DC hasn’t had too much luck with adapting the occult into other media. With the dearly departed Constantine TV series and the long-rumored Justice League Dark/Dark Universe movie still in development hell, there isn’t much success in adapting the more…magical fare onto the screen. Which is why the Justice League Dark animated movie is a pleasant surprise.
Helmed by Jay Oliva, Justice League Dark is the first outing for DC’s titular team (stretching the word a bit) of mystically-inclined heroes (again, stretching). Consisting of John Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Swamp Thing, and Etrigan, alongside Batman as the ‘outsider’, the team must face an ancient evil threatening to destroy both life and afterlife alike.
The plot isn’t exactly anything new, but boy, does the cast make it a fun trip. Matt Ryan absolutely steals the show in his return as John Constantine. John is every bit the loveable bastard we’ve grown to love from the show, and his lines are sharp as ever. Jason O’Mara provides the straight man to the rest of the craziness as Batman, Camilla Luddington brings a balance to the team as backwards-talking magician Zatanna, Nicholas Turturro is annoyingly yet endearingly chipper Deadman, Ray Chase plays both man and rhyming demon Jason Blood and Etrigan, and Roger Cross rounds up the main cast as the protector of the Green, Swamp Thing. Jeremy Davies also makes a return as John’s long-suffering friend Ritchie Simpson, and Alfred Molina is Destiny, the main villain of the piece and live-action Skeletor lookalike.
Justice League Dark’s strongest suit is its characters. Most of the main cast play very well off of each other, but what surprised me pleasantly was the inclusion of Batman, who I thought would likely be shoved in there for marketing purposes, to turn out pretty good. He wasn’t overused and hogging the spotlight, but conversely he isn’t just /there/ either. He strikes a good balance between being the perspective ‘everyman’ character and the major source of snark and the occasional grunt. John Constantine is easily the best part about this movie, which is exactly what most of us came here for. If this is the direction for John we’re going for in the CW Seed series, then this is going to be fun.
Deadman is an unexpected favorite, playing comic relief for most of the movie, and both Etrigan/Blood and Swamp Thing’s albeit brief appearances, they made a sizable impact in the movie. Especially Etrigan and his mad rhyming skills. It’s a bit of a shame Zatanna’s spotlight seems to dim a bit compared to the other team members, but she still proves interesting in her backwards magic and reining John in.
What I loved about this movie is that it doesn’t exactly shy away from the dark, the creepy, and the strange. The intro builds the sense of dread well enough, and sets the scene that what they’re facing this time is something else. And one of the more fun set pieces is around the middle, when the thing made of shit comes along. It was wholly unexpected, and to be frank, I loved it. The climax leading up and all the way to the ending was also quite the highlight, and kept me at the edge of my seat along the way.
While I liked most of the movie, I do have several gripes regarding it. One of the major ones is that John doesn’t even so much as gets near a cigarette during the whole thing. Even the NBC series, when he ostensibly can’t be shown smoking, he’s still shown holding a cigarette and in some of the last episodes he’s seen outright smoking. While this may look like a minor thing to some, cigarettes are part of his iconic look, and not even teasing that feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Black Orchid and Felix Faust were also sort-of wasted in their roles. While Black Orchid had one great exchange with Batman, Felix Faust felt like just another speedbump in our heroes’ journeys.
With all that said, I enjoyed Justice League Dark very much. A fun, solid ride that did what it set out to do, despite several points of contention. But nothing’s perfect, right?
Once again, AvED shows why it’s one of the best shows currently airing on television, period. The growth of the series from pure guts n’ gags to a show with a well-developed cast, amazing character dynamics, and riveting storylines while keeping the franchise’s signature feel intact is really something to behold. This latest episode is one of its most ambitious yet.
After the predicament Ash found himself in last week, he wakes up as a patient in a mental hospital. A doctor who looks suspiciously like Baal explains that he’d been commited there after the cabin incident thirty years ago and that the whole of Evil Dead was something his imagination cooked up to deal with the murders.
The episode that ensued is quite possibly the darkest Evil Dead has gone in its whole lifetime, eschewing most of its tried-and-true formula of slapstick, gore, and one-liners for a more psychological horror, following Ash’s journey in this weird insane asylum that Baal’s put him in. Or did he?
This outing seems to give quite the spotlight to Bruce Campbell and Dana DeLorenzo, giving Ash and ‘Kelly’ more room to flex their dramatic chops to amazing results. Newcomers to Campbell’s body of work may be surprised at the range he displays here, with Ash going from full-on ‘Ash’ all the way down to resigned, broken down Ash, which came as quite a surprise to me. Puppet Ash also came out as the breakout character of the episode, being annoying enough to make you want to kick him across the room but charmingly funny enough to make you want to keep him.
While insane asylum episodes are hardly new territory, AvED’s take does it well and throws in just enough twists to keep you guessing about things in the insane asylum, if not necessarily the nature of Ash’s supposed delusions itself. That said, AvED travels outside its comfort zone in this episode and finds its mark well.
As I missed last week’s episode due to reasons, lemme recap Episode 4 quickly for you: DELTA DESTRUCTION DERBY FUCK YEAH. Now that’s out of the way, onto the fifth episode and we’re already halfway through season 3. And how.
Baal finally makes an appearance here, cutting into the scene in one of the best gore scenes I’ve seen in the franchise so far.
Meanwhile, our heroes (and assorted others) are holed up in a police station, just in time for Baal to make his debut. This episode plays very different from most other Evil Dead things so far, though, concentrating instead on tension between characters and a little claustrophobic horror thrown in.
This episode tries to do something very different, by concentrating on character work and the building of tension between them, sort of like The Thing only with the threat of Baal looming over them.
But when Ruby goes down to retrieve the Kandarian dagger, all the suspicion the others are putting each other through turns out to be for nothing as Baal is actually downstairs with her. Cue awkward reunion.
Oddly, even with an action set piece near the end, the tense interactions between everyone held up in the police station is what makes this episode a great one for me. This episode provides a lot of insight into the characters and sets up a lot of potential plot points for the coming episodes. Plus it’s a lot of fun seeing Ash trying (and subsequently failing) to woo Linda.
Only five episodes left, and the stakes couldn’t be higher! Bring on the next five!
In an increasingly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange chooses to explore an uncharted territory in the mystic side of Marvel’s titanic franchise.
The result from this is an entertaining trip (in more ways than one) into worlds and wonders without end, that might just open an equally infinite amount of doors to potential properties for future exploration.
The clear winning feature of Scott Derrickson’s foray into the MCU is its visuals. From Inception-on-steroids style folding buildings to just pure psychedelic imagery that’d make Steve Ditko himself proud, Strange’s visuals are nothing we’ve ever seen before. This lends itself into its action scenes, giving us fights that are literally off the wall–No, these fights don’t even /need/ walls. If I saw this in IMAX, my head would probably still be spinning as I write this.
With a star-studded cast, almost everyone shines in their own way. Benedict Cumberbatch, no stranger to arrogant and insufferable characters, plays the admittedly clichéd character arc well with a dry wit and a fair bit of magical ineptitude. Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One is a more affable, more ‘human’ take of the traditional old master stereotype, and one more easy to be emotionally invested into. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo is one of the movie’s standouts, turning the traditionally villainous character into the ‘straight man’ in the Strange-Mordo double act and a worthy foil to Strange, while building on his eventual rise of darkness well. Mads Mikkelsen is, to be blunt, sadly an origin story victim in his role as Kaecillius, in another example of Marvel squandering great actors in forgettable villain roles. With a little more development, Kaecillius would’ve been the perfect Anti-Strange but alas, it was not to be. Benedict Wong’s…Wong differs from the tea-serving manservant of Strange in the comics into more of Strange’s take no shit peer im a way, and provides a healthy helping of humor in most of his scenes. Rachel McAdams’ Christine ‘Not-Night Nurse’ Palmer, does well as the muggle caught up in magic and provides a good enough anchor for Strange, but sadly she wasn’t quite memorable enough.
As with most origin stories, Doctor Strange suffers from a case of Originitis, with its almost wholly predictable plot that hits all the beats of your usual Superhero Origin. That’s not to say the script isn’t anything to write home about, though. The movie still manages to distill and simplify the concept of Marvel magic into an almost-science, leaving not many questions as to how it works. The film seems to also take a few cues from Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s excellent Doctor Strange: The Oath, with several notable scenes and characters echoing the book. Michael Giacchino’s scoring also works really well for the movie, sounding very much different from past Marvel movies with its use of strings that’s slightly reminiscent to JRPGs or just RPGs in general.
Easter egg hunters will have a field day with this. Just about almost every entity Strange has ever invoked in the comics, with a few notable exceptions, were namedropped in the film, even other cosmic entities. And with some of the secondary characters’ relations to major players in the Marvel universe, one can’t help but wonder how these more famous relatives will figure into the MCU next.
While the plot is nothing special, by merit of its eye-popping visuals and amazing scoring, Doctor Strange is another very solid addition to the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or could we be expanding beyond universes?
With Black Mirror returning for a double-dose third season, digital life just got a little bit scarier. Charlie Brooker’s Twilight Zone for the digital age once again serves up a healthy helping of suspense, thrills, and general uneasiness that’ll make you just a little bit more wary the next time you pull out your phone.
Since Black Mirror is a dish best served cold, I’ll stay light on the spoilers on this article and stick to personal observations and opinions on each episode.
The first of the bunch, Nosedive, stars Bryce Dallas Howard in an anvilicious sendup to the social media and ratings-obsessed world of today, set in a world where your ‘ratings’ determine what you can and can’t do, like if Yelp took over the world.
With all the subtlety of a Nokia 3310 in your face, this episode makes its intentions clear from the get-go, the in-your-face fakeness of almost its whole cast, and its sickeningly saccharine diabetes-inducing yet aggresively bland aesthetic completely sells the concept in a great season opener that might just make you think twice about Instagramming your next meal or that next status update.
Episode numero dos, Playtest, stars Wyatt Russell as Cooper, a thrillseeker who might’ve bitten a bit more than he could chew when he took a job playtesting new augmented reality tech for a games company. In true Black Mirror fashion, this is exactly where things go wrong.
Dan Trachtenberg, of 10 Clovefield Lane fame, takes us on a horror trip combining the best of horror games and movies into one genre-savvy package that just might be a little bit savvier than we are, keeping us guessing until the end. Wunmi Mosaku also excels as Cooper’s ‘handler’ Katie and the always enchanting Hannah John-Kamen as the witty Sonja rounds out the cast in this clever horror tale, one of my personal favourites this season.
On to round three with Shut Up And Dance, this tale starring Jerome Flynn and Alex Lawther is a thriller where blackmail is the name of the game. Because when you have someone by their dick pics, it’s hard to break free.
While it’s an effective enough cautionary tale to keep in mind before doing anything genital-related in front of a webcam and a depressing look at how blackmail ruins someone, this episode didn’t resonate well with me. It does have its darkly funny and actual thrill moments and hits rather close to home as it’s something that could happen to any of us, but for some reason I found it a bit lacking. Even so, it’s still a well-made thriller and a nice watch.
Past the halfway point, we flash back to San Junipero in the 80s. Or was it the 90s? Not a problem, it’s San Junipero! Mackenzie Davis is shy nerd Yorkie and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is outgoing party girl Kelly. A chance encounter in San Junipero kicks off a bond between them that transcends space, time, and maybe even existence itself.
Owen Harris, a Black Mirror alum of Be Right Back fame helms yet another deeply emotional tale of love, loss, and dealing with grief. At its very core, this episode is a romance story, and it feels that way all the way through. Supported by the visuals and aesthetics of San Junipero as it changes through the years, alongside a kickin’ soundtrack and one of the most clever song-to-scene puns I’ve ever seen, San Junipero is a rare episode of Black Mirror that keeps you smiling for most of its runtime and one of the season’s strongest.
The penultimate episode, Men Against Fire stars Malachi Kirby in a military-centered tale about soldiers fighting a vague Nosferatu-like enemy simply called ‘roaches’. But this wouldn’t be Black Mirror without an extra twist, am I right?
A scathing commentary on military propaganda and the toll battle takes on soldiers, Men Against Fire delivers its point with no more subtletly than a .50 through the eye socket. That said, the acting is great and the action scenes are intense, making for a suspenseful first half and an uneasy second half, if a bit predictable at times.
This season’s closer is a feature-length episode entitled Hated in the Nation, which stars Kelly Macdonald, Faye Marsay, and Benedict Wong in a thriller tailor-made for the social media generation.
We’ve all sent online vitriol to someone else before, and this episode takes it to the extreme conclusion. If the people you wish death on social media actually died, would you still do it? Clocking in at 89 minutes, this is the longest Black Mirror to date and is one of the season’s highlights. Aside from the not-so-subtle jabs at keyboard warrior culture, this episode also manages to throw in a few pokes at hot-button issues like government tracking and an oddly prescient mention of a certain recent online bullying incident. Tightly written with great performance and a simple concept executed well, Hated in the Nation manages to steal the show in another amazing season of Black Mirror.
Overall, this season of Black Mirror brings a much more diverse aftertaste than the almost uniformly bleak past two seasons. You’ll laugh, you’ll shudder, you’ll cry, this season has it all. The future for Black Mirror is bright and I can’t wait to be a part of it.
As an endnote, kudos for the Black Mirror Twitter admin for the past 24 hours of tweeting reactions to viewers and the one bomb-ass tweet they somehow posted while Twitter was down. And the trailer, my god, the trailer. The whole marketing team deserves big ups as well for another season well done.