Saturday, 27 February 2021

Ghostly grief of Wanda's past



Spoilers for the latest episode of Marvel Studios' WandaVision streaming on Disney+. If you haven't caught up with, or started watching, WandaVision and don't want to find out what's going on, please look away from the screen now.

The penultimate episode of WandaVision brings all the feels and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has never resonated more deeply! It serves as an unfiltered exploration of loss and grief through the lens of comic book tropes.

After trapping Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) in a basement of horrors, Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), revealed as a survivor of the Salem witch trials, takes Wanda on a timey-wimey tour of her traumatic past. Is Agatha a mentor or meddler?

Wanda has to confront moments that have shaped her destiny towards becoming the Scarlet Witch, the most powerful Avenger, ahead of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Surely Benedict Cumberbatch is going to cameo as Doctor Strange in the season finale?

From the violent death of Wanda's parents to twin brother Pietro's (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) death in Avengers: Age of Ultron to Vision's (Paul Bettany) death in Avengers: Infinity War, it's a heartbreaking story arc worthy of Shakespeare and, like the return of Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian, left me in an ugly mess.

Anyone who has seen a dead loved one will relate to the overwhelming sense of powerlessness and nothingness.

The myth Wanda had ghoulishly reanimated Vision is dispelled when it's revealed she conjured him back into existence in her grief-stricken state in the sitcom simulacrum of Westview. Bad Marvelites (myself included) for thinking Wanda was channelling Dr Frankenstein.

Olsen's acting prowess proves this was her show all along (not that I ever doubted it). And there's a mid-credits scene that ups the ante to the nth degree for the season finale, which I refuse to spoil.

WandaVision has been a ray of light during the seemingly endless darkness of a global pandemic. The weekly release schedule has seen fans united in their enjoyment of the series on social media and many (myself included) are going to be bereft when it ends.

Yes, there's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to look forward to next in the MCU. However, Wanda's story has been an emotive journey, far more rewarding than I ever dared dream.

WandaVision concludes Friday exclusively on Disney+.

What do you think will happen in the season finale? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 26 February 2021

Star Wars: The Bad Batch launches May Fourth



Star Wars: The Clone Wars spin-off The Bad Batch launches May Fourth AKA Star Wars Day on Disney+.

From StarWars.com:

“The series follows the elite and experimental troopers of Clone Force 99 (first introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the Clone War. Members of Bad Batch, as they prefer to be called — a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the Clone Army — each possess a singular exceptional skill, which makes them extraordinarily effective soldiers and a formidable crew.”

Nick Smith was impressed by the band of misfit clones in his review of The Clone Wars final season.

“Giving new and existing fans the final chapter of Star Wars: The Clone Wars has been our honor at Disney+, and we are overjoyed by the global response to this landmark series,” Agnes Chu, senior vice president of content at Disney+, shared in a statement when the series was announced. “While The Clone Wars may have come to its conclusion, our partnership with the groundbreaking storytellers and artists at Lucasfilm Animation is only beginning. We are thrilled to bring Dave Filoni’s vision to life through the next adventures of the Bad Batch.”

Star Wars: The Bad Batch is executive produced by Dave Filoni (The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Athena Portillo (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels), Brad Rau (Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars Resistance) and Jennifer Corbett (Star Wars Resistance, NCIS) with Carrie Beck (The Mandalorian, Star Wars Rebels) as co-executive producer and Josh Rimes as producer (Star Wars Resistance). Rau is also serving as supervising director with Corbett as head writer.

Are you looking forward to the new Star Wars spin-off series? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home this Christmas



The penultimate episode of Marvel Studios' WandaVision premieres this Friday on Disney+. The live-action series, starring Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff) and Paul Bettany (Vision), connects directly to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and, supposedly, Spider-Man 3!

On Wednesday, actors Tom Holland (Peter Parker), Jacob Batalon (Ned Leeds) and Zendaya (MJ) teased the title of the upcoming Spider-Man sequel on social media before officially announcing it in a fun skit.



Spider-Man: No Way Home riffs on Homecoming and Far From Home, and suggests the beloved web-slinger may be on the run following the discovery of his true identity by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) in Far From Home.

Fans (myself included) will find out for sure when the upcoming sequel hits cinemas this December. However, even with the seemingly successful coronavirus vaccination rollout, I won't feel safe going to the cinema for the foreseeable future.

Previous Spider-Man actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are linked to the upcoming sequel despite denials. Because multiverse.

Are you looking forward to Spider-Man: No Way Home this holiday season? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

A Link to the Past: 35 years of The Legend of Zelda



The Legend of Zelda celebrates its 35th anniversary this week.

Nintendo's beloved video game franchise debuted on the Famicom Disk System in 1986 and holds a special place for many gamers (myself included).

I first encountered Link and the titular Princess Zelda in an animated spin-off series, which was part of Captain N: The Game Master, broadcast on ITV in the UK.

From 1989 to 1991, Captain N: The Game Master mined Nintendo's enviable library of hit video game franchises at the peak of the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System's (NES) popularity in the US - dubbed the Nintendo Nation due to the company's dominance.

Whilst I remember playing The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening on the original Nintendo Game Boy in WHSmith, during breaks between college lectures, it wouldn't be until the release of the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), in 1992, that I would fully appreciate the brilliance of the fantasy action-adventure franchise for myself.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past became synonymous with my gap year.

The vast majority of college friends were away studying at university and there was serious family life upheaval in the wake of an economic recession in the early nineties. Link's adventures in Hyrule were an escape from the turmoil and feelings of isolation. Not for the first or last time, video games would continue to play a pivotal role since the Atari age.

A Link to the Past, with its colourful graphics, memorable soundtrack and immersive gameplay, is a video game I treasure to this day and have subsequently replayed countless times on multiple Nintendo consoles. It has earned a place alongside The Lord of the Rings, The War of the Worlds and Doctor Who Target novelisations on the bookshelf.

The Kyoto-based company has announced The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword (affiliate link), originally released on the Nintendo Wii, this July.

Controversially, Skyward Sword made exclusive use of the Wii MotionPlus and inadvertently alienated a lot of gamers at the time of its release in 2011. Ironically, the Wii enabled many differently-abled family friends to play video games for the very first time in their lives. Incidentally, Dad and I donated a Wii console bundle to my late mum's nursing home (as part of a multimedia wall in tribute to her memory).

With all that said.

The Nintendo Switch port of Skyward Sword is an exciting opportunity to revisit this largely overlooked title and I'm looking forward to playing it for the first time. Pikmin 3 Deluxe and Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury should scratch the Nintendo itch in the meantime. That's when I'm not playing Detroit: Become Human, God of War or Control: Ultimate Edition on PS5. Did I mention the PS5's DualSense is now my all-time favourite controller?

Hopefully, there'll be a The Legend of Zelda 35th anniversary collection comparable to Super Mario 3D All-Stars this holiday season. Certainly, I would welcome the chance to play The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on Switch.

What are your favourite memories of playing The Legend of Zelda? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Steven Spielberg surprises E.T. star Drew Barrymore



Director Steven Spielberg (Jaws) surprised goddaughter Drew Barrymore on her 46th birthday with a special virtual appearance on The Drew Barrymore Show. No, you're crying.



"Director Steven Spielberg joins Drew's surprise birthday bash to share the first time he met an adorable six-year-old Drew when she came for an audition in his office for E.T.: The Extraterrestrial and his reaction to a very adult Drew Playboy spread years later in this digitally extended interview."

Spielberg talks affectionately about Barrymore's audition for the role of Carol Anne, played by the late Heather Michele O'Rourke, in director Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist (a suburban ghost story that continues to cause lively debate, among fellow film fans and friends, as to whether or not Spielberg was really at the helm as pre-production began on E.T.) and how he didn't hesitate to cast her as Gertie in E.T.

What are your memories of watching E.T., and do you think Spielberg directed Poltergeist? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 22 February 2021

When you wish upon a Star



Today is the last day you can avail yourself of an annual subscription to Disney+ for £59.99 before the Star brand launches, in non-US markets, on Tuesday.

Star launches on Disney+ on 23rd February with hundreds of films and television series from Twentieth Century Fox and Star Originals in Europe, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives, Family Guy, The X-Files, Die Hard and many more will be available to stream.

As Star isn't optional, an annual subscription increases by 33% to £79.99 but existing subscribers can renew for £59.99.

Given the amount of content, coupled with an ongoing global pandemic and The Walt Disney Company pivoting with new movies (such as Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon) simultaneously released in cinemas and at home, I'll be renewing like many of the 95 million subscribers to Disney+.

Are you looking forward to the arrival of Star on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Something wicked this way comes, Wanda!



Spoilers for the latest episode of Marvel Studios' WandaVision streaming on Disney+. If you haven't caught up with, or started watching, WandaVision and don't want to find out what's going on, please look away from the screen now.

As many fellow true believers guessed correctly, the neighbourly Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) is in fact Agatha Harkness (Russell T Davies, a former Doctor Who showrunner, named Captain Jack Harkness in homage to the original comic book character).

Agatha Harkness, a witch mentor to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) in the comic books, has been toying with Wanda all along, and is responsible for the appearance of a recast Pietro (Evan Peters) who appears in a surprise mid-credits scene, which many fans missed (much like the reveal of The Book of Boba Fett at the end of The Mandalorian).

After the twins, Billy and Tommy, go mysteriously missing, Agatha lures Wanda into a basement (House of M meets Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) before revealing her true identity and Darkhold can be seen. Ruh-roh!

Whilst Wanda and Vision (Paul Bettany) channel Modern Family's Claire and Phil Dunphy with exquisite comedic results. Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) gets her own superhero origin story as she forces her way back through the barrier into Westview. And Ultron (James Spader) was mentioned again.

This can't be a throwaway and suggests Tony Stark's (Robert Downey Jr.) twisted titan could be back to reclaim Vision's body following events in Avengers: Age of Ultron - much better than I remembered.

New episodes of WandaVision premiere every Friday exclusively on Disney+.

What do you think will happen next? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 19 February 2021

For All Mankind is back on Apple TV+



The second season of For All Mankind, an alternate reality sci-fi series created by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), begins streaming exclusively on Apple TV+.

This is a day after NASA successfully landed its Perseverance rover on Mars AKA the "Red Planet" with technology from a Devon-based company.



Here's the official synopsis:

"For All Mankind is created by Emmy® Award winner Ronald D. Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica), Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi. Told through the lives of NASA astronauts, engineers and their families, For All Mankind presents an aspirational world where NASA and the space program remained a priority and a focal point of our hopes and dreams."

The Cupertino-based company has released an official companion podcast and augmented reality (AR) app for iPhone and iPad.

Ironically, I still haven't seen season one since availing myself of a free annual subscription to Apple TV+ (bundled with an iPhone SE) last year. So, if you'll excuse me, I'm flying to the moon and back this weekend.

Are you watching For All Mankind? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

WandaVision on Good Morning America



An exclusive teaser for tomorrow's episode of WandaVision premiered on Good Morning America (GMA).



Fan theories continue to surround the Marvel Studios live-action series following last week's haunting Halloween special.

“I’m loving it. I’m loving it being disseminated to the fans. And I love how frustrated they are of not being able to see it all in one fix. I love reading their theories of what might happen. And some of them are incredibly accurate, actually. I keep thinking, ‘Marvel should give that person a job,’” Paul Bettany (Vision) told Marvel.com.

He continued, “It’s been a whole lot of fun watching them go through this. I mean, I know they’ve been waiting a long time. So, have we. It’s really special to watch it on the platform without my name across the middle of it [on early screeners]. So yeah, it’s been really fun.”

WandaVision has resonated with viewers because, at its core, the series is an exploration of trauma as we, the audience, share in the collective trauma of a global pandemic.

"It means you don't have to just be this reactive person in the world, that you can take ownership of your life experience and make that power you up for the rest of your life... that's really the gravity of the show, I believe, with Wanda." Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff) recently said in an interview.

New episodes of WandaVision premiere every Friday exclusively on Disney+.

What are your WandaVision theories? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The pursuit of Boba Fett in War of the Bounty Hunters



Whilst Star Wars fans (myself included) wait for The Book of Boba Fett, starring Temuera Morrison as the titular bounty hunter, this December on Disney+. Marvel Comics has announced War of the Bounty Hunters, an upcoming Star Wars crossover event, running from May through October.

The five-issue miniseries from Charles Soule (Star Wars: The High Republic) and Luke Ross chronicles Boba Fett's travails as he transports Han Solo in carbonite to Jabba the Hutt.

“Boba Fett clearly doesn’t take Han Solo directly to Jabba’s palace,” Soule tells StarWars.com. “Something had to happen in between that intervening time between Empire and Jedi. And I was like, ‘I would like to tell that story, and I would like it to be about Boba Fett and what happens to him.”

“I remember the chill that ran down my spine when I saw Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the first time and the bounty hunters all came on screen. They only appeared for a split second, but left a lasting impact. And it's a dream come true we can bring them all to life again, and pit them against each other, in STAR WARS: WAR OF THE BOUNTY HUNTERS, our first big galaxy-spanning crossover of the post-ESB era,” Editor in Chief CB Cebulski said. “Bossk, Dengar, 4-LOM, IG-88... all hot on the trail of Boba Fett, looking to score the biggest bounty out there... Han Solo!”

Does War of the Bounty Hunters remind you of Shadows of the Empire? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Doctor Who: All Of Time And Space Podcast



I've known Mark Cockram since 2007. Mum had recently passed away and Dad and I were trying to cope in the aftermath of a second life-changing familial trauma.

To that end, we'd looked to take simple steps such as upgrading our ageing televisions in a dawning digital era. So, we ventured into a local Panasonic Store and got chatting with the friendly staff (who would later be instrumental in helping us create a multimedia wall for the residents of mum's former nursing home).

Mark overheard a conversation in which I mentioned Doctor Who and, in a timey-wimey twist worthy of everyone's favourite time traveller, asked if I was the same John Hood on a popular Whovian forum?

Spoiler: I was!

From there, our friendship began and I've always meant to invite Mark to write for this blog. 14 years and 3 coronavirus lockdowns later...

Guest post by Mark Cockram

Let’s begin by setting our space-time coordinates for March 2020.

My name is Mark, I work for a large department store and I was furloughed at the start of the first national coronavirus lockdown in the UK. I’m sure that like many others this was, for me, an unprecedented experience.

Watching the story of the pandemic unfold, I tried my best to hang on to some semblance of normality and like many parents endeavoured to negotiate my new role as a teacher to a sometimes reluctant six-year-old. I was left pondering the uncertainty surrounding any kind of tangible end to the crisis and it made me consider some of the things that I had been putting off over the years.

My passion is pop culture and in particular Doctor Who. Since 2012, I have had a semi-regular podcast called Nerdology UK covering TV, movies, books, theatre and pop culture. I was also a host on the now-defunct Blue Box podcast for Starburst magazine. I had to step away from podcasting for a few years when our world was turned upside down when our baby was diagnosed with a rare brain condition.

One thing I had wanted to do for some time but had been putting off was watching all of Doctor Who from An Unearthly Child right through in broadcast order. It seemed, to me, that if I didn’t do it soon it might never happen, and the occurrence of a global pandemic made this ever more apparent.

So, I decided to just go ahead and do it. I wanted a travelling companion to share the journey with, but who should I ask? My wife enjoys the programme but I don’t think she would appreciate being asked to endure such an undertaking any more than I would enjoy watching a marathon of her favourite musicals.

Iain Martin is someone I had podcasted with before. We share a similar sense of humour and it had always been a fun experience. I sent him a YouTube clip of the teaser for series five with Matt Smith’s Doctor asking “All of time and space Everywhere and anywhere. Every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?” and asked “would you like to be on my new Doctor Who podcast?” and a straightforward “yes” sealed the deal.

Iain suggested that “All Of Time And Space” would be a good name for the podcast, which was much better than any of the ideas that I had been kicking around in the weeks that I had spent setting up the podcast feed and social media accounts.

The show launched in July 2020 and it’s been tremendous fun to make. There’s a nice dynamic between us as I’ve seen it all (not necessarily in the right order) and Iain had only seen a handful of the early stories from the 1960s. We have been really lucky with the calibre of the guests who have agreed to join us as we journey through the Doctor’s televised adventures. We have welcomed a Dalek operator and someone responsible for helping return one of the missing episodes among our esteemed guests.

At the time of writing, we are about to finish recording season two. And this marks a distinct watershed moment in our journey. We have experienced a handful of the stories that are missing from the BBC’s archive, but season three is where the missing episodes begin to outnumber the existing ones, which will make for a challenging experience.

The show has gradually evolved as we have found our “groove”. I was keen to have some kind of context to what was going on in the world when the programmes were first shown, and Iain took that idea and ran with it deciding to introduce a quiz in season one, which has morphed into something we’re calling “The Mind Probe” for season two.

I was also very keen to generate a sense of community between us and the listeners, which is something I really enjoy when listening to podcasts myself, and it feels great to have comments and correspondence from people who are listening in from all over the world. To open up the avenues for discussion we have a presence on Twitter and Facebook as well as a dedicated web page where you can leave audio feedback if you prefer. We even have an old fashioned email address for those listeners who really want to make themselves heard and Twitter’s 280 character limit just isn’t going to cut it.

So, we’re heading into season three, and we’re edging closer to the end of William Hartnell’s tenure, and it’s been a rewarding experience discovering new favourite stories and in some cases reappraising our opinions of others after seeing them within the context of the continuing narrative.

And for those of you that love the modern series and are curious but have yet to dip your toes into the mysterious waters of the classic series, it has never been easier to watch along with us. Practically every story that exists is available on DVD, but if the thought of lining your shelves with these wonderful stories and their oh-so-shiny “value-added material” is a bridge too far then BritBox has them available to stream, including an exclusive reconstruction of The Wheel In Space from Patrick Troughton’s first full season in the lead role.

Additionally, the stories that sadly no longer exist in their original form in the BBC archive are able to be experienced as a result of the dedication of fans who recorded the audio when the stories were first broadcast, and by the creativity of fans in more recent times who have taken the audio and combined it with off-air still photographs and in some cases animation in order to help bring these stories to life in the form of reconstructions.

Before I head back into the vortex, I would like to thank John for letting me ramble on and if you have been inspired to join us on our journey the long way around, you can find All Of Time And Space on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and all the usual podcatchers.

Happy times and places,

Mark

Monday, 15 February 2021

Zack Snyder's Justice League teases Joker



Warner Bros. has released an official trailer for the Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) cut of Justice League in hopes of attracting new subscribers to HBO Max as rival Disney+ heads towards 100 million. Jared Leto's Joker has sent fans into a frenzy.



Here's the official synopsis:

"In Zack Snyder's Justice League, determined to ensure Superman’s (Henry Cavill) ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) aligns forces with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions. The task proves more difficult than Bruce imagined, as each of the recruits must face the demons of their own pasts to transcend that which has held them back, allowing them to come together, finally forming an unprecedented league of heroes. Now united, Batman (Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller) may be too late to save the planet from Steppenwolf, DeSaad, and Darkseid and their dreadful intentions."

If you're wondering why it's framed in 4:3, Snyder wanted to utilise the full IMAX format.

"My intent was to have the movie, the entire film, play in a gigantic 1:43 aspect ratio on a giant IMAX screen," Snyder said at Justice Con. "Superheroes tend to be, as figures, they tend to be less horizontal. Maybe Superman when he's flying. But when he's standing, he's more of a vertical. Everything is composed and shot that way, and a lot of the restoration is sort of trying to put that back. Put these big squares back. ... It's a completely different aesthetic. It's just got a different quality and one that is unusual. No one's doing that."

Will it entice new viewers like Wonder Woman 1984 did at Christmas?

At first blush, it looks markedly superior to the murky mess Joss Whedon (Avengers: Age of Ultron) hurriedly directed after Snyder had to leave the production due to a family tragedy. It was no Avengers Assemble. WarnerMedia has purportedly poured $70 million into the production with a runtime of 4-hours when it's released on 18th March.

Are you looking forward to Zack Snyder's Justice League on HBO Max? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Stargirl shines bright in dark times



Last summer, I discovered DC's Stargirl, streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime (affiliate link) in the UK, and became enthralled by a superhero series that harkened back to director Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie.

I'd fallen out of love with DCTV due to becoming overwhelmed by all The CW spin-offs. However, Stargirl's production values mirrored those of HBO's Game of Thrones and His Dark Materials. The cinematography was worthy of the big screen.

Over the holiday season, I pestered, I mean enthusiastically encouraged Nick Smith to find out if it was just wishful thinking (on my part) during a global pandemic or did we have a superhero Scooby Gang for troubled times? Having cleaned himself up after Swamp Thing...

Guest post by Nick Smith

Judging by its first episode, Stargirl is a cute family show aimed at mid-teen girls and Disney channel devotees. For the second episode on, though, it gets dark and surprising and, at times, wonderful.

Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) becomes a newbie at Blue Valley High School when her mom Barbara (Amy Smart) and stepdad Pat (Luke Wilson) move to a small Nebraskan town. When she discovers a staff with cosmic powers in the basement, Pat admits to her that he used to be Starman’s sidekick Stripesy. Courtney is inspired to become Stargirl, a high-flying superhero who is aided by Pat, leading to some heart-warming father-daughter moments.

Unfortunately, the little town is a hotbed of villainy. Disguised as respectable citizens and sensible parents, the Injustice Society of America wants to make the country great again. Stargirl needs help to stop them, so she enlists the help of misfit school friends to rebuild the Justice League. Her parents are justifiably concerned, especially when she gets the stuffing knocked out of her by the daughter of one of the bad guys. To complicate matters, Barbara could be working for the ISA’s head psychopath too. Did I mention that Solomon Grundy’s locked up in a cell, ready to clobber the kids?

Stargirl feels like a Shazam-style movie, taking the 1940s style and all-American values of the original JSA and transplanting them into the modern day. In this alternate version of DC lore, the Justice Society was destroyed by its evil counterpart 10 years ago; anachronistic names like The Star-Spangled Kid fit with the ‘parents are quaint’ mentality of this show’s primary target audience.

Geoff Johns, who created Courtney and this show, co-developed The Flash and Titans and has been involved in the Arrowverse for years. Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., which set up Courtney’s character, was the first DC comic he wrote for back in 1999, so he must be pleased as punch to see a televised version.

In the 22-year interim, TV and comics have popularized the trope of villainous parents (Heroes, Runaways). But there are enough twists in Stargirl to keep the series interesting. Johns packs in a multitude of characters and challenges, building an arc plot worthy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Two of Stargirl’s friends hit the books like Buffy’s Scooby Gang; Courtney has to navigate the pitfalls of high school friendships and keeping secrets from her mom. Pat is the Rupert Giles-type mentor, training the team, knowledgeable about the past. If not Giles, then Pat is like a DC Forrest Gump, goofy and long-suffering, playing gooseberry to the Seven Soldiers of Victory and chauffeur to the JSA. As Pat, Luke Wilson adds Hollywood charm and confidence to the production, which focuses on newcomers like the sprightly Brec Bassinger (Stargirl).

All of the cast are entertaining; standouts include Anjelika Washington as Beth, who revels in playing a nerd, and Cameron Gellman who makes his sulky James Dean-type character of Rick Tyler likeable. The themes explored - bullying, forgiveness, believing in yourself, relationships with siblings, broken families - all have consequences and have satisfying resolutions.

Stargirl plays like a 13-hour feel-good movie with lots of death and destruction and just enough hints dropped for a second season, scrambled up with Easter Eggs like movie posters for Prez and The Unknown Soldier.

With little references like those and a long-earned understanding of what makes entertaining television, Geoff Johns has taken Stargirl’s simple premise and created a love letter to the comics of his youth that works as an adventure for all ages.

Have you watched Stargirl and are you looking forward to the second season? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 12 February 2021

The Mandalorian star cast in The Last of Us



Pedro Pascal, who plays the titular The Mandalorian in the hit Disney+ Star Wars spin-off series, has been cast as Joel in HBO's live-action adaptation of The Last of Us.

Pascal celebrated the announcement on Twitter, sharing a quote from the game: "No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for."

Pascal will be joined by Game of Thrones co-star Bella Ramsey as Ellie. Ramsey most recently appeared in His Dark Materials.

Neil Druckmann, the writer-director of the Last of Us video games, also reacted to the casting news, writing: "We're absolutely thrilled to have Bella join the TLoU family.... Aaaaand there’s the other half. Stoked to have Pedro aboard our show!"

Are you excited for The Last of Us on HBO? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Gina Carano fired from The Mandalorian



Gina Carano has been fired by Lucasfilm in the wake of social media posts and will not be reprising the role of Cara Dune in the Golden Globe-nominated live-action Star Wars spin-off series, The Mandalorian.

“Gina Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans for her to be in the future,” a Lucasfilm representative said in a Wednesday statement. “Nevertheless, her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”

The Alderaan survivor is a fan-favourite and there are calls for the character to be recast with Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess) in Rangers of the New Republic.

Gina Carano will not be appearing in any future Star Wars projects for Disney.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

WandaVision showrunner talks Family Ties



Major spoiler for Marvel Studios' WandaVision streaming exclusively on Disney+. If you haven't caught up with, or started watching, WandaVision and don't want to find out what's going on, please look away from the screen now.

At the end of the latest episode, following an argument with Vision (Paul Bettany), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) answers the door to see her twin brother, Pietro!

However, this time Pietro's played by Evan Peters (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and not Aaron Taylor-Johnson who was killed in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

This not only plays to the introduction of the multiverse - setting the groundwork for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness - but also the long-established sitcom trope of recasting characters. Series showrunner Jac Shaeffer explains:

“We loved the idea of [bringing him back],” Schaeffer told Marvel.com. “And then we were like, how in the world are we going to make this make logical sense? Like, how do we justify this? Because that's the thing, you can hatch a million great ideas, but to make them land, to make them be grounded, to make them feel organic to the larger story.”

Schaeffer continues:

“We thought like, how do we give him this entrance, and then enjoy that, and then make it crazy? And we had long had the idea of the trope of the brother, or the relative, or whoever comes to town and like, stirs things up with the family — that sitcom trope. Everybody was really excited. I think Kevin [Feige, Marvel Studios president] wanted to make sure that there was a reason for it, that it made sense. And I hope that’s what we did.”

New episodes of WandaVision premiere every Friday exclusively on Disney+.

What do you think will happen next? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi begins filming soon



Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi begins filming in Los Angeles this spring with director Deborah Chow (Lost in Space) at the helm.

The latest Disney+ live-action Star Wars spin-off sees Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) reprise their roles from George Lucas' prequel trilogy and utilises the Volume, an LED-based virtual set technology developed (by former Lucasfilm staffers) for The Mandalorian.

"It'll just be great to do it again. It's so funny, I did my last one in 2003 and it's such a long time ago and the idea of doing it again now is just more exciting than it was then, I think," McGregor said. "I'm thrilled to get the chance to play him again. I've always felt there was a story about between my ones and Alec Guinness' ones and that's what we're gonna do. It should be really interesting."

Following the cataclysmic events of Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan Kenobi went into hiding on Tatooine to watch over and protect Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

However, there's scope for interplanetary adventures and a second face-off with Darth Vader! In Return of the Jedi, Vader tells young Skywalker that Kenobi tried to turn him back to the light side of the Force.

Are you looking forward to the new live-action Star Wars spin-off series set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 8 February 2021

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Super Bowl TV Spot



An official trailer for Marvel Studios' The Falcon and the Winter Soldier dropped during the Super Bowl, which saw veteran quarterback Tom Brady win the coveted NFL trophy for a record-breaking seventh time.



The official synopsis for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier:

"After being handed the mantle of Captain America at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Sam Wilson teams up with Bucky Barnes in a worldwide adventure that puts their abilities to the test as they fight the anarchist group the Flag-Smashers."

The latest live-action spin-off series, starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in the titular roles, was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and follows the conclusion of WandaVision this March on Disney+.

Are you looking forward to the dynamic duo's action-packed adventures? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, 6 February 2021

A multiverse of madness in House of MCU



Spoilers ahead for the latest episode of Marvel Studios' WandaVision on Disney+!

On A Very Special Episode... Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are back in time to the eighties in an homage to Family Ties.

The twins, Billy and Tommy, are rapidly growing up in the town of Westview as they deal with the sudden death of a family pet and are told they can't change things (ironically something their mother did by reanimating their father against his wishes).

Wanda proves why she's the strongest Avenger and could have beaten Thanos, single-handedly, if he hadn't called in an airstrike in Avengers: Endgame! Is anyone a match for the Scarlet Witch? Just don't suggest Captain Marvel to Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris)!

Vision gets to use a Commodore 64, an 8-bit computer that formed an integral part of my formative computing years. Then he breaks free of Wanda's mind control and challenges her in a scene that, once again, deftly showcases the acting abilities of both Bettany and Olsen. It's heartbreaking stuff, and I'm fully invested.

And then... BOOM!

The big cameo we were teased that changes everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Wanda's twin brother, Pietro AKA Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters (X-Men: Days of Future Past), seemingly turns up at the front door, literally, and the multiverse of madness begins with the first X-Men from the Fox film franchise to crossover to the MCU. This opens the cosmic floodgates.

Do you think a recast Pietro (originally played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the MCU) is really back, and what impact will the multiverse have on the Doctor Strange sequel, currently filming in London with director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) at the helm, and Spider-Man 3 rumoured to feature multiple incarnations of Peter Parker? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 4 February 2021

WandaVision cameo comparable to The Mandalorian



Like the Golden Globe-nominated live-action Star Wars spin-off, The Mandalorian, Marvel Studios' Disney+ series are fully interconnected within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in a way not possible for Marvel's Netflix spin-off series, which folded before the launch of Disney+ in 2019.

Actors Paul Bettany (Vision) and Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff) have both teased a major cameo in WandaVision comparable to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in The Mandalorian's second season finale.

Speculation ranges from Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) to Sir Ian McKellen (Magneto). Given WandaVision is inspired by House of M, a seminal comic book series written by Brian Michael Bendis, it's possible Pietro AKA Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) will return but all may not be as it appears.

New episodes of WandaVision premiere every Friday exclusively on Disney+. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in the titular roles, continues Phase 4 on Disney+ on 19th March.

Who do you think WandaVision's major cameo will be? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

The Endgame in WandaVision



Following last week's exciting, but not entirely unexpected, twist, Marvel Studios has released a mid-season trailer for WandaVision on Disney+. Expect spoilers ahead for the decades-spanning sitcom homage.



Back in 2013, Netflix dropped the entire first season of House of Cards in one go and it inspired the first of many discussions with Andrew Lewin over the intervening years. Binge-viewing became part of our water-cooler pop culture lexicon.

However, there’s been pushback with some streaming services adopting a more traditional weekly format to build anticipation, social media discourse and lock-in subscription renewals in an increasingly saturated space.

WandaVision and Disney+ stablemate The Mandalorian have both been beneficiaries of this approach. But the former's courted controversy from casual fans who are taking the series at face value and impatiently bemoaning the lack of bombastic battles a la the big screen Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

They can't see the wood for the trees or, more accurately, white picket fences of an alternate reality Westview. Unlike the splintering Star Trek franchise, fans are treated with respect and rewarded for their emotional investment.

We Interrupt This Broadcast begins in the wake of the unsnap in Avengers: Endgame and delivers a sucker punch as folks discover they've been in limbo for 5 years and loved ones have subsequently passed away during the Thanos Blip.

We experience firsthand Monica Rambeau's (Teyonah Parris) return in a way that wasn't possible in Spider-Man: Far From Home and learn the tragic loss of a fan-favourite character from Captain Marvel.

Trauma and tragedy stalk the hospital corridors with no simple superhero fix. All very meta in the midst of a life-threatening global pandemic and our shared trauma in lockdown. And, on a deeply personal note, I'm reminded of the life-changing traumas of my head injury in childhood and losing mum to complications arising from a uniquely medical matter.

The image of Vision's (Paul Bettany) reanimated corpse was nightmare-inducing as Wanda Maximoff's (Elizabeth Olsen's) nostalgic sitcom facade momentarily falls away revealing a brutal, ghoulish, reality.

Wanda's experienced the death of a loved one before. Her twin brother, Pietro AKA Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), was killed in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Wanda's magical powers have grown exponentially since then.

There's a dark mystery at play as Wanda's mental health further deteriorates before our eyes with seemingly prodigious consequences for the future of the MCU. As Nick Smith wrote previously, Bettany is great but I argue this is Olsen's show. She deftly flips from fun to frightening; no longer overshadowed by her Avengers teammates.

A traumatised superhero, trapped in a dangerous nostalgic reverie (something many of us can relate to in lockdown as I rewatch classic series from Blake's 7 to Worzel Gummidge by way of Grange Hill on BritBox), making WandaVision a subversive pop culture technicolour touchstone that will be mentioned in the same breath as Twin Peaks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more.

Wanda's both protagonist and antagonist in her own story, but who will triumph? Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness may hold the answer.

It's not all bleakness and the upcoming Halloween-themed episode inspired me to buy my first Funko Pops!, which look fantastic in-hand!


New episodes of WandaVision premiere every Friday exclusively on Disney+.

Do you think Wanda is the 'big bad' in Phase 4 or is someone else pulling the strings? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Swamp State: 50 years of Swamp Thing



No stranger to filming in swamps himself, Nick Smith, our resident US-based stellar scribe, takes a break from solving the multiverse mystery of WandaVision on Disney+ and goes in search of an eco-friendly muck monster celebrating half a century.

Guest post by Nick Smith

DC’s latest live-action Swamp Thing series is intelligent and entertaining, with slick production values and first-class actors like Will Patton, Virginia Madsen and Kevin Durand setting the bar high. It brings the 50-year-old comic book character up to date with the downbeat, adult drama and high body count we’re used to in modern, post-Lost adventure shows. But it also has quaint elements like its boggy setting, which at times looks like an old-fashioned Hollywood set, and its environmental concerns straight out of a ‘70s eco-thriller.

Swampie has a long and lumpy history of adaptations. Wes Craven’s 1982 feature film starred Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) as Dr. Alec Holland, transformed in a lab fire into a smooth-featured Swamp Thing played by Dick Durock. Adrienne Barbeau was government scientist Alice Cable and Louis Jourdan was the dark-hearted Anton Arcane, who ultimately transformed into an unconvincingly furry monster.

While the saga went on to great heights in comic book form thanks to Len Wein, Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Stephen Bissette and other creative greats, on-screen he came back in a low-budget comedy. 1989’s The Return of Swamp Thing was followed by live-action and animated shows in the early ‘90s as well as a video game, riding a Tim Burton-spawned wave of superhero shows, which included The Flash and Batman: The Animated Series.

Since then, Mr. Thing has popped up in a couple of Justice League Dark animated features, making cameos in games, the Arrowverse Crisis on Infinite Earths and even in Teen Titans Go! to the Movies. So there’s obviously a fondness for the shambling mud pile and it’s not just because he’s green.

In issue 100 of Swamp Thing, the titular character searches for his daughter Tefe, who has been kidnapped by demons. To communicate with the demons, he requires a special water that will allow him to talk to them. He must also deal with a guardian of Eden, a paradise that lies unexpectedly in the continent of Antarctica.

The story, “Tales of Eden,” is indicative of the comic’s ecological and theological examinations. There are references to the underworld and its minions, the near impossible-to-reach Garden of Eden and Swamp Thing’s responsibilities as a father, even though Tefe is a disembodied ‘ghost.’

From its humble origins as an homage to muck monster horror comics courtesy of Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson, Swamp Thing has become a much-lauded saga for adults. The hero started out as an intelligent, likeably scientist sharing conceptual roots with Bruce Banner AKA The Hulk. As Swamp Thing, he has hobnobbed with DC stalwarts like Superman and Batman but can spend a whole issue growing his head to enormous size so that he can puzzle out a problem, or borrowing a human’s body so that he can conceive a child with the love of his life, Abby Arcane.

Although the sequential series as a whole has necessary narrative tropes such as searching for lost family members and fighting evil villains like (Abby’s dad) Anton Arcane and the Floronic Man, the creative teams go beyond common comic book motifs to look at human progress and its effect on nature. Holland is imbued with the power to inhabit and control any kind of flora. As such, he has a unique, innate connection to plant life and the interconnected world of ‘The Green.’

The setup gives plenty of scope for stories exploring ecotheology – the correlation of religion and the environment. In the ‘80s comic book revamp of Swamp Thing, Holland is transformed into an elemental. He is a spiritual force of nature, as much a part of the fabric of the ecosphere as air or water and ultimately he becomes master of all elemental forces. That’s quite a load to put on a swamp monster’s shoulders. Consequently, Holland struggles with the ethics of his powerful position. Is he a steward or regulator of nature?

Comic books that cover such environmental and doctrinal ethics are rare. Swamp Thing is a deep, rich and sometimes pedagogical series that allows its carefully developed characters to make world-shaping decisions, some poor, some empowering. In the latest TV version of the book, Alec is just learning about the Green and its dark opposite – the Rot – so it’s left to other characters to make important decisions like, ‘should I dump harmful chemicals into the swamp?’

In a timely fashion, those chemicals cause a viral reaction among the local inhabitants of Marais, Louisiana. Abby, working for the CDC, is called in to investigate. With Alec Holland’s guidance, she makes a link between the viral symptoms and the chemicals. Holland’s boat is destroyed but he survives, his body mixing with the chemicals and the swamp to form… a thing.

The show follows Abby, played by the waif-like Crystal Reed, and Holland (Andy Bean is the man, Derek Mears is the monster) as they come to terms with Swamp Thing’s new life and the swamp’s elemental forces. The first few episodes are convoluted, with a ghost child, another young girl psychically attuned to Swampie, a mystic (Madame Xanadu) with unspecified loyalties and a guy full of roaches who disappears after one episode. The weirdness is blamed on the Rot, balanced by The Green, which can also cause spooky illusions.

As if that isn’t enough, we also meet the Phantom Stranger, the Blue Devil (embodied by Sharknado’s Ian Ziering), Anton Arcane in a brief nightmare scene and Swamp Thing nemesis Jason Woodrue, played with twisted glee by The Strain’s Kevin Durand.

The swamp’s Most Watchable vote must go to Will Patton (No Way Out, Armageddon) as the greedy, ruthless Avery Sunderland and Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) as the equally ruthless Sheriff Lucilia Cable, who will do anything to protect her son Matt (Henderson Wade).

Most of the supporting characters are deliciously shady, so it’s the human relationships that really make this show enjoyable. Beyond the fun of seeing some of the bad guys get their just desserts, the Force-like, ecotheological connection between Swamp Thing and The Green lends an epic feel to the series.

All the main storylines are resolved in the space of 10 hours. If the ending feels rushed, that’s because the series was cut from 13 episodes and a subsequent season made unaffordable by a change in tax rebates in North Carolina, where Swamp Thing was filmed.

The new adaptation of DC’s beloved horror comic was described as a ‘hit show’ when it was screened on The CW, with one million viewers tuning in live and mouths smudged out to hide the swear words, leading to hope that there was life in the old bog monster yet. Despite this, the show is ‘unlikely to return,’ according to a Deadline interview with CW Chairman and CEO Mark Pedowitz.

The ‘90s version of Swamp Thing ran for 72 episodes, concluding with an episode ironically titled “It’s a Wrap.” While Swampie lacks the public awareness he had back then, when there were toys on store shelves, a sublime monthly comic and movies to watch on videotape, his environmentally-conscious story is as relevant as ever and I have a creeping feeling that he'll be back on small screens before long. In the meantime, I’m glad to say that the makers of the latest series ended their version on a high note - by acknowledging the comic book creators who spawned the ideas and images that entertain us today.

What are your favourite memories of Swamp Thing? Let me know in the comments below.