "spank the bastards when they get out of line."

Twists, turns, hijinks and laser-eyed babies ensue. But the show stands out from its sea of super friends for many reasons – it’s jaw-dropping and jawbreaking, the acting is spot-on, the cinematography captures the DC murkiness we’re used to, inspired by pulp printing and reused ink, and the special effects are excellent. As one friend put it, "the physics are right."

The performances certainly help give this show its cinematic quality. Karl Urban is always entertaining to watch as the bruiser Billy Butcher; he’s also entertaining to listen to, as his accent wavers from Aussie to Cockney. Hughie is brought to life by Jack Quaid, son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, although from some angles he looks like a young Bill Hader, running around with a big ol’ Haderface, and his comic timing is perfect. Other stand-outs include Elisabeth Shue as a horrible boss and Simon Pegg who gets the opportunity to act for a change instead of just goofing around as comic relief.

More than anything, though, The Boys succeeds because it reflects our times. Comic book creators have always sought fresh ways to tell their stories, from social interest to soap opera, tapping into cultural mores, becoming more visually sophisticated along with the audience, aping and spawning movies. This time around, the ‘heroes’ are charismatic bullies and corporate pawns portrayed with a modern sensibility. As the Seven flex their muscles, Ennis and Kripke explore contemporary fears (conglomerate power and political interference, smartphone-fueled narcissism). Spider-Man was a swingin’ teen with high school hang-ups and campus riots to deal with; Superman had identity issues as an immigrant living the American Way. For heroes in 2019, their kryptonite is their reputation.

Despite attempts through the years to make comic books more mature or relevant, they still examine hope in many forms. We hope to get fitter and faster, or at least prolong our lives. We hope to be better as we gain emotional experience. We hope for excitement and escapism. We hope that the bad guys – even the ones disguised as smiley-face heroes – are defeated, and fairness shines through. Even in this dark take on funny books, the hope that comes with capes prevails.

Sign up for a free trial of Prime Video (affiliate link) and stream The Boys now.

Have you seen The Boys? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 23 August 2019

The Mandalorian at D23 Expo

The annual D23 Expo has begun and Lucasfilm has released a promotional poster for its first live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian. The lavish artwork harkens back to the original trilogy and The Force Awakens.

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, executive producer Jon Favreau (Iron Man) said:

“I’m trying to evoke the aesthetics of not just the original trilogy. Not just the first film, but the first act of the first film. What was it like on Tatooine? What was going on in that cantina? That has fascinated me since I was a child, and I love the idea of the darker, freakier side of Star Wars, the Mad Max aspect of Star Wars.”

Alongside the poster, a long-awaited trailer was also released. The Mandalorian evokes the grit of Firefly and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Favreau previously shed light on the production process powered by ILM TV, which was founded for Disney+ content including Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios' spin-offs.

“In The Mandalorian because we’re doing live-action production, we’re using the Epic game engine and using that to do real-time in-camera visual effects. So if you visited the set for The Mandalorian you would’ve seen a completely video-wall wrapped stage and we were in there filming the characters in the foreground, and oftentimes either blue screen or full digital versions of set extensions in the background with Parallax, because the positional data of the camera was informing the backgrounds, so it was like a translight that had perspective. So that allowed us to have environments—as long as we could build them digitally and put enough work into planning it, we could have the game engine be used for creating effects in a timeframe that allows us to get a TV season done.”

Here is the official synopsis for The Mandalorian:

"After the stories of Jango and Boba Fett, another warrior emerges in the Star Wars universe. The Mandalorian is set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order. We follow the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy far from the authority of the New Republic."

The Star Wars news at D23 doesn't end there. Ewan McGregor appeared on stage alongside Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy to announce he's reprising the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi for Disney+. Mic drop. And The Clone Wars returns in February 2020.

The Mandalorian is exclusive to Disney+ when it launches in the US, Canada and the Netherlands 12th November and Australia and New Zealand 19th November.

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Spider-Man's future in the MCU at an end?

Marvel's late nineties movie deal with Sony, literally, culminated in handing over the golden goose (for peanuts) such was the comic book company's dire fiscal state at the time.

Subsequently, Sony built a Spider-Man cinematic franchise that has enjoyed critical and commercial success with Sam Raimi's trilogy, starring Tobey Maguire, and then stymied by a repetitive reboot despite Andrew Garfield's best efforts in the titular role. He was great.

In the meantime. Disney buys Marvel and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), starting innocuously enough with Iron Man during an era of middling superhero fare, becomes a multi-billion dollar industry unto itself. However, the beloved web-slinger was nowhere to be seen and Thanos was coming in search of six infinity stones to power his Infinity Gauntlet.

Enter Captain America: Civil War and Tom Holland's spectacular Spider-Man. I went there. Sorry, not sorry. Finally, Sony and Disney agreed to a 5-picture deal that would see Peter Parker crossover to the Avengers with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige overseeing creative chores. In effect, Marvel was curating Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's beloved superhero and Sony handled distribution. Make Mine Marvel, Sony!

Yesterday, news broke Disney and Sony were at an impasse despite Spider-Man: Far From Home becoming Sony's most successful property eclipsing Skyfall. Because shareholders and money. Reaction from fans was immediate and calls to boycott Sony started trending on social media. This tarnished news from Gamescom that Insomniac Games, long associated with the PlayStation brand, had become a first-party studio in the wake of the success of Marvel's Spider-Man on PS4.

It would be a surprise to everyone (including shareholders, I'm sure) if Disney and Sony don't resolve this amicably. It's in their mutual interest. Sony struggles to manage successful film franchises as evidenced by an ailing James Bond and the House of Mouse has the creative nous.

Disney faced a similar situation with the X-Men at Twentieth Century Fox. CEO Bob Iger bought its film and television assets including Star Wars: A New Hope. Could Disney buy Sony? Sure, its war chest is in the billions of dollars. Will it? Doubtful.

What do you think? Can you see Tom Holland's Spider-Man battling Tom Hardy's Venom in a Sony-only universe? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Kevin Smith brings Masters of the Universe to Netflix

Director Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy) is executive producer and showrunner on a new Masters of the Universe (MotU) anime series, by Powerhouse Animation (Castlevania), for Netflix announced during Power-Con 2019.

This is exciting news for fans (myself included) of the beloved eighties toy franchise from Mattel and follows the successful reboot of He-Man spin-off She-ra on the popular streamer.

The official series synopsis:

"A radical return to Eternia, Revelation is a direct sequel series to the classic era of Masters of the Universe. Featuring fan-favourites He-Man, Orko, Cringer and Man-At-Arms, the story pits our heroic warriors and guardians of Castle Grayskull against Skeletor, Evil-Lyn, Beast Man and the vile legions of snake mountain!

But after a ferocious final battle forever fractures Eternia, it’s up to Teela to solve the mystery of the missing Sword of Power in a race against time to prevent the end of the Universe! Her journey will uncover the secrets of Grayskull at last. This is the epic He-Man and the Masters of the Universe saga fans have waited 35 years to see!"

Here’s what Smith had to say:

“I’m Eternia-ly grateful to Mattel TV and Netflix for entrusting me with not only the secrets of Grayskull, but also their entire Universe.

In Revelation, we pick up right where the classic era left off to tell an epic tale of what may be the final battle between He-Man and Skeletor!

Brought to life with the most metal character designs Powerhouse Animation can contain in the frame, this is the Masters of the Universe story you always wanted to see as a kid!”

MotU super fan Pixel Dan interviewed Smith at Power-Con.

Some of my earliest blog posts chronicled collecting MotU action figures in the eighties and noughties, and Smith is passionate about Mattel's franchise. The brand is experiencing a renaissance with a new live-action movie and Origins toy line invading retail fall 2020. So, stay tuned for further news.

Are you excited for Masters of the Universe: Revelation? Do you think there'll be a He-Man and She-Ra crossover now both are at Netflix? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 19 August 2019

International rollout for Disney+

Disney+ launches 12th November in the US and the House of Mouse's nascent streaming service will also be available in selected international markets in fall 2019. Netherlands and Canada on 12th November and Australia and New Zealand 19th November.

That'll be great news for fellow Star Wars fans living in those countries as they'll get to see the exclusive 8-part live-action series The Mandalorian this holiday season.

Disney+ will be available on the following devices at launch:

Apple TV
Android mobile devices
Android TV
Desktop web browsers
PlayStation 4 (PS4)
Roku streaming players
Roku TV
Xbox One

There's no news regarding a UK launch. Again, it's worth reiterating DisneyLife has been available since 2015, on a range of devices, and there's a pre-existing first-run deal with Sky that is possibly holding things up. However, there's speculation pointing to an early 2020 launch. So, Avengers: Endgame may be the last Marvel Studios' film to premiere on Sky Cinema on Christmas Day.

Do you intend to subscribe to Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 16 August 2019

Ewan McGregor back as Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+?

This is the Disney+ Star Wars live-action series fans are looking for. If the rumours are true, Ewan McGregor is about to reprise the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

This isn't the first time the actor has been linked to a return to a galaxy far, far away... A Kenobi spin-off movie was highly-anticipated but seemingly shuttered in the wake of Solo: A Star Wars Story's dismal box office success.

McGregor's portrayal of a younger Kenobi was a highlight of George Lucas' prequel trilogy. The untitled Kenobi series will join Jon Favreau's The Mandalorian and a prequel to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story focussing on Cassian Andor and K-2SO on Disney+.

With The Rise of Skywalker closing the 9-part Skywalker saga, fans may see McGregor sooner as a Force ghost this holiday season. Further news regarding the Kenobi series is expected at the D23 Expo.

Disney+ launches 12th November in the US with The Mandalorian.

Thursday 15 August 2019

Kylo Ren in the final season of Star Wars Resistance

Star Wars Resistance returns for its second and final season in the fall. Lucasfilm has released a trailer for the upcoming season set between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.

Nick Smith reviewed season one and will be back for the epic finale, assuming he doesn't get into any First Order entanglements at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, Walt Disney World.

Are you surprised Star Wars Resistance is ending after only two seasons? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Barbie in a galaxy far, far away...

In the run-up to the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Mattel and Disney have joined forces for a new Star Wars-inspired Barbie collection based on Darth Vader, R2-D2 and, my personal favourite and childhood crush, Princess Leia.

Star Wars x Barbie is an homage to Star Wars: A New Hope. This eponymous collection, inspired by the film’s original concept art, re-imagines iconic characters through a distinctive Barbie high-fashion filter. Darth Vader Barbie reminds me of a female Kylo Ren cosplayer I saw at Star Wars Celebration Europe, which is very cool.

Barbie is no stranger to sci-fi. Kirk, Spock and Uhura dolls were released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek.

The new Star Wars x Barbie figures retail for $100 dollars and are available for pre-order from (affiliate link) and (affiliate link). No doubt these will prove to be very popular with Barbie and Star Wars collectors alike.

Which is your favourite Barbie from the collection? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 13 August 2019

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is going to be epic

With just weeks until The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix has released a final trailer for the epic 10-part prequel series to Jim Henson's classic puppet-populated fable.

The trailer serves up gorgeous vista upon vista and artistic ambition to rival Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. The Gelfling clans are forced to unite to depose the tyrannical Skeksis who have corrupted the Dark Crystal.

Age of Resistance boasts a stellar voice cast from Game of Thrones to Star Wars. Included in this epic ensemble are Taron Egerton (Kingsman), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones) as Deet, Caitriona Balfe (Outlander) as Tavra, Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter), Harris Dickinson (Maleficent 2), Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), Eddie Izzard (Ocean’s Thirteen), Theo James (Divergent), Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger), Shazad Latif (Star Trek: Discovery), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (The Cloverfield Paradox), Mark Strong (Shazam!), Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), and Hannah John-Kamen (Game of Thrones).

Whilst waiting for 30th August, I'm revisiting Jim Henson's The Storyteller starring the late Sir John Hurt (Alien). It remains a spellbinding tour of European fables retold by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) and is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Saturday 10 August 2019

Triple Force Friday this October

Force Friday is a merchandising event that started with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and continued with The Last Jedi. Who can forget the introduction of Sphero's licensed range of app-enabled droids? BB-8, BB-9E and R2-D2 have pride of place in my study.

This year, Force Friday celebrates the release of the Disney+ live-action series The Mandalorian, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and The Rise of Skywalker on 4th October.

As with previous Force Friday celebrations, retailers will be staging special events around the world. Smyths Toys recently took over my local Toys "R" Us store. So, I may venture along for a midnight opening.

Are you excited for the launch of Triple Force Friday this October? What new products are you hoping to see? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 6 August 2019

The Force is strong with Disney+

When Disney+ launches on 12th November, US-based Star Wars fans have much to look forward to. The original, prequel and sequel trilogies (not including The Last Jedi) will be available from day-one alongside the first live-action series The Mandalorian, executive produced by Jon Favreau.

However, due to existing distribution deals, Disney+ will, initially, be lighter on Marvel content. Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man and Iron Man 3 will be available with Avengers: Endgame premiering in December.

Fellow true believers will be looking further ahead to exclusive series Loki, Hawkeye, Falcon & Winter Soldier, WandaVision, What If...? and much more.

In the wake of Disney buying Twentieth Century Fox film and television assets, every season of The Simpsons will be available. It's also worth noting Seth MacFarlane's The Orville has been moved to Hulu.

Disney will offer a bundle package of its three streaming services - Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ for $12.99 a month starting on 12th November, CEO Bob Iger announced today. This is a serious mission statement and undercuts many of its competitors including Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO.

"Disney+ marketing is going to start to hit in later this month, later in August.... you will see marketing, both in traditional and non-traditional directions, basically digital and analog," Iger said. "And of course, all the touchpoints that the company has, whether it's people staying at our hotels, people who have our co-branded credit card, people who are members of D23, annual pass holders."

Will you be subscribing to Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 5 August 2019

Kevin Conroy's Bruce Wayne in Crisis on Infinite Earths

The CW's Crisis on Infinite Earths is shaping up to be the biggest Arrowverse crossover event yet with much speculation surrounding it, including a merger with the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). This would finally put DC Comics on par with Marvel in terms of transmedia storytelling. DC Comics continues to play second fiddle to Marvel, and Disney+ will only serve to widen the gap with its roster of exclusive live-action series from Loki to WandaVision.

From Brandon Routh (DC's Legends of Tomorrow) reprising the role of Superman (he was great in the underrated Superman Returns) to rumours Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman), Burt Ward (Batman) and Tom Welling (Smallville) will all appear in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Now, Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series) is officially confirmed to be playing "future" Bruce Wayne. To say I'm stoked about this would be a gross understatement. For a generation of animation and video game fans, Conroy is Batman.

During the seventies and eighties, Marvel UK monopolised my comic book reading (with the occasional diversion into 2000 AD, Eagle and Battle Action Force) and DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths passed me by. So, I've bought a digital copy of the reissue to catch-up before the crossover is broadcast later this year.

Are you looking forward to Crisis on Infinite Earths and who would you like to see make a cameo? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 1 August 2019

George Lucas advised Jon Favreau on The Mandalorian

Executive producer Jon Favreau (The Lion King) recently talked to GQ and revealed what George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, advised him during a set visit to The Mandalorian live-action series:

“We had a long talk with each other,” said Favreau. “One thing he said to me was, ’remember, Jon, the real audience for all stories and all myths is the kids that are coming of age’, because he’s really a Joseph Campbell adherent. We enjoy the stories as adults, but really, storytelling is about imparting the wisdom of the previous generations on to the children who are becoming adults, and giving them a context for how to behave and how to learn the lessons of the past without making the mistakes on their own. That’s the hope, that you can teach them how to avoid all the hardship but garner all the wisdom.”

Whilst The Mandalorian is the first Star Wars live-action series, Lucas originally planned to follow-up Revenge of the Sith with a live-action television series: Star Wars: Underworld. Scripts were prepared and one of those treatments, penned by John Knoll, was used for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story when Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012.

Back in the seventies, author Alan Dean Foster, the ghostwriter of the original Star Wars novelisation, wrote Splinter of the Mind's Eye for television, but the unprecedented box office success of Lucas' space opera meant movie sequels would take precedence.

The Mandalorian, set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, premieres 12th November on Disney+. Presumably, the $120 million dollar 8-part series will be shown on the Disney Channel outside the US. However, stay tuned for further news.

Favreau is already hard at work on a second season.