Month in Media – July 2017 [#40]

We watched a lot of films this month (EDIT: so many it took almost four months to write them all up!). I’m not really too sure why, although entering the summer blockbuster season has definitely helped. Otherwise, it just seems to have been easier to fit a movie around our lives than an on-going TV show. Definitely not complaining about that, though I do wish I could ‘collapse’ reviews once written – the scrolling feels endless! Perhaps it’s time to make some of those long overdue changes (ha!).

Ongoing media:
TV – A Series of Unfortunate Events (definitely brilliant, but really doesn’t hook you like a lot of modern TV, which is quite refreshing);
TV – Iron Fist (just snuck in at the very end of the month, so haven’t seen much, but it’s a lot better than I had expected so far; even if it is a bit of a poor-man’s Arrow).
Video games – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [Gamecube] (Honestly, I have stopped playing; will remove next month if I don’t come back to it).

Films

John Wick

John Wick is a film that knows what it is, who the potential fans are, where its actors and characters strengths lie, and which never oversteps any of those boundaries. As a self contained film, it’s nearly perfect; taken in the broader context of Hollywood and it’s a little derivative, a little pastiche and a little ridiculous.

Keanu Reeves is great in the titular role, in so far as anyone can be whilst embodying a character eerily similar to the lead in Taken with much less emotional attachment or charisma. Soulless is a little harsh to describe the performance, which feels very real (in a totally wooden sense), but if you remove the negative connotations it’s also not far wrong. It’s a little hard to explain but fair to say there isn’t much in the way of range required to play John Wick.

Most of the surrounding cast are similarly two-dimensional entities, with clear roles, associated emotions and objectives. The idiot, entitled gangster heir is an entitled, childish idiot; the hard grafting, respected mob boss is a hard-ass, slightly terrifying monster; the morally oblique sexy assassin constantly double crosses people; the overly efficient receptionist is overly efficient, and so on. The same flat feeling can be found in the plot, where criminals have a strong moral code until it gets in the way of pacing or story development, at which point it goes out the window (“more a set of guidelines than a code, Ms. Turner”) and guns are magically never out of bullets until an opportune moment to reload presents itself.

Although, in fairness on that last point, at least the guns are routinely out of bullets. John Wick is not a film seeped in realism but you can tell the director has tried to make the action sequences believable. Guns do not infinite bullets and the magazines they use are consistent in their capacity; reloading isn’t easy and fight sequences frequently devolve into scrappy messes. It still takes an incredibly short amount of time to strangle someone and our lead can still take a level of punishment which would make Wolverine wince without blinking or dying, but props where props are due: the action doesn’t feel ridiculous. It’s gritty, dark and frequently over-the-top, but it never crosses the boundaries it sets itself.

Plus, John Wick is choreographed sublimely. At the end of the day, the plot and characters are entirely derived to facilitate two hours of watching an extremely efficient hitman kill a huge number of people, so the fight choreography is where the film lives or dies. Luckily, it works brilliantly, with some completely ridiculous set pieces which leave you genuinely amazed. The stunt performers, including Reeves himself, are great and are backed up by perfectly smooth film work, with some wonderful ‘one take’ sequences, particularly the first real piece of action in Wick’s home which has a fluidity to the camera which really stands out. Humour is placed well throughout the action to enlighten the mood at times and break up what would otherwise be a tiring experience, sometimes through dialogue but largely physical gags.

The result is a visually stunning collection of set pieces strung together by a good-enough plot and hung around the neck of characters with just enough, well, character for you to not care. Like I said at the start, John Wick knows what it is and chooses to just focus on that and do it well, which it achieves in spades.

tl;dr: A gritty, sublimely choreographed action sequence with some largely forgettable characters and plot. A perfect action film not trying to be anything other than a perfect action film.

Central Intelligence

Central Intelligence can only be described as phoned in. You managed to get Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson to star in a whacky buddy cop comedy: this should have been an easy win. Unfortunately, it appears that the studio felt the same way, so just had an intern write the script and then hoped the natural charm and humour of the leads would carry it.

Which, to be fair, almost works. If the script hadn’t been quite as awful as it was, there was a mediocre film to be had. The humour is occasionally funny, the plot is entertaining and the pacing is decent. There are moments which make you sit back and think “Yeah, that works”. But, these are swiftly killed off when Kevin Hart is forced to make weird noises, or Dwayne Johnson’s character flips between loveable idiot to psychopath for the umpteenth time, or literally any other character is given a moment to assassinate their personality or irritate the audience.

Then you have the set pieces, some of which, like the shoot out in Hart’s office, are unbelievable but fun. However, for each of these, you then have a psychiatrist’s office which makes no sense and adds nothing to the film except padding out the run time. These happen a lot and break the pacing, humour and story each time they occur. Even then, if the story underneath was a little more interesting, something could have been salvaged, but it just isn’t. What exactly is the plot? Are we focusing on Kevin Hart being an abject failure and failing to see the positives in his life (trope), or are we focusing on Dwayne Johnson’s CIA agent struggling with emotional trauma from when he was bullied in high school (trope that makes no sense for an active field agent). Or, are we focusing on the “badger” super villain plot device which is, le gasp, all a red hearing to loop us back around to points one and two, but gives us an excuse to have some gun fights. It’s never really clear, though based on the surreal ending (with equally surreal Melissa McCarthy cameo) I guess it was point 2, with point 1 playing a minor subplot role? The thing is, not only is that not overly clear, but none of those options are interesting!

The result is a film which is just dull, with some decent moments of humour which are near universally ruined by everything that happens either side of them. It’s filler, start to finish. I can’t even recommend it as a feel-good film or something to stick on when you just want to switch your brain off. Somehow, it manages bypass both those criteria and come out as infuriatingly poor. Not bad, not awful or rubbish or terrible and certainly not so-bad-its-good. Just poor. Mediocre. Middling. Vague. Do yourself a favour and just pick something else.

tl;dr: Dull. Its not bad; just boring and bland and ultimately pointless. Don’t bother.

Hotel Transylvania 2

I guess the first Hotel Transylvania earned just enough to warrant a sequel, but the plotline really didn’t. I remember enjoying the first film, even finding it funny, but rapidly realised during the opening sequence of part two that almost nothing else had stuck with me. There are monsters, they run a hotel. That much I remembered. The whole love story between Dracula’s daughter and a walking surfer stereotype I had completely forgotten.

Honestly, I think Hotel Transylvania 2 will fit exactly the same niche. Memorable is not a word I would use to describe this film, but nor are rubbish, awful, boring or dull. It made me laugh a couple of times, made me smile a few more and kept me entertained throughout. I feel like they managed to have less fun poking at movie-monster tropes, but then (as I’ve mentioned) I don’t really remember how much of this happened in the first movie. Is there room for improvement: absolutely. Does it really matter to the end film: not hugely.

Which about sums up my experience as a whole. The plot, humour, script, characters, pacing and animation are all perfectly acceptable. Nothing every truly stands out, but nothing ever makes me want to sigh or change channel. The result is a perfectly entertaining kids film that is worth a watch if you have nothing else better to see or just need a cerebral break. I wouldn’t cry if you never get the chance to sit down with Hotel Transylvania 2, but it isn’t the worst use of your time.

tl;dr: Distinctly middle of the road. I will have completely forgotten the film in a few months, but it was entertaining enough for a couple of hours.

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra

Not great, at all. I mean, I wasn’t expecting much, but the plot is formulaic (when it’s comprehensible), the characters and script are completely forgettable and the action is actually quite dull. Given that the film isn’t even that old, the CGI hasn’t stood up well either.

I was never someone who played with or watched G.I. Joe as a kid, so I can’t speak of any nostalgia, but the character interactions are just completely bizarre. Why do a major, international elite arms force allow two pretty random soldiers just join them? Sure, the main character (name genuinely already forgotten) has intel they need but he could provide them with it in a couple of hours, at most. Plus, the nature of that intel makes him instantly compromised from a security view point! But oh well, it’s not like the intel makes any sense, so perhaps the Colonel was just keeping him close to work out what the game plan was. I mean, the solider tasked with transporting the latest super-weapon is attacked by a previously unknown group of extremely advanced terrorists, who just happen to be lead by his ex-fiancée. Yeah, no way in hell is a trained military leader going to buy the “coincidence” line here. Especially considering the soldier’s story is that they only broke up a few years back, at which time said terrorist leader was a homely soccer mom type who could barely cope with the knowledge here fiancée was going to war. Now, she’s openly killing dozens of soldiers whilst wielding incredibly advanced technology and displaying a level of hand-to-hand combat skill that would take a lifetime to develop. But that all makes sense because… no, actually, forget explaining it. Maybe it’s a side effect of her brain control injections… given to her by her brother… who she believes to be dead.

Yeah, you know what, I’m done here. This film is just stupid. Not bad, or ridiculous or garbage, just intellectually stunted to the point of pity. Don’t bother, at all. If you want mindless violence framed around a beloved kids play-thing from the late 1900’s, watch Battleship. At least that makes an attempt at humour, understands what it is and is vaguely entertaining.

tl;dr: Terrible, nonsensical and boring.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Yes, we went to see this in the cinema. In our defence, my partner knows one of the actors in it (King Arthur, of all people) and that was the real reason we decided to go. I can honestly say that, outside of his scenes, nothing about this movie was worth watching. Which isn’t to say that he was a stand-out, but more that in the midst of dozens of jumbled storylines and patched together set pieces, watching a giant, robot, alien dragon tear apart some Medieval knights was actually kind of cool. Merlin was awful, but otherwise the “Dark Ages” scenes were quite fun, in a Michael Bay-ish manner.

Back to the ‘present’ day and The Last Knight is yet further proof that the franchise died long ago and any further sequels are merely the equivalent of gas passing from the lungs of the already rotting corpse. The last film, which introduced the Dinobots, was so forgettable I forgot I’d watched it. Twice! To it’s (partial) credit, The Last Knight at least manages to create a plotline so poor that it will likely stick around in my memory.

The plot feels like a rough draft of a Dan Brown book, having long since been discarded by it’s author, was discovered in a Hollywood trash can and somehow ended up on an executive producers desk. Once there, in an attempt to ensure someone would watch it, the Transformers were bolted on. But which Transformers? Well, franchise staples Bumblebee and Optimus Prime are back, though the latter is relegated to a bit roll spending more time as a narrator and transforming a total of once, off screen. For the villains, we get Megatron and assorted Decepticons we’ve never heard of, have zero characterisation and designs straight from a rejected 90’s “x-treme” comic book tie-in. There are no character arcs for any of the Transformers (unless you count inexplicable dino-babies) except for Prime, whose own purpose can be summed up as ripping off The Winter Soldier, but doing so having only read the DVD blurb and watching a single trailer. His ‘brain washing’ and betrayal, followed by a subsequent return to character, really only serve to ensure he isn’t around for years, in which his fellow Autobots are all-but hunted to extinction. Of course, Megatron is still on Earth, but doesn’t both using this time to consolidate any of his own power. Indeed, for the great villain of the franchise, Megatron seems utterly useless; Bumblebee (whose origins are retconned yet again to include serving in WWII) is clearly the most powerful Transformer at this point. Every other Transformer has it’s head cut off and is dead, but ‘Bee just flies back together like some robotic Jedi.

If the story is a mess, the dialogue is almost unbelievable. There are some good actors here, but they have been given nothing to work with. There are lines which make no sense, character revelations which are so forced they feel scripted and pieces of dialogue that feel left over from previous iterations of the plot. Characters explain some actions which have already been explained by other plot lines, creating confusing paradox-like moments, whilst major plot twists aren’t covered at all. Most characters are entirely superfluous as well. Mark Wahlberg returns as the sole protector of the entire race of Transformers, for reasons that are never really explained, but which lead him to the exact position to receive some magical pendant and become the titular “Last Knight”. Except the pendant serves no purpose except to make a magic sword appear to save Optimus Prime from would-be executioners whose presence or actions are never explained. The sword then disappears and is never mentioned again. I think it’s meant to be Excalibur, but honestly have no idea. Joining him are comedy black man (good but played zero role), impoverished orphan child (good but utterly pointless and clearly used because Wahlberg’s daughter refused to return for another film) and discount Angelina Jolie (not great despite being the only character with legitimate reason for being involved). Oh and for reasons probably only known to himself and the debt collectors, Anthony freaking Hopkins. I have no idea why an actor of this calibre would agree to do a Transformers film, but even he couldn’t save the script. His presence did allow us Cogman, the only Transformer with any character (even if it was one which wildly swung between extremes) but beyond that his role was a walking excuse to advance the plot.

Really, there is nothing much to say that is positive about the film. The explosions were big (often far too big to make sense), the CGI was acceptable (but never great) and the pacing existed. I spent more time laughing behind my hand at the serious moments then at any of the (many, many) “jokes”. All-in-all, just don’t bother. Unfortunately, based on the final scene (and box office takings), it looks like The Last Knight will not be the last Transformers film. I think, though, it may be the last one I watch.

tl;dr: God awful, but proves that I would watch a film about King Arthur teaming up with aliens to defeat the Saxons (possibly).

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher

Black Widow & Punisher is set in the Marvel Anime universe, alongside several TV shows and Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore. That means the dialogue, action and characters all follow very Japanese animation tropes and styles. In many ways that’s quite fun, but it does have some negatives.

Chief amongst those is the script, which feels stilted and poorly paced compared to more Western animation. Part of that is just the differences in intonation and phrase emphasis between the cultures, but I imagine a large part is that the translation has been done a little too quickly and forced to fit mouth movements. The result is passable dialogue that occasionally leaves you scratching your head, and which frequently veers wildly away from the standard characterisation of the main heroes on display.

Notably, the villains aren’t as badly impacted by the disjointed script because they’re basically brand new. Whilst the terrorist organisation Leviathan have a long history, they ultimately just exist here to provide nameless henchman for beat-downs. The main villain is Elihas Starr, whose name fans may recognise as that of the villain “Egghead”, but beyond the name the two are utterly different. This version of Elihas is still a scientist, but one that was also a S.H.I.E.L.D operative, close friends with Fury and Black Widow’s ex-lover, thought dead. Elihas is an interesting character, largely because his motivation is something other than world domination or money, but rather a desperation borne out of perceived inadequacy. He believes that, to truly have a shot at a life with Widow, he must become more than just a world-class scientist. Yes, it is a bit contrived and no, it doesn’t have any hidden depths, but it just about works. The one down-side is that it doesn’t really give the film much in the way of stakes, with the super-serum soldiers appearing pretty easy to take down, but that actually allows the script to focus more on the Punisher and his place in the Marvel-verse, which is much more interesting.

Script and slightly dubious villain/love-interest subplot aside, the rest of Black Widow & Punisher is a decent attempt at a fun superhero storyline. Focusing on two non-powered heroes allows for a much more stealth-based plotline, though action is still ever present and wonderfully animated (although the amount of back flips Widow does is often, shall we say, overzealous). Animation in general is good, with clever frame transitions, good use of light and smooth movements. It is, as mentioned, incredibly manga-esque, but that’s part of the fun. Action sequences are generally well choreographed, though the fist-to-fist punch stand-off trope is used far too regularly. The final show down, for which the Avengers and a weird assortment of Z list villains show up to help with, is well paced and interestingly put together. Plus, character design in general is just interesting; not great, but as anime variations go, these are done well. Overall, definitely a significant improvement over Rise of the Technovore.

The end result is a perfectly acceptable movie. It starts a little rocky, with some slightly awkward dialogue, but once the plot is well under way it’s watchable enough. There’s nothing particularly new or unique on offer here, but what you get is interesting, entertaining and fun.

tl;dr: A decent outing for Marvel Anime, though nothing too special.

Jupiter Ascending

I’ve heard both very positive and highly critical reviews of Jupiter Ascending, but I think the reality is somewhere in the middle. I enjoyed the film, but it definitely isn’t one I’ll be rushing back to watch.

The plot is interesting enough, though feels quite derivative of The Matrix, which is a shame considering they’re both Wachowskis films. I mean, at some point I’d like to see a move by the famous duo which doesn’t place humanity at the centre of a plot to use us for fuel. That said, the intergalactic world of near-immortal god like people was beautifully designed and quite intricate at times. I liked that immortality had lead to a slightly more nuanced ‘world’ for once, where hedonism was absolutely indulged in but ultimately had worn off millennia ago to be replaced with various other, longer term appetites which varied between characters. That feels a lot more likely then the infinite life = infinite pleasure concept which is often bandied about amongst science fiction works.

I also enjoyed that this ancient intergalactic civilisation was neither perfect nor thought of itself as such. It was aware that it had failed at times in the past, such as with creating genetically engineered super soldiers which couldn’t be controlled, and allowed the audience to directly see some of the results. Again, though, a lot of these ideas felt derivative. The correlations between Jupiter Ascending and certain parts of the Hunger Games world are likely coincidental, given the timelines involved for both projects, but use of angel imagery, anti-gravity devices and genetic splicing (especially with misrepresented ‘wolf life’ traits) all feel a little well worn if you’re even just a passing fan of the genre.

In honesty, then, the plot and world aren’t too special. They’re passable, entertaining enough and never particularly irksome, but they also won’t be particularly influential. In reality, much of what steps the film up from simply mediocre are the performances and special effects. The latter are simply stunning, with some clever-enough ideas executed well beyond their requirements, such as the blue plasma bursts on the anti-grav boots. As mentioned above, the set building, costumes and general world as shown by the film is visually stunning and if you enjoy that side of film making Jupiter Ascending will not disappoint. Stuck on top of the pretty veneer are some pretty fun performances from most of the lead actors. Both Channing Tatum and Sean Bean (who doesn’t even die!) are well cast as low-class but highly trained police and bring a much higher level of humanity to their characters then the script alone would have conveyed. Eddie Redmayne is characteristically brilliant, giving the megalomaniac dictator role a slightly off-hinged and disconcertingly quite spin. It doesn’t work in every scene but when it hits home it makes him far more sinister then I think anyone else could have managed – definitely not your stereotypical sci-fi bad guy. Then there’s Mila Kunis, who frankly does extremely well to breath a bit of life into a character whose main purpose is to be the largely characterless audience analogue, another tired genre trope. Again, none of these characters are going to stick with me for much time (with the possible exception of Redmayne’s performance) but they’re, frankly, far better then the script and plot deserve and lift the film up from being completely mediocre.

What you’re left with is an entertaining, overlong and trope filled science fiction epic with some clever action sequences and just enough by way of plot to keep you happy. The pacing is done well, the score is forgettable but fitting and the direction is barely noticeable, which is neither good nor bad. If you like the genre you’ll enjoy the film but if it isn’t your cup of tea then definitely one to skip.

tl;dr: Definitely mediocre but fun enough with some decent acting, interesting world building and beautiful effects/sets.

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call

Ah, the film the internet loves to hate. Derided for everything from its script, to the casting choices to the special effects, I can’t say I had particularly high expectations going in. Possibly because of that, I ended up having an absolute blast and laughing more than I have done in quiet a while.

To which I should stress that this reboot is far, far from perfect. Considering how beloved the original is (rightfully so, imho) I can understand some of the hate. The film can be considered in two parts: the first half is an origin story, getting the Ghostbusters together; the second half is a paranormal mystery and action film when they begin to actually bust some ghosts. With the exception of the opening sequence in the manor house (effectively a prologue), the first part is pretty awful. There are some nice enough character moments, but for the most parts people are introduced, given a quirk and then never developed further. Several key plot points are never explained, such as why one of the main characters believed so fervently in ghosts she wrote a book about it (very recently based on the photographs) yet is now adamant she is wrong, or even why people have suddenly started reading said book despite it still barely selling in a market littered with competition. In fact the opening half is so full of comedy ex machina (for want of a better term) that it can be quiet painful. Why are Abby and co fired by the Dean (whose entire character is awful) when they’ve just brought an Ivy League professor on board to a failing community college, along with genuine ground breaking evidence. They don’t even end up in the fire station until the end of the film, so this entire sequence appears to be just to setup a partial punchline to the running Chinese food gag. Although, conversely, that gag appears to have only been put in place to serve as reasoning for why they work above a Chinese restaurant, so the whole thing is circular!

Also, no one ever explains whether Leslie Jones has quit her main job or not. At times she seems to say she has, then she brings in clothes “from work”, then complains about quitting her day job. And if they can barely afford to hire a secretary (how do they even afford that?) why does no one bat an eyelid at Jones just rocking up and sticking around? In fact, the whole money thing is too big of a rabbit hole, considering the amount of heavy elements and nuclear devices lying around.

The issue is, the film doesn’t need to be clever. Some of its best moments are when it is just self aware and lazy, like when Jones explains she can borrow a car from her uncle and turns up in a hearse. Of course it’s a hearse, it had to be a hearse and that explanation holds up. Plus it lets Kate McKinnon get a quick quip in about irony which is genuinely funny. When Answer the Call is being self-aware it works, without really having to try. It could have lent on viewers expectations and fan service a lot more, without all the mess that we get in the first half instead.

That feeling of “you came so close, how did you drop it!?” is repeated with the casting. I personally really like the female cast, it twists up things enough to make this a reboot rather than a remake, which allows a lot more creative freedom. I also like the actresses that were chosen, who are all solid comedic actors. Yet they do feel a little wasted and frequently have to make do with less than stellar writing. Perhaps some of that is riffing gone slightly off, but I feel with this much talent present the problems must stem from the base script itself. That said, Kate McKinnon is brilliant throughout and, frankly, worth watching the film for alone. Definitely someone I will be keeping track of in the future, she’s just brilliantly eccentric and genuinely hilarious. A nod of appreciation also needs to go to Chris Hemsworth, whose bumbling secretary is exactly the kind of humour I would normally cringe at, but instead had me laughing. I definitely feel the end sequence making the cops perform Thriller should have actually happened (at least a short sequence) during the film, but he clearly had a huge amount of fun in that role.

The old ‘buster’s cameos are a little different, feeling just worthwhile enough. They’re a little cringe inducing, sure, but I can almost forgive them. Bill Murray is almost entirely wasted, however, playing the sceptic character and simply killing him off is both an odd choice and jarring. It doesn’t work from a character stand point, it’s clearly telegraphed from a mile away and it creates a large plot hole in terms of why no one is prosecuted for killing a minor celebrity. Just weird.

However, despite all of these obvious and often-irritating flaws, I found Answer the Call funny, nostalgic and with some pretty fun scares. It’s not a horror movie, but it shouldn’t be, so the ghosts go just far enough to leave you a little creeped out but nothing more. That’s how Ghostbusters films should be. The action is adequately campy, the ghosts are ridiculous and the plot leans on all of the standard paranormal nonsense that it should. Again, these are all elements of what a Ghostbustsers film just is and arguing that they’re in anyway wrong would be to miss the point. The film needed to be a lot more self aware, but when it gets it right the result is pretty enjoyable. Plus, for all the issues of the first half, the second half just runs with the logical formula. Stakes are upped, laughs are had and supernatural antics are ramped to breaking point. The actions characters take aren’t always that logical, the money issue never goes away and the sequence with the table-clinging in the diner is just awful, but otherwise the second half is enjoyable. The metal festival is funny (and creepy) and the final invasion is spectacular.

The result is that I actually really enjoyed the film. It felt enough like the originals to work for me, whilst bringing new material to the table that modernised it all a fair bit. Yes, there are a load of big issues, but I laughed a lot and I never asked for much more from the franchise. Ultimately, I would genuinely go and see a sequel in the cinema if they ever made one, and personally hope that does happen. I feel like, with the awkward origin story out of the way, a sequel could be really quite good. Great, even.

tl;dr: Hilarious, campy and just creepy enough. There are some bad parts but overall a very enjoyable reboot of the franchise. Zuul, grant us a sequel!

Miss Congeniality

Full disclosure: I am not a Sandra Bullock fan. Whilst I think she can definitely act well, there’s something about the way she chooses to portray characters that just takes me out of a film and irritates me. As a result, I’m a little biased.

That said, I did enjoy Miss Congeniality… just about. At the core is a fun premise with a decent execution, but I wouldn’t say the film has aged that well. The script, plot and, particularly, the humour feels very 90’s and not in a good way. As a whole, the film seems to simultaneously embody the zany, whacky vibe that the 90’s committed to in big way whilst also attempting a more self-aware type of humour, which became popular in the early 2000’s. Given the Millenium release, that makes a lot of sense, but the result is a film which is too whacky to make the self-awareness stick, whilst constantly calling to attention how ridiculous it is.

There’s also the other spectre of the 90’s looming marge: Girl Power! The film goes out of its way to be Modern and Feminist and embrace the same values as ladette culture, meaning a brash mouth and openly gross female lead. Bullock isn’t just pretending to be “one of the guys” to fit in or advance her career, she just genuinely is one, being so painfully macho that she’s frequently the most “manly” agent in the room. At the time, this hit a societal trend that would have felt refreshing, genuinely modern and actively progressive. By current standards though, it feels a little misguided and blunt. It’s still clearly a lot of fun from a female perspective and at no point comes close to true sexism (in either direction), but there are plenty of moments which made me cringe or feel a little uncomfortable. Some of that is hard to pin down, and Miss Congeniality definitely gets points in eschewing a lot of Hollywood gender stereotypes, but I can’t feel fully comfortable with what happens. At the end of the day, Bullock’s character still has to go through a process where she realises that she isn’t truly ‘complete’ as a woman unless she embraces her feminine side. That would be an acceptable critique on the trope of women having to be uber-manly in order to be treated with respect, but her character isn’t set up as someone who is having to play a role at work to get by. Far from it, we see her male colleagues accept her completely, with the only person standing in the way of career progression being herself (also a bit of a stupid plot device) and through the use of flashbacks we know that she has had a typically masculine personality since she was very young. So instead the film tells her that, despite being exactly who she is (a weird stereotype of Girl Power), she needs to become more feminine, interested in hair and makeup and shoes, in order to be fulfilled. Oh, and she needs to find a man. So yeah… there are points here for progressive gender ideas but also some pretty large problems.

Putting that aside, the film holds up well enough. The plot is genuinely ridiculous and the main villains explanation for attempted murder is never more than “woman scorned” syndrome (albeit scorned by an employer rather than a lover), but the characters you meet along the way feel real enough to keep you invested. The story plays out by the numbers, but the script occasionally sparkles, with some genuinely funny moments. The action is a little clunky but never distracts, much like the soundtrack. Plus, overall, the cast is great and provide perfectly enjoyable performances (particularly if you don’t cringe every time Sandra Bullock starts hamming things up). Miss Congeniality is a fun film with enough positives to be worth watching, but I can’t say there’s anything here that makes me want to watch the sequel.

tl;dr: Feisty fun but definitely beginning to show its age.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Everybody has always said that the only way Spider-Man would ever be done right is if Marvel did. Everybody was (sort of) correct: Homecoming is brilliant and perfectly captures everything Spidey, whilst also managing to be a genuinely clever and interesting film. Right now, Marvel is very much back in its groove and top of the superhero game.

But I say sort of correct because I genuinely don’t think that Homecoming could exist without the original Raimi trilogy or the Andrew Garfield reboot. Why? The original trilogy did the truly comic-book, fan service films that had to come first. Peter Parker was a little wet-behind-the-ears and the third film was awful (though none have stood the test of time), but crucially the characters all felt like they’d been lifted straight out of the Silver Age comics which made them famous. It also contained just enough of the 90’s TV cartoons to appeal to the younger fans. The films are riddled with bad acting, poor scripts and terrible direction and feel completely amateur by modern standards, but they were very definitely Spider-Man films. To contrast, Homecoming takes extreme liberties with the source material. There’s no origin story, there are new characters, Aunt May is young and attractive, MJ is a non-white brunette and there isn’t a hint of Osborne or Oscorp in sight. If Homecoming were the first cinematic outing for Spidey the fanboys would have their pitchforks out screaming blue murder.

Similarly, the Amazing Spider-Man films got a bit of the grittiness out of the system. I will further maintain that Andrew Garfield was an almost perfect casting for Peter Parker, and Emma Stone was brilliant as Gwen Stacy. The films were poorly paced and had terrible villain designs, but the main characters and action were great. They also provided a crucial buffer and got Gwen some well deserved time on centre stage. Again, without these films ticking off the last few items on a fan’s wish-list there would have been much greater pressure on Marvel. Between the original trilogy and the two Amazing reboots, pretty much all of the iconic Spider-Man scenes and plots have been told. Marvel was therefore clear to take the character and truly mould him to fit their vision, making him work within the MCU without having to tip-toe around fan service.

Which is brilliant, because the end result is truly fantastic. In Homecoming Marvel is finally starting to play with the incredibly intricate universe it has built. The villain is directly tied to the Chitauri invasion of New York, but in a human and believable way. Peter is being directly mentored (read: monitored) by Happy and Stark. The US schooling system has a library of inspirational video recordings of Captain America. Not only are the cross overs between the other films genuinely clever and entertaining, they make Homecoming feel incredibly included. Whereas films like Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy feel divorced from the events in the Avengers franchise, Homecoming is happening around the edges. It’s very well done, often incredibly humorous (“I think he’s probably a war criminal now, but whatever”) and makes these new characters feel like they’ve been there since day one. It’s something the TV shows in the MCU are desperately needing, but for a more street-level hero like Spidey, it works perfectly.

On top of the nods to past events in the MCU I have to mention the possible hints at a pretty major future event: Miles Morales. And by possible I mean that Kevin Feige has heavily hinted that they’re going to happen. Donald Glover is in this film, which is a fun nod towards his year’s long campaign to play Miles in a Sony reboot. Unfortunately, instead of playing the Ultimate Spider-Man, Glover has a role as Aaron Davies, a small time crook. He does, however, mention that he has a nephew in Queens, which instantly made me wonder if that nephew could be Miles. Sure enough, in the comics, Davies is Miles’ uncle. We also have Parker losing his backpack in an alleyway in Queens near the start, which is a similar origin to how Miles original gets his webs in one variation of his origins. It’s an incredibly exciting Easter Egg for long time fans of the black web-slinger and personally I’m so much more hyped for future Spider-Man films now there’s a (good) chance Miles may make an appearance.

All of which is to say that, yes, you absolutely should go and see Homecoming. It’s easily the best Spider-Man film we’ve had to date, with perfect casting across the board, some very clever humour and a genuinely interesting plot. The Vulture may not be top of Spidey’s rogues gallery but Keaton plays him brilliantly, and combined with the twist of his relationship with Peter makes him a genuinely chilling yet believable villain (not something I thought I’d be saying about the Vulture…). The inclusion of Iron-Man does feel a little forced at times but also helps explain Parker’s appearance in Civil War whilst also making the universe a lot more believable, with both inhabiting the same city after all. Plus, that Iron Spider wink-nod near the end is a brilliant fan moment. Homecoming has set up an interesting, nuanced and funny version of Spider-Man whose future outings are now firmly atop my Must Watch list.

tl;dr: The Spider-Man movie you’ve always wanted but never imagined. Truly brilliant and a welcome addition to the MCU.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Probably the least Tim Burton film made by Tim Burton in years. To be clear, I love Burton and his style (in fact I’m a rare believer that his interpretations of the likes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland are either as good as, or better than, the originals) but it was a little refreshing seeing it take a backseat for once. It also likely helped Miss Peregrine’s feel a lot more unique and original then it otherwise would have done.

Overall, though, the art direction and visuals were stunning. The plot and characters occasionally felt a little over-borrowed (see below) but the film looked incredible throughout. Each “peculiar” person was imbued a real sense of character and the clothing, lighting and – most of all – the locations were brilliant. Blackpool felt real, the Welsh village felt real, the house itself felt… somehow, hyper real. It was cleverly done but simultaneously helped create this fantastical world whilst keeping it firmly grounded in our own. From a character design and art direction perspective alone I would definitely recommend a watch.

In other areas, however, Miss Peregrine’s had some weak spots. For the most part, acting was more than acceptable (though never truly memorable) and it was a lot of fun seeing the likes of Sam Jackson and Graham Linehan in a fantasy. Plus, Eva Green was born to play these sorts of roles; if you want to see her stretched in a fantasy then watch Penny Dreadful, but to see her just having a lot of fun then Miss Peregrine is a great role. It makes me realise that the Harry Potter franchise definitely missed out on casting her within the premiere wizarding world.

Speaking of Harry Potter, if there’s one area I would say Miss Peregrine’s felt flat, then it is definitely the world building. The ideas behind the Peculiars, time loops and Hollows are great and have all the elements to feel like a genuinely unique world. I’ve never read the book, so perhaps that does the world more justice, but there was something about the film which meant you never truly felt immersed. Unlike truly great fantasies, like Harry Potter, Middle Earth or Narnia, the world of Miss Peregrine and co. never quiet feels real. It doesn’t draw you in and make you wish it was real, although I’m not really too sure why. Perhaps it’s the fact that you have to be born a Peculiar, which means that there is less potential for wish fulfilment. Perhaps it’s just that, individually, none of the ideas are truly unique. The result is that the world feels like a mash-up of the X-Men, Potter and (weirdly) Jumper franchises, with a dash of Groundhog Day thrown in on top. Even the Hollows just screamed Internet creepy-pasta, rather than unique creature. They looked like monsters from several Guillermo Del Toro or Burton films mashed together, with a healthy dose of Slenderman blended on top.

All of which is a shame, because underneath these similarities is a genuinely intriguing and well laid out world. Whilst some of the main characters had “run of the mill” super powers, like fire starting and invisibility, others were far more interesting and clever. Dream projection was a fun concept and the animation and control of non-living objects was disturbing but definitely unique! Top of all, though, was the main love interest. Her powers are never fully explained, but she’s effectively an Air Avatar, able to manipulate air and wind. Alone, that would be an interesting but meh power, but combined with her constant struggle to prevent herself floating away it leads to some fascinating visuals and clever plot twists. In a film introducing a whole race of super-powered individuals, you were always going to get some that had been done before (and should do, it makes sense) but Miss Peregrine’s also manages to create some very memorable and unique powers, which is impressive. It’s something the myriad X-Men films have attempted on dozens of occasions and largely failed at.

The disjointedness aside, though, I did really enjoy the film. There’s definite room for improvement but the overall plot, acting, sound work and – above all – visuals are excellent. A couple of tightening screws to the characterisation, a recast for “resurrection boy” (he had a weird role and poor scripting, but also an honestly impressive lack of energy or emotion despite being the centre of a secondary love story) and some more time painting in the details or the world and Miss Peregrine’s would have been one of the most intriguing fantasy tales in years.

tl;dr: A great effort at some genuinely interesting and unique fantasy, let down by a lack of world building and the occasional blunder. Enjoyable but buzzing with greater potential.

The Princess and the Frog

After a string of animated ‘failures’, The Princess and the Frog was somewhat of an interesting pivot point for Disney and arguably kick-started the renaissance of Disney Animation that has gone on to create the likes of Tangled, Frozen and Moana. Yet it’s also one of those films which has always failed to capture my attention, so it was great to finally sit down and watch it. As a result of that lack of attention though, the end result was almost completely unexpected.

I knew the film was a more modern take on the “Disney Princess” formula, being set in a modern (ish) city with non-white (le gasp!) characters in main roles, but I had still expected it to be largely about a ‘princess’ meeting a ‘prince’. I had thought the twist was that the prince in question was going to be the damsel in distress, which is partially correct. I wasn’t expecting the ‘princess’ to also be in the same distress, resulting in the almost total removal of the plot from the vibrant, modern world it was suggestively set within. Nor was I expecting to have this many talking animals.

In some ways, then, it harks back even further then I had anticipated to the likes of The Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood, both firm personal favourites. Unlike those films, however, the animals in The Princess and the Frog are less nuanced personifications of certain emotions or motifs and more personifications of racial stereotypes. We have the Cajun firefly, the idiot alligator with no sense of purpose beyond fun which felt a little uncomfortably similar to a minstrel of ages (thankfully) past and the French frog (I realise the Prince wasn’t literally French but the accent and stereotypes all fit France better then anywhere else). Our main character, Tiana, is a little better and does feel quiet sensitively written, both towards her race and her gender, though her arc isn’t going to be winning any awards for originality.

That said, the heart of the story is distinctly Disney and wholesome as all get-out. Again, it’s nothing too new: one character lives for the future, the other lives for the present, neither are wholly fulfilled – action! But it does remain a plot that works and gives the story just enough direction and heart to take you along for the ride. Which is a good thing, because the ride is completely beautiful.

There were two big elements I was looking forward to from the design of The Princess and the Frog: the animation of the Voodoo world and the soundscape possible with early 1900’s New Orleans. Luckily, the film delivers both wonderfully. The music is frenetic and rich, with plenty of Jazz but also dabs of soul, Cajun folk and even some country which really produces a flavour of the South States. Again, it could be argued that it really is a flavour of the stereotype of the South States, but it’s still a fun ride. Layered on top of that music are some beautiful and arresting visuals. The sequences with the fireflies at night and any time the Shadow Man is in frame are magical, but far and away the living shadows themselves steal the show. The fluidity with which they move through a scene is genuinely horrifying to watch and lend the film some much needed drama and tension, but they are also used for good comedic effect on several occasions.

Unfortunately, with such a solid backdrop of musical accompaniment, the songs themselves are almost entirely forgettable. The animation surrounding them, such as the scenes noted above and also the sequence with Mama Odie, is often fantastic and draws you in to the action, but I’d struggle to recall a single chorus line or title. There’s certainly no equivalent to the Circle of Life or A Whole New World that will have you humming refrains for days, but the music is certainly not bad either.

Which I think is largely how to sum up The Princess and the Frog: nothing on offer is bad, and taken together the sum of the parts is genuinely enjoyable, but it also won’t set your imagination on fire. It’s definitely worth a watch but it won’t be a Disney film I’d particularly bother coming back to.

tl;dr: The shadows are awesome, the jazz is slick but ultimately the story a little flat. Worth a watch but no modern classic.

Les Misérables

I’ve heard the music, I’ve seen the posters and I’ve read about the hype but at long last I can claim to have finally actually seen the film (though not yet the stage show). My thoughts? The hype is real, but I also see why this isn’t a slam-dunk critics choice.

As I’ve never seen the stage show I don’t know how faithful the adaptation was, but from what I gather it sticks pretty closely to the source material. With that in mind, Les Misérables is an absolute triumph as a stage-to-film adaptation. It consistently feels somehow real yet the constant use of verse rather than dialogue never feels at odds. The set pieces have a hint of spectacle but they never feel like a “number”, unlike films like Moulin Rouge. It manages to feel somehow stage like yet doesn’t feel staged or stilted; actors behave naturally and interact with their surroundings on a logical way, but the direction and camera angles emphasise them in a similar manner to stage lighting. It’s clever and beautiful and utterly spell binding.

Indeed, purely from a cinematic point of view, Les Mis is stunning. The colour grading, compositions and shot sequences are brilliant, creating a film as visually entertaining as it is just plain entertaining. Costume, set design and makeup are equally exceptional and really help emphasise the tone of the film. Of course, the sound design is brilliant too, not just the score (obviously great) but the folly work and various sound effects all slot together incredibly well. The result is a brilliant piece of cinematography, start to finish.

That isn’t to say it’s all good. Whilst I felt the casting was spot on and every actor gave a great performance, there are the occasional odd moments. I’ll admit to being pulled out of the film several times during the opening sequences as Hugh Jackman’s vocals flitted between Australian and Irish, leaving me slightly confused as to where his character was meant to be from. This was reinforced by several minor characters also appearing to have Irish accents, something I can only assume was weird casting or poor sound mastering. Above all though, there is the utterly appalling and unintentionally comical sound effect dubbed over Javert’s death. I have no idea why they didn’t have his body hit the centre of the whirlpool, as that seems far more fitting as a framed shot when compared to the style of the film, but even with the impact in shot… why that sound effect? I’d heard it was a bit crap but it took me so utterly by surprise and was so poorly done I burst out into laughter at what should have been a very sombre moment. Misstep is a little too kind.

From a plot perspective, characters were not always introduced in the most straight forward of manners and back stories are sketchy at best. You find out most of the main details the plot necessitates, but these aren’t fleshed out and wildly interesting characters. Everyone you meet is fairly one dimensional, becoming utterly so the further they are removed from Jackman’s focal point. For the most part this is both acceptable and not much of an issue, but it does occasionally leave irritations in the plot. Why doesn’t Valjean just leave France? Why does he try to steal the priest’s silver, despite seeming petrified of going back to jail? Why are the rich aristocrats sons plotting revolution (or is just genuine empathy)? Why doesn’t Valjean flee with Cosette? How are they still living in Paris so many years later? As I’ve said, none of these issues are that great but they do leave you wishing for just a little more exposition. That lack of exposition also leaves you feeling like the film is about to end several times, which does begin to get a little Return of the King-esque in pacing.

Minor niggles aside though, Les Misérables was an excellently crafted, thoroughly entertaining, stunningly acted and brilliantly executed film that no one should miss. The music and vocals are brilliant, the adaptation remains pleasingly theatrical whilst embracing the realism of film, the cinematography is beautiful and the story is wonderfully miserable. Les Mis is not a happy film, but it is a triumphant one, especially with that incredibly emotional ending. You really should hear the people sing.

tl;dr: Superb. A truly brilliant adaptation and well deserving of the praise

Warcraft

Warcraft isn’t quite as awful as I was anticipating. Well, that’s a lie, it absolutely was, but let me explain. Yes, the acting, direction, script and plot are all fairly weak. Yes, the CGI has some dubious moments. Yes, the plot manages to systematically overload you with information whilst managing to remain incredibly hard to follow. But, ultimately, yes I would watch a sequel.

Whilst Warcraft suffers from the source material effectively just pasting together all the most popular fantasy tropes it could get away with, the result is actually quite fun. The one unique (and I use that term extremely loosely) aspect of the games is the divide between magic users (which is effectively the Force divide from Star Wars), which luckily is used as the central question in the film. That works, and allows the world of Warcraft (heh) to be built around it fairly reasonably and very accurately. It has been years since I last played any of the games, and even then it was only ever a passing interest, but the art design feels very faithful. Personally, I appreciated that, but it does give a lot of the races and creatures a bit of an “uncanny valley” vibe. If you don’t know what they’re going for, then, the CGI can look utterly terrible. However, I don’t feel this is a fault of the studio; had they utterly reinvented the look of the universe the existing fans would have crucified them. Basically, they were stuck between a rock and a hard place and I feel the end result was a decent compromise, well executed.

Still, there are several scenes where the backgrounds and large CGI components look incredibly dated, far beyond the actual release of the film. Considering the budget they were given, this feels particularly odd, though some of the main CGI characters (the orcs in particular) are very well designed. The magic is also worthy of mention, though unfortunately the novelty was missed for me because Doctor Strange has done something very similar since.

Alongside the good notes of the visuals, the action is solidly maintained and well choreographed. Battle sequences feel epic yet remain easy to follow and key characters are always clearly framed. Again, you could definitely make the argument that the actions and strategies are a little unrealistic, but they also have the feel of the games about them. Fan service vs realism: fan service wins, and again I can’t really complain about that.

Less well put together are the casting decisions and scripting. I would struggle to say any one actor did a bad job, but they weren’t really given much to begin with. The script is very paint-by-numbers, with the major reveals, plot points and character relationships able to be deduced within the first third of the film. The first moment you meet the captain’s son, a single sentence tells you he will die. Similarly, the amount of hints given that the Archmage (or whatever, I do not remember the incredibly convoluted naming schemes) is evil leaves you wondering why the hell anyone trusts him in the first place. Less obvious was the love interest between female orc and human captain; I mean, again it was clear this was the route the story would take, but there wasn’t any plot development to call it an arc. Instead, midway through one scene, they suddenly go all gooey eyed and declare love for one another. It’s a bit weird, to say the least. It’s also a bit weird that everyone in the kingdom (of importance) is exactly the same age. How is it that the King, the captain of the army and the Archmage are all best friends? How insular or corrupt is this government? And how easy is it to learn magic? The circle of mages (or whatever) who appear to never help anyone are all old men, suggesting it takes a life time to master their spells, but the Archmage looks like he’s 30? Just cast some older actors and the whole plot becomes a lot more believable!

Still, as I said above, I enjoyed the film. The first third is confusing and poorly paced, but once the action gets started and the characters are all defined, Warcraft actually manages to weave an interesting tale. There’s enough novel compared to the likes of Lord of the Rings to make the story intriguing and enough similar to make it entertaining. Now the awkward world building is out of the way, I wouldn’t mind seeing what happens next.

tl;dr: Not great, not completely awful. Yet another flop that I wouldn’t mind giving the chance of a sequel, just to see what would happen.

Spy

I’m starting to think that there is just something about Melissa McCarthy that means she ends up in films that have an awful setup but a genuinely funny second half. Much like Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, once Spy gets the character introductions out of the way and just runs with the premise it becomes a very enjoyable and outright funny movie. In order to get to that part, though, you do need to wade through a swamp of awkward moments and gags that feel like someone found a high school student’s improv diary and just started copy-pasting. I mean, why is the CIA office infested with bats? Even if you buy into the (crap) running joke about how the office staff aren’t treated well, the logical escalation of the gag is to start with suspected infestation, show rats and then end with bats, but instead we go from 0-100 in one scene then just hover around 20 for the rest of the film.

Awkward moments of humour aside, the action, script and plot are all tight enough to keep you entertained. There are no terrible performances, though Peter Serafinowicz should get an award for saving a terribly scripted roll. The outcome remains mildly irritating, but when you look at his character abstractly it had all the Jar-Jar Binks like qualities required to sink a film entirely, so frankly I feel he did an astonishing job. In fact I think it’s fair to say that, for the most part, the incredible cast help lift a lot of mediocre side characters out of poor-writing hell. Both Allison Janney and Jude Law probably also deserve serious credit for making their characters far more appealing and nuanced then their scripts should have allowed. On the other hand, you have Jason Statham going the other route and hamming up his performance so much it becomes brilliantly funny; I can’t help but feel he had an enormous amount of fun in this role.

Which I think is the main takeaway that shines through. It feels like everyone involved in Spy just had a lot of fun, which helps lift the whole film. It feels exactly like the film Mortdecai should have been, but actually pulls it off. It’s not a film I’ll be rushing back to watch and, honestly, you won’t miss anything by skipping it, but if you fancy an easy laugh or two then give it a look.

tl;dr: Funny spy based entertainment. Perfectly enjoyable; not a must see but better than mediocre.

TV

Doctor Who [Season 10 – sort of]

Honestly one of the best season of the show for some time. I biggest issue is that I feel like they have finally begun to write for Capaldi in a way that makes sense… just in time to kill him off!

In fact, killing people off is generally a bit of a trend this season. I guess that’s what happens as we come to the end of Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner (frankly, could not come soon enough). We have one completely new companion, Bill, who makes it a whole one season before being killed, plus returning sort-of companion Nardole who, fittingly, sort-of gets killed off. Oh and then there’s one of the more inventive takes on the Master in ages, with Missy forming a reluctantly willing third cog to the plot. To the show’s credit, it keeps these varying plot lines and characters all neatly moving along without feeling rushed or over complicated. There are several of the normal Doctor Who issues, such as perpetually referencing events yet to come in less of a fore-shadowing way and more an eye-rollingly irritating one, or chucking out a couple of clear filler episodes without much cause to exist, or relying on deus ex machina to save the day. But, again to its credit, these are all present much less than any season in recent history, making it a generally fun and entertaining 12 episodes.

Most importantly, the big multi-part plotlines are relatively linear, at best genuinely clever (i.e. the Cybermen) and at worst a little cliché (the Monks). The Monks had a great build up and were a classic Moffat creation: they’re creepy, unsettling and interesting. I loved the idea of a race being able to plot an invasion via VR, running the simulation enough times that all variables are accounted for. Okay, it’s pretty ridiculous science, but it’s fun fiction so I’ll let it pass. Unfortunately they’re ultimately let down by a final battle which relies, yet again, on love the all powerful God machine that Doctor Who just loves to use as a crutch to get itself out of a corner. It works well enough, but I would love to see some more interesting and intelligent finales in the Whoverse at some point.

On the flipside are the Mondasian Cyber-Men, whose plot is a veritable treasure trove of clever ideas and Easter Eggs to Doctor’s past. The situation that creates them is clever (okay, still a bit ridiculous, but come on) and almost believable. The modern Cyber-Men have slowly morphed into sterile zombie clones, but these original models are deeply disturbing. They’re a race born of desperation, which makes them somehow far more terrifying. It also features two of the best “twists” in recent seasons, with Bill having no hope of recovery from a surprisingly early point in the plot and the inclusion of John Simm once again taking up the role of the Master. That latter twist is genius and it was a huge amount of fun seeing him return to the role alongside his female counterpart, both of whom have created iconic version of the character. The back and forth between them is wonderfully written, as is Missy’s slow realisation that she isn’t him anymore. I was worried the Master’s meeting would result in her total relapse as a villain, but the actual outcome was much more interesting. At the end of things, the Master killing Missy to prevent himself becoming good, just as she chooses to follow the Doctor, was a perfect ending for both the character and the plot.

As a result, it’s slightly irritating that her death was overshadowed by Capaldi’s regeneration. Whilst I like where it’s left the series for the Christmas special, with everything else going on it did leave the final episode a little bloated. We also now have yet another companion who is neither dead nor retired, but rather transformed into a wanderer themselves. Bill becoming a water creature (?) and going off to explore the stars was a nice pay off, and made the season pleasantly circular, but at some point I feel like we’re going to need to finalise some of these characters. Right now we have the Doctor’s daughter… somewhere; Clara off flying around in her own T.A.R.D.I.S.; Bill in water form exploring the universe; Nardole waiting for the Doctor to save him (and the remaining colonists). All I want is for a couple of threads to be tied off, preferably not in some big crossover where they all bandy together to save the Doctor, either from himself or the forces of evil. Could we just have a clever, low key update on these loose ends?

Still, overall, I’m excited for Doctor Who again for the first time in years. I’ll be sad to see Capaldi go, as I feel he is the singularly most under utilised iteration of the character to date, but I welcome Jodi Whittaker and whoever the new show runner will be to build on season 10 and keep it moving forwards. I’d love to see more interconnectedness with the show’s past, more clever alt-history stories and more nuanced companions. Fingers crossed for season 11.

tl;dr: A welcome return to form, even if it’s just a little too late for Capaldi to truly shine. One of the best seasons in ages.

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