The first part of this review is free from major spoilers. The end of the spoiler-free section is clearly marked.
It’s time to review The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which has finally made its way to on-demand streaming after wrapping up its exclusive theatrical run. And straight away I can tell you this: I had an absolute blast with Mario, Peach, Luigi, and the rest of the Nintendo gang! The Super Mario Bros. Movie is definitely one of the best non-Disney animated films that I’ve seen in a long time, and it absolutely has to be a contender for the title of best animated picture of the year.
The film puts a twist on the typical story of the Super Mario series, but brings all of the familiar faces that fans of Nintendo’s games would expect. There are so many references, callbacks, and cameos that it’s impossible to count, and speaking as someone who’s followed Nintendo’s games for more than thirty years, I appreciated every single one of them!
But this isn’t just fan service that only the hardest of hardcore Nintendo lovers can enjoy. The film is accessible to newcomers, too, with a pretty barebones, easy-to-follow story that doesn’t get bogged down. In fact, the story progresses from chapter to chapter with a real light-footedness, with no scene or sequence lingering too long. For kids, and especially for a generation raised on short-form videos and TikToks, I suspect the timing and pacing of the film will be pitch-perfect!
For me… well, I could’ve entertained a story that was at least slightly denser, one that didn’t hop so readily from point to point. There were some moments that felt unearned, perhaps, as Mario seemed to very easily and readily accept his fate in the Mushroom Kingdom, and friendships that appeared to form very quickly. But this is a film for kids – and with a story with such strength and heart, picking on any of these things feels gratuitous and unnecessary.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie accomplished the difficult task of taking elements from the games and making them into something truly worthy of a place on the big screen. The music of the Mario series was reimagined in a style I can only describe as “epic,” with the familiar tunes from the video game series transformed into an heroic score. Visually, the film leaned heavily into the aesthetic of the games – but used its budget to make Mario, Peach, and the Mushroom Kingdom look better than ever.
There had been some criticism of the decision to cast Chris Pratt as Mario, but I felt he did a perfectly creditable job in the role. Mario has never needed to be voiced this extensively before, so bringing in an experienced actor – while not necessarily everyone’s first choice – was the right call. The rest of the voice cast likewise put in excellent performances, and their characters came to life as a result.
There were a couple of sequences in the first few minutes of the film that I felt might be too scary for very young children – and it’s worth being aware of this if you have very young kids or children who are especially sensitive. These sequences didn’t linger for very long nor have much of an impact on the story overall, but I suspect they may have gone a little too far for at least some children in the audience.
Overall, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is an absolute blast, and one I highly recommend. If you don’t mind spoilers for the admittedly rather formulaic and predictable story, stick around, because we’re going to talk about a few story details up next.
This is the end of the spoiler-free portion of the review! Expect spoilers for The Super Mario Bros. Movie from here on out!
Up first, let’s talk about how The Super Mario Bros. Movie puts a twist on the typical “save the princess” trope. Peach is presented as someone familiar with the world of the Mushroom Kingdom, and thus she has the upper hand over Mario, the newcomer. Through a pretty quick montage, Mario is the one who has to learn the ropes; Peach already knows how the power-ups work and how battles in this universe are fought.
But that means Mario needs someone to save; a reason to set out on this adventure and face off against Bowser. Luigi, who’s the easily-frightened younger brother, is perfect for this role. Mario sets out on a quest not to save a random princess – but to save his brother. It’s a perfectly-executed twist on what is a pretty tired and outdated formula, and it works perfectly.
The karting sequence was perhaps my favourite in the entire film! I’ve been a Mario fan for years, sure, but Mario Kart is definitely one of my all-time favourite series. The way it was incorporated into the film was hilarious, and it was a surprisingly tense sequence as Bowser’s troops dropped in uninvited. Many of the items from the Mario Kart games were present – banana skins, shells, bullet bills, and even the dreaded blue shell! It was a fantastic sequence, and Rainbow Road has never looked better or more beautiful!
Although the designs of many of the vehicles were based on the Mario Kart games, there’s potential for a future Mario Kart release to take advantage of some of the new designs created for the film. In fact, the time to cash in on that is now, so Nintendo really ought to consider updating Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with things like Toad’s off-road kart and the Koopas’ combat vehicles. It would even be possible to include one or two of the prominently-featured characters from the film as new characters for the game.
The world of the Mushroom Kingdom was brought to life through some excellent animation work, and Illumination is to be commended. The cartoony aesthetic of the Mario games was familiar on the big screen – but it looked better than ever. Peach’s castle, first seen in the iconic Super Mario 64, looked fantastic, and the bright, happily-lit Mushroom Kingdom stood in stark contrast to the “dark lands” and Bowser’s castle.
It’s also fair to say that these classic Nintendo characters have literally never looked better, too! There was previously-unseen detail not only in the main characters, but in every minor background character, too. Whether we were looking at Dry Bones, Shy Guys, Toads, Koopa Troopas, Kongs, or anyone else, the animation was fabulous and consistent. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt that the animation work was sub-par or out-of-place.
To return to the film’s story, one thing I admired was a willingness on the part of Nintendo – a company that hasn’t always shown itself to have a sense of humour about its properties – to recognise the inherent silliness in Bowser’s scheme. Bowser wanted to force Peach to marry him, yet the specifics of how he possibly expected that to work had never been elaborated upon until now. Of course it makes sense that Peach would reject him – and the way in which this was played, with a nod and wink to the audience, was great.
I don’t think it had ever been canonically established where Mario and Luigi hailed from, nor how Peach and the others came to exist in the Mushroom Kingdom. So The Super Mario Bros. Movie had free rein to decide on its characters’ origin stories. Now, I could be wrong about this, as I’m no expert on the minutiae of Nintendo lore, but I’ve always assumed that Mario was Italian – not Italian-American. The decision to give him an Italian-American origin, and in the New York borough of Brooklyn, no less, feels like an oblique homage to 1993’s Super Mario Bros. – the live-action film that did so much to dissuade Nintendo from ever again taking its brands and franchises to the cinema!
So let’s wrap things up. Who is this film for? While I’d say that Nintendo fans and players will absolutely get more out of The Super Mario Bros. Movie than those unfamiliar with its source material, the easy-to-follow story and fairly basic characters should make it accessible to almost anyone – including the youngest kids. There’s a lot to enjoy here!
That being said, there are a handful of faults that keep The Super Mario Bros. Movie from being the greatest kids’ film I’ve ever seen. Some of its plot points – like the friendship between Mario and Toad, or Peach’s plan to defeat Bowser – were raced past incredibly quickly in a film that didn’t spend more than a couple of minutes on any scene or sequence. I could have happily spent a bit longer watching some of these things play out.
All in all, though, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is one of the better animated releases of recent years. It was a treat to see Mario and the gang taking part in a new kind of adventure, and while I have to hold up my hands and say that 1993’s Super Mario Bros. is one of those “so bad it’s good” films that I consider somewhat of a guilty pleasure, this new animated outing surpasses it in practically every way. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend an hour-and-a-half, and especially if you’ve spent some time with Nintendo and Mario already, it’s very easy to recommend The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is available to stream now and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray later in the year. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the copyright of Nintendo and Illumination. This review contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Kelvin timeline films: Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
One of the worst things to happen to the Star Trek franchise last year was the disastrous announcement and rapid un-announcement of a sequel to 2016’s Star Trek Beyond. The film quickly fell apart as it became clear that Paramount had done nothing to secure the main cast, director, or even schedule filming dates and plan location shoots.
But it wasn’t bad for the Star Trek franchise because I desperately wanted to see a new Kelvin timeline film. In fact, I don’t know of any Trekkies in my immediate circle who would say that they’re desperate to get back to the Kelvin timeline! The reason why it was such a disaster is how damaging a mess like this is for Star Trek as a brand.
From the point of view of fans and the franchise’s broader audience, this kind of situation might not seem like a big deal, and I get that. But for folks who work in the entertainment industry, seeing how poorly Paramount handled this is going to have longer-term implications.
A sequel to Star Trek Beyond has failed to get off the ground for basically seven years at this point. More than one script that would have brought back the Kelvin crew has been considered, and pre-production has begun at least twice, yet the film hasn’t materialised. The chaos last year, with the film being pulled from schedules just a few weeks after its announcement, is just the latest in a long line of blunders from Paramount – and anyone working in Hollywood, whether they’re a lowly production assistant or a talented, well-known director, is now going to be thinking twice about attaching themselves to a disorganised corporation that’s repeatedly failed to make this film.
Matt Shakman, who had previously worked on WandaVision for Marvel and has also directed episodes of Game of Thrones, had been tapped by Paramount to sit in the director’s chair, but he exited the project when things fell apart last year. Recent comments that Shakman made have seemed to suggest that a Star Trek Beyond sequel may still be in the works, and several outlets have seized upon this news to begin speculating about what may or may not be happening behind the scenes.
But as you might’ve guessed from the title of this article, I’m not convinced that there’s a place for the Kelvin timeline any more. Maybe it’s time to leave it behind, and put the considerable money that would’ve been thrown its way into other projects.
More Star Trek is always a good thing, and that’s the caveat I will always give whenever we have discussions like this! If there is to be a new Kelvin film, I’ll definitely tune in when it comes to streaming or Blu-ray (my health prevents me from taking trips to the cinema any more, regrettably). It’s also worth noting that when Star Trek goes to the cinema it tends to pick up a much bigger audience than it does on television or streaming – and reaching out beyond the existing fandom and viewer base has to be considered a priority for Paramount in the months and years ahead.
With those points in mind, though, if I were in charge of the franchise for Paramount, a fourth Kelvin timeline film is categorically not the project I would choose to give the green light to.
Since Beyond premiered in 2016, we’ve had 144 episodes of Star Trek across six different productions – if you count Short Treks, that is. The Star Trek universe has massively expanded to include a huge variety of new shows set in different eras, appealing to diverse audiences, and with varying styles. I’m just not sure where the Kelvin timeline fits in with everything else Star Trek is currently doing – and in addition, adding an alternate timeline into the mix when the franchise is already playing in so many different time periods risks making Star Trek look even more complicated and convoluted than it already does.
Strange New Worlds has picked up several characters who are also present in the Kelvin timeline, and there’s a real risk that these two projects would trip over one another – or at least tread on each other’s toes. If I had to choose only one set of these recast or reimagined characters to stick with, I’d definitely choose the Strange New Worlds versions; Season 1 was absolutely outstanding, and seeing where Captain Pike and the crew will go next is one of my most-anticipated entertainment experiences of the year.
The Kelvin timeline served a purpose in 2009 when its first instalment premiered. It rebooted things, reimagined Star Trek for a new century, and stripped away some of the more niche and convoluted aspects of a more than forty-year-old franchise to ensure it would appeal to the widest possible audience. And it succeeded in that regard, with all three films turning a healthy profit and proving definitively that there was still life in a franchise that many had written off.
Without the Kelvin timeline, it’s hard to see how we’d have gotten Discovery, Picard, and the modern Star Trek productions that we’re continuing to enjoy, so we absolutely owe it a debt of gratitude for what it accomplished. But its original purpose has long since evaporated, with the idea of seeing “young” Kirk and Spock in their Academy days having been replaced by taking a look at their five-year mission. With Strange New Worlds also including Spock, Uhura, and even Kirk himself in some capacity, I just don’t see where their Kelvin counterparts fit any more.
As we can infer from Paramount’s failure to negotiate contracts with the Kelvin stars, several of them are probably beyond the reach of the corporation’s current budget. Zoë Saldaña has found fame in Avatar and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chris Pine has been in Wonder Woman for DC, among other roles, and Karl Urban has received praise for his role in The Boys on Amazon Prime Video. While these people weren’t “unknowns” in 2009 by any means, their star power has risen, and with it, the money they’d expect to receive for a film like this has also increased.
A new Kelvin timeline film would be an expensive undertaking – far more expensive even than Into Darkness, which holds the franchise record with an approximate $190 million budget.
As a comparison, Season 3 of Picard is estimated to have cost Paramount somewhere in the region of $9 million per episode, and Discovery is also somewhere in the $8-9 million per episode range. Some quick maths tells us that, even if the new Kelvin timeline film were to cost the same as Into Darkness and not a penny more, it would still be more expensive than producing two ten-episode seasons of modern Star Trek shows.
Paramount does not have unlimited funds! And even when compared to the likes of Disney, Amazon, and Netflix, Paramount has to be a lot more careful with where it spends its money. I’d very much rather have two seasons of modern Star Trek than one new Kelvin timeline film – especially if those seasons are going to be anywhere near as good as Strange New Worlds Season 1 was!
It feels like the abandoned film helmed by Matt Shakman was the Kelvin timeline’s last realistic chance at a revival. Its collapse has caused all sorts of problems for the Star Trek franchise, especially with ambitions to return to the cinema still being held by Paramount, and those issues shouldn’t be overlooked. But it may be for the best in the long run.
It’s true that Beyond teased a sequel in its final moments, with Kirk and his crew looking out as the Enterprise-A was being constructed. There will be some fans who truly wanted to see where those versions of the characters might go next. But with Star Trek seemingly finding its feet again on the small screen, and having firmly returned to the prime timeline, I just don’t think there’s a place for it any more.
When the Beyond sequel was announced last year, it didn’t exactly light up the board, even within the Star Trek fan community. There was chatter and interest, of course, but there wasn’t the kind of hype bubble that there was in 2007-08, for example, when the first film was in production. Partly that’s because Star Trek as a whole is right on the cusp of oversaturation and franchise fatigue, with 51 episodes being broadcast in 2022 alone. But partly, it must be said, it’s because there was just never a whole lot of excitement for the Kelvin timeline to begin with.
I’d watch a new Kelvin timeline film… but I wouldn’t be wildly excited about in the way I am for Strange New Worlds Season 2, for example. And even if the film managed to pull in a decent audience at the box office, these versions of the characters are tried and tested by now. The chances of Star Trek 4 bringing in scores of new viewers to the franchise for the first time is slim.
The Kelvin timeline served a purpose in the 2000s and 2010s. The trilogy did a lot of good, and paved the way for the success Star Trek is currently enjoying. But it’s also difficult to see how to integrate it into the franchise as it currently exists – it’s off to one side in its own little narrative box. And because several of its characters are now part of Strange New Worlds, there’s even a danger that it could feel repetitive to bring back the likes of Spock and Uhura.
So to answer the question I posed at the beginning: no. I don’t think we still need the Kelvin timeline. And if I were in the room, I’d argue that there are better ways for Paramount to spend money on Star Trek than greenlighting a new film starring this cast – whether that means new seasons of television or alternative pitches for feature films.
The damage done to Star Trek as a whole by the film’s collapse last year can’t be overstated, and may take time to fully appear. Paramount needs to get a grip, because mistakes like that can’t afford to happen again. But maybe it will be for the best. The money that could have been spent on a sequel to Beyond can be reallocated… and with no new live-action Star Trek projects currently announced, that could mean that the likes of Discovery and Strange New Worlds will be able to continue for an extra season apiece.
There are reportedly other feature film pitches that Paramount is working on, and the Beyond sequel was one of two that were supposedly announced over the last couple of years. Whether the other film, written by Discovery and Short Treks writer and producer Kalinda Vazquez, is still going ahead… who can say? Paramount’s disorganisation and chaos is boundless, it seems!
Regardless, if there’s news about a Beyond sequel or any other Star Trek feature films in the months ahead, I’ll be sure to take a look at it here on the website. So I hope you’ll stay tuned!
The Star Trek films should be available to stream on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available, and are also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including all films and properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the titles on this list.
As a new year gets underway, it’s a good opportunity to look ahead. There are some exciting-sounding films, television series, and video games that are currently on the schedule for 2023, and on this occasion I thought it could be fun to pick out a few that I find particularly interesting and preview them! I’ll share some of my preliminary, pre-release thoughts on ten of each.
On balance, I don’t think 2022 will be held in particularly high esteem in future in terms of its entertainment experiences. There were some good ones, but there were also plenty of delays and projects that just underwhelmed for one reason or another. Will 2023 fare any better? That’s still an open question… but there are certainly some big releases on the horizon that could potentially excel.
It’s time for a couple of caveats! First of all, delays can happen at any time in the creative process, especially in a war-torn, pandemic-disrupted world. As a result, any or even all of the films, shows, and games that we’re going to talk about today could miss their intended release dates or release windows – and there really isn’t anything we can do about that! I’m firmly in the camp that says delays are almost always a net positive; while never fun, I’d rather creatives spent longer working on a project to finish getting it ready rather than launching it too soon. We don’t need to look far for examples of how wrong that goes!
Finally, these projects seem interesting or exciting to me personally for one reason or another… in my subjective opinion! I’m not trying to say that these are or will be “objectively the best” releases of 2023, nor should the exclusion from the lists below be interpreted as any kind of snub. I’ve just picked out a few projects that I find to be of interest, and if you hate all of my picks or I’ve excluded some of your favourites, please just keep in mind that this is only the opinion of one person!
With all of that out of the way, let’s get started!
I confess that I didn’t see a lot of films in 2022. I can’t go to the cinema any more due to my declining health, and while practically every major title made its way to a streaming platform last year, there were some I just wasn’t interested in or found that I didn’t have the right mindset or headspace for. That’s just the way it goes sometimes! That being said, there are some interesting films on the schedule for this year, and I shall be keeping an eye out for these ten in particular!
Film #1: The Super Mario Bros. Movie
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the two trailers we’ve seen so far for The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The film looks like it’s going out of its way to stay as true as possible to its source material, while at the same time putting a twist on Mario’s adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom. The “hero who has to save a princess” trope has been rather overdone – and feels pretty outdated in 2023 in more ways than one – so seeing Luigi being held captive by the villainous Bowser and Mario working with Peach feels like it should be a great change of pace.
The inclusion of an all-star Hollywood cast has proven controversial in some quarters, but from what I’ve seen of the film so far, I will be surprised if most folks aren’t won over by the time the credits roll. There will be some die-hard haters – as there always are in any franchise any time something is changed – but overall, I have high hopes for this one. This film could easily be the best animated film of the year – and one of the best non-Disney animated films of the decade!
Film #2: Dune: Part Two
The first part of Dune was a surprisingly strong adaptation of a book that has proven to be notoriously difficult to adapt. I had a fantastic time with it when it was released at the end of 2021, and I’ve been meaning to go back and re-watch it for some time now. I was concerned that this sequel might not see the light of day if Warner Bros. didn’t feel the first part did as well as they’d hoped – but fortunately there was no denying the critical and commercial success of Dune in 2021!
The cast from the first film are all reprising their roles, and director Denis Villeneuve is returning to the big chair. Filming officially wrapped a couple of months ago, and Dune: Part Two is well into post-production at this stage. A November release is on the cards, and I’m really excited to see the story continue.
Film #3: Knock at the Cabin
Director M. Night Shyamalan has an inconsistent track record, and I suspect his career has been more harmed than helped by acquiring an early reputation as the “master of twists.” But regardless, he’s back with Knock at the Cabin in 2023, a psychological horror film about a family who are confronted by four people who claim to be trying to prevent the apocalypse.
The film’s premise sounds interesting to me, and a cast that features Jonathan Groff and Rupert Grint feels like it has potential. I wouldn’t say my expectations for Knock at the Cabin are sky-high, but we could certainly be in for one of the more interesting titles in the horror genre this year.
Film #4: The Little Mermaid
To be blunt, I wasn’t blown away by the visuals in the teaser trailer for The Little Mermaid. The CGI looks fantastic, but the fully live-action moments didn’t feel convincingly “underwater,” and actually looked pretty amateurish. Assuming that Disney can figure out a way to pull off those underwater sequences convincingly, though, The Little Mermaid should be a creditable adaptation of the 1989 animated film.
Visual criticisms aside, I feel hopeful that this new version of The Little Mermaid will introduce the story to a new generation. While the animated film is still perfectly watchable in its own right, there’s nothing wrong with updating things and recreating the film for a younger audience, and Disney has a pretty good track record at doing so by now.
Film #5: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Is it a great idea to bring back Indiana Jones for another adventure? As a child of the ’80s, I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy the Indiana Jones films… but Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was already a let-down. Dial of Destiny could redeem the series, ending Harrison Ford’s turn with the famous hat and whip on a high note – or it could double down on the disappointment!
This film is definitely one I’m placing in the “interested in” rather than “excited about” category. I don’t really have high hopes, but I’d love to be proven wrong. At the very least, I hope Dial of Destiny will be a passable popcorn adventure flick. Whether it will truly live up to its illustrious forebears… well, I’m less hopeful of that. If it succeeds at bringing in a wad of cash, though, I think we can expect to see reboots, prequels, and spin-offs in the years ahead!
Film #6: Asteroid City
There isn’t a lot to go on with this film, billed as a “romantic comedy-drama.” But the director, Wes Anderson, has pedigree, and has put together a diverse ensemble cast that rivals his previous pictures, such as The Grand Budapest Hotel. The full cast list is far too long to include, but some of the standout performers for me that I’m interested to see include Bryan Cranston, Tom Hanks, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, and Scarlett Johansson.
Though I’m not entirely sure what to expect from this one, it could be a lot of fun! The setting is the mid-1950s somewhere in the American Southwest, and some kind of “stargazer convention” will be part of the plot, too.
Film #7: Wish
To mark the company’s centenary, Disney is going to release Wish – a film all about the “wishing star;” the star upon which characters in other Disney films have made their wishes. The star itself is going to be a character of sorts, but the film will also introduce a new cast of characters, including Asha, voiced by Ariana DeBose of West Side Story fame.
Wish will also bring back a hand-drawn animation style, something Disney hasn’t used since The Princess and the Frog more than a decade ago. While we haven’t seen just how the film will look, some concept art has been released that looks absolutely beautiful. Disney’s big animated releases are almost always fantastic, and I have high hopes for Wish.
Film #8: The Haunted Mansion
The third Disney entry on this list, The Haunted Mansion is the company’s latest attempt to turn a theme park ride into a film! No one would deny that Pirates of the Caribbean set a high bar for that concept a few years ago, but other attempts haven’t always worked! An adaptation of The Haunted Mansion twenty years ago (that I’m fairly sure I’ve seen but can’t really remember much about) starred Eddie Murphy, but even he couldn’t salvage what critics regarded as a picture that was average at best.
Jungle Cruise may not have been 2021’s film of the year, but I enjoyed it for what it was, so there’s definitely room for another theme park adaptation. The Haunted Mansion could be great to watch around Halloween; a kind of lighter, child-friendly horror title that will be spooky… but not too spooky!
Film #9: 65
65 has an unusual premise – an astronaut accidentally travels back in time to the era of the dinosaurs, and must figure out a way to survive. Adam Driver will take the lead in this sci-fi action-adventure, and his presence alone should make it worth checking out. Driver’s performances as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy were outstanding, and his turn as a divorcee in Marriage Story was Oscar-worthy in my opinion.
That being said, I can’t help but feel that 65 could go either way! Its premise could make for a different kind of sci-fi title in a genre overrun by sequels and comic book adaptations… or it could turn out to be an overblown B-movie that didn’t deserve a leading man of such quality! Time will tell… but I’m definitely interested to see how it shakes out.
Film #10: Napoleon
Ridley Scott will direct this historical epic that focuses on the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte. Scott has a great track record, with films like Alien and Thelma & Louise under his belt, but an earlier attempt at an historical epic – 1492: Conquest of Paradise – was not particularly well-received! Could this be a chance for redemption for the director in the genre?
The title role has gone to Joaquin Phoenix, and that feels like it could be an inspired choice. Backed up by a cast that features Ben Miles and Vanessa Kirby, I’ll be curious to see what Napoleon has to offer when it releases. The film will be an Apple TV+ exclusive, which is also a point of note.
2023 looks set to be another year where franchises, spin-offs, and continuations of ongoing stories dominate the television landscape. There are several big shows whose new seasons I’m eagerly anticipating, but it feels like there are fewer wholly original projects to look forward to. That being said, there were some great new stories in 2022 – so hopefully this year will bring along some surprises, too!
Television Series #1: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2
Strange New Worlds was truly outstanding in its first season, blending old-school episodic storytelling with modern serialised elements. As much as I like what Discovery and Picard have done with season-long story arcs, the approach used by Strange New Worlds should, in my view at least, serve as a model for the entire Star Trek franchise going forward.
The show’s second season wrapped months ago – and I will be positively stunned if we don’t get an announcement that a third season is being worked on sometime before Season 2 premieres this spring. I absolutely cannot wait to spend more time with Captain Pike, Spock, and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise!
Television Series #2: Hailey’s On It!
Hailey’s On It! is a Disney Channel animated series that will feature Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho in its leading role. The premise sounds interesting – a young woman must step outside of her comfort zone and confront her fears in order to “save the world.” And with Cravalho leading the charge, I think there’s the potential for the show to be something a little more than just a distraction that parents can use to get a few minutes’ peace!
The animation style shown off in concept art looks fantastic, and while I wouldn’t normally say that I’m excited for a new Disney Channel cartoon, I feel hopeful, at least, that Hailey’s On It! could be the kind of kids’ show that has something to offer to a grown-up audience as well.
Television Series #3: Star Trek: Picard Season 3
After a decidedly lacklustre second season, my disappointment was compounded by the announcement that all but one of the new characters introduced in Picard will not be returning for the show’s final outing. Season 3 has a lot of work to do, then, to pull out a satisfying ending to what has been a troubled production. If the trailers and teasers are anything to go by, it just might be up to the task after all!
The return of main characters from The Next Generation feels bittersweet because of who had to be unceremoniously kicked off stage to make room for them. This season could be a roaring return to form, or it could drown in failed attempts to play the nostalgia card. I’m absolutely hoping for the former… but trying to prepare myself for the latter.
Television Series #4: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 2
It isn’t entirely clear when The Rings of Power’s second season might be ready. Filming only started in October, and a series with such extensive post-production work may take a while. That’s not to mention that Season 2 is being filmed in new locations, and may even serve as somewhat of a soft reboot of a series that proved controversial in some quarters.
Despite that, however, I called The Rings of Power my favourite television series of 2022, so I’m incredibly excited to see what happens next. The first season ended with several massive cliffhangers for both individual characters and for the story as a whole, so it’ll be great to see the next chapter of this fantasy epic unfold.
Television Series #5: Star Trek: Discovery Season 5
Discovery’s fourth season ended on a high, with what is almost certainly one of the best episodes that the show has ever produced. I was concerned that the show would attempt yet another recycling of the old “the entire galaxy is in danger and only Burnham and the crew can save it!!!” narrative framework that has been used four times now… but thankfully, based on the first trailer and comments from the show’s producers, it seems as though Discovery will finally be bold enough to try something different!
As a result, my excitement for Season 5 grew immensely! Although Season 4 dragged in parts, on the whole I think it marks a turning point in the show’s run, and the addition of some wonderful secondary characters to the cast has given new life to a series that is rapidly approaching its sixth anniversary and sixty-fifth episode. Season 5 could build on what Season 4 did, taking these well-rounded characters to new thematic and storytelling places.
Television Series #6: Masters of the Air
Produced by the same team that created Band of Brothers and The Pacific, this new World War II drama will follow the stories of members of the United States Army Air Forces – the precursor to the Air Force. The miniseries seems to be following a similar format to its popular predecessors, with an expansive cast of characters, almost all of whom are based on real people. Masters of the Air is based on a biography of the unit that was published in 2007.
I’m expecting a tightly-focused story with plenty of character. CGI and visual effects have improved since Band of Brothers premiered, so I’d hope that the show will look fantastic and really succeed at bringing World War II to life on the small screen.
Television Series #7: Shōgun
The second adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 novel has a lot to live up to! An earlier adaptation, made in 1980, was one of the most popular shows of the year, and with a troubled production that saw scripts scrapped and rewritten, new showrunners brought on board, and a shoot that overran by two months… let’s just say that Shōgun has work to do.
But the story, set in 17th Century Japan, is an interesting one, and there’s potential in this new adaptation to see it introduced to legions of new fans. A shipwreck sets up the story of a “fish-out-of-water” hero in an unfamiliar land, and the palace intrigue at the castle of the titular Shōgun could rival the very best drama series of the year.
Television Series #8: The Last Of Us
Video game adaptations are notoriously difficult, but The Last Of Us has an all-star cast, a sky-high budget, and crucially, it seems to have won over many fans of the video game. The Last Of Us is one of the best video game narratives that I’ve ever experienced, and it feels like a natural fit for a serialised drama series; the story would certainly be far too long to condense into a film. So I’m hopeful that – finally – a video game adaptation will get the accolades it deserves!
Moreover, I’m really excited to be able to show this fascinating and unique horror-drama story to friends and family members who have no interest in gaming. The story of The Last Of Us is fabulous and absolutely deserves to find a bigger audience. There’s reason to hope that this adaptation will be up to the task.
Television Series #9: Halo Season 2
I enjoyed what the Halo series did in its first season, all things considered. It succeeded at bringing the long-running video game franchise to the small screen, adapting its story to fit the new format and making a few changes along the way. Some of those changes proved controversial – as such things always do – and I can certainly entertain the argument that there was less action than fans were hoping for.
But Halo will press on, potentially taking on board some of those criticisms, and it’s my hope that Season 2 will build on the accomplishments of Season 1 to progress the story in an enjoyable way. The first season had some great performances, clever cinematography that incorporated a first-person perspective during key sequences, and a mysterious story that will have kept even fans of the games guessing. I’m interested, and dare I say even excited, to see more.
Television Series #10: Faraway Downs
I am joking. This is a joke. Nobody should ever be tortured into watching Faraway Downs. I can honestly think of nothing less appealing than watching an extended, reworked version of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia – quite possibly the worst film that I have ever had the misfortune to see. When I heard that Luhrmann was planning to use cut footage to expand Australia into a six-part miniseries I was flabbergasted. Who on earth would possibly want to see this? Was anyone asking for it to be made?
I’d rather trek to the bottom of the garden, heave the lid off the septic tank, and spend six hours staring unblinkingly at the festering sewage within.
Television Series #10: The Three-Body Problem
China can often feel like a world unto itself; western productions struggle to cross over, and Chinese productions seldom attract mainstream attention over here. The Three-Body Problem is an adaptation of a Chinese sci-fi novel (or rather, the first part of a trio of novels) and is helmed by Game of Thrones’ showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss.
I haven’t read The Three-Body Problem, but the premise sounds absolutely fascinating to me. Benioff and Weiss have proven themselves capable when it comes to adapting novels for the small screen – at least, completed novels – so there’s reason to hope that The Three-Body Problem will be interesting and entertaining in equal measure. This one could easily go toe-to-toe with the likes of Foundation in the sci-fi genre.
There are some massive releases on the schedule for 2023 – several of which were originally promised for last year! If even one of these big titles succeeds, 2023 will already be a great year for gaming. Single-player games are definitely holding the line in an industry where online multiplayer continues to bring in the big bucks, so there are plenty of reasons to think that 2023 could actually turn out to be a fantastic year for the medium.
Video Game #1: Tchia
I’ve been tracking the progress of this amazing-looking indie game for more than a year, and it looks like 2023 could be Tchia’s moment. Based on legends from the developers’ New Caledonia home, Tchia will see players take on the role of a young girl on a quest to rescue her father. In addition to platforming and action-adventure gameplay in an open-world archipelago based on the island of New Caledonia, the ambitious game promises to unleash players’ creativity – and even includes a playable ukulele!
There have been some fantastic debut games by indie studios in recent years. My game of the year in 2021 was Kena: Bridge of Spirits – and without wanting to raise expectations too high, at least part of me is hoping that Tchia might just reach that same high bar.
Video Game #2: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC: Booster Course Pass Waves 4, 5, and 6
You might think it a cheat to include a piece of downloadable content on this list, but it’s my list so that’s just tough! Although I was disappointed not to see a wholly new Mario Kart title in 2022, the Booster Course Pass for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has been a surprising amount of fun. Not only have racetracks from past games in the series been updated and made welcome returns, but wholly new tracks have been created, too.
The Booster Course Pass is only half-finished, and three more waves are planned for 2023. Specific dates aren’t known, nor is it certain which racetracks will be appearing, but I’m nevertheless excited to have more Mario Kart to get stuck into!
Video Game #3: Star Trek: Resurgence
A narrative adventure game with a branching storyline sounds like a perfect fit for the Star Trek franchise. After years in which no new Star Trek games had been licensed for PC or home consoles, two have come along within a few months of each other; Resurgence is hot on the heels of last year’s Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova, which I really must get around to playing!
The game is being developed by folks who used to work for studio Telltale Games, a developer whose games were often praised for their narratives. I’m hopeful that, after a drought of games for Trekkies who aren’t interested in the online multiplayer scene, Resurgence will be a welcome return to the video game realm for the Star Trek franchise.
Video Game #4: Disney Speedstorm
Developers Gameloft worked with Disney and created my favourite gaming experience of 2022:Disney Dreamlight Valley. Having taken Nintendo’s Animal Crossing formula and massively improved upon it… could they be about to do the same thing by creating a Disney-based rival to the Mario Kart series? Maybe that’s expecting too much… but Disney Speedstorm looks like a ton of fun!
I like casual, arcade-style racing games, and I’m a pretty big Disney fan, too. Bring those two things together and I hope it’ll be a fun time.
Video Game #5: Starfield
One of the year’s biggest releases has to be Bethesda’s Starfield – the company’s first foray into a wholly new world in a quarter of a century. An epic sci-fi adventure has been promised, with all of the hallmarks of past Bethesda titles: joinable factions, a huge mix of varied side-quests, diverse non-player characters to interact with, customisation of every facet of your character, and much more besides.
Starfield will also give players the opportunity to design and upgrade their very own spaceship, before setting off to journey to one of a thousand different planets across dozens of star systems. Starfield is ambitious, and while there are certainly things that give me pause – such as Bethesda’s insistence on reusing its outdated game engine – I can already feel myself getting swept along by a growing hype train!
Video Game #6: The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria
I confess that I’m not entirely sure what to expect from this one. The game promises base-building and adventures in the Dwarven realm of Moria, set years after The Lord of the Rings as the Dwarves seek to reclaim their abandoned halls. It sounds as if the game will be set up for multiplayer – though the official blurb promises that it can be played solo, too.
There’s something about an underground setting that harkens back to the days of dungeon-crawler games, and the subterranean setting combined with the lore of Tolkien’s Middle-earth could make for a genuinely exciting title. I’m curious and perhaps a little hopeful of having some fun adventures deep underground!
Video Game #7: Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
The much-anticipated sequel to Jedi: Fallen Order is almost ready! The game – which I played through back in 2020 – is one of the best Star Wars experiences I’ve had in recent years, and it was left open-ended by the time the credits rolled. Finding out what happens next for Cal Kestis, the former Jedi padawan, is something I’m really interested in!
Jedi: Survivor seems to have taken the gameplay of Fallen Order and expanded upon it, giving Cal new weapons and abilities – and at least one new companion, too. I recently played through it for a second time, which seems to be perfect timing with the sequel coming up! I really can’t wait to join Cal and the crew of the Stinger Mantis for another adventure in a galaxy far, far away.
Video Game #8: Forspoken
Unlike many action-adventure titles, it seems as though Forspoken will focus much more on magic and spell-casting – something that could be absolutely fascinating. Set in an open-world, the game will follow the story of Frey, a young woman from our world who finds herself transported into a mysterious realm where magic exists and must find her way home.
Forspoken hadn’t really been on my radar until recently, but I’m now genuinely looking forward to it.
Video Game #9: Perfect Dark
Though unconfirmed at this stage, Xbox’s Perfect Dark remake/reimagining would be well-timed if it should be ready this year – because the original game on the Nintendo 64 was set in 2023! Perfect Dark was originally created by Rare, hot on the heels of their success with Goldeneye 007 on the same platform, and it was a ton of fun when it released in the year 2000.
I’m genuinely curious to see what a recreated Perfect Dark might look like. Could it kick off another first-person shooter series for Xbox… and, perhaps more importantly, for Microsoft’s Game Pass service? I think that’s a possibility – but my main hope is that the single-player campaign will be fun to play through!
Video Game #10: EA Sports FC
Bear with me on this one, okay? I know football (soccer) isn’t everyone’s favourite thing, and I know that sports games – and especially Electronic Arts’ sports games – have been particularly scummy with their in-game gambling and monetisation. But for the first time since EA published FIFA International Soccer in 1993, the corporation won’t have the official license or naming rights from world football’s governing body. That could mean we’re about to witness a sea change in the series… or it could lead to nothing of consequence at all!
Nevertheless, I’m curious to see what changes – if any – will come about as a result of EA and FIFA going their separate ways. Will EA Sports FC be noticeably different from recent entries in the FIFA series? We’ll find out later this year!
So that’s it!
We’ve picked out ten films, ten television shows, and ten video games to watch out for as 2023 gets underway. There will be many surprises along the way, I have no doubt, and it’s possible that some of the entertainment experiences that I’m excited in right now will either end up being disappointments or won’t even make it out of the door this year. But I’m hopeful that we’ll get some exciting, dramatic, and just plain fun stories to enjoy between now and Christmas!
There are definitely things to look forward to. I’ll try to cover at least some of these titles with reviews, first impressions, and general commentary here on the website over the next twelve months. I hope that you found this interesting, and that it was a fun, positive look ahead to some of what I hope will be the entertainment highlights of 2023.
Until next time!
All titles discussed above are the copyrights of their respective studio, developer, publisher, distributor, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of these titles.
As we enter the final hours of 2022, it’s time to look back at the entertainment experiences that we’ve enjoyed – as well as a few that we didn’t enjoy all that much! I’ve cobbled together a few categories from the world of television, film, and video games, and today I’m going to hand out some highly-coveted Trekking with Dennis Awards to some of my favourites!
You’ll find a couple of titles from the tail end of 2021 on this list; I reckon anything released in December is fair game as those titles often get the short end of the stick when it comes to lists like these. Some outlets put together their “best of” lists way back at the start of December, which is far too early in my opinion! But we’re drifting off-topic already!
There are plenty of titles that, for one reason or another, I didn’t get around to this year – so for reasons that I hope are obvious they can’t be included. I’m only one person and I don’t have every minute of the day to devote to these pursuits, so the exclusion from this list of certain big titles shouldn’t be interpreted as any kind of deliberate snub!
And as always, a caveat before we begin: all of this is the subjective opinion of one person. I may give an award to a production you vehemently hate, or talk negatively about something you enjoyed, but at the end of the day this is supposed to be a bit of fun. Feel free to disagree with any or all of my picks – but there’s no need to take any of it too seriously!
With all of that out of the way, let’s get started!
Best Television Miniseries/Limited Series:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Five Days At Memorial
Five Days At Memorial had the challenging task of dramatising a real-world event – and a gruelling one at that. I remember the harrowing news reports in 2005 showing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I could absolutely understand why some folks might feel it’s too soon to make a programme like this. But for my money, Five Days At Memorial did a good job at adapting the events at Memorial Hospital as delicately as possible, staying true to what happened while still making the story engrossing and understandable for viewers.
The fact that Five Days At Memorial shows what happened at Memorial Hospital from two very different angles felt a bit strange at first, but by doing so the series lends the events the challenging ambiguity that they continue to have. By refusing to come down on one side or another – to condemn as guilty or exonerate Dr Pou – Five Days At Memorial strikes the right balance. There was some choppy editing in some sequences that meant the miniseries didn’t feel as smooth as it could’ve, but other than that it was a very interesting look at a very difficult moment in the recent past.
🏆 Winner 🏆 1899
Netflix original 1899 is taking the crown in this category this year. The show goes on a wild and unpredictable ride, blending themes of mental health that resonated strongly with me with mystery and psychological horror. The multilingual series is, in my view, best enjoyed without being dubbed, as the different characters and the language barriers between them are key elements in the story at several crucial junctures.
I was first attracted to 1899 because of its setting – both in time, at the end of the 19th Century, and on a boat making a transatlantic voyage. But what I found when I got started was one of the most unique and different television productions that I’ve seen in a long time. 1899 may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it absolutely riveting all the way through.
Worst Television Series:
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Obi-Wan Kenobi
After I’d enjoyed what The Book of Boba Fett brought to the table, I felt a pang of hope that Obi-Wan Kenobi might at least be passable. But it wasn’t to be, and the series was a horrible slog through the absolute worst kind of tacked-on story that used increasingly desperate nostalgia plays to try to recreate some of the magic that, frankly, Star Wars hasn’t had since the ’80s.
Say it with me, folks: it’s time for Star Wars to move on! The vast sandbox that is the Star Wars galaxy has trillions of inhabitants, millions of star systems, thousands of planets, and hundreds of factions and organisations – and tens of thousands of years of history that could explore any of them. For more than forty years, Star Wars has been laser-focused on the same handful of characters and the same tiny sliver of this wonderful setting, but it’s over. If Star Wars is to survive, something’s gotta change. Obi-Wan Kenobi proved that.
Best Television Series:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Halo
Halo wasn’t spectacular, but as the first real attempt to bring the long-running video game franchise into a new medium, it got a lot right. The story it told was a riff on the familiar story that fans will remember from the games, but there were important differences which not only kept the mystery going, but also gave genuine characterisation to the Master Chief.
In terms of cinematography, I liked the way that Halo incorporated some first-person sequences into its action-heavy moments. This could have easily felt like a gimmick, but the way it was done – and crucially, not overdone – made it feel like a throwback to the series’ source material while also mixing things up in the television space. Halo used a fairly standard format that would be familiar to anyone who’s seen a made-for-streaming television show in the past few years, with a slowly unfolding mystery, multiple storylines, and characters who grow and change over the course of the series. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, and I certainly get the argument that it wasn’t as action-packed as some fans might’ve wanted. But it was, all in all, a decent bit of sci-fi.
🏆 Winner 🏆 The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
The Rings of Power had a lot of work to do to impress me. It had to live up to the legacy of the trilogy of films from a few years ago. It had to show that it could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Game of Thrones, The Witcher, and other big-budget productions in the fantasy space. And, to be blunt, it had to justify its billion-dollar price tag.
Whether The Rings of Power managed to accomplish all of those goals in its first season is still arguably an open question. But it certainly laid the groundwork for what should be a television spectacular, and it was, on balance, probably the best show I’ve seen this year. When I was at a low ebb in the autumn and didn’t have the energy or headspace for watching many new things, The Rings of Power was the one show that I made time for. Sure, there were big battles and other CGI spectaculars, but there were also some genuinely wonderful performances that brought to life some incredible character-focused storytelling. I can’t wait for Season 2!
Best Web Series:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 How To Cake It
After a hiatus of more than a year, YouTube show How To Cake It made a welcome return this year. This time, there’s less of a focus on the kind of attention-grabbing, visually spectacular cakes that look like rocket ships or Princess Elsa or a completely different food, and I think that’s actually been a positive thing! Host Yolanda Gampp has branched out, doing much more of a variety when it comes to baking. Some highlights include flavoured cookies, baklava, and even popcorn.
As often happens when a web series takes an extended break, recent episodes of How To Cake It haven’t been doing the same numbers as the series used to get. But I hope that, as time goes by, it will pick up some of those wayward viewers – and perhaps bring on board a whole host of new ones, too. This new version of How To Cake It seems to be making more down-to-earth recipes that you or I might feel brave enough to attempt, rather than showing off impressive designs that only a master baker could create. For me at least, that’s a great thing, and I hope to see much more from Yolanda and the team in the new year.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Anti-Chef
If How To Cake It shows a master at work, Anti-Chef – as the name suggests – is the complete opposite! The show is a lot of fun, and Jamie, the host, isn’t shy about sharing his failures in the kitchen as he works his way through some very complicated recipes. Though he’s not a total newbie any more, many of the techniques in the recipes he challenges himself to try are very advanced, and the personal, relatable style makes me feel like I’m right there in the kitchen.
I love a good cooking show, and as much fun as it can be to see an experienced chef at work, it can be even more entertaining to see an inexperienced home cook tackling some of these recipes. Anti-Chef has given me a lot of laughs this year – but also some cooking tips and inspiration, too.
The Worst of Star Trek:
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Most of Picard Season 2
I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to call out Picard Season 2, but I think it’s earned a place on this list. The first episode of Season 2 was absolutely fantastic, and if the rest of the season had been anywhere close to that level, we’d be talking about Picard as the best show of the year. But unfortunately things took a pretty sharp nose-dive after the second episode of the season, with Picard and his crew wandering aimlessly for much of the season in a present-day setting that didn’t feel inspiring or enjoyable in the least.
By the time the action returned to the 25th Century in the second half of the season finale, the damage had been done, and despite Farewell pulling out a decent ending, this disconnected, disjointed, overly-long story has to go down as one of Star Trek’s big misses – perhaps even one of the biggest missteps in the franchise’s history. There were individual elements in most episodes that I can honestly say that I enjoyed… but Picard Season 2 overall feels like a massive disappointment.
Star Trek’s Biggest Surprises:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Kobayashi Star Trek: Prodigy
We ought to talk more about Prodigy here on the website – and I hope we will next year! But for now, the episode Kobayashi came out of nowhere in January to be one of the biggest surprises in the show’s first season. The Kobayashi Maru training programme famously tests would-be captains in a “no-win scenario,” and you wouldn’t think that premise would lead to such a genuinely heartwarming and wholesome episode – but as a longstanding fan, I really appreciated what Kobayashi brought to the table.
Without giving too much away, the Kobayashi Maru scenario plays out on the holodeck, and a cast of fan-favourite Star Trek characters all join in on the action. It’s a nostalgic treat – but it doesn’t overplay its hand, keeping a tight focus on the new characters introduced in Prodigy.
🏆 Winner 🏆 All Those Who Wander Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Strange New Worlds had an incredible first season, showing off a varied, episodic approach in which it wasn’t shy about trying out many different genres. All Those Who Wander draws inspiration from the likes of The Thing and Alien to create a tense, claustrophobic sense of horror aboard a crashed starship.
It’s hard to say too much more without getting into spoiler territory – and of all the episodes in Season 1, All Those Who Wander has to be the most important to go into un-spoiled! Suffice to say that the episode takes the horror angle right up to the edge of my personal comfort zone, but never crosses that line. It’s an intense experience, and one that shows just how incredible Star Trek can be when it throws itself into another genre.
The Best of Star Trek:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Coming Home Star Trek: Discovery
Discovery’s fourth season plodded along, in places, and definitely teased us with mysterious factions and characters that ultimately turned out to be brand-new. But by the time the season finale rolled around, most of that was already settled. What we got was an incredibly emotional episode that saw Captain Burnham and the crew racing against time to reach an unknown, uncontacted alien race.
There were resolutions to disagreements between characters, several incredibly dramatic moments, and a storyline involving Admiral Vance at Federation HQ that showed off Starfleet and the Federation at their very best. Coming Home is, without a doubt, one of Discovery’s very best episodes.
🏆 Winner 🏆 A Quality of Mercy Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Captain Pike gets a visit from “the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come” in A Quality of Mercy – and the episode is incredible. In Discovery Season 2, when it became apparent that Captain Pike knew in advance that he was going to suffer a debilitating accident, an obvious question would be “why didn’t he try to prevent it?” And A Quality of Mercy takes that idea and runs with it.
In addition to a very emotional story involving Captain Pike – one that I, as a disabled person, found incredibly relatable – there’s also a wonderful callback to an episode of The Original Series, and moments for all of the main characters to get a chance to shine. Ethan Peck puts in a spectacular performance as Spock, and there was even time at the very end of the episode for one final twist as the curtain fell on one of the best seasons of Star Trek ever put to screen.
Best Animated Film:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Minions: The Rise of Gru
The Despicable Me franchise is usually good for some fun escapism, and so it proved again with The Rise of Gru. There isn’t anything completely groundbreaking here; you know how the titular Minions behave by now. But stepping back in time to a ’70s setting allowed for some fun jokes, and the over-the-top villains that Gru encountered were a ton of fun.
There was still heart and emotion in The Rise of Gru thanks to Gru’s relationship with the villainous Wild Knuckles, and that did enough to ground what was otherwise a pretty wacky adventure. There were plenty of references and callbacks to other franchises for nerds like us to enjoy, and on the whole, I had a good time with the film. I’m not in a desperate rush to re-watch it, but it was good fun for what it was.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Encanto
After several years in which Disney has focused on live-action adaptations and sequels, Encanto came along like a breath of fresh air! It’s one of the best Disney films of the current era without a doubt, with a deeply engrossing and frequently emotional story that has an uplifting message. And thanks to a wonderful soundtrack by the phenomenally talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, there are some incredible songs too!
A setting inspired by Colombia was also something different for a major Disney production, and the company has done well at diversifying the peoples and places it depicts in its major releases. But that would have been meaningless had Encanto not been such a wonderful, well-told story – and I’m so very pleased that it was.
Best Live-Action Film:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
With the caveat that I didn’t see that many films this year, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is definitely up there as one of the better ones! I genuinely couldn’t believe that this film existed when I first heard of its premise – Nicolas Cage playing a fictionalised version of himself and going on a wacky adventure. But you know what? I’m very glad that it does!
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent could have ended up as a bargain-bin B-movie – or worse, it could’ve tried to take itself far too seriously. But instead it leans into a kind of self-deprecating humour as well as tropes of the action genre, coming across as light-hearted and just plain fun. Nicolas Cage is a good sport for taking part, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.
🏆 Winner 🏆 All Quiet on the Western Front
Netflix’s reimagining of this classic German war film is absolutely brutal. If any film has ever come close to accurately depicting the true horrors of the First World War, this is it. The story follows a young conscript from Germany as he joins the army and is dispatched to the front line, and then jumps ahead to the closing days of the war.
Every version of All Quiet on the Western Front – and there have now been three adaptations of the original novel – have shown just how senseless and meaningless war can be, taking a very individualist, human look at warfare. This version hammers that home, and can be uncomfortable viewing. But it’s an incredibly powerful film – one that absolutely deserves to be in contention for some of the top awards.
The “I-didn’t-play-this-game-but-you-probably-should” Award:
🏆 Winner 🏆 Elden Ring
I wish I could say I was interested in Elden Ring… but I’m just not. The “difficult for the sake of it” style of gameplay that has come to be known as the “Souls-like” genre just isn’t my cup of tea, but by all accounts Elden Ring is one of the best examples of this type of game, and one of the best games of the year – if not the generation.
Taking the Dark Souls format into an expansive open-world setting, Elden Ring has won almost universal acclaim from critics and players alike, becoming one of the most talked-about releases of the year. For a single-player title in a gaming landscape increasingly dominated by the online multiplayer scene, I think that’s a fantastic thing, and even though Elden Ring isn’t for me, I still think it’s worth noting it as one of the most important releases of the year.
Best Browser Game:
🏆 Winner 🏆 Wordle
I wouldn’t usually dedicate much time to browser games on a list like this, but since I first played Wordle back in February or March, I don’t think I’ve missed a single day. The format is fun, with a single word each day to guess and only six chances to get it right. Wordle was snapped up by the New York Times and has since spawned dozens or perhaps even hundreds of clones – including variants that have multiple words to guess, and variants based on specific topics or franchises. There’s even a Star Trek-themed one!
Wordle blew up to become an internet phenomenon in 2022, and for a while it seemed like you couldn’t move for people showing off their Wordle results on social media. It’s become part of my daily routine – and my current streak is 77 wins in a row, going all the way back to the middle of October!
The “buggy piece of crap” Award:
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection (PC version)
The PC port of Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection is the worst I’ve come across in recent years. I’d thought that the days of amateurish PC ports were finally over, but PlayStation Studios, Naughty Dog, and Iron Galaxy Studios showed me that I was wrong about that. In short, Uncharted is incredibly poorly-optimised for PC, with a piss-poor frame rate and weird visual and texture bugs that were incredibly offputting. The screenshot above shows off one such glitch.
It’s such a shame because the Uncharted series has always been a blast. The Indiana Jones-inspired games still feel like something different in the action-adventure space, even with the likes of Tomb Raider being reimagined for a new generation. The stories present here are great – but if I have to spend as much time battling bugs as I do enemies, I’m going to have a bad time. Other PlayStation titles – like Spider-Man and God of War – don’t have these issues, so I don’t understand how Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection managed to launch on PC in such a bad state.
Best Expansion Pack/DLC:
🏆 Winner 🏆 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass
The Booster Course Pass has given Mario Kart 8 Deluxe a new lease on life – even if it’s not as transformative as a new entry in the series would’ve been. I was disappointed as the year went by and it became clear that there would be no Mario Kart 9, but the Booster Course Pass has definitely convinced me to dust off my Nintendo Switch and pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe again.
The “wave” approach to the DLC has been fun, too, keeping the game feeling fresher for longer when compared to dumping all 48 new racetracks at once. Don’t get me wrong, the longevity of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still an issue, and I now have the additional concern that there will be fewer racetracks left to adapt whenever Mario Kart 9 eventually comes along. But in the short-term, the Booster Course Pass is proving to be great fun.
Game of the Year:
🥈 Runner-Up🥈 Stray
Stray is absolutely adorable: a game in which you get to play as a kitty cat! I was sold on that premise alone, but what I found when I got stuck in was a genuinely enjoyable, well-paced, well-structured indie title. Stray has great graphics, with the movement of the main cat character in particular being incredibly realistic. There’s some wonderful art design in both the environments and the robotic non-player characters, too.
Stray is further proof that there’s plenty of life in the narrative, linear, single-player space, and that not every game needs to be forced into the open-world mould. But at the same time, it’s something very different. Not only is the idea of playing as an animal unique, but the game’s slow pace and focus on peaceful interaction with the environment instead of combat and quick-time events all make for a relaxing, yet deeply engrossing experience.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Disney Dreamlight Valley
If you’d told me a few months ago that my favourite game of 2022 would be an early access Disney title, I wouldn’t have believed it! But I’ve sunk well over 150 hours into Disney Dreamlight Valley since its launch at the end of August, and I’ve been having an incredible time. The game basically took all of my criticisms of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and fixed them, then threw in dozens of new features I didn’t even know I wanted – and some fun Disney-centric stories with a diverse cast of characters for good measure.
Disney Dreamlight Valley is so much fun and has so much to offer, even in this early access form, that it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s an interesting main quest, dozens of character-focused missions, the kind of home-building and design gameplay that players loved about titles like The Sims, and all of the fun of living another life in a fantasy land as you’d expect from an Animal Crossing game. There’s so much to love about Disney Dreamlight Valley, and I’m happy to crown it my favourite game of the year.
So that’s it!
We’ve dished out awards to some of my favourite entertainment experiences of the year. The countdown is on to 2023 – there are just hours left until the sun will rise on a whole new year! Stay tuned in the days ahead because I plan to take a look at some of the things I’m most looking forward to between now and Christmas. Is that the earliest you’ve seen someone mention Christmas 2023?
I hope that this was a bit of fun. There were plenty of enjoyable films, television shows, and video games this year – despite the delays that still hang over the entertainment industry. Though I wouldn’t say that 2022 is likely to go down in history as one of the best-ever years for entertainment, I think we still got a wide variety of experiences, many of which were enjoyable.
So I suppose all that’s left to say is this: Happy New Year! Whatever you plan to do, I hope you have a wonderful time!
See you next year!
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:
Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers are present for Star Trek 2009, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
It’s been a while since we last talked about the currently-untitled Star Trek 2023. The most recent official news we got came back in February of this year, when it was announced that the film would involve a return to the Kelvin timeline that had been established by 2009’s J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek reboot. Since then there’s been very little official news from Paramount – and some of the unofficial news and soundings from some of the actors supposedly involved with the title have been very strange indeed for a film that’s supposedly been greenlit.
Several members of the Kelvin timeline cast – including Karl Urban, who plays Dr McCoy, and Chris Pine, who plays Captain Kirk – have given cryptic, non-commital statements when asked about the film, and it seems as if Paramount may have jumped the gun and announced Star Trek 2023 before everything was officially in place and ready. That’s certainly the impression I’ve been getting.
Making a film is complicated, and I think it’s imporant to stress that. It takes a lot of effort to get contracts in place, to agree the division of profits, to line up the schedules of actors and directors, and to cover all of the legal, contractual, and economic bases – and that’s before anyone can begin rehearsing and learning their lines, let alone be on set ready to get started. There’s a reason why so many people are named in the end credits of a film; many of those jobs begin years before production gets underway.
One thing that we can say for near-certain is that, as of August 2022, Paramount doesn’t have all of the main Kelvin timeline actors signed on to Star Trek 2023. For a film with a preliminary premiere date of December 2023, that’s not good – and it almost certainly means, at a bare minimum, that we shouldn’t expect the new film to make that deadline. Perhaps we’d better start calling it Star Trek 2024… or more realistically, Star Trek 2025.
Then there’s the question of a script. Last year we got two announcements about a new Star Trek film being written: one by Discovery and Short Treks writer/producer Kalinda Vazquez, and another by Geneva Robertson-Dworet (who co-wrote the scripts for Captain Marvel and 2018’s Tomb Raider) and Lindsey Beer. It wasn’t clear, following the second announcement, whether that meant the Vazquez project is not progressing, whether two Star Trek films may be in early production, or what exactly is going on.
It isn’t unusual for a big film studio to commission scripts, change their minds, and go in a different direction. The film industry can be brutal like that, so we can’t really infer much from the fact that two different scripts appear to have been commissioned – nor that their announcements came within weeks of one another. But the script situation certainly doesn’t help clear things up!
At this point, though, we should be seeing some progress on whichever project ultimately became Star Trek 2023. We’re less than eighteen months away from the film’s currently-scheduled premiere – at which point all three previous Kelvin timeline films were already shooting. 2009’s Star Trek took 141 days of filming (not including reshoots and pick-up shots) between November 2007 and March 2008, and the film wasn’t ready until May 2009.
While I could entertain the notion that Star Trek 2023 is working to a tighter schedule – not unlike some past entries in the cinematic franchise, such as Generations in 1994 – even then we’d expect to have heard a lot more positive noises about the film’s pre-production. At the very least I’d have expected all of the principal cast members to have confirmed that they’re signed on to the project, even if other aspects of production are still up in the air.
As recently as last month (July 2022), Kirk actor Chris Pine said the following about reprising his role: “If it happens, I think all of us would come back.” That doesn’t exactly sound like someone who’s signed a contract – or is even getting ready to sign one. That sounds speculative, hypothetical, and it’s not the only comment from a Kelvin timeline star that raises concerns.
“As soon as they can figure out our moment we can we could all be together, I’m sure we’ll do it.” So said Scotty actor Simon Pegg in June of this year, and a month earlier in May, Dr McCoy actor Karl Urban said “I have heard that it is happening, but I’ve been hearing that for the last three years… All I know is they are developing it, they’re writing a script…” From these comments, it sounds like neither has signed on to the project officially.
While none of the actors have ruled out working on Star Trek 2023, it’s significant at this stage that none of them have committed to it, either. According to some reports, earlier attempts to get the film made in the immediate aftermath of Star Trek Beyond in 2016 were hampered by financial issues, and actors and their agents have a history of using public statements as part of salary negotiations. Perhaps that could account for some of what’s been said – but again, that means the film is clearly at a very early stage with no guarantees of going ahead.
If we were to see Star Trek 2023 arrive on time in December next year, realistically the film should be on the verge of beginning principal photography. That would mean not only would the script be finished but sets would have been built, outdoor filming locations secured, costumes sewn, and all of the actors would need to have cleared their schedules and be ready to go. The fact that we’re still hearing comments from members of the cast that seem to confirm that they haven’t made any significant commitments or made space in their schedules tells me that the film is nowhere near that stage – and that means that its December 2023 release date feels completely unrealistic.
I have to be honest: if I’d been in charge of the Star Trek franchise for Paramount, I wouldn’t have greenlit this project. Don’t get me wrong, I wish it well and I hope it succeeds both as a fun Star Trek story and as a film that turns a tidy profit and brings new audiences to the franchise. But with so much other Star Trek on our screens from Prodigy to Strange New Worlds and beyond… I can’t help but feel that the money thrown at this project could be better-spent.
The Kelvin films were undoubtedly what Star Trek needed in 2009, not only rebooting the franchise but showing that there was still life in it. We would never have got Discovery, Picard, Strange New Worlds, and the rest of modern Trek without the Kelvin films’ success on the big screen. So in that sense I thank them for carrying the torch and paving the way for the current renaissance that Star Trek is enjoying.
But as I’ve argued before on more than one occasion, there are drawbacks to a new Kelvin timeline project. A new film set in the alternate reality risks overcomplicating what can be an already convoluted franchise, with different projects occupying different time periods and timelines. The unique premise of the films also no longer exists, taking a look at “young” Kirk and Spock in their Academy days and youth. And with Strange New Worlds coming online – and blowing up to become the most-watched Star Trek show on Paramount+ in the United States – there’s a real risk that a new Kelvin film would retread too much ground with many of the same characters also appearing in that series.
So if Star Trek 2023 is faltering, could it be for the best? Aside from the fact that Star Trek Beyond seemed to tease a sequel, is there really a pressing need to revisit this alternate timeline right now? With so much else happening in the Star Trek franchise, I think I’m inclined to say “no.”
I will always support Star Trek as best I can, and I always feel that more Star Trek is good news! If Star Trek 2023 manages to get off the ground, I’ll wish it all the best and do what I can on my small corner of the internet to get hyped up for it. But at the same time, I wouldn’t be devastated to learn that it isn’t going to happen. With so much other Star Trek on our screens, I just don’t feel that another Kelvin film is a necessary addition to the franchise’s current and upcoming lineup. And with Strange New Worlds in particular including characters like Spock, Uhura, and even Captain Kirk, there’s a danger that it could feel underwhelming, as if the two projects are stumbling over one another without offering anything new to say about these characters.
There’s definitely room in the Star Trek franchise for a new film or two – whether they get a full cinematic release or end up going straight to Paramount+. But maybe it would be better if Paramount redirected its efforts into new projects, or perhaps a film based on Discovery, rather than pressing ahead with this new Kelvin timeline project. If things seemed to be going smoothly I guess I wouldn’t be thinking that way, but if the film is already struggling and looks set not to make its intended release date, maybe that’s a sign that it isn’t meant to be.
Regardless, I’ll keep my ear to the ground! If there’s more news about Star Trek 2023 in the weeks and months ahead, I’ll do my best to cover it here on the website.
Star Trek 2023 is currently scheduled to premiere on the 22nd of December 2023. The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
This story is a very strange one, so buckle up! If you haven’t heard the news, Warner Bros. and DC Films recently announced the cancellation of Batgirl, with news reports suggesting that the film was considered “irredeemable” by the studio after disastrous test screenings. What’s so strange about this, though, is how far along in its production Batgirl was at the time of its cancellation.
Films get cancelled all the time, but almost never this late in the game. With principal photography complete, enough post-production work done to get the film ready for test screenings, and a partnership with streaming platform HBO Max to distribute the film, practically all of Batgirl’s reported $90 million budget has been spent. Canning it at this stage is incomprehensible… no matter how subjectively “bad” test audiences may have found the film to be.
But is that all there is to say? The film was “so bad” that Warner Bros. and DC Films pulled the plug, and that’s it? Many industry watchers don’t think so, and there’s a rumour flitting around – unsubstantiated at this stage, it must be said – that Warner Bros. and its corporate ownership may have taken this decision in order to offset debts and losses elsewhere in the company.
Warner Bros-Discovery – the parent company of both Warner Bros. films and DC Comics – is tens of billions of dollars in debt, and by cancelling Batgirl the corporation may have been able to write off the loss against its substantial debts, perhaps saving or even earning money in the process. That would be on top of the money saved on the film’s marketing and theatrical release.
Whether that was the intention or not, it does seem as though Warner Bros-Discovery will indeed benefit financially from the film’s cancellation, and that leads us to some very challenging questions about the state of corporate entertainment in a broader sense. This situation is basically unprecedented in modern times; for a film to be cancelled while being functionally complete, potentially locked away in a vault or destroyed, never to be shown in public, it’s something that just hasn’t happened in a very long time.
Other corporations will be watching, looking to see what kind of backlash Warner Bros-Discovery may face, and what kind of consequences – if any – there may be. If the prevailing consensus in a few weeks’ time is that they got away with it and made a tidy saving in the process, perhaps we’ll see this happen again at other corporations in future. You know what corporations are like – once they see an opening, and the waters are tested to confirm it’s safe, they all start jumping in.
I don’t know whether Batgirl would’ve been any good. I felt that The Batman, released earlier this year, was okay for what it was, but as someone who isn’t the biggest fan of comic books and their cinematic adaptations, perhaps it was never really going to be “my thing.” But that’s basically irrelevant at this point, because there clearly was an audience for Batgirl, and as we’ve seen by the reaction on social media, fans of comic books and even cinema in general have turned up to condemn this move from Warner Bros-Discovery.
There have been some well-received comic book adaptations in recent years – Avengers Endgame and Joker spring to mind as just a couple of examples. But even if Batgirl was never going to hit those high notes, did it not still deserve a chance? Even if it was going to end up being critically panned alongside Morbius or Inhumans, shouldn’t it have been left to audiences to find that out for ourselves?
With the cost of releasing a film digitally relatively low – Warner Bros-Discovery owns HBO Max, at the end of the day – it doesn’t seem worth it to spend all of this money on Batgirl only to cancel it at such a late stage. Even if test audience reactions were so negative that a theatrical release was taken off the table, sticking the film on a streaming platform has almost no downsides. Nothing Batgirl could’ve done would’ve damaged the reputations of Warner Bros. or DC Comics in a significant way, so if the film flopped then so what? That happens all the time, and studios dust themselves off and move on. All that would’ve happened if Batgirl had been poorly-received is that it wouldn’t have gotten a sequel and would’ve been quietly forgotten, not being incorporated into any version of the foundering DC Extended Universe.
So that’s where this “debt write-off” conspiracy theory has come from. We may never know the true story of what happened to Batgirl, but I think its cancellation is a shame. Having heard some details about the film, I can honestly say that it sounded like a film with potential. JK Simmons was to take on the role of Commissioner Gordon, Michael Keaton was to return as Batman for the first time since 1992’s Batman Returns, and Brendan Fraser was to star as villain Firefly. I like all of those performers, and seeing Brendan Fraser take on a role like this would’ve been absolutely delicious; I could see his performance being a highlight even if the story of the film and some of its other elements weren’t especially strong.
Moreover, Batgirl would’ve starred Leslie Grace, best known for her role in In The Heights. She seemed ready to take on the role of Batgirl, and her take on the character would’ve been an interesting one. In a superhero genre overloaded with male superheroes and ensembles, almost any picture with a female lead is going to feel different, interesting, and exciting.
All of these performers, as well as the film’s directors and other members of the creative team, have been insulted by this move. If it’s true that Warner Bros-Discovery is doing this to take advantage of a loophole and pay down its mountain of debt, then it’s even worse. Allowing Batgirl to take the fall – and be heinously attacked in the process, with worlds like “irredeemable” being thrown around – is just awful, rotten treatment by the studio and its corporate overlords.
So I think it’s disappointing that Batgirl was cancelled. The circumstances are incredibly bizarre, and I can quite understand why speculation has turned into conspiracy theory pretty quickly. The reaction online has been overwhelmingly negative, and if Warner Bros-Discovery stick to their guns and don’t release the film, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see bootleg copies popping up on pirate websites in the weeks ahead. Ironically, Batgirl may have just become one of the hottest and most sought-after films of the year. I know I for one would be very interested to see what all the fuss has been about.
Batgirl is the copyright of Warner Bros. and DC Films. No release is currently scheduled. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers for some of the entries on the list below.
The end of June marks the halfway point of the year, and I think that makes it a great time to take a step back. There are a lot of entertainment experiences that lie ahead over the next few months, and with the nights already starting to get longer it’ll be autumn and then Christmas before we know it! There’s a lot coming our way before we must bid farewell to 2022, though, so today we’re going to take a look at a few of the projects on my radar.
Since the vaccine rollout peaked last year we’ve seen an easing of pandemic restrictions, including in the entertainment industry. That bodes well for at least some of the projects that have been in development! While there are still regulations and guidelines being enforced on film and TV sets, it’s much easier for many productions to work than it has been for the past couple of years. There may be disruptions to come thanks to lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine, though… so watch this space!
I’ve broken down my choices into three categories – films, television shows, and video games – and I’ve picked six titles in each category that I’m hoping to pick up and enjoy before the sun sets on New Year’s Eve!
Film #1: Avatar: The Way of Water
I took a look at Avatar: The Way of Water when we got a brief teaser trailer earlier in the year, but suffice to say I’m curiously interested to see what writer-director James Cameron has to offer this time around. I never felt that the original Avatar was the genre-defining epic that its creators hoped it would be, and over the course of the past decade I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the world of Avatar has largely dropped out of the cultural conversation.
The Way of Water has a lot to do, then, to reintroduce viewers to a fictional universe that many haven’t revisited since 2009 or 2010. It also has the task of expanding the world of Avatar beyond the events of the first film, showing us more about the world of Pandora, the Na’vi, and this future version of Earth and humankind. There have been some clever technical feats that have gone into the production of this sequel – including gruelling underwater motion-capture shoots – so I’ll be interested to see if it all comes together when the film releases in December.
Film #2: Jurassic World: Dominion
Technically Jurassic World: Dominion has already been released – but as my health prevents me from doing things like taking trips to the cinema these days, I’m waiting for it to become available to stream! The teaser trailer for the film, which was released back in December, looked great, and the prospect of a reunion of the main cast members from the first film – Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Dr Ellie Sattler, and of course Jeff Goldblum as Dr Ian Malcolm – is a pretty significant draw.
There is always going to be the question of whether the premise of the original Jurassic Park – which was based on a novel by Michael Crichton – can really sustain a multi-film franchise. The first film was brilliant in both premise and execution, but was it a one-trick pony? I’m curious to see what director Colin Trevorrow can do to make dinosaurs both fun and intimidating once more! I’ve been trying to avoid reading reviews and spoilers for this one, and when it’s available to stream I hope to get a review written here on the website – so stay tuned for that!
Film #3: Minions: The Rise of Gru
Despicable Me was a fun film that managed to be surprisingly heartwarming, and the franchise it spawned has gone on to become one of the biggest animated properties of all-time. The last Minions film was released back in 2015, and this sequel will reintroduce Gru – the antihero/evil villain from Despicable Me – as he teams up with his Minions for the first time.
There’s potential for a lot of fun, kid-friendly hijinks in The Rise of Gru, and I’m genuinely looking forward to another outing with the Minions. Steve Carell has been on top form in previous entries in the franchise, and the film will also feature Star Trek: Discovery’s Michelle Yeoh as part of a star-studded cast.
Film #4: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
I had a good time with Rian Johnson’s “whodunnit” Knives Out a couple of years ago, so this follow-up definitely holds appeal. Without wanting to give away any spoilers for the first film, suffice to say that I’m excited for one character in particular to make a return!
From what I can gather, Glass Onion isn’t so much a direct sequel as it is a follow-up; a film set in the same world and that will bring back at least one familiar face, but that will also introduce an ensemble cast of new characters and perhaps a new setting as well. Hopefully what results will be just as fun and dramatic as the original!
Film #5: Hocus Pocus 2
I missed the original Hocus Pocus when it was released in 1993, and it wasn’t until years later that I finally sat down to watch it at the insistence of a friend. What I eventually found was a fun, even somewhat clever film; a light-hearted take on Halloween that’s just right for someone who isn’t a big fan of horror!
The sequel aims to bring back Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy as the three witches from the original for a new adventure that sounds like it will be a riff on the original concept. Keep an eye out for Star Trek: Discovery’s Doug Jones, who will also be reprising his role from the original film. Hocus Pocus 2 might be just right for Halloween 2022!
Film #6: Beast
Could Beast be “Jaws but with a lion?” Because the marketing material released by the studio makes it sound like that! I quite like a good thriller or monster flick, so maybe Beast will be a bit of fun. I don’t have especially high expectations; it’s unlikely to be a cinematic masterpiece. But it might just be entertaining enough to waste a little time.
Idris Elba is always fun to watch regardless of what he’s doing – see last year’s The Suicide Squad as a case in point! So at least on that front there’s a solid star in the leading role, and the film’s South African setting appeals to me as I used to live there. I’m curiously interested to see what Beast will have to offer when it’s released in August.
Television Show #1: Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation
Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation will be the third Lego Star Wars special released on Disney+, and the first two were fantastic! 2020’s Holiday Special was a barrel of laughs, and last year we enjoyed Terrifying Tales in October, a lightly spooky Halloween special featuring Poe Dameron. The trailer for Summer Vacation had me in stitches, so if the special itself lives up to its marketing then we’re in for a wonderful time!
Expect to see some cheeky marketing for Disney’s “Galactic Starcruiser” themed hotel (which hasn’t been doing particularly well) in a special that will star “Weird Al” Yankovic and will bring back Finn, Poe, Rey, Rose, and other Star Wars characters.
Television Show #2: Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3
At time of writing we don’t have a confirmed premiere date for Season 3 of Lower Decks, but if it follows the same pattern as it did in 2020 and 2021 we might see it in late summer, perhaps mid-to-late August. Season 2 actually ended on a cliffhanger – which I won’t spoil – and I still have a few theories and ideas kicking around that I’ll try to get written up before the new season arrives!
Lower Decks took a couple of episodes to fully get going, but it’s been an absolute blast across its first couple of seasons. Consistently high quality has left the series with only a couple of boring or unenjoyable episodes, and there’s a surprising amount of emotion at the heart of the Lower Decks crew. It’s a Star Trek show through-and-through, and one I find myself getting surprisingly invested in. I’m hopeful for more of the same when Lower Decks returns.
Television Show #3: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Although The Rings of Power is already (and prematurely, in my view) proving to be controversial in some quarters, I have high hopes for what will be the most expensive television show ever produced! A return to Tolkien’s world is, of course, hugely enticing, but The Rings of Power is aiming to be a spiritual successor to Game of Thrones, telling a multi-season serialised story set in the realm of high fantasy. With a massive budget to back it up, I couldn’t be more excited about that concept!
However, with a high budget and high expectations come dangers. The Rings of Power has a long way to fall if it fails to live up to expectations, and no matter what the producers and creative team try to do, the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy will be the yardstick by which this new series is measured. I hope it can compare favourably!
Television Show #4: House of the Dragon
Take everything I said in the entry above, copy-and-paste it, and that’s how I feel about House of the Dragon as well! This Game of Thrones prequel is one of several projects currently in production, but as far as I can see the biggest hurdle it has to surmount is not its predecessor’s reputation as one of the best television shows of all time, but the deep disappointment practically all Game of Thrones fans felt at its finale.
Just convincing people to show up for House of the Dragon in light of Game of Thrones Season 8 feels like a big ask… but if the show learns from those mistakes and makes changes, we could be in for something genuinely exciting. The first five-plus seasons of Game of Thrones were some of the most tense, atmospheric, and exciting ever brought to the small screen, so a return to Westeros – and to the writings of George R R Martin – could be fantastic. Could be.
Television Show #5: Star Wars: Andor
A prequel to a prequel (or should that be a spin-off from a spin-off?), Andor will follow Rogue One’s Cassian Andor in the years before the events of the film. We might get to see more detail about the early days of the Rebel Alliance prior to the Battle of Scarif, which would be interesting in itself, but more than that I’m curious to see what Star Wars can do with a genuinely different premise. In this case, we’re talking about a spy thriller.
Is there room in the Star Wars galaxy for stories that aren’t just about Jedi Knights, the Force, and lightsaber duels? The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett could’ve begun to show us what the Star Wars galaxy looks like away from those familiar elements, but chose not to do so. So it falls to Andor to potentially become the first Star Wars series to really broaden the franchise’s horizons and show us what’s possible. Is that too much to hope for? Maybe… I guess we’ll have to see!
Television Show #6: Five Days At Memorial
When done well, a miniseries can be a great format for storytelling. Five Days At Memorial aims to adapt the true story of doctors and nurses working at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Based on a book from 2013, the miniseries will take a look at some of the events that transpired – including how patients were triaged when the hospital’s systems failed and supplies ran low.
Most controversially, some patients were euthanised by doctors at the hospital – leading to a legal case against them in the months and years afterwards. Hopefully the miniseries will be faithful in its adaptation and won’t try to over-sensationalise these difficult events. I’m really curious to see how it turns out.
Video Game #1: Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova
You wait years for a Star Trek video game and then two come along at once! This year should see the release of Star Trek: Resurgence – a narrative adventure game – as well as Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova, a kid-friendly adventure title based on the new animated series. With new episodes of Prodigy’s first season set to air later this year, the time is right for a tie-in.
I was disappointed (and a little concerned) that Prodigy kicked off its first season with no toys or tie-in products, but that is slowly being addressed. Supernova looks a little last-gen in terms of its graphics, and I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t, but I’m still hopeful for a fun game that ties in with the show, and one that can appeal to the younger audience that the show has been targetting.
Video Game #2: Stray
Stray has been on my radar for a while, and it’s finally due for release in July! Getting to play as a cat is already a huge part of the appeal, but it sounds as if Stray will have a genuinely interesting mystery at its core: what happened to all of the humans in its world? Players will assume the role of a stray cat in a cyberpunk-inspired city, and solving that mystery will be top priority.
I’m really looking forward to what I hope will be a different experience with Stray. Many games do mystery, third-person exploration, and create atmospheric worlds, but Stray feels like it could offer something that I haven’t experienced before.
Video Game #3: Grounded
If a game has been in early access for more than two years, should its “release” even count on a list like this? Regardless, I haven’t played Grounded yet – because I largely avoid early access titles – so I’m looking forward to seeing what the full release will have to offer. I loved Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and even visited the attraction at Disney World… could Grounded let me live out a long-held childhood fantasy?
There are survival aspects to Grounded that could either work exceptionally well… or feel annoying, depending on how good the rest of the game is and how much fun I’m having! But I’ve heard good things from players who’ve enjoyed the early access version, so I’m going to give Grounded a shot when it officially releases in September.
Video Game #4: Return to Monkey Island
Despite loving the first three games in the series, I seem to have fallen behind on my Monkey Island adventures! The fourth and fifth games in the series ended up on my “pile” of unplayed games, and despite meaning to get around to them I still haven’t! Perhaps I should rectify that before Return to Monkey Island – the sixth game in the series – arrives.
Updated versions of the first three Monkey Island games proved that point-and-click adventure titles could still find an audience when they were released a few years ago, and there’s still an appetite for this kind of comedy-adventure. I’m hopeful that Return to Monkey Island will deliver more of the same humour and excitement as the series did in its early days.
Video Game #5: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum
After being on my radar for a while, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has finally set a release window. All being well we’ll see the weird-sounding game in September. I honestly don’t know what to expect from this one, as Gollum would never be the kind of character I’d have expected to build a game and a story around. However, there’s clearly more to his story than we saw in the films – or even the books – so this could be an interesting adventure!
With a renewed focus on the world of Tolkien and high fantasy thanks to the Amazon show and other fantasy films and TV shows, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum could be a surprise hit. I don’t want to go overboard with the hype, but I’m definitely interested to see what the developers have come up with.
Video Game #6: Saints Row
It does the Saints Row series a grave disservice to call it simply a “Grand Theft Auto clone,” even if that’s where it might’ve begun. This soft reboot of the series aims to take it back to its roots, setting aside at least some of the over-the-top hijinks of the third and fourth games in favour of a return to the gangland roots of the original Saints Row from 2006.
With no Grand Theft Auto VI on the horizon any time soon, Saints Row might just scratch that open-world crime itch for players who are getting tired of Grand Theft Auto V – but hopefully Saints Row can continue to carve its own niche and stand on its own two feet.
So that’s it!
Those are just some of the projects that we can look forward to in the weeks and months ahead. There are plenty more, of course, and I’m sure there’ll be some surprises along the way, too! Although 2022 has been much better than the past couple of years, there’s still the potential for disruption and delays, so keep in mind that any of the shows, films, and games listed above may not make their currently-scheduled launches. Such things happen, unfortuately!
I hope that this was a bit of fun and a glimpse at what lies ahead. It’s always interesting (to me, at least) to research different upcoming projects to see what piques my curiosity, and as someone who takes an interest in the world of entertainment I’m always keeping my ear to the ground to see what might be coming up! I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website for reviews, impressions, and write-ups of at least some of the projects we’ve talked about today.
Until next time!
All films, television shows, and video games listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, distributor, broadcaster, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Morbius.
It’s Morbin’ time! While working my way through my lunch (a plate of egg and chips – yum) I was in need of something to watch… so I fired up Morbius. This film has acquired a reputation since its release that has not eluded me, and despite the fact that I generally like to watch things free from critical opinions, the general dislike for Morbius – the film sits at 17% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes – has been unavoidable.
But when I looked ahead to cinematic points of interest at the start of the year, Morbius had actually ended up on my list. From my perspective as someone who isn’t into comics and doesn’t care too much about their cinematic adaptations, it’s somewhat of a rarity to take even a passing interest in a project like this. But because Morbius is produced by Sony and not affiliated with the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, I felt there was the potential, at least, for a decent one-off film.
The premise of Morbius is interesting, and as someone who hasn’t read any of the source material I was curious to see what the film would do with its “doctor-becomes-a-vampire” concept. As someone who is disabled, the idea of looking for a cure or a medical solution, no matter the cost, is a relatable and understandable one, and while Morbius certainly put a fantasy spin on that concept, the bare bones of the project felt like it had a good starting point.
There were some sequences during the film’s opening act that successfully communicated at least some of that feeling. Jared Leto gave his character’s disability a relatable spin, if not always a completely believable one, and as the foundation for the story I felt that the way it was handled was okay. There are certainly more realistic and sympathetic presentations of disability in cinema, but I daresay that most viewers aren’t coming to a film like Morbius to see the day-to-day life of a disabled person. The life-limiting condition afflicting Dr Morbius and his friend wasn’t even named; I inferred that it was a fictional ailment, and given that the story didn’t have a lot of time to spend on the minutia, that was probably the right call.
The sequence toward the beginning of the film showing younger versions of the central characters was surprisingly raw, and I didn’t expect to see such a brutal depiction of bullying when I sat down to watch Morbius. Though it was hardly anything that hasn’t been seen before in other films and television series, the way in which young Lucian/Milo was taunted and then beaten by a gang of youths was powerful stuff – all the more so because of his nameless health condition. In fact, that sequence was probably the closest that Morbius got to being uncomfortable in terms of its violence; much of the rest of the fighting and gore was pure fantasy.
Jared Harris excels in every role I’ve ever seen him perform, and although there’s one specific moment that we’ll come to with his character that didn’t work, for my money Morbius was a better film for his inclusion as Dr Nicholas. He approached the character with the same seriousness as his roles in projects like Lincoln and Chernobyl, lending Dr Nicholas an outsized gravitas that grounded the character and every scene he appeared in. Even when dealing with some fantastical and silly storylines, Harris gave a wonderful performance.
There was, however, an odd moment as Dr Nicholas was killed off. As he spoke his final words to Morbius, there appeared to be some very clumsy audio work. A different take on the line – or perhaps a new line – had clearly been recorded later and very poorly spliced into the scene, and the result was that Dr Nicholas’ mouth didn’t move in sync with the words he spoke. If it hadn’t been a close-up shot focused on his face perhaps it would’ve passed by unnoticed, but it didn’t – and a combination of poor editing decisions led to what should’ve been one of the film’s more powerful moments falling flat.
Speaking of falling flat, I had a hard time following the motivations of the film’s villain. Milo – a.k.a. Lucian, former friend of Dr Morbius – seems to be a fairly bland “evil for the sake of it” villain, with no real motivation other than “I can kill people now, so I will.” I didn’t find that aspect of his character interesting in the slightest, and it gave the film a very uninspired and uninteresting feel from the moment it became obvious who was going to be the villain of the piece.
I’ve only ever seen Matt Smith in a couple of other roles outside of Dr Who, so I was curious to see how he’d get on when tackling a villain. There was a fun Dr Who reference, as Smith emphasised the word “eleven” at one point early in the film (his was the Eleventh Doctor). However, I found his performance to be somewhat over-the-top, especially once his character had undergone the transformation into his vampiric form. There was the potential for a more nuanced approach leading to a more sympathetic villain, and while we got glimpses of that through Milo’s initial desperation for a cure at any price and later as he died, in between was pure pantomime. Smith’s performance did nothing to damp down that aspect of what was admittedly a poor script.
In fact, those past couple of sentences could encapsulate Morbius in general. What started out as a film with an interesting premise and characters – including the title character – who behaved understandably in light of life-limiting illnesses quickly devolved into an incredibly basic “good guy versus bad guy” CGI-heavy action flick. Nuance and character development went out the window as the film raced through a series of increasingly silly – and increasingly unexplained – action sequences.
At first we seemed to be on course to see Dr Morbius discover and hone different abilities. Following his initial transition aboard the ship, he began noting down different feelings and sensations, developing and refining his echolocation, speed, agility, and strength. Learning to “fly” or glide was perhaps a step too far, but it might’ve worked had there been more of a buildup to it. But what I couldn’t understand was how Dr Morbius had the ability – seemingly from nowhere – to summon bats. And more than that, where did all those bats come from? There weren’t that many in his lab when we saw them earlier in the film, yet he seemed to summon thousands out of mid-air at the film’s climax.
There were attempts in Morbius to use light, shadow, and fog in clever ways, concealing parts of what was happening on screen or allowing things to be seen through a haze. These perhaps didn’t work as perfectly as they could have, but I will credit director Daniel Espinosa with making an attempt to use the camera in different ways rather than relying wholly on CGI.
CGI animation work in Morbius is rather divided. On the one hand, wider shots generally looked quite good, and the “smokey” effect used for Dr Morbius and Milo’s fast-paced vampire moves was a neat one that I hadn’t seen used in that way before. On the other, the CGI faces used for Dr Morbius and in particular Matt Smith’s Milo were poor, despite what I’m sure was a high budget and the best efforts of some talented animators.
The vampire faces seemed to take those used in the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a starting point, perhaps trying to blend in more bat-like features such as flattened noses. As concepts, there was nothing particularly wrong with the way they looked – but the animation work used to bring them to the screen wasn’t up to par, and the faces ended up feeling artificial and video game-y, particularly when the characters “roared” or made other oversized movements.
One sequence in particular bugged me, and I’ll try to explain why. This isn’t something unique to Morbius by any means, and I’ve spoken before about how the choice of filming location can impact a production. In this case, a particular sequence in which Milo and Dr Morbius argued and battled was supposedly set in a New York City subway station – but it was painfully obvious that it was, in fact, shot at a London Underground station. This completely snapped me out of the film, and I just don’t really understand why so many productions like this use inappropriate or just plain bad filming locations.
The London Underground and the New York City subway are pretty different from one another, with completely different architectural and design aesthetics, so why choose a London Underground station for a shoot like this? If filming was taking place away from New York, couldn’t a small section be recreated on a sound stage? Why go to all the trouble of a location shoot only to pick a location that’s completely obviously wrong? I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m nitpicking… but I think a lot of viewers – or at least viewers in the UK – will have picked up on the fact that that sequence was not filmed in New York!
So that’s about all I have to say, I guess. Morbius is not entirely without redeeming features. Jared Leto, Jared Harris, and Adria Arjona all put in great performances with the material they had available, and there were some clever concepts and ideas in the film’s opening act that, had they been in focus for longer and explored in more detail, could have led to a more interesting film overall.
As it is, Morbius descended quite quickly into being a fantasy-action film with a bog-standard “goodies versus baddies” premise. I didn’t find any of its fantasy elements to be frightening or horrifying – and coming from someone who can be quite sensitive to jump-scares and the horror genre, I think that says something. Morbius is far from being the worst film I’ve ever seen, nor even the worst comic book superhero film I’ve seen, but it’s hardly anything spectacular or worth devoting a lot of time to.
I don’t think that Morbius deserves the 0/10 that some folks seem to insist on awarding it; it has enough of a saving grace thanks to some solid performances and a decent opening act to avoid that fate. But it’s not a film I’m in any hurry to revisit.
Morbius is out now and can be streamed for a fee on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, and more. DVD and Blu-ray versions will follow later this year. Morbius is the copyright of Sony Pictures Entertainment and is based on Morbius, the Living Vampire from Marvel Comics. This review contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Book of Boba Fett. Minor spoilers are also present for Solo: A Star Wars Story and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
President of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy recently made a statement that has drawn a lot of attention. In an interview with magazine Vanity Fair, Kennedy stated that one of the lessons that the Disney-owned studio learned from the lukewarm response to Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018 was that recasting classic characters isn’t possible. In her words, “it does seem so abundantly clear that we can’t do that.”
This has kicked off a discussion online, not least among fans of the Star Wars franchise and Solo in particular. Today I want to add my two cents to the conversation and use the debate around Kennedy and Solo to talk about recasting characters in a general sense, as well as touch on some alternatives that studios have turned to in recent years.
First of all, I encourage you to read the full piece in Vanity Fair so you’re aware of what was said and its context. Online debate often centres around a single phrase, soundbite, or fragment of a sentence, and it isn’t always clear how someone’s words were intended. In this case, for example, Kennedy seems to have been talking about the need for Star Wars to move on – something I’ve talked about at length here on the website – and expand beyond the confines of the “Skywalker Saga” and the handful of familiar characters who made up those stories.
I absolutely agree with that sentiment! The Star Wars galaxy is such a vast and exciting setting, one with thousands of years of history, an uncertain future, thousands of planets, trillions of inhabitants, and so much potential! So far, the Star Wars franchise has doubled-down on showing us the same handful of characters and the same tiny sliver of that setting over and over again, and I for one am starting to get sick of it! Star Wars can be more than Luke Skywalker – if it’s willing to put in the effort.
So in that sense, I agree with Kathleen Kennedy! But taken as a starting point for a discussion about recasting characters, I couldn’t disagree more.
It’s profoundly ironic that Kennedy made this statement during the build-up to the broadcast of Obi-Wan Kenobi… a series that centres around a character who was recast from the original Star Wars films! The Star Wars prequel trilogy recast a number of characters – and recast characters were even ham-fistedly edited into the so-called “special editions” of the original films, with the original voice of Boba Fett being re-dubbed, the original Emperor Palpatine being overwritten in The Empire Strikes Back, and most notoriously, the Force ghost of Anakin Skywalker being changed in Return of the Jedi.
Disney and Lucasfilm panicked in the late 2010s. The divisive reaction to The Last Jedi and underwhelming numbers for Solo: A Star Wars Story saw the Star Wars franchise refocused to bring back a lot more of what corporate leadership hopes will pass for nostalgia. This accounts for the existence of shows like The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi, as well as certain narrative decisions in The Rise of Skywalker. It isn’t the first time that corporate cowardice has got in the way of entertainment, and it likely won’t be the last.
I’d argue that the wrong lesson has been learned from Solo if Disney and Lucasfilm believe that the biggest takeaway is that they should never try to recast characters. Alden Ehrenreich’s performance was far from the worst thing about that film, and if audiences and Star Wars fans felt that he “didn’t feel” like Han Solo, the blame needs to be placed with the way the script was written and the way the story was told. Solo was a fairly clumsy overplaying of the nostalgia card in my view; a film with an interesting premise that was hampered by shoehorning in characters from the original trilogy and that made the same mistake with Han Solo as the prequel trilogy had with Anakin Skywalker: overexplaining his backstory.
But all of that is incidental. Even if we accept the premise that Solo was a failure and that the performance of its lead was a significant factor – neither of which I’m fully on board with, but I’ll grant for the sake of argument – is the right response really to say that no classic characters should ever be recast again? That seems like a horrible overreaction!
The Star Wars franchise has done some very interesting things with digital de-ageing and CGI character creation. The way Luke Skywalker was brought to screen in The Book of Boba Fett as an entirely CGI character was technologically stunning, and at first I thought I was watching a lookalike. The technology needed to create CGI characters and perfectly replicate the face – and even voice – of real actors is already here, and while Disney may be a pioneer of the technology, they’re far from the only ones to be using it. We’ve recently seen digital de-ageing make an appearance over in the Star Trek franchise, for example.
I’ve had an article in the pipeline for well over a year that I really ought to get around to finishing one of these days! It’s all about CGI characters in film and television, because I’m convinced that we’re not far away from a film or TV series bringing back to life a dead actor to play a leading role. I can already picture a snooty director who insists that the lead role in their film could only ever belong to someone like Lawrence Olivier or Orson Welles and decides to digitally recreate them rather than cast someone else!
That’s connected, in a way, to what we’re talking about here. Some actors and performers are so iconic that I can absolutely see a time – perhaps very soon – when a film or TV series will use a CGI lead mingling with real actors. A digital creation with a fake face and fake voice that are indistinguishable from the real thing. And as that technology improves and becomes more accessible, it may even become possible for amateurs to do something similar. Imagine a Star Trek fan-film where a fully-realistic CGI Captain Picard is the lead. We’re edging closer to that kind of reality!
But is Sir Patrick Stewart inseparable from Captain Picard? Is Mark Hamill the only possible Luke Skywalker? Or are these roles – and many others across the realm of entertainment – more than just one actor? Look at Shakespeare as an example: how many actors have taken on the role of Hamlet, Prospero, or Richard III? And even in cinema, how many different performances have there been of characters like Count Dracula or Ebenezer Scrooge?
If the argument is that certain characters can only ever be portrayed by one person, doesn’t that limit them and restrict them to a single possible interpretation? There have been very different takes on iconic characters over the years, and while audiences may have a preference for one or another, that doesn’t mean that only one interpretation is valid. Taking a character and giving them to a new actor expands the potential of that character.
In the Star Trek franchise we’ve seen the main characters from The Original Series recast for the Kelvin films, and while I know of some Trekkies who absolutely hated that idea, as time has passed since the 2009 reboot, more of those folks have come around. 2009’s Star Trek did a lot of things right as a reboot of the franchise, and a big part of its success was down to the way those classic characters were reinterpreted.
Some Star Trek characters have been recast multiple times – by my count, Strange New Worlds features the fourth actor to play Captain Pike and the third to play Spock. Early reactions to Strange New Worlds have been incredibly positive – and the series has even drawn praise from some fans who hadn’t enjoyed anything else that modern Star Trek has had to offer. Recasting Pike, Spock, and other classic characters has clearly not harmed Strange New Worlds.
And the same could be true for Star Wars. Maybe Solo wasn’t the best film the franchise has put out, but that shouldn’t mean that experimenting with different takes on classic characters should be entirely shut down. There’s scope for new actors to take on the roles of Luke, Leia, and others – just as there was for Ewan McGregor to become Obi-Wan Kenobi or Alden Ehrenreich to become Han Solo. Arbitrarily deciding that recasting can never work off the back of a single underwhelming film is an unnecessary overreaction – especially considering that recasting has already worked in Star Wars, with an upcoming series standing as testament to that fact.
At the same time, there’s a place for digital character creation, recreated characters, and CGI characters, and I fully expect to see a lot more of that type of thing in the years ahead. For my two cents, digital de-ageing and CGI characters probably work best as side-characters rather than main protagonists – and I think Star Wars has got away with using them in that context so far. It will be a new challenge to see a film or TV series where the leading role is taken over by a CGI character.
So in conclusion, I’m glad that Kathleen Kennedy is finally willing to consider expanding the Star Wars franchise beyond the tiny fragment of its wonderful and vast setting that we’ve seen so far. That part is the good news! However, I don’t agree that there’s no place for recasting characters in a general sense. New actors have the potential to bring a new interpretation to the role, and if you look across at other films, franchises, and TV shows, it’s abundantly clear that recasting can and does work.
All properties and franchises discussed above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, corporation, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
It’s been a while since we talked about Avatar. Actually, scratch that. It’s been a while since anybody talked about Avatar and its upcoming sequels, with the sci-fi blockbuster having largely dropped out of our collective cultural conversation in the decade since its release. But with the first of four planned sequels due for release in just a few months’ time, James Cameron’s sci-fi series is kicking off its marketing campaign.
In addition to the film’s official title being revealed, we also got the first teaser trailer. Having caught a glimpse of Pandora and the Na’vi, I thought it could be interesting to look ahead and preview what the film may be when it finally hits cinemas later this year.
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Avatar. I didn’t hate it or even particularly dislike it, but it was the kind of blockbuster that I just haven’t felt a desperately pressing need to revisit. While its story and characters weren’t bad by any means, nothing Avatar did managed to succeed at creating a world that I can’t get enough of. Avatar was fine – but unlike something like Star Trek or Star Wars, the first film didn’t inspire a huge fan community nor create the sense of scale or the feeling that there’s a great deal more to its world that we desperately need to see.
I re-watched Avatar about eighteen months ago, and I’ve probably seen the film four or five times over the past decade. But could I tell you its plot in any detail or recite some of my favourite lines? How about picking my favourite character(s)… or even remembering the names of the main ones? Aside from the moon of Pandora, is there anywhere else in Avatar’s fictional universe that I’d want to explore? The answer to all of the above is “no,” as you may have guessed.
So that’s the position I’m in as we look ahead to Avatar: The Way of Water (which my brain keeps calling The Shape of Water like that other film from a couple of years ago). But although I might be cruel enough to call some aspects of Avatar “forgettable,” there are reasons for positivity. For one, the science fiction realm always has space for new and expanding franchises, and while I doubt any will ever topple Star Wars or Star Trek, there’s definitely scope to add the likes of Avatar into the mix.
Like its predecessor, Avatar: The Way of Water has a colossal budget, and we will undoubtedly be in for a film whose design, aesthetic, and visual style will be beautiful and immersive. With CGI and other special effects having improved dramatically over the past decade, some of the “video gamey” feel of the first film – with its slightly too smooth and shiny textures – should have been mitigated. While The Way of Water will still be so heavily reliant on CGI as to be basically fully-animated for long sequences, CGI animation in 2022 can look a heck of a lot better than it did in 2009.
To my surprise, I must admit, the teaser trailer for The Way of Water racked up well over ten million views on YouTube in the 48 hours after it was published there, with several million additional views across other social media platforms. For a time, the teaser trailer was the #1 trending video on YouTube, so there’s clearly still interest in Avatar from the general public – even if most folks haven’t rewatched the first film in a long time!
The teaser trailer itself was a stylised affair, heavy on the soundtrack, that showed off a few interesting-looking locations but that revealed practically nothing by way of narrative or plot. At this stage that could be okay; it’s a tease to renew interest in a franchise that has been dormant for more than a decade. But I wonder if there was enough substance in the 90-second teaser to really kick off a marketing campaign that will need to rebuild interest in the world of Avatar between now and the holiday season.
There were a few moments in the teaser trailer that looked genuinely interesting. At one point we saw what appeared to be Na’vi and humans working together, or at the very least Na’vi being shown around a human facility that seemed to be under construction. Whether that means that humanity’s presence on Pandora is growing is not clear. We also saw Na’vi carrying human weapons and wearing what appeared to be body armour; again this could suggest some kind of team-up between at least one human faction and Sully’s Na’vi tribe.
We also got our first look at the much-vaunted underwater motion capture technology, something that has apparently been developed by James Cameron and his team for the new film. The technology wasn’t ready a decade ago, but having worked on it over the past few years, The Way of Water is now leaning on it as a selling-point.
There have been great underwater sequences in films before, and the very brief clip shown off in the teaser trailer isn’t a lot to go on. I think we’ll have to reserve judgement on how well the underwater motion capture stuff works – as well as how “groundbreaking” or original it makes the finished picture look – until we’ve seen a lot more footage. I don’t want to jump the gun and say it was underwhelming based on a few seconds’ worth of video that was compressed for YouTube!
It’s no bad thing to experiment and try new techniques; that’s the only way that cinema – or any medium, come to that – can ever grow and develop. Whether the gruelling process of underwater motion capture will catch on and become something we see other titles pick up in future is anyone’s guess at this stage. I would say, though, that behind-the-scenes photos and interviews seem to suggest that this particular filmmaking process is hard work!
James Cameron put a lot of energy into Avatar. A whole Na’vi language was constructed by linguistics experts, and while that isn’t something entirely unique for a sci-fi property (hello, Klingon) it does show how seriously Cameron and others took the project. Seeing Avatar expand beyond its original film and begin to take advantage of some of that hard work is something I’d like to see happen, and there’s always going to be room for more high-quality sci-fi.
Expanding on the story of Avatar – which was left somewhat open-ended back in 2009 – could be fun, and I hope that the story will go in a different and perhaps unexpected direction. The original film took flak for its perceived unoriginality, so this first sequel could be an opportunity to break away from that.
Though I’m not going to rush out and be the first in line for Avatar: The Way of Water on release day, I’m hopeful that it’ll be a decent sci-fi title when it’s ready. As the first of four sequels to the original film, this could be a franchise that we’ll discuss a lot in the years ahead.
Avatar: The Way of Water is scheduled to be released on the 16th of December 2022. The Avatar series – including The Way of Water – is the copyright of 20th Century Studios and/or The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Wars franchise, including the prequels, original trilogy, and sequels.
Happy Star Wars Day! Today is the 4th of May – or as they say in America, May the 4th. So May the 4th be with you! Today is a day for positivity in the Star Wars fan community, so I thought it could be fun to take a look at a few of my favourite things from The Last Jedi. It goes without saying that The Last Jedi was a divisive film among Star Wars fans. However, it was one I generally enjoyed. It wasn’t “perfect,” and I don’t think it hit all of the high notes that it was aiming for, but I found it to be enjoyable.
This article isn’t an attack on anyone else’s position or opinion! If you don’t like The Last Jedi or some of the things we’re going to discuss, that’s totally okay. Practically everything in cinema is subjective, not objective, and there’s a range of opinions on practically every film. Because today is about celebrating Star Wars, I wanted to pick out some of the things that I liked from the film and talk about why they worked well for me. If you want to see how critical I can be of Star Wars… check out my reviews of The Rise of Skywalker or The Mandalorian Season 2!
With all of that out of the way, a brief introduction is in order, I think! Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was released theatrically in the UK on the 14th of December 2017 – but I didn’t see it until a few months later in the Spring of 2018. My health is poor, and things like trips to the cinema are no longer practical for me, unfortunately. By the time I got around to seeing the film I’d already heard the outcry from some in the Star Wars fandom, and I set my expectations pretty low for what seemed to be a divisive film. Suffice to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find a film that I enjoyed a lot more than I’d been expecting.
After The Force Awakens had played it very safe two years earlier, The Last Jedi attempted to take Star Wars in a very different direction. Rather than repeating what the original trilogy had done, the film took its characters to completely different thematic places, introduced new sub-plots, and potentially set up the sequel trilogy for a radically different ending. The Rise of Skywalker tried to undo some of the most significant points from The Last Jedi, which was a real shame, but taken on their own merit many of these points succeed. For me, The Last Jedi is the high-water mark of the sequel trilogy, and it’s a film that I firmly believe will be considered much more favourably in years to come. Just look at how a new generation of fans has come to celebrate the once-panned prequel trilogy; The Last Jedi’s best days may lie ahead.
So let’s get started on my list! I’ve picked ten things that I admire about The Last Jedi or feel that the film did well. They’re listed below in no particular order.
Number 1: A subtle and unexpected Rogue One connection.
How was the First Order able to track the Resistance’s fleet while they were in hyperspace? This was a story point that some fans who weren’t paying very close attention didn’t like – but it was actually something that had been set up a year earlier. Rogue One, which was released in 2016, saw Jyn Erso and a rag-tag crew steal the plans to the Death Star in the days immediately prior to A New Hope. Part of their mission saw them travel to the planet of Scarif, where the plans were kept at an Imperial facility.
While looking for the Death Star plans in amongst other Imperial data tapes, Jyn found a record of the Empire’s research into hyperspace tracking. The scene was very brief, with the data tape quickly being discarded in the rush to secure the Death Star plans – but it was a great moment of connection between two disparate parts of the Star Wars franchise!
Considering that Rogue One and The Last Jedi were set decades apart, these moments of connection are incredibly helpful to bind modern Star Wars together. Far from being just a throwaway line, the scene in Rogue One established that hyperspace tracking technology was something being actively researched by the Empire – while the destruction of the Imperial facility on Scarif provides a convenient narrative excuse for why it wasn’t successfully rolled out during the era of the original films.
It can be an incredibly difficult task to thread the needle like this; to insert a story element in between the pieces of the story that we already know. But Rogue One and The Last Jedi did this perfectly. If only other story beats in the sequel trilogy had this much forethought and this much setup!
Number 2: Rey is related to nobody.
For two years leading up to The Last Jedi, speculation was rife in the Star Wars fan community about who Rey was. Many fans concocted elaborate theories suggesting that she was the daughter or granddaughter of Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Emperor Palpatine, and other Force-wielding characters. But when it was revealed in The Last Jedi that none of those things were true, it was a perfectly-executed twist.
Rey being “no one” isn’t just great because it’s a subversion or because it ignores some pretty mediocre fan theories – it works because it has something important to say. The Force can manifest in anyone, and just because that person comes from a humble background it doesn’t mean that they can’t be important. This is the story that the original Star Wars film tried to tell: Luke was the farm boy from an unimportant backwater world who went on to save the galaxy. That story was muddied by the decision to create a connection to Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, and completely erased by the time talk of prophecy and “chosen ones” entered the equation.
In that sense, Rey’s parents being no one important and no one familiar took Star Wars back to a narrative space that it hadn’t occupied since 1977. It established that its hero truly could be anybody, that destiny and ancestry don’t matter half as much as we might’ve thought. I found that message to be incredibly uplifting and inspiring, and the idea that anyone could be a hero or do great things without needing to be related to someone important is a message that resonated. In a franchise that has been so thoroughly dominated by a handful of individuals and a single family, it was a narrative worth including.
It also presented Rey in stark contrast to Kylo Ren. Both characters were defined by their family, but in different ways. Rey waited for her parents believing they’d come back for her, only to learn that they didn’t care about her at all – they sold her at the first opportunity. Kylo was both proud of his relationship to Darth Vader and ashamed of the role that his parents played in the Rebellion. Kylo came from Rebel royalty as the son of Han and Leia, but had succumbed to the temptation of the Dark Side and wanted to dominate the galaxy. In contrast, Rey came from nowhere and wanted to save it.
Rey’s struggle wasn’t to live up to some legacy from Luke or Obi-Wan, nor to rebel against a darker ancestor like Palpatine, but to chart her own path – a new path for herself, for the Resistance, for the Jedi, and for the Star Wars franchise. Rey represented the new against the old, the people against the aristocratic elite, and an unexpected journey for the protagonist of the latest chapter of the long-running saga.
I adored this about Rey. It took her on an unpredictable and open-ended journey, threw out of the window outdated notions of legacy and destiny, but at the same time it returned Star Wars to a familiar place; a place it hadn’t been since Darth Vader and Luke were retconned to be father and son. Had this aspect of Rey’s character been retained, I think the sequel trilogy as a whole could’ve been far more interesting.
Number 3: Hyperspace ramming.
In the very first Star Wars film, Han Solo gave us a decent explanation for why travelling through hyperspace was so dangerous. “Without precise calculations,” he told Luke, “we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova.” Hyperspace, at least according to Han Solo, did not somehow transport ships to another dimension; they could still interact with the rest of the galaxy – with potentially deadly consequences!
This was elaborated on by the old Expanded Universe which explained that charting new hyperspace routes was incredibly dangerous for precisely the same reason: it’s very easy to crash into a star, a planet, or even another starship. So hyperspace ramming has always been possible in Star Wars – even if no one thought of it before Admiral Holdo!
Hyperspace ramming is the kind of desperate, last-ditch manoeuvre that no one would dare to try unless there weren’t any other options. Here in the real world, aircraft had been around for decades before anyone thought of inventing the kamikaze suicide attack, so I can absolutely believe that hyperspace ramming was either totally new in the Star Wars universe or hadn’t been attempted in hundreds or thousands of years. Nothing about it “broke” continuity, and as stated it was perfectly in line with what Han Solo had told us about travelling through hyperspace all the way back at the beginning of the franchise!
The criticisms of hyperspace ramming felt very nitpicky to me, and I think it’s something that came about because of how other aspects of the film landed for some fans. If hyperspace ramming had made its debut in The Mandalorian, for example, where most fans seem to have been having a good time, I think it would’ve generated a lot less anger!
I’m always a sucker for the “doomed last stand” concept in fiction, and the entire hyperspace ramming sequence was executed incredibly well. Admiral Holdo managed to be stoic and brave in the face of death, making the ultimate sacrifice to allow her friends to escape and to give the Resistance a fighting chance.
The cinematography and visual effects used to bring it to life were outstanding, too, and the hyperspace ramming sequence has to be one of the absolute best in all of Star Wars for me. The use of silence at the moment of impact was so incredibly poignant – in part because silence is used so sparingly across the franchise. The CGI animation used to bring to life the crash and its aftermath was likewise fantastic.
Number 4: Kylo Ren seizes power.
The Force Awakens seemed to be setting up Kylo Ren as the “new Darth Vader” – an evil but ultimately redeemable villain. The Last Jedi chose to avoid recycling that character trope and set Kylo on his own path, a path that would lead him to become the Supreme Leader of the First Order. By embracing the darkness within him and extinguishing the pull to the light that he’d been feeling, Kylo Ren cemented his position as the primary antagonist of the sequel trilogy.
After being bullied and belittled by Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo’s hatred for his master had been building. Blamed unfairly for the loss of Starkiller Base and Rey’s escape, Kylo nursed a grudge against Snoke for practically the whole film, culminating in him killing him in one of the film’s most shocking sequences.
Kylo killing Snoke was not an empty subversion, designed for shock value and nothing else. It was a masterstroke of writing, one that sought to take Star Wars and the film’s main characters to entirely different thematic places than either the prequels or original trilogy had. In the span of a few minutes it seemed that Rey had been able to get through to Kylo, convincing him to betray the First Order… but then that idea was pulled away as Kylo saw his chance to seize power.
Turning the idea of “reaching out” on its head, it was Kylo who asked Rey to join him, to rule the galaxy at his side. Rather than returning to the light, Kylo had taken a massive leap further into the dark – going so far, surely, as to never be able to come back. With Snoke out of the picture, only Kylo and Hux would remain as major antagonists going into the final act of the trilogy, so it seemed like the idea of “Darth Vader 2.0” was well and truly gone.
Again, this was a moment with a message. Part of that message was epitomised by Luke’s line: “this is not going to go the way you think!” and that’s kind of built into the film’s entire philosophy. But beyond that, the concept that someone like Kylo Ren could be irredeemable has merit. There are some people – some fascist leaders, which is what Kylo Ren is at this point – who go “full Dark Side.” There’s no way back for some people, and we shouldn’t want to see a redemption arc for people who have done unspeakably evil things.
It’s also connected to the point above about destiny and ancestry. Kylo came from Rebel royalty as the son of Han Solo and Leia, but instead of using that legacy and power in a positive way he became corrupted, trying to rule the galaxy instead of fighting for freedom. The lure of power can corrupt even the most well-meaning of individuals, and Kylo’s arrogance, elitism, and belief in his own special place led him down a dark path.
Number 5: The presentation of Luke Skywalker.
This is a point I’ve tackled before in a standalone essay, but I found what The Last Jedi did with Luke to be absolutely incredible. It was a powerful and relatable mental health story, one that showed how anyone – even heroes – can fall into melancholy and depression. Maybe that story isn’t what some viewers wanted, but I firmly believe it’s a story that was needed – and worth telling.
Not only that, but Luke’s story was a sympathetic and realistic portrayal of mental health; one of the better depictions of depression that I’ve seen in fiction in recent years. Having tried to rebuild the Jedi Order, Luke ultimately failed – and failed in such a catastrophic way that he got people killed. He allowed that failure to fester and turn into depression, ultimately secluding himself and merely waiting around to die, totally uninterested in the galaxy around him.
Anyone who’s suffered from depression – regardless of whether there was a cause – can relate to that. The idea of cutting oneself off from everything and everyone, of being unable to face the world outside a small bubble of safety – these are things that people suffering from mental health issues can recognise. And the fact that it happened to someone as powerful, virtuous, and heroic as Luke Skywalker has an incredibly powerful point to make: this is something that can happen to anyone.
As mental health issues – particularly in men – continue to be ignored and stigmatised, this is something that people need to see and hear. The depiction of one of the main protagonists in one of the biggest cinematic franchises around suffering from depression in a realistic and relatable way has done so much to raise awareness of the problem. To me, this is sci-fi at its best: using a fantasy setting to consider real-world issues.
As always in these kinds of stories, how Luke was feeling at the beginning is not as important as where he ended up, and the arc he goes through in The Last Jedi provides a genuine feeling of hope. Thanks to Rey’s intervention, Luke found a way to believe in a cause again, and found a way to become a symbol of hope for the entire galaxy. Luke being depressed at the beginning was incredibly important for people to see, but what was just as important is how he found a pathway out of it.
Depression isn’t something easily cured. Luke couldn’t just “snap out of it,” but he came to realise that, despite his failings, despite his flaws, and despite the way he’d been feeling, there was still something he could do to contribute. He could still be a Jedi – and thanks to his intervention, not the titular Last Jedi!
Number 6: Recognising the massive failings of the old Jedi Order.
The prequel trilogy touched on the idea that the Jedi Order had grown arrogant and complacent over centuries of peace and after being unchallenged by the Sith and the Dark Side in a major way. But at the same time, characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Mace Windu were presented as the heroes – the paragons of virtue who we were rooting for. The Last Jedi takes a much more critical lens to its examination of the Jedi Order, particularly in the prequel era.
Luke explained to Rey that the hubris of the Jedi is what allowed Palpatine to rise to power in the first place, and that the Jedi Order failed not only at keeping the peace but at preserving the Republic itself. Though this wasn’t something that the film spent a huge amount of time on, I think it was an important acknowledgement to recognise that the Jedi Order – by the time of the prequel films, at least – was not the irreproachable organisation that some considered it to be.
This is also something that could inform Star Wars’ future. We don’t know what will become of the Jedi in the aftermath of the sequel trilogy, but it seems to me that one of the lessons Rey learned from Luke is that simply trying to reconstruct the Jedi Order exactly as it was before the Empire is not only impossible, but undesirable as well. What comes next for the Light Side of the Force has to be different – it has to be better.
This potentially opens up the future of Star Wars to go in some very different storytelling directions. Rather than simply a return to the pre-Empire status quo, in which the era of the Galactic Civil War may end up looking like little more than a blip in the grand scale of galactic history, what happened to Luke and Rey could be a turning point for the Light Side of the Force, with a new organisation bound by different rules rising in the Jedi’s stead. Perhaps the name “Jedi” will survive (it’s an integral part of Star Wars, after all), but maybe what comes next will be significantly different from the prequel-era Jedi Order, setting the stage for some genuinely different and unpredictable stories in the years ahead.
Number 7: Timely social commentary.
How often have we felt that, no matter what we do, the rich always manage to get richer while we stay poor? The Last Jedi took Finn and Rose to one of the meeting places of the galactic elite, showing us how the mega-rich of the galaxy gamble and play both sides in the conflict. To them, who wins the war isn’t important – because they know that either way, they’re going to come out on top.
This isn’t just about the arms dealers who were selling weapons to both sides – although that was a very in-your-face analogy – but really the entire gaggle of the super-rich that Finn and Rose encountered on Canto Bight. Just like the 1% here in the real world, the problems of the galaxy don’t affect them at all. It was, in a sense, a glimpse behind a curtain that we rarely get to see – and the fact that the people of Canto Bight were laughing, joking, gambling, and greedily stuffing their faces seemed to spit in the face of our heroes and their war effort.
This was a side of the Star Wars galaxy that we’d never really seen. We’d been introduced to bounty hunters in shady cantinas before, as well as seeing the corrupt decadence of Coruscant’s politicians in the prequels, but it makes sense that a society as complex as the Star Wars galaxy would have these kinds of places inhabited by these kinds of people. They’re the Wall Street gamblers, the bankers, the financiers who survived the Republic, the Empire, the New Republic, and the First Order all by owning and controlling the vast majority of the galaxy’s money.
One of the themes that I took from this side-story is that, in a sense, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses in the struggle for power. Either a new Republic or the First Order will eventually have to cut deals with these people; they’re the real powerbrokers in the galaxy. Their money can shift the tide of the war – it can literally see states rise or fall.
Perhaps Canto Bight hit too close to home for some folks, or perhaps this look behind the curtain was a little too bleak! But there was something powerful about it nonetheless, particularly in the aftermath of some turbulent political times here in the western world. As above, when sci-fi turns a spotlight on real-world issues, what results can be powerful storytelling if it’s done right.
From an in-universe point of view, Star Wars stories have generally focused on underdogs – scrappy groups of rebels fighting against the powers that be. Even the prequels didn’t explore much of this side of the galaxy – so it was something new, something interesting, and something that could be ripe for further exploration one day.
Number 8: Porgs!
The Last Jedi introduced us to porgs – beakless bird-like critters that inhabited Luke’s island on the isolated Jedi planet of Ahch-To. Porgs are adorable and they made an excellent addition to the Star Wars galaxy. Was their pretty sizeable appearance in the film purely a merchandising ploy that did nothing whatsoever to service the plot? Well, probably. But Star Wars has always been about the merch!
I had the porg variant of the film’s poster on display for a long time and I also bought a porg plushie, so I guess I’m a sucker for cute merchandise. Paul the porg is now a permanent fixture in my living room, and I have The Last Jedi to thank for that!
Number 9: General Leia’s leadership.
The film’s release was bittersweet due to the death of Carrie Fisher a year earlier, making her posthumous role in The Last Jedi all the more poignant. Having had limited screen time in The Force Awakens, which focused more on Han Solo, The Last Jedi became a strong film for Leia’s character, showing her leadership skills and expanding on her role in the aftermath of the events of the original films.
There was a clash between the “hot-headed” Poe Dameron and the cooler, calmer Leia and Holdo at the head of the Resistance. Unfortunately Leia was sidelined for part of that, but her return just in time to stop Poe from sabotaging a carefully-laid out plan was one of the film’s strongest moments – and one that showed Leia’s no-nonsense attitude!
Leia also got a sweet moment with Luke shortly before his last stand against the First Order’s forces, and considering that the sequel trilogy didn’t have many moments where it put the original characters back together, this was all the more significant. Fans needed to see Luke and Leia back together one final time – it was certainly one of the things I wanted from the sequels.
Even in the original trilogy, Leia was no “damsel in distress.” She helped Luke and Han escape from the Death Star, saved Luke’s life on Cloud City, killed Jabba the Hutt, and led the mission to take down the second Death Star’s shield! Seeing her continuing the fight against evil – even when it meant standing against her own son – was incredibly powerful.
Number 10: Taking Star Wars to new thematic places.
I talked about this above when discussing Kylo and Rey in particular, but The Last Jedi did more than any film in the franchise before or since to try to take Star Wars to different thematic and narrative places. That’s incredibly important, because without changing with the times and adapting, Star Wars as a whole will remain stuck in place.
Star Wars hasn’t yet been able to successfully move on from the one story that has been told. Palpatine, Anakin, Luke, Leia, Kylo, Rey, and the other main characters have come to utterly dominate Star Wars in every cinematic and television adaptation so far, even appearing in the likes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. The Last Jedi, as a sequel, obviously had to include many of those same characters, but the way it framed them was as close as Star Wars has got so far to going to different places.
If the franchise is to survive long-term, it will have to find a way to leave Luke, Leia, Anakin, and the others behind; to branch out into different eras with wholly different casts of characters to whom names like “Skywalker” or “Palpatine” mean nothing. There’s a limit to how many different ways the same few characters can save the galaxy over the span of a few short years, and by making massive decisions such as killing off Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi tried to guide the franchise to a new destination.
The board at the Walt Disney Company is now pushing back hard against that, and we’ve seen the results not only in The Rise of Skywalker, but also through decisions to include characters like Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian or to bring back Obi-Wan Kenobi for his own miniseries. Partly that’s corporate cowardice – Disney wants to retreat to what it sees as safe, comfortable ground. But that ground is getting overtrodden, and there’s a danger that Star Wars could get bogged down. The Last Jedi, for whatever faults you may think it has, tried to do something genuinely different – and trying new things is how a franchise grows and comes to learn what works.
As the dust settles and the film’s divisiveness abates, I think we’ll start to see a reevaluation of this aspect of The Last Jedi in particular. It may not have succeeded at taking the sequel trilogy to a very different end point, but it stands as a piece of the franchise’s cinematic canon that wasn’t afraid to try different things with its characters and storylines. Perhaps, in time, fans will come to appreciate that – particularly if Star Wars continues to double-down on recycling characters and shining spotlights on increasingly irrelevant chapters of its only real story.
Killing off its main villain early in the story, setting his apprentice on a dark path instead of the path to redemption, tearing down the arrogance of the old Jedi Order, reflecting real-world issues like mental health and the gilded indifference of the super-rich… these are all things that Star Wars had never even considered. The Last Jedi tried them for the first time. Did it all work perfectly? Probably not. But in a franchise that is in serious danger of becoming stale and fixated on its own past, trying new things, exploring new themes, dealing with new character types, and making an effort to stay grounded and relatable are all deserving of praise in my view.
So that’s it!
Those are ten things that I think are pretty great about The Last Jedi. Despite the controversy the film generated, there are signs that the Star Wars fan community is coming back together. Shows like The Mandalorian have gone a long way to bringing back into the fold fans who’d been ready to give up on modern Star Wars. And just like the prequels – which are being revisited by a new generation of fans who were kids when they were released – in a few years’ time I think we’ll see a similar reappraisal of The Last Jedi by newer and younger fans who first came to Star Wars during the sequel era.
Although The Rise of Skywalker did what it could to overwrite or ignore some of what I consider to be The Last Jedi’s highlights, I still find it an enjoyable experience to go back and re-watch it. In a way, it’s a time capsule of where the franchise was in 2017 – or a window into an alternate timeline where Star Wars continued on this trajectory instead of panicking and trying to course-correct.
As we celebrate Star Wars day, don’t forget The Last Jedi.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is available to stream now on Disney+ and is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Wars franchise – including The Last Jedi and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
This review is in two parts: a spoiler-free section and a section containing spoilers for the story. The end of the spoiler-free section is clearly marked.
Disaster movies are something of a guilty pleasure of mine, so I’d been looking forward to Moonfall since it was announced. I was hoping for some big, dumb blockbuster fun – and Moonfall delivered. This isn’t a film that’s going to win any of the big awards – at least, it doesn’t deserve to! But as an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, I’d recommend it to fans of science-fiction, disaster films, and brainless summer blockbusters.
Director Roland Emmerich has an established track record in the disaster movie genre, having directed The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, both of which were big hits in the 2000s. Many of Emmerich’s hallmarks are present in Moonfall, including some very familiar character and story tropes. If you were turned off by the “flawed protagonist who loves his family” action-hero character that Emmerich seems to use in all of his films, maybe Moonfall won’t be right for you! But for my money, the film delivered what I wanted it to – and managed to pack an emotional punch even while suffering major contrivances, an utterly ridiculous plot, and dialogue that could be incredibly hammy.
All of the actors in Moonfall gave it their all, despite the film’s ridiculously over-the-top disaster storyline, and I’d single out the performances of Halle Berry, Eme Ikwuakor, and Charlie Plummer as being especially praiseworthy. I’d never seen John Bradley in anything outside of Game of Thrones (where he played Samwell Tarly), so I wasn’t sure at first how suitable I’d find him for a role in a title like Moonfall. But to my pleasant surprise I enjoyed Bradley’s performance a great deal, and I found him believable as conspiracy theorist KC Houseman.
There were some definite CGI misses in Moonfall, but none were terribly egregious. Water can be a difficult thing for CGI animators to do well, and given that the film had a lot of other CGI sequences that worked, I can excuse those that were wide of the mark. There wasn’t anything catastrophic; rather some sequences that depicted large volumes of water felt outdated – akin to something we might’ve expected to see ten years ago rather than from a blockbuster in 2022.
I had a good time with Moonfall, all things considered. It had a plot that was less science-fiction than pure fantasy, and that required any understanding of actual science and physics to go out of the window! But there’s room in the wide world of geeky entertainment for titles like this one, and not every story has to rely on real-world understandings of gravity and physics to tell a fun, exciting, and occasionally emotional story.
If you’ve never liked disaster films, Moonfall probably isn’t the picture to change your mind. And if you like your sci-fi heavier on the sci than the fi, Moonfall will probably be a frustrating experience. Heck, we could nitpick it to death if we wanted to! But if you can suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours – and if you want a film that doesn’t ask too much of you either intellectually or in terms of effort and engagement – Moonfall might just be a fun ride. I know it was for me!
Up next we’re going to talk about some of the story elements in more detail.
Spoiler Warning: This is the end of the spoiler-free section! Expect spoilers for Moonfall from here on out.
So let’s get something straight: Moonfall has a ridiculous plot. Even by the standards of other disaster films – like Volcano’s lava eruption in Los Angeles or the Mayan end of the world in 2012 – what Moonfall brings to the table with its “the moon is an ancient spaceship constructed by humans from another part of the galaxy” story… it’s just plain bonkers. A rogue AI comprised of millions of nano-machines sending the moon crashing into the Earth is likewise utterly silly, and Moonfall asks a lot to get its audience to suspend our disbelief!
But that doesn’t mean it’s one of those “so bad it’s good” films. There’s a lot to love about Moonfall in its own right, including a different take on some familiar concepts. The idea of rogue AI could’ve been explored in more detail if there’d been more time, but it’s a surprisingly timely narrative inclusion given that we may be on the cusp of unlocking that kind of technology right here in the real world. As documentaries such as the brilliant We Need To Talk About A.I. from a couple of years ago have shown, there are legitimate concerns surrounding artificial intelligence, concerns that Moonfall takes to an extreme – but not entirely unfathomable – conclusion.
Many story tropes and character archetypes that Roland Emmerich has used before are included in Moonfall, right down to the “new spouse of the hero’s ex who dies in the disaster.” For folks who’ve seen the likes of The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, characters like protagonist Brian Harper will feel very familiar – perhaps even a little samey. But Emmerich does a good enough job at establishing the stakes for the characters through their connections to their families and friends, adding an emotional imperative to the story that it would otherwise lack.
There are more than just echoes of past Emmerich films through some of these characters. The washed-up hero, the scientist everyone ignored, the gung-ho military leaders, the children of the main protagonists who are trying to get to safety… we’ve seen these people before in different incarnations in other titles. But to me, that was fine. The actors who brought these characters to life did a good job, and I can’t really fault any of the performances. Given that the story was silly – and I’m sure everyone involved could recognise that – there’s a level of professionalism and dedication that deserves to be respected.
As mentioned, some of the CGI sequences – those dealing with the flooding caused by the moon’s activities in particular – weren’t spectacular. It feels as though Moonfall’s creators poured the vast majority of its CGI budget into the “swarm” – the AI nanobots that were the cause of all the trouble. The swarm looked spectacular, giving me a hint of things like the Borg Collective from the Star Trek franchise without being too derivative.
The white dwarf star at the moon’s core was also an impressive CGI feat. Stars in sci-fi can be difficult to get right, and we’ve seen massive improvements in the way they’ve been depicted in the wake of titles like Interstellar. Moonfall managed to get this aspect right, and while the star wasn’t on screen for a huge amount of time, when it was it managed to look exceptional.
There were some unintentionally funny moments in Moonfall courtesy of some incredibly hammy dialogue, and especially in the first forty or fifty minutes or so of the film I found myself chuckling away at these. When you have legitimately good actors saying, with a straight face, lines like “I’ve uncovered what might be the most important discovery in human history!” or “everything we thought we knew about the nature of the universe has just gone out the window!” it’s hard not to crack a smile.
The forced conflict between NASA, the military, and the film’s protagonists is another Emmerich hallmark, with the authorities refusing to believe the truth, seemingly trying to cover it up, and then launching an overly-aggressive military response at the last minute. Pitting Halle Berry’s character of Jocinda Fowler against the head honchos of NASA and the military was certainly a cliché, especially when there were characters who openly told us that “just following orders” meant that they have blood on their hands, or that they “lied to the American people.” But I can let such things slide in a film that I don’t need to take too seriously.
I didn’t come to Moonfall looking for a nuanced or sympathetic presentation of dementia. But even so, the way that the film handled the character of KC Houseman’s mother was pretty poor. It fell into some really unnecessary stereotyping of dementia, showing Mrs Houseman going from lucid to amnesiac in a split-second. As I find myself saying sometimes: if there isn’t time in a film with other priorities to create a more realistic and nuanced presentation of an illness or health condition, it can be better to just skip it altogether. We didn’t gain anything by learning about Mrs Houseman’s failing health, nor did it do much to inform the character of KC. So overall, a bit of a disappointment that a blockbuster would lean so heavily on a pretty clichéd presentation of what is a complex and debilitating illness.
There was quite a bit of product placement in Moonfall – another clear sign of an Emmerich blockbuster. When compared with the likes of 2012, though, the product placement felt a lot more subtle. There were logos and car brands that were clearly being shown off, but for the most part it passed by inoffensively enough. I tend not to get too worked up over product placement if it isn’t too in-your-face.
So that was Moonfall, really. A dumb, stupid blockbuster with a ridiculously silly plot, recycled character tropes, hammy dialogue, and naff special effects… that I thoroughly enjoyed for what it was. Moonfall was never going to be Oscar bait, and I think everyone involved with its production recognised from the start the kind of film they were creating. This was sci-fi that was heavy on the fi, and very light on the sci!
But Moonfall did what it set out to, and it was perfectly entertaining popcorn fare. It’s a film that doesn’t want you to think too deeply about the physics involved, nor the implications for the world left behind for the survivors. Moonfall exists for the two hours that you watch it, and then it’s over. Its characters got to their “happily ever after” moment, and that’s all it has to say. There’s no epilogue, no post-credits scene to tee up a sequel. It’s purely a one-and-done disaster film with sci-fi trappings.
I set my expectations appropriately and ended up having a good time with Moonfall. And I think that’s about all there is to say!
Moonfall is out now to stream for a fee on Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube, Apple TV, and other streaming platforms. Moonfall will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on the 9th of May 2022. Moonfall is the copyright of Lionsgate Films and ACG International. This review contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Batman.
When The Batman was announced a couple of years ago, I was distinctly underwhelmed. After more than fifteen years of samey presentations of the titular caped crusader going back to 2005’s Batman Begins, I felt uninterested in another “dark and gritty” take on a character whose darkness and grittiness had been done to death.
In addition, as I’ve said on a number of occasions here on the website, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of comic books or their cinematic adaptations. Some are decent enough, but usually the highest praise I can muster for anything in the superhero genre is to call it moderately entertaining; the kind of mindless popcorn action flick that can inoffensively kill a couple of hours.
That was the mindset I had as I sat down to watch The Batman. Was I about to be blown away and have my mind changed on both of those subjects, convincing me that the world can’t ever have enough dark and gritty Batman movies, and that there’s more to the world of comics than mindless entertainment?
Well, no. But at the same time, I didn’t hate or even really dislike The Batman. It did what its creators wanted it to do, and while I have a few gripes with a story that felt somewhat bloated and muddled in places, as well as a few visual effects that were wide of the mark, overall it was engaging enough to keep my attention. From the point of view of someone who isn’t any kind of Batman or DC Comics superfan, The Batman was good enough. It won’t be my pick for “film of the year,” but it’s unlikely to end up as the worst movie I’ll see in 2022 either.
One point in The Batman’s favour is that it exists in a standalone space and isn’t trying to connect itself to the wider DC Comics “extended universe” – DC’s failed attempt to match the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This allows it to do its own thing without feeling obligated to tie into a dozen or more other titles, and without feeling confusing or offputting for newbies and casual audiences in the way that Marvel films and projects are starting to.
Having seen other Batman films and productions over the years, I felt familiar enough with its world that some of the characters’ names were familiar – Carmine Falcone, Salvatore Maroni, Selina Kyle, etc. – but also I felt that that familiarity wasn’t necessary for anything that The Batman wanted to do. These characters, though they may have familiar names, are new and distinct versions, and their histories, personalities, and connections to one another were suitably explained by The Batman itself. No in-depth knowledge required!
From the first moments of the film, The Batman captured the look and feel of Gotham City. From the 19th Century opulent gothic-style architecture to the urban decay inspired by the likes of Chicago, Detroit, and older depictions of New York, I genuinely felt that the version of Gotham City brought to screen in The Batman was real and lived-in; a well-constructed backdrop for the events of the film to unfold in front of.
There was some clever cinematography in The Batman, with well-composed camera shots that felt immersive and highlighted something that would go on to be important later. The film also used light and shadow to great effect, hiding the titular Batman in darkened areas and illuminating scenes in very evocative ways.
Focus was also part of The Batman’s cinematography, with rain-smeared windows partially obscuring characters and events. The clever camera work would show just enough to build up the tension, as characters could be seen just outside of the camera’s focal area. The sense of movement from these slightly blurry, out-of-focus areas conveyed a sense of mystery that tied in with the theme of a film where the Riddler was one of the key antagonists.
It wasn’t all perfect from a visual standpoint, though. There were moments where the use of green-screens was incredibly obvious, such as a sequence which saw Batman using a wing-suit to escape a tricky situation, when he was dangling from a precarious platform, and later at the end of the film when he was riding a motorcyle. What’s interesting is that this is also something I noted last year in my reviews of two other DC projects: The Suicide Squad and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. This recurring green-screen situation is clearly an ongoing problem that Warner Bros. and DC Films need to work on going forward. These moments looked out-of-place and outdated in The Batman, as if the green-screen sequences had been created twenty years ago without the benefits of modern-day techniques and technologies.
There were some neat musical choices on The Batman’s soundtrack. The score for the film was well-produced, evoking the right feelings at the right moments. Occasionally this could feel a little heavy-handed, as if the music was trying to force a certain emotion onto a sequence rather than letting me experience it for myself, but generally speaking it worked as intended.
I also enjoyed the use of the Nirvana song Something In The Way, which came at the beginning and end of the film, kind of bookending the main events. Apparently director Matt Reeves based parts of the film’s presentation of Bruce Wayne on Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, who was known for being a recluse.
Much had been made of the casting choice of Robert Pattinson – a British actor best known for his roles in the Twilight and Harry Potter franchises – in The Batman’s leading role. I felt that Pattinson did a decent job and was convincing as this version of Bruce Wayne; his American accent was fantastic, too.
Zoë Kravitz reprised the role of Selina Kyle/Catwoman from The Lego Batman Movie, though her role in that film was smaller than it was in The Batman. Kravitz likewise did well with this new version of the classic Batman character, and I found her to be convincing in all of her scenes. Indeed the whole cast put in great performances, and I can’t really single out anyone for criticism in that regard.
If films like The Dark Knight and TV shows like Gotham had never been made, perhaps The Batman would feel like the new yardstick against which other adaptations could be measured. But because it comes on the back of other adaptations of the same source material that exist in an incredibly similar thematic and visual space, it doesn’t feel groundbreaking or original in the way it might. It feels if not downright repetitive then just a riff on the same idea, and with a story that wasn’t groundbreaking either, I guess I just wasn’t bowled over by anything that The Batman did.
The Batman’s messaging was also quite muddled. On the one hand, Batman himself is presented as the hero; the caped crusader who wants to prevent crime and terrorism. Yet the so-called villains of the piece are also vigilantes who are targeting the same corruption and systemic inequality that has plagued the city since before Bruce Wayne was born.
Themes of white privilege and wealth privilege were bubbling just below the surface in The Batman, but the film wasn’t always clear which side of the fence it came down on, nor how it wanted its audience to interpret these themes. Should we root for Batman, even though his family’s past hid crimes, including murder and involvement with the mafia? Does Batman’s role as an avatar of “vengeance” for Gotham City counteract the misdeeds of his family, including, presumably, how they were able to acquire such fantastic wealth for themselves in the first place?
When the Riddler revealed to Batman that he viewed him as an inspiration in exposing the corruption of Gotham City’s police force, politicians, and other community leaders, Batman had no comeback or recourse. Are we supposed to say that Batman’s insistence on not killing his foes, which wasn’t exactly front-and-centre in this presentation of the character, makes him different enough from the Riddler that we can venerate one while condemning the other?
Frankly, the film posed questions through these narrative threads that it didn’t provide satisfactory answers to. Bruce Wayne comes from a position of immense privilege, but the film doesn’t always know how it wants to handle that. Some scenes glorify Bruce’s unlimited resources as Batman, showing off a range of gadgets and high-tech gizmos. Others openly criticise the Wayne family and Bruce in particular for the privilege he enjoys and how he’s perceived.
This gave The Batman a strange kind of moral ambiguity that came close to equating the goals and methods of its heroes and villains. Can we say that Gotham City would’ve been better off not knowing about the web of corruption that the Riddler exposed? If Batman had his way, he’d have prevented that information from coming to light by stopping the Riddler much sooner. It’s only in the film’s final act, when the Riddler revealed his plan to destroy Gotham City’s coastal defences, flooding part of the city, that there was any sense of a “good guy-versus-bad guy” dynamic – and by that point the story was practically over.
The Batman’s main storyline is also unusual for this kind of film in the sense that it ends with defeat. Batman was effectively outsmarted by the Riddler, whose plan was at least partially successful. The action stays focused mainly on Batman and a group of wealthy and privileged city-dwellers, so we don’t even get to see how the flooding devastated lower-income communities. With no advanced warning, it stands to reason that a lot of people would have been injured or killed – but the film glossed over all of that to show us Batman, Catwoman, and Jim Gordon battling the Riddler’s minions to save the new mayor and other members of Gotham’s elite… the same elite that the film had spent the preceding two hours explaining were all complicit in varying ways in the city’s corruption.
The ending of this story felt unearned. Batman spent much of the film claiming to be “vengeance” personified, taking out criminals, gangsters, and stoking fear amongst Gotham City’s criminal underclass – many of whom were the same underprivileged folks (often from minority backgrounds) that other aspects of the film’s storyline seemed to be trying to advocate for. The film’s closing minutes showed Batman as a kind of rallying symbol for the city; the embodiment of hope, perhaps. But this transition seemed to come out of the blue, and I didn’t feel that we’d seen much of anything from Batman himself, or the few friends and allies he had, to inform this change in the city’s attitude toward him.
I wasn’t wild about one aspect of the presentation of the Riddler. We’ve seen depictions of the Riddler before, in productions like the television series Gotham, in which he was implied to be neurodivergent, and those depictions didn’t always succeed at conveying that in a sympathetic way. This is a problem Batman has had across all forms of media going back to its inception, where people with “mental illnesses” are portrayed as being violent criminals, murderers, scheming masterminds, and so on. The entire concept of the Arkham Insane Asylum – which was also featured in The Batman – is part of that, and the Riddler’s depiction leaned into stereotypes of autism and the neurodivergent that are, at best, unhelpful.
I’m a big advocate for better representations and depictions of mental health in media, and this kind of rather crude stereotype of the obsessive autistic loner who becomes criminally violent is not the kind of positive portrayal that we need to see more of. At its best, I’d say it was right in line with what DC Comics has done with the villains of Gotham City going back to the 1940s. At worst, I might say this depiction of a neurodivergent individual as the film’s primary antagonist is problematic.
On this side of the story, though, I will credit The Batman for trying to make a social point. There are subcultures in secluded corners of the internet where individuals gather to discuss their violent fantasies and conspiracy theories, and this side of the Riddler’s presentation felt timely and realistic. I can buy into the idea that someone like that would gain a following – because we can see it happening in real life with the likes of the QAnon conspiracy theory and incel subculture, to name just two examples.
This presentation stuck the landing, even while the Riddler’s felt a little uncomfortable, and in a film that clearly had the ambition of parachuting a superhero into a “realistic” setting, presenting the villain’s henchmen or followers in this way was a clever inclusion. It’s one element that adds to the immersion of the setting.
So that was The Batman. I didn’t hate it, but I stand by what I said at the beginning: it didn’t really bring anything new to the table. It felt like an iteration on not only what Batman films have been doing since at least 2005, but also on what DC Films and Warner Bros. have been doing with all of their recent comic book adaptations. We got a dark, gritty attempt to bring superheroes into the real world – a world rife with criminals, drugs, and other problems. There was nothing fun or light-hearted about that… and I think that’s where DC continues to miss the boat.
Comic books and the worlds they created are aimed at kids, and they bring with them comedic moments, light-heartedness, and positivity. A muddled story that couldn’t quite decide who to root for and how in a setting that was as dark and gritty as they come didn’t provide any of that, so when I compare The Batman to even the least-enjoyable Marvel outing, something was missing.
A sequel already seems to be on the cards, with the film even closing with a tease as to who Batman could be facing off against next time. Perhaps when it’s ready I’ll be convinced to take a look!
The Batman is the copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, and DC Comics, Inc. The Batman is available to stream now on HBO Max in the United States, and on Amazon Video, Google Play, the Microsoft Store, iTunes, and other video-on-demand platforms around the world for a fee. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise.
Quite a lot of very famous, very successful people are fans of Star Trek. The franchise has an incredible reach, and has inspired the likes of scientists, engineers, politicians – and many people in the world of entertainment, too. One such Star Trek fan is famed director Quentin Tarantino, who directed such films as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill. A few years ago it was reported that Tarantino had pitched his own Star Trek film, with the aim of it becoming his next project after work on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wrapped.
That film is now not going ahead, with the cinematic Star Trek franchise seemingly planning a return to the Kelvin timeline – although that announcement, it seems, may have been premature, as some of the 2009 cast were said to have been taken by surprise. But that’s a conversation for another time! On this occasion I wanted to consider Tarantino’s pitch for a Star Trek film, what it might have been, and what it could have meant for the franchise. Will we come to lament the cancellation of this project? Will we look back and say it was a missed opportunity? Or is it better for both Star Trek and Quentin Tarantino to stay in their lanes?
Quentin Tarantino can be a controversial individual, and not just for the violence depicted in his films. He’s been accused of pushing actors to do stunts that they didn’t feel able to do, of gratuitously using certain racial slurs, and of making controversial statements on sex abusers such as Roman Polanski and Harvey Weinstein. Some actors have claimed Tarantino is difficult to work with, and there’s certainly an argument to be made that any long-running franchise might want to think twice about an association with someone like that.
Tarantino also has very limited experience working within the framework of a larger franchise. With the exceptions of a single episode each of ER and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation that he directed, all of Tarantino’s projects have been standalone works, usually that he’s both written and directed, taking charge of every aspect of the story and production. With his most recent directing credit outside of his own projects being more than fifteen years ago, there are definitely questions as to how well Tarantino’s story would fit in with the broader Star Trek franchise, and how well he would be able to work with the creative team at Paramount Global who are in overall control.
I confess that I rarely seek out Tarantino’s films, speaking for myself. His violent style and, in some cases, deliberate decisions to ignore real history can make them uncomfortable and difficult to watch, and at the end of the day I guess that kind of film just isn’t usually “my thing.” We all have different tastes and preferences, and having seen most of his films by now I feel comfortable enough to make that kind of subjective judgement.
Given everything I just said, you might assume that I’m happily celebrating the news that Quentin Tarantino’s Star Trek project isn’t going ahead – something that many Trekkies I’ve spoken with or seen on social media seem to be doing. But I’m not – and I really do wonder if we’re going to look back on this decision in the future as being a mistake, perhaps even one that did untold damage to the Star Trek franchise as a whole.
Right now, Star Trek’s short-term future seems assured. There will be new seasons of all the shows currently in production taking us to at least the early part of 2024, at least one and possibly two films in early production, and perhaps as many as three upcoming series (and/or miniseries) that are also being worked on behind-the-scenes. Official announcements for some of these projects may be coming as early as this year.
So Star Trek is busier than ever, which is great news! But things aren’t perfect by any means, and there are problems just below the surface that could prove damaging to the franchise’s longer-term success. The constipated international rollout of Paramount+ continues to be a huge weight around the neck of the franchise, cutting off millions of Trekkies from shows like Prodigy. Paramount Global’s “America First” attitude means that even fans outside the United States who are lucky enough to get Paramount+ still can’t watch all of the latest episodes at the same time as American viewers. Star Trek’s social media, merchandising, and marketing is all ridiculously sub-par, and while there are signs of improvement, there’s still a long way to go.
There are relatively few directors with the name recognition of Quentin Tarantino. He directs one film every few years, they usually receive critical acclaim and become wildly successful at the box office, and anything he creates draws a lot of attention and huge audiences. If someone of that stature were to be involved with Star Trek and direct a Star Trek film, we’d quite likely see audience numbers that eclipse even Star Trek Into Darkness – the franchise’s current high-water mark at the box office.
We’d also get huge numbers of people checking out the Star Trek franchise for the first time, and as always happens with every new Star Trek project, some of those people would go on to join the fan community and become huge Trekkies. There are millions of people who are only vaguely aware of Star Trek or who have dismissed it out of hand; someone like Tarantino has the rare ability to reach out to those people and convince them to give it a try. That’s not to say everyone who sat down to watch Tarantino’s Trek would immediately be transformed into Trekkies – but some of them would, and the fanbase could grow much larger off the back of one single film than it’s been able to in years.
That’s the real reason why a project of this nature is worth investing in. It won’t be every day that Paramount Global gets a pitch from someone as undeniably talented and well-known as Quentin Tarantino, so even if he doesn’t seem like a natural fit for the current direction of the franchise, any project with his name attached should be worth considering very seriously. The benefits of bringing fresh eyes to Star Trek and reaching audiences that no other Star Trek film could even contemplate could pay dividends for the franchise in the medium-to-long term. Aside from making a single successful film – which any Tarantino work almost certainly would be – and turning a profit, a Tarantino Star Trek film could potentially expand the Star Trek fanbase in a huge way.
In order for Star Trek to remain successful, there has to be a near-continuous level of growth in audience numbers and in terms of the money it brings in for parent company Paramount Global. If the franchise stagnates and starts to decline, we’ll be back in the position we were in in 2005, with cancellation looming and the franchise potentially disappearing altogether. Projects like Lower Decks and Prodigy have already demonstrated that Star Trek can reach out beyond its usual niche and appeal to new demographics – although the decision to withhold both shows from international broadcast hurt them immeasurably.
So Paramount Global is willing to try new things, which is great. And right now, Star Trek is more diverse than it has ever been – and I don’t just mean in terms of its on-screen faces. Different series are reaching out to completely different target audiences, whether it’s younger kids, comedy fans, or fans of serialised drama. Not every project will hold an appeal to every existing fan, but I think most Trekkies are still willing to give them a try.
That diversity could have been a point in favour of Tarantino’s Star Trek film. If I were in charge of greenlighting these things for Paramount Global, I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen Tarantino Trek instead of other projects. But if I knew the Star Trek franchise was already doing a number of very different things already, I think I’d have taken that risk and found a place for it. Worst case scenario, you get a mediocre film that almost certainly still turns a profit. But in the best case, the Star Trek fanbase grows significantly, and with the renewed attention such a project would bring, more people would be inclined to try out other recent offerings. Combine the release of Tarantino Trek with a decent marketing campaign highlighting Paramount+ as the home of Picard, Lower Decks, Strange New Worlds, and so on, and I think all of the pieces are there for the film to be a launchpad for unprecedented subscriber growth and more new eyes on the franchise than we’ve seen in a long time.
This is the same fundamental reason why I supported the Kelvin films when they kicked off in 2009. I have friends who still to this day refuse to watch the Kelvin films because they hated the decision to re-cast The Original Series characters, they didn’t like the aesthetic of the films, and they felt they would be too action-oriented, taking Star Trek away from its roots. I obviously don’t agree with those criticisms, though I can understand where they came from to a degree. But even though the Kelvin films weren’t my all-time favourites in the franchise, they succeeded at rebooting Star Trek.
Star Trek 2009 could be a textbook case study in rebooting a franchise. It got so many things right – and it was rewarded for that with what was, at the time, the highest audience numbers and best box office returns for any film in the entire franchise. It shot past The Wrath of Khan and First Contact, easily overtaking both even when accounting for inflation. And for the casual audience that the Star Trek franchise had been losing by the millions from the late 1990s through to the early 2000s, the 2009 reboot demonstrated that there was still life in the franchise. New fans joined the fan community having seen the Kelvin films, and have since gone back to watch and enjoy older series and films. Tarantino’s film had the potential to do what Star Trek 2009 did – but at a completely different order of magnitude because of the huge name attached to it.
I might not have enjoyed Tarantino’s film. But I recognise that he’s a talented filmmaker, storyteller, and director – and someone with undeniable talents in those fields should be the kind of person that Paramount Global seeks to attract to the Star Trek franchise. This isn’t to put down or belittle anyone currently or recently involved with Star Trek – there are some fantastic creative people who’ve told some wonderful stories that deserve more praise than they get, sometimes. Comparing and saying “who’s better” is always going to be a subjective thing with no real answer, but for my money, if the option to have both is on the table – Tarantino and the current crop of Star Trek creatives – then I’d happily find a way to include him.
I confess that I was a little surprised by the reaction to the news that this film isn’t going ahead. There were quite a lot of Trekkies who seemed to be celebrating its demise – and while I can understand some folks may find Tarantino an unlikeable person or might disagree with some of the things he’s said and done, I can’t help but feel that this schadenfreude may be misplaced. In time, we may look back at this project’s cancellation and wonder what might have been if it had gone ahead.
For all the time that we’ve spent discussing the potential in Tarantino’s film, we haven’t actually talked about what the film itself was supposed to be! All of this has to be taken with a grain of salt, based on interviews and gossip, but it seems as though Tarantino was interested in taking another look at The Original Series classic episode A Piece of the Action. That episode was set on a planet whose inhabitants revered the mob lifestyle of Chicago in the 1920s, and saw Captain Kirk and Spock become “gangsters” – of a sort.
I’ve always found A Piece of the Action to have a campy charm as it mimics, in its own way, the gangster movies of a generation earlier; Hollywood films of the 1930s. The original Scarface, The Roaring Twenties, and G Men are all the kind of titles that A Piece of the Action drew its inspiration from, and while those films are less well-known in 2022, when A Piece of the Action premiered, they were only between 30-35 years old – akin to a viewer today recalling a film from the late 1980s or early 1990s.
Gangster films have done well in recent years, too. Films like The Irishman, The Highwaymen, and TV shows like Peaky Blinders have all put their own spins on the genre since 2010, showing that there’s plenty of interest even today in this kind of period gangster flick. Tarantino’s film could have easily been on par with any of those, blending humour, drama, and action together while appealing to a segment of the audience that past Star Trek films have failed to reach.
A Piece of the Action might not be my choice to return to, but again that’s thinking about it in isolation. I can happily agree with anyone who says that A Piece of the Action isn’t the best part of Star Trek and isn’t the one thing they want to see more of! But in the context of an expanding, broader franchise, with different projects going in wildly different directions, I think I could find a place for it.
And that basically encapsulates how I feel. On its own, if there was no room for other Star Trek to be made, or if greenlighting Tarantino’s film would mean cancelling something like Discovery or Prodigy, then I’d shoot it down in flames. But as one part of a franchise that has a lot of different projects on the go and that hopes to target different audiences? I really do believe that it could have been made to work. Maybe not every Trekkie would have liked it. But again, if it were a one-off project with a new cast of characters, that’s almost incidental. What would matter far more, in my view, are the new fans it could create, the new eyes it would bring to Star Trek for the very first time, and the potential it could have to repeat and even eclipse the success of the Kelvin films at growing the fanbase. This would, in turn, have the effect of shoring up support for the franchise at a time when the “streaming wars” and the missteps made by Paramount+ have placed Star Trek’s longer-term future in doubt.
There are a number of Star Trek films that never got off the ground for one reason or another, just as there are series concepts and episodes that were likewise never made. Perhaps in future, Tarantino’s project will be just one of many such entries on a list, and it won’t matter that it didn’t happen. If shows like Prodigy and Strange New Worlds succeed at keeping the franchise feeling fresh, I think we stand a good chance of reaching the sixtieth anniversary in 2026 with new films and shows still on the air. But beyond that… it gets harder to predict. I’d hate to be looking back a few years from now, with Star Trek off the air once more, wondering what could have been if Tarantino’s film had gone ahead.
The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and films mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the Kelvin timeline films, Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, and Star Trek: Picard Season 1.
Though the news got lost due to yet more corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS/Paramount dominating the conversation online, one of the more interesting announcements from yesterday’s investor event was the news that Star Trek 2023 is going to involve a return to the Kelvin timeline. Details are still sparse, with some outlets suggesting that “most” of the main cast will return, but it’s definitely an interesting move for the franchise at this time.
The Kelvin films were what Star Trek needed in the late 2000s and early 2010s. After close to two decades of continuous production, the Star Trek franchise had been losing viewers and fans, something that finally came to a head with the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005. The Kelvin films came along a few years later, and for all of the criticism some levelled at them, they succeeded at completely rebooting – and in some ways reinventing – Star Trek for a whole new audience. Some of the folks whose first contact with the franchise came at the cinema with one of these films have since gone on to become huge Trekkies, and the films’ influence continues today in some respects.
Without the Kelvin films, it’s unlikely that Star Trek would’ve been revived on the small screen in 2017. I regard their legacy as being a bridge between the faltering years of the early 2000s and the new beginning that Discovery gave the franchise, one which ultimately led to Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, Strange New Worlds, and everything else that we’ve got coming our way over the next few years. Without the Kelvin films carrying a torch for Star Trek and bringing fresh eyes to the franchise for the first time, it seems likely that Star Trek would’ve stayed dead after 2005.
Practically every Star Trek production has built on the successes of the iterations that came before, and Discovery in particular adopted noticeable visual elements from the Kelvin films. Picard Season 1 expanded on one part of the plot from 2009’s Star Trek, too, giving us much more information about what happened to the Romulans. The Kelvin films’ cinematography was streets ahead of anything Star Trek had done before on the big or small screens, and Into Darkness became the franchise’s highest-grossing film by a country mile. In fact, all three Kelvin films were profitable and made decent money for Paramount Pictures, albeit with the caveat that Beyond was somewhat less successful than its predecessor had been.
We’re lucky that, right now, we’re living through a renaissance for Star Trek. There are different shows catering to wildly different audiences, occupying very different genres and telling very different stories. For the first time, it feels like Star Trek has something to offer to almost everyone, whether they want a tense serialised drama or light-hearted animated comedy. There is a place in that diverse array of content for a new Kelvin film, and hopefully it will succeed in the same way as the first three.
If fans discover Star Trek for the first time thanks to this new film – and some surely will – they will find a much richer, deeper, and more interesting franchise today than they would’ve in 2009. With a plethora of new shows being produced, and Star Trek’s future feeling (fairly) secure, at least in the short-term, there will be plenty of new episodes and series for newbies to jump head-first into.
New fans are the lifeblood of any fan community, and we should welcome the opportunities that a new blockbuster film presents to the Star Trek franchise. With Star Trek continuing to be a major pillar of Paramount+ as the “streaming wars” rumble on, the new film could be important, bringing in new viewers in big numbers for the first time in several years. Shoring up the Star Trek franchise and giving it solid ground going forward are all good reasons to support a project like this one.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t things to criticise with the Kelvin timeline films, of course. I know some Trekkies who have ardently refused to watch any of them for more than a decade now, having been so upset at the decision to re-cast the crew of The Original Series. When I started having these conversations in 2008-09, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a big fan of The Original Series, and ask how I would’ve felt if it were The Next Generation that was being re-cast… ultimately I think I’d be fine with it, but I know not everyone feels the same way!
With the two former companies that came together to form ViacomCBS now working together, presumably there’s one big money pot from which films, television shows, and everything else are bankrolled. I know entertainment finance is way more complex than that, but at a basic level that’s how these big entertainment corporations work. With that in mind, my most significant complaint is that the budget of a feature film could have easily been spent instead on a season or two of television – perhaps even a brand-new show or a couple of miniseries.
Star Trek’s home, for me, will always be the small screen. And with the technological leaps that have been made in recent years, television shows can be just as good – better, in some cases – as anything the world of cinema could ever produce. The undoubtedly vast sum of money being spent on Star Trek 2023 could have been put to better use elsewhere in the franchise, and if it were up to me I’d definitely be arguing for a focus on television shows over films.
There are also some issues with the Kelvin timeline itself, and I looked at some of these in my “pros and cons” list a few months ago. For me, I think the biggest drawback – or potential drawback, at least – to making a new Kelvin timeline film is that it overcomplicates an already convoluted franchise that can be difficult for newbies to get to grips with.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone brand-new to Star Trek. Just of the shows currently in production, we have five different time periods on the go. Strange New Worlds is a spin-off to Discovery, but Discovery’s massive time-jump means they no longer share a setting. Picard is a sequel to The Next Generation, which was set almost 100 years after Discovery – or 800 years before where Discovery is now. And Prodigy and Lower Decks are both set in the late 24th Century too… but not at the same time as Picard. Throw an alternate reality into the mix and the timeline situation becomes so convoluted that it’s borderline offputting.
Then there’s the fact that the basic premise underlying the Kelvin films, which was a big part of the original appeal in 2009, no longer exists. A new Kelvin film, arriving fourteen years after the first one, is no longer going to be looking at “young” Kirk and Spock in their early years at Starfleet Academy. With Strange New Worlds following the adventures of the USS Enterprise on its mission of exploration, there’s a risk that a new Kelvin timeline film will seem repetitive or just unnecessary.
Discovery and Strange New Worlds have successfully brought back characters like Spock and Captain Pike, and between now and 2023 we’ll also spend time with the likes of Uhura, too. Different versions of these characters are present in the Kelvin timeline; this adds to both the problem of repetitiveness, with the new film potentially overtreading the same ground in terms of character stories, and also the issue of an unnecessarily complicated franchise. Having to try to explain to a newbie that Kelvin Spock is different from Discovery Spock, who’s also a young version of old Spock who crossed over to the Kelvin timeline… well, let’s just say it isn’t the easiest story to follow!
There’s also a hole in the Kelvin timeline’s cast. The tragic death of Anton Yelchin in 2016, and the promise that the character of Chekov won’t be recast, is a sensitive topic, but from a storytelling point of view it’s absolutely fair to point out that Chekov brought a different perspective and a dash of humour to the three films he appeared in. Of course it’s going to be possible to create a new character to fill that role, but it won’t be the same and his absence will be felt.
There are some advantages to a new Kelvin timeline film, though! For me, the biggest one is the creative freedom that the setting provides, and the opportunity to put Captain Kirk and his crew in very different situations. For example, if fans want to see Captain Kirk versus the Borg, the Kelvin timeline is the place to do it! Free from the constraints of fifty years of canon (well, except for Enterprise) the Kelvin timeline is an open-ended setting. The more it diverges from the prime timeline, the greater the opportunities become to tell radically different stories.
That’s by far the biggest and most significant ace in the hole that the Kelvin timeline has. Its unburdened creative freedom allows it to go in very different directions without treading on the toes of any of the ongoing shows and other projects. In that sense, it’s a self-contained setting perfect for telling one-off stories. My “what if” scenario of Captain Kirk versus the Borg is just one of countless examples that fans have concocted over the years!
So that’s where things sit right now. Star Trek 2023 is planning to bring back the Kelvin timeline for a new adventure, a sequel to 2016’s Beyond. And although it wouldn’t have been my first choice if I was in charge of making the investment in the next Star Trek project, it has merit and it has a lot of potential. I’ll certainly be happy to check it out when it releases in December next year… or rather, a couple of months later when it arrives on a streaming platform! My health, sadly, precludes things like trips to the cinema these days.
Star Trek Beyond clearly teased fans with a sequel in 2016, as the film drew to a close in a very open-ended fashion! It felt for a long time as though we would never get that sequel; that Star Trek had moved on to other projects that were taking the franchise in a different direction. The expanded Star Trek franchise in 2022 feels like it has space for a new Kelvin film, though, so I’ll end by saying that I wish it the best of luck!
The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS/Paramount. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Munich: The Edge of War and the novel upon which it is based.
Munich: The Edge of War had been on my list of things to watch since last year. It was initially expected to come to Netflix in 2021, but that was pushed back to January 2022. The film made its debut on Netflix a few days ago, and as a history buff I was genuinely interested to see what its take would be on one of the most significant events leading to the outbreak of World War II.
Like many Brits of my generation, I have a family connection to the war. My grandfather served in the British army, having volunteered shortly after the official declaration of war in September 1939. He spent almost four years in a prisoner of war camp after being captured, and my grandmother spent most of the war by herself in London – with bombs raining down! So aside from my general interest in all things historical, I really do feel a family tie to the events of this era.
Munich: The Edge of War was not what I was expecting. All I really knew about the film before I sat down to watch it was that it intended to depict the events surrounding the 1938 Munich Agreement, with Jeremy Irons playing the role of now-infamous British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. But the film used those events as a backdrop rather than the main event, and instead told a fictional story of two junior civil servants, setting up an unexpectedly tense spy thriller with some heavy moments of characterisation and drama.
I’m always a little uncomfortable about fictionalising real-world events. Inserting fictional characters alongside real people – especially people who may still be alive or who may have living relatives – can feel a bit perverse, as if writers and filmmakers are trivialising the stories of actual people, or instilling false narratives for the sake of entertainment. There are many examples of how this can go wrong, and how fictionalised versions of real people can be completely different from how they were in real life.
In the case of Munich: The Edge of War, I think the film generally avoided that pitfall. It did so, however, by having a completely different focus than I was expecting – one in which very few real-life individuals played significant roles. Even Chamberlain himself, the portrayal of whom had been a big part of the film’s pre-release marketing, was relegated to a supporting role. Chamberlain only really had one big fictionalised moment; the rest of the time he was playing the role we might’ve been expecting.
I’ve always rated Jeremy Irons highly as an actor. His portrayals in films as diverse as The Lion King and The French Lieutenant’s Woman have been fantastic, and of course he’s an Academy Award winner. He definitely brought a much needed gravitas to the role of Neville Chamberlain, and despite the plot of the film focusing primarily on events elsewhere, Munich: The Edge of War was definitely the better for Irons’ portrayal of one of history’s most interesting and, still, disliked figures.
Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement depicted in Munich: The Edge of War long ago became bywords for appeasement and foreign policy failures. Contemporary political figures of all stripes are wary of comparisons to Chamberlain, and his name is invoked on both sides of the Atlantic when politicians and leaders try to deal with difficult foreign policy situations.
Some of that criticism is earned, of course. But as with any historical figure, there’s more to Neville Chamberlain than one half-baked narrative, and this is something that, to its credit, Munich: The Edge of War touches on. There hasn’t really been an historical reappraisal of Chamberlain and the overall policy of appeasement, and the film is too short and has too many other balls to juggle to really add much to that conversation anyway. But in its presentation of Chamberlain, we at least catch a glimpse of how the situation might’ve appeared from his perspective.
Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister in 1937, more than a year after the event that historians widely agree was the “last best chance” to stop Hitler’s aggressive policies and delay or prevent a war. This was, of course, the reoccupation of the Rheinland by German forces, and it came during the tenure of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who had set the tone of appeasement during much of the preceding couple of years.
Chamberlain’s remark in Munich: The Edge of War about “playing the cards [he] was dealt” can be seen through this lens. In that sense, the film takes more of a pro-Chamberlain view than many others dealing with the same subject matter would; the Munich Agreement is supposed to be the embodiment of the failures of both appeasement in general and Chamberlain personally, yet director Christian Schwochow – and Robert Harris, the author of the novel upon which the film was based – present both sympathetically.
Munich: The Edge of War chooses to portray the Munich Agreement not as the pinnacle of failure, but as a temporary reprieve, one which was cleverly employed by Chamberlain to stall for time. Chamberlain comes across not as the bumbling idiot of history who couldn’t see Hitler and the Nazis for what they were, but instead as someone with limited options who did the best he could to avoid an immediate conflict that he felt certain would’ve doomed Britain to defeat.
Whether this portrayal is fair or not is left up to the viewer, naturally, but this is the take that the film offers. It’s still possible to sit through the tense moments in the run-up to the treaty being offered while acknowledging the ultimate futility of it all, but doing so requires us to step out of Munich: The Edge of War and consider where the film sits in the history of the real world. Taken solely on its own merits, these moments of tension and drama work – even though some could feel a little forced.
The role of Adolf Hitler is always going to be a challenging one to cast and to play, and it was here that I felt Munich: The Edge of War hit a stumbling block. Ulrich Matthes felt miscast in the role, and while he did his best to play up the sense of Hitler as a menace, the portrayal never quite landed for me. 1938 should see Adolf Hitler at the absolute zenith of his power, yet in Munich: The Edge of War he somehow felt small; the presence he should’ve had came more from the script than the screen presence.
Hitler was also the only character in the film whose costumes seemed ill-fitting. Ulrich Matthes is not especially short, but he does have a rather slender frame, and several of the costumes he wore as Hitler seemed rather too large for him, giving one of history’s worst dictators the appearance of a schoolboy whose parents had bought him a suit he was expected to “grow into.” Combined with a less-than-stellar performance, this robbed the character of much of the gravitas needed to make the moments where he was centre-stage feel like they mattered. Though Hitler got comparatively little screen time, his actions were the driving force behind both halves of the plot, and we as the audience needed to be able to take him seriously enough to make the rest of the film work. As it is, the best I can say is that this key character didn’t quite fall to the level of damaging the rest of the film – but the way he came across on screen did nothing to elevate it.
So we come to the junior civil servants, the fictional people upon whose shoulders the real story of Munich: The Edge of War was carried. I really liked the contrast between the two men – Paul von Hartmann, played by Jannis Niewöhner, and Hugh Legat, played by George MacKay. They came from similar worlds, as the scenes showing them together at Oxford University showed, but they ended up on very different philosophical and political paths, largely (but not entirely) due to circumstances beyond their control.
In a sense, the stories of von Hartmann and Legat stand to represent hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats and minor functionaries on both sides of the war – and by extension the millions of enlisted and conscripted men who ultimately fought in the conflict. People from all social classes, all backgrounds, and all walks of life were ripped out of their surroundings and pitted against one another by great powers and by forces beyond their control. Legat and von Hartmann were swept along by circumstances in their home countries, driven apart by fanatical politics, but ultimately came back together to try to do the right thing. Though their stories were fictional, they represent millions of untold stories of real people in similar situations.
Both of the actors put in exceptional performances. I truly bought into von Hartmann’s enthusiastic and impassioned defence of Hitler when he and Legat argued in a flashback sequence. Jannis Niewöhner brought that moment to life, showing the burning passion that many politically active young people have. It was misguided, of course, as von Hartmann would later come to realise, but as a believable performance of a young man in Germany in that time period I thought it was absolutely outstanding.
George MacKay is someone I’m familiar with from the film 1917, and he put in just as complex a performance in Munich: The Edge of War as he had in the title which had won him critical acclaim a couple of years ago. It isn’t fair to compare two different characters, but in this case I definitely felt echoes of William Schofield (his 1917 character) in Hugh Legat. Both men find themselves thrust into difficult and dangerous circumstances for which they are ill-prepared, and both do their best to rise to meet the challenges in front of them.
Legat and von Hartmann were both granted love interests by Munich: The Edge of War, and here is perhaps where we ran into a fairly typical issue when condensing the story of a novel into the runtime of a single film. Neither Legat’s wife nor the character of Lena, whose injury seems to have been a driving force behind von Hartmann turning against Hitler, felt well-developed. I’d go so far as to call both extraneous to the plot; the minor roles they played didn’t feel necessary to inform either Legat or von Hartmann, and didn’t really serve to accomplish much of anything.
I’d argue that, in a film about Adolf Hitler and the outbreak of World War II, practically no fictional character needs more motivation to stop Hitler than “because it’s Hitler,” and with the revelation of Lena’s attack and disability not coming until the film was practically over and the bulk of the spy thriller plot had concluded, it didn’t really achieve what it intended anyway. It was, at best, background – and there’s nothing wrong with fleshing out characters and giving them family connections or love interests in a general sense. But in Munich: The Edge of War it was, perhaps, an unnecessary inclusion.
With the exception of the aforementioned costuming problem, I felt that the visual side of Munich: The Edge of War was handled very well. The few uses of visual effects (such as for a steam train) worked as intended, and the exterior and interior sets all succeeded at transporting me to the 1930s. I particularly felt that the main set used for the Munich conference captured the spirit of Nazi architecture well, and felt sufficiently imposing.
Munich: The Edge of War was definitely the better for the inclusion of German alongside English as its spoken languages. Seeing German characters speaking to one another in German adds a sense of realism that’s important to a piece like this, and switching back and forth between the two languages worked well. Having both principal characters being fluent in both languages allowed for them to mix it up, speaking German in some circumstances and English in others.
To wrap things up, Munich: The Edge of War isn’t going to have the cut-through of a film like 2004’s Downfall. In order to appreciate what it has to offer, I think you really need to have at least a passing interest in the Second World War and the events the film aims to depict. Some historical dramas and thrillers can cross over and find mainstream appeal; I believe that Munich: The Edge of War simply isn’t that kind of film. That isn’t to say it’s bad by any means – I had an enjoyable time with it. It just isn’t quite on the same level as films like Downfall.
I arrived expecting to find a film that focused more on Chamberlain himself, but found instead a perfectly entertaining spy thriller that managed to have a few novelties to offer fans of the genre as a whole. The newness of both spies, the real historical backdrop, and the dual nature of its protagonists makes Munich: The Edge of War stand out somewhat in a genre that can feel repetitive and samey. Those elements carried the film far enough to make it an enjoyable experience.
I’d have liked to have seen more of Jeremy Irons’ portrayal of Chamberlain, as I felt he was somewhat limited in the screen time he had in a film that had another story to tell. Other than that, Munich: The Edge of War was entertaining. It was tense enough and dramatic enough in the right places, told a unique story, and gave us a small but different look at an historical figure that we’ve been told for more than eighty years we should vehemently disapprove of.
Munich: The Edge of War is available to stream now on Netflix. Munich: The Edge of War is the copyright of Netflix and/or Turbine Studios. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.
After a short pandemic-enforced break, Star Trek: Picard Season 3 resumed filming a few days ago. Production on the show’s third season has been underway for a while, and was officially announced back in September during the franchise’s Star Trek Day digital event. The interesting thing about Picard Season 3 being so far along in its production is, of course, that Season 2 has yet to be broadcast. This got me thinking about some of the benefits and potential pitfalls of filming back-to-back in this fashion, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
There are some great examples of productions that were filmed back-to-back. The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films has to be one of the best examples of this: all three films were shot together in New Zealand, though post-production work and editing continued after the first and second films had premiered. The Lord of the Rings is held in very high esteem even twenty years after it premiered, and is rightly credited with bringing the high fantasy genre to mainstream audiences, paving the way for titles like Game of Thrones.
Being shot back-to-back worked well for The Lord of the Rings then, clearly! The Return of the King – the third and final part of the trilogy – swept the board at the Academy Awards in 2004, picking up a record-equalling eleven Oscars.
In the case of The Lord of the Rings, the practicalities of production meant that shooting all three films together made sense. New Line Cinema had greenlit the entire trilogy and was expecting it to be a success, and the difficulties of setting up production in New Zealand – as well as having the actors travel there – all came together to make filming the entire project at once a practical and sensible approach to production. From the earliest days of pre-production, New Line Cinema intended to do things this way.
Whether in cinema or on television, there are advantages to filming back-to-back. There’s far less of a chance that characters will look noticeably different from one part of the story to the next, for example, as everything from costuming to makeup and even haircuts or simply ageing will not be factors that impact production. Keeping the same behind-the-camera crew will also allow for a consistent production that keeps the same cinematographic style. It makes it easier to go back and re-work parts of the story, if necessary – for example, if a writer or director felt the need to add a scene foreshadowing the ending, or even to change the entire end of the story to better fit what had come before.
But there can be drawbacks to this approach, pitfalls that can be very difficult to avoid even with good preparation and the best of intentions. And there’s one reason in particular why Star Trek: Picard kicked off this discussion for me.
Star Trek: Picard started with an episode that’s probably the best series premiere in the history of the franchise, surpassing even Deep Space Nine’s Emissary – the previous high-water mark. Over the course of the next few episodes, its story unfolded slowly and seemed to be building up to an exciting climax. Unfortunately, though, the season stumbled as it approached the finish line, with the first half of its two-part finale in particular being a real disappointment. The way the season eventually ended left several storylines unresolved and at least one gaping plot hole. To be blunt, the finale was weak – and it’s important that the writers and producers receive that feedback and take it on board.
I’m not the only person to have criticised the way that Star Trek: Picard Season 1 ended; the two parts of the season finale are the worst-rated episodes of the show according to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
So what’s the point of bringing this up? Well, it’s simple: filming back-to-back, as is now happening with Seasons 2 and 3 of Picard, means that the show’s writers and producers will have far less of a margin for error; they’re much more constrained and less able to make changes based on critiques and audience reactions.
Set aside any thoughts you might have about “artistic integrity” or the “vision” of a production’s writers, producers, and directors. In the real world, with very few exceptions films and television shows are adapted – and in some cases changed entirely – based on the way audiences respond to them. This is why practically every film and television series is shown to test audiences before they premiere. Doing so can give production companies the chance to make last-minute adjustments, make cuts, or even rework entire sequences.
ViacomCBS will not have ignored the reviews and discussion surrounding Picard Season 1 and its finale. Those criticisms will have been absorbed by the corporation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they mandated changes to the story of Season 2 as a result, even if such changes may be relatively minor. Just to pick on one example, the story of main character Narek, which was dropped without a resolution part-way through the finale, might be something that the team in charge of the show insist that Season 2 clarifies.
But if there are issues with Season 2 – whether they’re to do with story, art style, visual effects, etc. – it will be much harder, and much more expensive, to make any changes to Season 3. In all likelihood, Season 3 will wrap up its main phase of production before Season 2 even premieres, and while post-production work and pick-up shoots offer some opportunities to make changes, those opportunities are limited. If a film or series has been ready to go for a year or more, going back to film extra scenes can be tricky; it can be very easy to tell which scenes and shots were filmed and added in later, even in productions with high budgets.
In short, because Picard Season 1 had some very particular and noteworthy issues with its finale, I’m at least a little concerned about the direction of the series heading into Seasons 2 and 3, and the fact that the seasons are being shot back-to-back heightens that. Had Season 1 ended with a stronger finale, perhaps I’d be less concerned. But unfortunately it didn’t – and that leaves the show in a strange place for me. I’m genuinely excited to spend more time with Admiral Picard and the crew of La Sirena, but I’m at least a little anxious about the way the show’s production is being handled.
In a way, this is something we may have to get used to as the pandemic rumbles on. Had it not been for covid and its associated lockdowns in California, it would’ve been possible for production on Picard Season 2 to get underway far sooner, potentially meaning that there’d have been no need to film the second and third seasons back-to-back. But the pandemic continues to be a disruptive force across the world, so productions may have to get used to working when they can and taking breaks when they must – at least in the short-to-medium term.
In some cases it won’t matter. In others, filming back-to-back can provide significant advantages. But there are potential drawbacks to this way of approaching a major production, not least the difficulty in going back and making changes based on audience and critical feedback. It’s the latter point that concerns me when it comes to Star Trek: Picard, and that’s due to the weak ending to an otherwise excellent first season. Perhaps in the days ahead we should go back to the two parts of Et in Arcadia Ego and re-examine what went wrong – as well as looking at what the season finale got right. If I forget, remind me! For now, you can check out the reviews of both episodes on my dedicated Star Trek: Picard page.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the copyright of New Line Cinema and/or Warner Bros. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Happy New Year! As we mark the first day of 2022 (and recover from the last night of 2021) I thought it could be fun to look ahead to some of the entertainment experiences that lie before us this year. There are a plethora of films, games, and television shows on the horizon, and there are sure to be plenty of surprises and new announcements to come as well. On this occasion I’ve picked out ten films, video games, and television shows that I’m personally looking forward to in 2022.
The ongoing pandemic has caused a number of delays, and while most of these titles feel like a safe bet, it’s still possible that additional disruption will mean that we won’t see them all before the end of the year. The further out we get, the more likely such changes are – so titles which are currently aiming for a November or December release could end up slipping back to 2023.
Let’s jump into the list!
Film #1: Morbius
Up first we have somewhat of a rarity: a Marvel film that I’m actually slightly interested in! Morbius will star Jared Leto as a mad scientist who inadvertently turns himself into a vampire. The film isn’t actually part of the main Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it’s being produced by Colombia and Sony – the latter company having the license to Spider-Man.
From my point of view, the fact that the film isn’t part of the MCU is no bad thing. Keeping up with every Marvel project increasingly feels like a full-time job considering the shared nature of the universe and the frequency of crossovers. So perhaps Morbius will be able to be enjoyed as more or less a standalone piece. I know nothing about the character or comic book source material – but I’m hoping it’ll be a fun, action-packed, slightly spooky adventure.
Film #2: Lightyear
I was surprised by the trailer for Lightyear – the film looks so much more fun and interesting than its premise alone would have suggested! An “origin story” for Buzz Lightyear, the film purports to show us why Buzz Lightyear figures were so popular in the world of Toy Story! I noted many different visual and thematic elements from mid-century, retro sci-fi; kind of similar to the theme of the Tomorrowland park at Disneyland.
Chris Evans is set to take on the title role, and I’m genuinely looking forward to Lightyear. The film seems to have an element of mystery to it, and from the trailer it looks set to be an exciting adventure with a fun visual style. Check out my full thoughts on the trailer by clicking or tapping here.
Film #3: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Nicolas Cage is going to play an exaggerated, fictionalised version of himself in a film that looks set to be hilarious – and full of meme potential! I honestly thought this was a joke when I first heard about it, but the trailer already had me laughing out loud. Cage has developed a self-awareness, leaning into his reputation for making B-movies, and I think the result can only be hilarity.
In short, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is either going to be great… or it’s going to be one of those “so bad it’s good” films. There’s simply no in-between! Oh, and The Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal is also in it alongside Cage.
Film #4: Moonfall
Disaster films are somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re usually so far-fetched and over-the-top, but they can also be dramatic and exciting; perfect popcorn fare and a fun way to kill a couple of hours. Roland Emmerich has directed some fun ones: 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow spring to mind first and foremost. So I’m very curious to see what his latest sci-fi/disaster flick will be all about!
The premise sounds bonkers: the moon gets knocked out of orbit and is on a collision course with Earth. The film promises that the moon “is not what we think it is” … so let’s find out what the moon really is, I guess!
Film #5: Avatar 2
The first of four planned sequels to 2009’s Avatar is scheduled for release in December this year. After more than thirteen years, James Cameron has quite a task on his hands to get people re-engaged with the fictional universe that he created, but if anyone can pull it off it’s him. Despite being an enjoyable film in its own right, Avatar never quite succeeded to the extent Cameron (and 20th Century Fox) hoped, failing to really break into the top tier of sci-fi franchises.
Avatar 2 is the first of four opportunities to change the narrative. There’s always room, in my opinion, for new sci-fi, and Avatar had some successes with its world-building. There are open questions left over from the first film – and although I’m by no means an Avatar superfan, I’m curious to see where the story will go next.
Film #6: Untitled Super Mario Movie
The Super Mario Bros. film that was a shock announcement at a recent Nintendo Direct broadcast still doesn’t have an official title, but it’s targetting a release around the holiday season (I know we’re still processing Christmas 2021, but still!) Featuring an all-star cast including Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Jack Black as Bowser, this has the potential to succeed where the 1993 version… didn’t.
Nintendo seems to have invested a decent amount of money into the project, and with a story and animation style that will hopefully be closer to the video game series than the 1993 attempt, this could be the unexpected hit of Christmas 2022!
Film #7: Uncharted
The adaptation of the Uncharted video game series will star Spider-Man’s Tom Holland as adventurer (and discount Indiana Jones) Nathan Drake – and if you’ve been a regular around here for a while, you might recall that it made my list of films to watch in 2021 last January! But after being delayed, Uncharted looks all but certain to get a release this year (one way or another).
I had fun with the Uncharted video games on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. I’m cautiously interested to see how well the adaptation will work – condensing the story of even one video game into the runtime of a single film can be tricky. But I think there’s the potential for a solid action flick if all goes according to plan.
Film #8: Jurassic World: Dominion
The legacy of Jurassic Park continues with the third entry in the reboot Jurassic World series, with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard reprising their roles. Details of the plot are sparse at this stage, with director Colin Trevorrow keeping a lid on things, but if the story picks up in the aftermath of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom then we can expect to see dinosaurs roaming free – and not just in their island park!
A lot of fans are excited for the return of the original trio of characters: Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler, and Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm will all be making appearances in the film. An extended trailer (called the prologue) was recently released, and it’s well worth a watch!
Film #9: Everything Everywhere All At Once
Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: Discovery’s Philippa Georgiou) stars in this very weird-looking film about a woman who can cross over to infinite parallel universes. Evelyn seems to be tasked with saving the entire multiverse from an unknown threat, travelling to different realities and exploring different versions of herself and her own life.
The trailer was chaotic, and the plot may be tricky to follow, but Everything Everywhere All At Once looks like a wild, bonkers ride. It could be a ton of fun, so it’s one I shall watch with interest!
Film #10: Sonic the Hedgehog 2
2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog exceeded my (admittedly rather low) expectations, and in a pandemic-disrupted year was actually one of the few cinematic highlights. Following its success will be no easy task for this sequel, but there’s definitely potential in this return to the universe of Sega’s cute mascot.
The stars of the first film (including Jim Carrey) will be returning, and the addition of other characters from the Sonic franchise looks set to expand the fun.
Video Game #1: Six Days In Fallujah
Six Days In Fallujah is a controversial game. It intends to depict, in as realistic a manner as modern games engines will allow, the Second Battle of Fallujah, which took place in 2004. I was surprised to see the extent of the backlash that the game’s announcement received last year, not just from the expected sources like right-wing politicians, but from some games commentators and gaming outlets too.
In short, I think that it’s important to create art, particularly when the subject matter it tackles is difficult or controversial. It’s possible that Six Days In Fallujah will add nothing to the conversation around the Iraq War, but it’s equally possible that we’ll get something more than just mindless shooting. Video games can be art, and art can and should tackle difficult and complex topics. To see my full thoughts on Six Days In Fallujah, click or tap here.
Video Game #2: Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was a surprise announcement at last year’s E3, but with the Avatar sequels kicking off this year it makes a lot of sense to have a video game tie-in of some kind as well. Frontiers of Pandora doesn’t seem like it will be a direct adaptation of either the first or second films in the series, but rather a standalone title.
The world of Avatar seems well-suited to a video game adaptation, and with Ubisoft’s resources at its back there’s potential in this title. Taking on the role of a Na’vi warrior sounds like fun, and I’m definitely going to check out Frontiers of Pandora when it’s ready.
Video Game #3: Mario Kart 9
At this stage there’s been no announcement of a new game in the long-running Mario Kart series. But Mario Kart 8 was released almost eight years ago, and with 2022 being the series’ 30th anniversary, the timing feels right for a new game. Nintendo loves to celebrate anniversaries with big releases, after all!
Mario Kart 8 has been one of the Switch’s big sellers since the console’s launch. But the game has a limited roster of tracks and playable characters, and after such a long wait in between titles, a growing number of players are looking for something new. 2022 would be a great time to launch Mario Kart 9 – so watch this space.
Video Game #4: Stray
Stray is a game that lets you play as a cat. Do I need to say more? Publisher Annapurna Interactive has a great track record, having released wonderful and emotional narrative journeys like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home. Indie developer Blue Twelve Studio has been working on the game for a while, and its unique premise and beautiful setting have already piqued my interest!
The game entices players to unravel an ancient mystery and figure a way to escape a decaying cyberpunk city populated by robots. The stray cat at the centre of the game will have their own robot companion, too. This game looks adorable – but it also has an unsettling, otherworldly feel that could make for a fascinating and unique adventure.
Video Game #5: Star Trek: Resurgence
I’d been desperately hoping for a new single-player Star Trek game for years; it’s been almost a decade since the last one failed miserably. With Star Trek being back on our screens in a big way, I’m glad that ViacomCBS is finally licensing video games again. Resurgence is the single-player story-driven game I’d been hoping for – and the trailer looked great!
New developer Dramatic Labs has pedigree – many of its employees used to work for Telltale Games, whose narrative adventures were highly-praised. Telltale worked on a number of adaptations, including Batman and Game of Thrones, so Dramatic Labs seems perfectly positioned to bring a brand new Star Trek game to life. I’m really rooting for Resurgence to be a success.
Video Game #6: Starfield
Starfield has been in development for almost a decade. Bethesda had ideas for space-themed games going all the way back to the 1990s, and even pitched a Star Trek game at one point, so in a sense Starfield has been a very long time coming! At 2021’s E3, the company was finally able to announce a release date, and while details about the game are still sparse, we have begun to learn a little more about some of the factions and locales.
Bethesda chief Todd Howard has literally promised players “Skyrim in space,” so Starfield has big shoes to fill! After Bethesda has stumbled in recent years with the likes of Fallout 76, the game also has a lot of work to do to rehabilitate the company’s image. Anything less than an exceptional game could leave the Microsoft-owned studio in trouble. I want to be excited for Starfield… but I’m trying to avoid boarding the hype train.
Video Game #7: Saints Row
I initially wrote off the Saints Row games as being “Grand Theft Auto knock-offs,” but the truth is that they’re so much more than that. The setup is unquestionably similar – players take on the role of a criminal in an open-world city – but developers Volition brought a distinctly comedic style that made the original Saints Row and its sequels stand out.
Saints Row is a reboot, one which will supposedly bring the game back to its roots. Given that Rockstar seemingly still has no plans to release Grand Theft Auto 6 any time soon, Saints Row could be the game that scratches that open-world itch.
Video Game #8: Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown
It’s been almost a decade since the last Test Drive game was released, so Solar Crown is coming late to the party! But following on from the success of other open-world racing games (like Forza Horizon 5, for example) it could be well-placed to take the racing crown this year.
Solar Crown is set in Hong Kong, and developers KT Racing have promised a 1:1 full-scale recreation of the entirety of Hong Kong island. That sounds incredibly ambitious, but I’m hopeful that they can pull it off. The result could be one of the best racing games in a long time.
Video Game #9: Pharaoh: A New Era
I adored Pharaoh in the early 2000s. An Ancient Egyptian-themed city building game, it had all of the micromanagement you’d expect from a game of that type, but with additional features derived from its setting. For example, the Nile river could flood – so making use of flood plains became an essential gameplay element.
Pharaoh: A New Era aims to bring the game into the modern day, updating its graphical fidelity but retaining the original game’s trademark visual style and gameplay. I think it has a lot of potential to be a wonderful nostalgia trip for me – and if you missed the original twenty years ago, it could be brand-new fun for you!
Video Game #10: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order II
At this stage we don’t know whether Jedi: Fallen Order II is even in development – though it’s heavily rumoured to be well underway. It’s a possibility for 2022, though, so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed waiting for an official announcement. After the disappointment of Battlefront II and The Rise of Skywalker, Jedi: Fallen Order did a lot for the Star Wars franchise. It was an engaging story with some great characters – most of whom should be returning.
I’m really interested to see where Cal Kestis and his friends will go next. What adventures lie in store for them? And will we find out their ultimate fate – perhaps explaining why Cal and the others played no part in the Rebellion or the events of the Star Wars films? So many questions… but I’ll settle for another fun Star Wars adventure, even if it doesn’t answer all of them!
TV Series #1: House of the Dragon
Despite being underwhelmed by the first trailer (and bitterly disappointed by the final season of Game of Thrones) I’m nevertheless curious to see what House of the Dragon will bring to the table. The new series has the not insignificant challenge of proving that Game of Thrones wasn’t a one-hit wonder, and that Westeros truly can be expanded into an ongoing franchise.
Honestly? The jury is still out. The television landscape has changed immeasurably since Game of Thrones’ 2010 debut, and in the big-budget high fantasy genre, House of the Dragon will face some serious competition. There’s potential in the series… but right now, I can muster curious interest rather than outright excitement.
TV Series #2: Star Trek: Picard Season 2
After a longer-than-planned pandemic-enforced break, Picard will finally be back on our screens before too long. It isn’t clear yet whether Discovery’s unexpected mid-season break will delay Picard Season 2 from its planned February premiere, but that seems likely. Regardless, time travel and old adversaries are on the agenda for Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of La Sirena.
I confess that time travel stories aren’t always my favourites in Star Trek, so I’m perhaps less excited for Picard Season 2 than I hoped I might be. But a chance to spend more time with Picard himself, especially after the wonderfully complex presentation of the character in Season 1, is something that I’m truly looking forward to.
TV Series #3: Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi
There’s a lot of Star Wars content to come this year! Obi-Wan Kenobi is taking place in between the prequel and original trilogies, and will see Ewan McGregor reprise his role as the famed ex-Jedi. What adventures will he be able to have during his exile on the planet of Tatooine? And will those adventures feel natural or tacked-on? I guess we’re about to find out!
McGregor’s portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi was definitely one of the better elements of the prequel films. I’m not sure I’d have chosen to make this series if I were making the big decisions for Disney and Lucasfilm, but I hope to get a fun action or drama series that respects the boundaries of the original 1977 film and doesn’t tread on its toes.
TV Series #4: Amazon’s Lord of the Rings
This series made my list last year, as I had originally expected to see it in 2021. Amazon has found some success with its adaptation of The Wheel of Time, but in a sense that show feels like an appetiser before the main course! Few other properties have such potential to bring in audiences as Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and there’s going to be a huge amount of interest in what is going to be the most expensive television series ever made.
With so little information about the characters or plot, it’s hard to know what to expect. The series isn’t going to be a new adaptation of any of the familiar books, instead drawing on a period in Middle-earth’s Second Age, millennia before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Amazon appears to be greatly influenced by Game of Thrones in the way the show’s casting and production have been handled; hopefully that’s a good thing!
TV Series #5: Star Wars: Andor
A prequel to a prequel, Andor will focus on the character of Cassian Andor who was first introduced in 2016’s Rogue One. A Star Wars story that steps away from the Jedi and the Force is something I’ve been hoping the franchise would do more of for some time, and I feel that Andor could be a good vehicle to show us more about the Star Wars galaxy away from space magic.
The series may also show us a bit more about the early days of the Rebel Alliance, something we glimpsed in Rogue One. As a standalone piece it could be an interesting and dramatic spy thriller – and I’m hopeful that it’ll be entertaining at the very least.
TV Series #6: Foundation Season 2
Season 1 of Foundation may not have been perfect, but it broadly succeeded at adapting a fairly dense work of sci-fi, bringing it to the small screen in an understandable way. Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance, and this complex story with some pretty deep themes ended up as a thoroughly enjoyable season of television.
We already knew that Apple TV+ had greenlit a second season of the show, and production has already begun. If Foundation can do more of the same, it’ll be a fine addition to this year’s television lineup.
TV Series #7: The Last Of Us
The Last Of Us is one of the finest video game stories I’ve ever played through. It’s a vivid, dramatic, and occasionally harrowing story of a road trip across a hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic United States. Its central conceit of mushroom zombies may sound silly, but the cordyceps infection serves as the backdrop to set up an amazing character-focused story. And now it’s being adapted for television.
A TV show will suit the long and complex narrative far better than a film ever could, so in that sense I think the right decision has been made. I don’t know whether the story will be broken down into seasons or whether The Last Of Us will try to tell the entire story of the game this year – I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
TV Series #8: Tokyo Vice
I’ve been greatly looking forward to this adaptation of a true story. Journalist Jake Adelstein spent part of his career in Japan working on crime stories in Tokyo, and his book told the true story of working for a large Japanese newspaper and the various cases and investigations he was part of.
HBO has a great track record when it comes to these short-format miniseries, and I think that Tokyo Vice has the potential to be 2022’s answer to the likes of Chernobyl – a true story adapted in a dramatic and exciting way.
TV Series #9: The Wheel of Time Season 2
Amazon’s second high fantasy series on this list already has a full season under its belt. I enjoyed The Wheel of Time’s debut season, even though the story was quite cluttered and may have been hard to follow for some viewers. With more than a dozen books in the series left to adapt, Season 2 has its work cut out to keep up the pace.
The Wheel of Time had some great moments of characterisation and some well-crafted visual effects. Combined with a strong story I feel that the series is off to a good start – even if not every critic agrees. With Amazon’s own Lord of the Rings adaptation coming this year, Season 2 will be drawing comparisons to that show whether it wants to or not. Time to step up!
TV Series #10: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
More than three years after Ethan Peck and Anson Mount won the hearts of Star Trek fans during Discovery’s second season, the highly-requested “Captain Pike show” is finally going to be broadcast! Strange New Worlds has promised Trekkies a return to a more episodic format, and the show could be the one to finally hook in the remaining holdouts who have been unimpressed with the franchise’s recent output.
This isn’t a ranked list, but Strange New Worlds is probably the show I’m most looking forward to this year – assuming it will be available to watch here in the UK. ViacomCBS doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to making its shows available outside of North America! But if that hurdle can be surmounted, I have high hopes indeed for Strange New Worlds.
So that’s it!
As we look ahead to some of the entertainment experiences of 2022, there’s a lot to be hopeful for. As a Trekkie, 2022 is arguably one of the biggest and most important years for the franchise in a very long time. Not only are there new and ongoing shows, but a brand-new video game and an increase in merchandise too. All of these things will hopefully cement Star Trek as ViacomCBS’ main franchise, securing its future in the longer term. I’ll be doing my best to support Star Trek this year – as long as ViacomCBS does its part too.
I hope you had an enjoyable New Year’s Eve! Now that the holiday season is more or less over, things can start to settle down and get back to normal. I adore the Christmas season, but it’s also nice to be able to unwind after what can be a stressful time of year.
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.
It’s the end of 2021, so it’s time to look back on a few of the entertainment highs (and lows) of the year! Like I did last year, I’ve picked out a few of my favourite entertainment experiences from the worlds of cinema, gaming, and television, and I’ll be giving each a totally official Trekking with Dennis award!
Most categories have a winner and a runner-up; some just have one title and in those cases they’re the winners by default. I’ve put Star Trek episodes into their own category, otherwise I’d just be saying that every TV show that I liked this year was Star Trek!
Caveat time! Obviously I haven’t watched or played anywhere close to everything that was published or released this year! The exclusion from these awards of titles such as The Last Duel or For All Mankind doesn’t mean they aren’t good; I just have no experience with them so I can’t comment. It goes without saying that everything here is entirely subjective! This is just one person’s opinion – so feel free to disagree vehemently with some or all of my choices!
With that out of the way, let’s get started!
🏆 Winner 🏆 Half-Life Histories series; Kyle Hill
There have been some interesting documentaries this year, but I wanted to highlight a semi-professional series that has been quietly ticking up views on YouTube. Kyle Hill has crafted a series of absolutely fascinating documentaries about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear accidents – some of which were familiar to me, but several of which actually weren’t.
Nuclear weapons are an incredibly controversial topic, of course, but nuclear power is something I firmly believe that we as a species need to embrace. At least in the short-to-medium term, nuclear power offers a reliable way for humanity to meet our growing power needs while phasing out fossil fuels.
Kyle Hill’s documentaries show how early nuclear experiments could and did go wrong, but they aren’t alarmist. Hill has a gentle, almost understated style that tells these serious (and occasionally fatal) stories with due dignity and gravitas, but without sensationalising the events in question. For anyone interested in the likes of the Chernobyl disaster or the early history of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the entire series is well worth a watch.
Best Web Series:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 The Jimquisition; Jim Sterling
I’d like to highlight a fellow non-binary creator here. Jim Sterling – also known as James Stephanie Sterling – is a video games critic on YouTube. Their main weekly series, The Jimquisition, often highlights bad practices in the games industry and draws attention to misbehaving corporations. The Jimquisition was one of the first shows to criticise the practice of lootboxes a few years ago, for example, and this year Sterling has worked relentlessly to call out the likes of Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard.
Too many publications – even blogs and social media channels – now work hand-in-glove with big corporations in the video games industry, leading many so-called independent publications to, at the very least, be cautious in what they say about both their corporate friends and the games they review so as to maintain their level of access. The Jimquisition has always been different because it’s self-funded, leaving Sterling free to criticise as they see fit.
On a personal note, seeing Jim Sterling come out as non-binary was one factor among many as I made my own decision earlier this year to discuss my gender identity in public for the first time, and I want to thank them for their brave decision.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Tasting History with Max Miller
There really isn’t anything quite like Tasting History. There are a plethora of cooking shows and channels online – many of which are fantastic! And there are some great history shows as well, everything from mini-documentaries to living history re-enactments. Tasting History blends these two things together, as host Max Miller cooks a variety of different historical dishes, and uses those as an entry point to talk about some of the historical events and personalities associated with the food.
I love history and I love cookery shows, so Tasting History is absolutely the kind of thing that was going to appeal to me! But a fun premise alone wouldn’t be enough, and Tasting History has a well-spoken host who makes both sides of the show entertaining as well as interesting. I’ve learned a lot about different dishes and historical cultures this year, things I never would have found out about if not for Tasting History.
Best TV Special:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales
After 2020’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special had been a ton of fun, I was pleasantly surprised to see Disney+ bringing back Lego Star Wars for another outing this year. Terrifying Tales was a fun Halloween special, one which drew on many classics of the thriller and horror genres for inspiration while maintaining a child-friendly atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so this lighter tone was just perfect for me!
Focusing on Poe Dameron, Terrifying Tales used a frame narrative to tell three different spooky stories set in all three of the Star Wars franchise’s main eras. The first short, which focused on Kylo Ren, contained more backstory for the character than the entire sequel trilogy – and I would argue that it was actually better than the minuscule character development that Kylo/Ben Solo got in the films!
Palpatine was hilarious in the vignette that featured him, and I adored the way that Terrifying Tales used the character. The third and final vignette was a parody of a Twilight Zone episode and featured Luke Skywalker, and that was pretty fun to see as well. Overall, Terrifying Tales was a cute, funny, and lightly spooky way to get ready for Halloween!
🏆 Winner 🏆 The Grand Tour: Lochdown
As we approach the pandemic’s second anniversary, we need things like Lochdown to poke fun at what’s been going on in the world. In a unique way that only Hammond, Clarkson, and May can really pull off, The Grand Tour’s special episode made a trip to Scotland one of the funniest and most entertaining bits of television I enjoyed all year.
The trio have found great success at Amazon, and free from the constraints of the BBC (both financially and in terms of content), I’d argue that The Grand Tour is leaps and bounds ahead of Top Gear. As the show has switched its focus to these kinds of special episodes, there’s been a lot of fun to be had!
I’m not really a car person. Cars have always been a means to an end for me; a mode of transportation. But the enthusiasm of the three hosts for their vehicles is infectious, and the fun they have on their wacky adventures always manages to succeed at pulling me in and making me feel like I’m right there with them.
Worst TV Series:
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Rick and Morty Season 5
After four pretty strong and funny seasons, Rick and Morty stumbled this year. It felt to me like the writers had become a little too aware of the show’s success and place in pop culture – and didn’t really know how to handle that. Season 5 was bland and forgettable, with several episodes that didn’t even win a smile, let alone a laugh.
Rick and Morty crossed over from being a fun series with a cult following and really hit the mainstream somewhere around its third season, and clearly that’s been a double-edged sword. Too many of the attempted jokes this year came across as either desperate or else simply as gross-outs or edginess for the sake of it.
Though the show had a few successful moments, such as the scenes between Rick and Birdperson toward the end of the season, Season 5 has to be considered a failure.
Best TV series:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 Foundation
The first season of Foundation was imperfect but nevertheless good. The novels upon which Foundation is based are incredibly dense works that can, at points, feel more like philosophy than sci-fi, so bringing something like that to the small screen was no small challenge – but Apple TV+ stepped up.
Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance as Hari Seldon, and was joined by several actors with whom I was less familiar – but who all did an outstanding job. Foundation is also a visually beautiful series, one which makes great use of Apple’s high CGI budget. A second season has already been confirmed – so that’s something to look forward to in 2022!
🏆 Winner 🏆 The Wheel of Time
The Wheel of Time was the first of Amazon’s two big-budget fantasy shows to make it to screen. We’ll have to wait until next year for the corporation’s Lord of the Rings prequel/adaptation, but The Wheel of Time is definitely a show worth watching in its own right. It has struggled, at times, to break out from the shadows of both Game of Thrones and the aforementioned Tolkien adaptation, but I’m so glad that I gave it a chance to impress me on its own merits.
Outside of the Star Trek franchise, The Wheel of Time is unquestionably the best television show I’ve seen all year. Amazon managed to adapt the first part of a long and complex story in a way that was understandable and easy to follow, bringing a new high fantasy world to the screen for the first time. There are some fantastic performances from Rosamund Pike and Madeleine Madden in particular, making The Wheel of Time a series to get lost in.
The first season concluded recently, and a second is already on the way! I can hardly wait.
Worst Video Game:
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
This is a difficult one. There were plenty of bad games this year – games with horribly intrusive monetisation, overladen with bugs, or that just plain sucked. But for me, the year’s most egregious video game failure is a so-called “remaster” that was lazy, that didn’t feel like much of an upgrade, and that left me incredibly disappointed when I consider what might have been.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition contains a number of bugs that were present in the original versions of its three constituent games; bugs that BioWare failed to fix. Its visual upgrade, coming less than ten years after the third game in the series, was already going to be a hard sell, but there seem to be many textures that BioWare either didn’t touch at all or else did the absolute bare minimum to.
And that’s Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in a nutshell: it’s a “remaster” that tried to get away with doing the absolute bare minimum. The sad thing is that I adore the Mass Effect games – but this version was so much less than it should’ve been.
Best Video Game:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 Road 96
Road 96 is quite unlike anything else I’ve played all year – and probably for quite a long time before that too! The game focuses on characters, introducing players to dozens of completely unique NPCs during a branching quest to escape a totalitarian state. It’s a road trip game… but that definition scarcely does it justice.
Road 96 has a beautiful art style, too, one that really brings to life its characters and American Southwest-inspired locales. There’s a wonderful soundtrack that accompanies the game, one with a definite ’80s inspiration – which I’m totally there for! It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling Road 96, and it’s an experience I really think you should try for yourself in as unspoiled a manner as possible.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Kena: Bridge of Spirits
When I was thinking about my pick for “game of the year,” there was never any doubt in my mind that Kena: Bridge of Spirits would take the trophy. It’s one of the most visually beautiful games that I’ve ever played, bringing an almost Disney-esque art style to life in the most fantastic way possible.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a modern-looking game with a distinctly old-school feel to it. The game combines elements of puzzle-solving and 3D platforming with some tight, focused combat, and the addition of the Rot – little critters that accompany Kena – is both adorable and incredibly useful. Collecting things in video games can feel like busywork, but because Kena’s power grows with every Rot she picks up, even this aspect of the game manages to feel worthwhile.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits had been one of my most-anticipated games of the year. It didn’t just meet my expectations – it surpassed them by a country mile.
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that tried to be dark and edgy and in doing so ended up robbing its source material of any of the fun and entertainment value it could’ve had. DC Comics has struggled to compete with Marvel, failing to recognise that it’s Marvel’s blend of humour and action that makes those films so appealing to many viewers. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a case in point – and a great example, in my opinion, of a film that completely misses the mark.
Perhaps to distinguish it from the likes of The Avengers, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was packed with gimmicks, too. An incredibly dark and boring colour palette drowned the film in grey, black, and brown tones, and some scenes were so poorly-lit that following the action became difficult. It was also shot in a weird 4:3 aspect ratio – again, seemingly for the sake of a gimmick.
I’m genuinely happy for fans of DC who worked hard to secure the so-called “Snyder Cut” after a long campaign. But the end result was, for me, the worst film I’ve seen all year. And this was a year where I watched Space Jam: A New Legacy.
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 Raya and the Last Dragon
I paid a lot of money (by my standards, at least) to watch Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+! Maybe I should’ve waited the extra couple of months, but I was genuinely interested to see the latest big Disney animated picture. The one surprise was the lack of any musical numbers, but despite that I had a good time with Raya and the Last Dragon.
Kelly Marie Tran put in an outstanding performance as the titular Raya, a young woman on a quest to restore the life of a dragon and reunite a fractured land loosely based on Southeast Asia. The film was dramatic and exciting, with a fun cast of characters. It’s also noteworthy that all of the main characters – heroes and villains – were women.
Now that it’s on Disney+ (and out on DVD and Blu-Ray) it’s definitely worth a watch.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Dune
I was worried that Dune would once again prove to be too difficult to adapt, but I was thrilled to see that I was wrong! Dune is a sci-fi masterpiece, and if its second instalment comes anywhere close to living up to this first part, I think we’ll be talking about the duology alongside the likes of The Lord of the Rings in years to come as being an absolute classic.
Dune is a long and occasionally dense book, so condensing it down and keeping a cinematic adaptation with a large cast of characters easy to follow was no mean feat. Director Denis Villeneuve did an outstanding job, and every aspect of the film, from its dialogue to its visual effects, are pitch-perfect.
I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline for a while, so stay tuned in the new year – I might finally get around to finishing it!
Most Exciting Announcement:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 Wicked
I was very lucky to have seen Wicked on the stage in London early in its run, and the soundtrack has to be up there as one of the best modern musicals. The announcement of a film adaptation came as a truly welcome surprise this year, and I will follow its progress with anticipation!
A spin-off from The Wizard of Oz, Wicked purports to tell the story from “the other side” – i.e. the Wicked Witch’s point of view. Disney in particular has shown in recent years that this concept can work exceptionally well, and Wicked pulls it off. The musical and the book that inspired it are very different, but both are enjoyable in their own ways – and I hope the film will be as well!
🏆 Winner 🏆 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Remake
Early in 2021 there were rumours of a Knights of the Old Republic game being in development, but it wasn’t until September that its existence was finally confirmed. A full-scale remake of the first game in the series is being worked on, and the idea of being able to go back and replay one of my favourite Star Wars games of all time is a truly exciting one!
So far all we’ve seen has been a CGI teaser, so the game is probably a couple of years away. But it’s still good to have something like this to look forward to! After several years of very limited success under Electronic Arts, Star Wars games are now being tackled by more developers and publishers – meaning we should see more from the franchise in the years ahead. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a remake of Knights of the Old Republic II after this one!
Best Star Trek Episode:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 There Is A Tide… Discovery Season 3
There Is A Tide is basically “Star Trek does Die Hard!” If that sounds like fun to you, then we are definitely on the same page! Featuring a desperate plan to re-take the USS Discovery following its capture by a villainous faction, Michael Burnham, Tilly, and several members of the bridge crew all get their chances to be action heroes.
It isn’t an entirely self-contained episode, as it brings to a head Starfleet’s conflict with the aforementioned villainous faction that had been running for much of the season, as well as containing other ongoing story threads. But it works well as a single episode, too, with an explosive and action-packed story that feels like it was lifted right out of an action blockbuster!
There Is A Tide is a great episode for Michael Burnham, but it’s also good for Admiral Vance as well. He truly seems to embody the values that Starfleet and the Federation have always held, and anyone who feels that Discovery has placed less of an emphasis on that should pay attention to Vance’s scenes in particular.
🏆 Winner 🏆 First First Contact Lower Decks Season 2
First First Contact is an incredibly well-done episode of Lower Decks. The series’ trademark sense of humour is still present, but we see the entire crew of the USS Cerritos working hard to overcome an incredibly difficult challenge and save not only an ailing Starfleet ship but also an entire planet. The crew rise to the occasion as we always knew they could, and First First Contact hits all of the emotional highs you could ever want from an episode of Star Trek.
It’s also an episode that truly embraces the spirit of the franchise. The Cerritos’ crew aren’t faced with some horrible monster or alien to defeat, instead the puzzle that lies before them is scientific – and the solution to it has to be as well. All of the main and secondary characters get moments in the spotlight, and First First Contact even found time to further advance the relationship between Ensign Mariner and Captain Freeman.
Finally, there was an incredible moment of symmetry toward the end of the episode, as the Cerritos saved the day in a very similar fashion to how it had to be saved in the Season 1 finale. That moment was pitch-perfect – and I won’t lie… I teared up!
So that’s it!
We’ve dished out a handful of awards to some of the best – and worst – entertainment experiences of the year. 2021 is a difficult one to summarise. The ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic has been noticeable, with delays and even some cancellations getting in the way and spoiling the fun. But there were some fantastic projects across cinema, television, and video games too – including some brand-new titles that I feel have the potential to lead to ongoing franchises, or to be talked about a lot in future as classics of their various genres.
As 2022 approaches, I hope you’ll stay tuned for a lot more to come from Trekking with Dennis! In the days ahead I plan to look forward to some of the films, games, and television shows that we could enjoy throughout the coming year, so definitely stay tuned for that! And I have a number of reviews and other articles in the pipeline.
So the only thing left to do is to wish you a very Happy New Year! Whatever you have planned for tonight, I hope you have an amazing time. See you next year!
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for all four films in The Matrix series.
It had been a while since I watched The Matrix and its sequels. The 1999 original has become somewhat of a sci-fi classic, with several themes and rhetorical devices entering popular culture and our shared lexicon – albeit not always in the ways the filmmakers intended! Phrases like “a glitch in the Matrix” to refer to déjà vu (or anything else that looks or feels odd), and of course the famous blue and red pills as metaphors for comfortable ignorance versus unpleasant truths have taken on lives of their own far beyond The Matrix and its sequels.
Coming almost two decades after The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, there were questions facing The Matrix Resurrections. Could it live up to its predecessors? Could it recapture the magic of “bullet time” and the blend of metaphor and philosophical themes with sci-fi action? With the story seemingly concluded and several main characters dead, what else was there to explore in this fictional universe? From my point of view as someone who’s been exploring my own gender identity and identifying with The Matrix’s core concept of living a false life, I was very interested to see what the film would have to say about trans and non-binary issues as well.
From the points of view of visual effects and cinematography, The Matrix Resurrections delivered pretty much everything I could have wanted or expected – but it didn’t really go beyond that. The original film was groundbreaking in 1999 with its incredibly dense yet beautifully-choreographed action sequences and, of course, the pioneering use of the aforementioned “bullet time.” Resurrections brought those same elements back to the table, and I thoroughly enjoyed them all over again. It didn’t feel pioneering or new any more, and perhaps in that sense some of the magic of the original film was missing. But asking every film to do something completely brand-new – especially the fourth film in a series – is probably too much.
Many films – probably most – don’t pioneer brand-new ways of filmmaking or never-before-seen visual styles, and we still enjoy them! So I don’t want to be too harsh on The Matrix Resurrections: it does its action sequences, its “bullet time,” and the rest of its visuals and special effects exceptionally well, far better than many titles released over the past two decades. Lana Wachowski has lost none of her edge as a filmmaker and director, and the way she frames some of the densely-packed action set-pieces, combined with the series’ use of its signature “bullet time” works just as well in Resurrections as it ever did.
I don’t know what the reasons are behind the re-casting of characters Agent Smith and Morpheus, so I don’t want to speak out of turn or criticise individual actors, the director, or anyone else involved in the casting. Looking at the way these characters are used in Resurrections itself, though, I can’t shake the feeling that bringing back the original actors would have had far more of an impact. One big part of what makes Resurrections work so well is the on-screen chemistry between Keanu Reeves’ Neo and Carrie-Ann Moss’ Trinity. Morpheus and Agent Smith were big parts of that story too, and the recasting is, at the very least, noticeable. At worst, it feels out-of-place and even detracts, at points, from our big return to this fictional universe.
This isn’t a criticism of either Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who has taken over the role of Morpheus, nor of Jonathan Groff, who took over as Agent Smith. Both characters are different iterations of the characters we met in the original films, and both actors do a wonderful job. It just feels that, in a story that’s partly about the past, breaking away from the past, and how past events in one’s life can cast a shadow, recasting these two key characters took away something valuable.
Setting aside the story for a moment, let’s talk about The Matrix Resurrections in terms of theme, metaphor, and the film’s philosophy. It was only on re-watching the original films having heard other people talking about its transgender allegory that I really came to understand how well it works. The conclusion of The Matrix Revolutions saw Neo (as The One) bring the Matrix itself to a screeching halt, shattering the false world and liberating himself and those around him. To continue the transgender metaphor, this can be argued to represent a closeted trans person breaking out of either their self-imposed or societally-imposed shell, liberating their true self and being able to live openly as the person they are – and always needed to be.
Resurrections, if it were to continue that allegory, had to find a way around what is a fairly typical issue that many sequels face. I’ve called this the “Disney problem” on more than one occasion, as many Disney films struggle to find a way to make a successful sequel, and it’s summarised thus: what comes after “happily ever after,” and how do you tell that story without tearing down the successes and emotional high points of the original work? The Matrix Revolutions didn’t really leave an opening for a sequel, at least not one featuring Neo and Trinity, so Resurrections had to find a way around this. Both narratively and thematically, the film absolutely nailed it.
Yes, there’s sci-fi fun going on. The Machines quite literally resurrected Neo and Trinity, putting them back in their shells and using them to power an new and improved version of the Matrix, one which was better and more efficient at keeping people trapped. But beyond that, there’s also the continuation of this important and inspirational trans journey.
And some people, judging by some incredibly offensive and provocative comments online, have reacted very poorly to that. The usual arguments about “wokeness” have emerged – seemingly directed at the fact that the film has a trans director, even though the film itself contains practically no overt mentions or depictions of any LGBT+ characters. What’s present is there at a thematic level, partly because companies like Warner Bros. want to make stripped-down films that they can sell in markets where homophobia and transphobia are rife. In fact, that was one of the things that I was surprised and perhaps a tad disappointed about with The Matrix Resurrections: although it’s a film with a transgender director and two gay main cast members, there was practically no open mention of LGBT+ issues nor any significant depictions of LGBT+ characters. Despite that, some so-called “critics” seem to only have this to say about The Matrix Resurrections when attacking it online:
The Matrix Resurrections is, if you look at it on the surface, somewhat regressive. It takes Neo back to his closeted status, undoing three films’ worth of progress and a “coming out” analogy that many trans people found to be powerful. But as a standalone piece, the depiction of Neo’s life inside the Matrix at the beginning of Resurrections is so much more powerful and meaningful than it was in any of the original films – or indeed in all three combined.
I can barely find words to express how much the depiction of Neo at the beginning of the film resonated with me. Both from the point of view of mental health and as someone who has only recently began to make cracks in my own “shell” as a non-binary person, the way Neo was written and the way he comes across is so much more impactful in Resurrections. His struggles, his dependence on medication, his therapy sessions and questioning who he is and where he fits in this world are all incredibly powerful moments. At several points I had to pause Resurrections to catch my breath or wipe away tears. Seeing Neo in this way felt real – it felt like seeing a reflection of myself through Keanu Reeves’ incredible performance and Lana Wachowski’s beautiful writing and directing.
The Matrix in 1999 either didn’t intend to depict this aspect of living a lie in such detail, or else brushed it under the carpet to get to the action. But Resurrections builds up to the action slowly, deliberately spending more time with a trapped Neo, someone who realises something is wrong but who seems desperate to push those feelings down – taking inordinate amounts of blue pills as medication to help with that. One of the early sequences with Neo and his therapist – played in a wonderfully nuanced performance by Neil Patrick Harris – truly embodied the struggle that many gender-nonconforming people go through. Seeing such a powerful depiction of something that I can relate to – because I’ve felt that way too – has been an incredible experience.
I didn’t come to The Matrix Resurrections for mindless action. In one of its more meta, self-aware sequences, the film itself pointed out that mind-numbing action isn’t “on brand” for the series. I’d argue that any adult who’s shown up for Resurrections expecting nothing but sci-fi and action has kind of missed the point: The Matrix as a series has always had a strong philosophical bent to it, one that can be interpreted in as many different ways as there are viewers. For transgender and non-binary people, these aspects of the story come to the fore. For other viewers, though, the film’s messages can be read through a lens of mental health, of escaping an unsatisfying or boring life, of finding a second life through online interaction, anti-capitalism, and many more besides.
An unexpected inclusion in Resurrections was the coming together of liberated humans and machines – now known as synthients. The idea that the conflict between humans and machines wasn’t totally black-and-white, and that some machines could become friends and allies to humans was an interesting one – but one that Resurrections perhaps didn’t take as far as it could’ve. There’s a great kernel of an idea, but in a film that had a lot of other narratives to cram into its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, this rebel machine angle didn’t go as deep as some of the others. The reasons why some machines rebelled, and why those rebels sought out humans as allies, were never fully addressed. Perhaps that’s something a future sequel could pick up, as I feel there’s potential in a storyline about overcoming conflict and learning to let go of hate.
Speaking of sequels and The Matrix as a franchise, the film had some incredibly meta moments of self-reflection. Some of these were played almost for laughs, but others had a distinctly unsettling feel, as if the film was getting inside my head and blurring the lines between reality and fiction – itself a theme present in the film’s opening act. I wasn’t expecting this meta commentary on the nature of sequels, franchises, and the state of the entertainment landscape in 2021 – nor was I expecting a self-referential comment about Warner Bros., the company behind the film. Maybe this is a comparison that no one else will get, but I felt it was the second time this year that I’ve seen this kind of self-referential meta commentary from a Warner Bros. picture; the company did something similar in, of all titles, Space Jam: A New Legacy.
One really interesting visual metaphor that the film made use of was the mirror. Mirrors cropped up many times, serving as portals within the Matrix. Again, speaking as someone who is non-binary, I haven’t always liked the reflection in the mirror. The clever use of visual effects to show Neo in particular looking in the mirror and not recognising himself, or seeing flashes of someone else that he didn’t recognise, is something that spoke to me in a way I was not expecting.
When I’ve looked in the mirror, the person looking back hasn’t been the person I want to be; it isn’t a reflection of my true self, the version of me that I want to be. Many people can relate to that in various ways, I have no doubt about that; we all have features or imperfections we’d like to change if we could. Just like with many other themes present in Resurrections and the entire Matrix series, this can be read differently by different viewers. Trans and non-binary viewers, I would suggest from my own experience, will relate very strongly to the way mirrors are used, though. A mirror is supposed to be a totally accurate reflection of oneself – but speaking from experience, a mirror can also be something to be avoided; a harsh reflection of someone we don’t identify with or wish was fundamentally different.
Let’s conclude by talking about the film’s actual narrative and story. The reason for Neo and Trinity being back in the Matrix – and the Matrix itself being bigger and more powerful – was kind of technobabbley, but I didn’t hate it. It was a gateway to something significant, and without it the film itself wouldn’t have been possible. I think as a narrative point it does work, but the film was definitely better for not spending too much time trying to over-explain how Neo and Trinity came to be trapped again and what the Analyst’s plans were.
The new character of Bugs was fun; a clever riff on a character concept from previous entries in the series who felt distinct, yet familiar. There was a bit of forced drama in the conflict between Bugs and Niobe – the latter now in command of the new human-synthient settlement of Io. That particular story beat didn’t really go anywhere; Niobe was concerned about the safety of the settlement, yet it never really felt as though it were under threat nor in any danger, despite the plan Bugs, Neo, and Morpheus came up with to rescue Trinity.
I liked seeing Agent Smith as a character outside of his usual role. He was definitely still an antagonist, but the addition of the Analyst as the program in control of the Matrix had untethered Smith. His desire to remain free from outside control was understandable at first – but was subsequently traded away for a redux of the Neo-versus-Smith battles from earlier films. It was still neat to see an unexpected team-up, however brief, between Neo and Smith – though I come back to what I said earlier: this would’ve worked a lot better if the original actor had been able to reprise the role.
The Analyst was a wonderfully nuanced character, and Neil Patrick Harris put in a great performance. The Analyst had taken over the Matrix, rebuilding it around Neo and Trinity and using their emotional connection to manipulate people and thus make the Matrix even more efficient. This gave the story the necessary explanation to function, and served as a decent motivation for the Analyst’s character.
The synthient Sati – played by Priyanka Chopra Jonas – gave us a lot more information about the synthients, and was the best and most interesting machine portrayal in the film. She also had a connection to the original films, having briefly met Neo years earlier. Her motivation to rebel and to seek to see the Matrix shut down was easily understood: having seen her parents killed, she essentially wanted revenge.
None of these characters – or the other secondary characters – felt flat or uninteresting; I was genuinely curious to learn more about them and the places they occupied in this dystopian world. Each felt distinct, each had a purpose, and they were all written sympathetically. The story was complicated in places, and I think casual viewers or those not up to speed on the events of the original films will struggle in places to follow some of the denser moments which rely on lore and backstory to make sense. But The Matrix Resurrections is a sequel – part four in a series. Even though it’s coming almost two decades later, you can’t expect it to spend all of its runtime re-explaining events from the past!
Resurrections included a fair amount of footage from the original Matrix films, some of which were very brief clips that were only on screen for a second or two. This abrupt editing was a risky choice – it could have felt cheap or even lazy; a direct appeal to fans of the original films. However, I don’t believe this is how it comes across. It continues that feeling of being unsettled, of feeling that there’s another life that one could or should be living. In Neo and Trinity’s cases, these came in the form of memory and flashback – which is where the very literal use of clips from the original films come in. In the case of trans and non-binary people, to continue that theme, these clips could represent the true self that exists outside of the shell, bubble, or closet in which one is trapped.
I found The Matrix Resurrections to be a deeply emotional experience – and a film I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to see. As I continue my own gender identity journey as a non-binary person, films like Resurrections are important and helpful. Seeing moments that I could relate to depicted as visual metaphors in a film laced with analogy and allegory was powerful, but also absolutely fascinating.
Fans of the original films will find something to like – if they’re prepared to give Resurrections a fair shake on its own merits and not get bogged down in arguments about “wokeness” and the like. Though there were things I felt missed the mark, overall I have to say that Resurrections is one of the most complex, raw, and brutally honest films I’ve seen all year. It retains all of the signature elements from the original films, and for people who aren’t interested in a metaphorical or philosophical reading it’s possible to enjoy Resurrections as a work of action-sci-fi. For me, though, the powerful themes resonated with me, and made The Matrix Resurrections a film that was both an entertaining watch and, at times, a deeply emotional and cathartic experience.
The Matrix Resurrections is out now in cinemas and is available to stream on HBO Max. The Matrix Resurrections is the copyright of Village Roadshow Pictures and/or Warner Bros. Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.
At this time of year, practically every outlet – from dying newspapers to new social media channels – churns out list upon list of the best entertainment products of the year. The top threes, top fives, top tens and more of 2021 abound! I have something similar in the pipeline, but today I wanted to take a look back at a handful of films, games, and TV shows from previous years that I found myself enjoying in 2021.
I have long and seemingly ever-growing lists of films, games, and TV shows that I keep meaning to get around to! I still haven’t seen Breaking Bad, for example, nor played The Witcher 3, despite the critical and commercial acclaim they’ve enjoyed! I also have a huge number of entertainment properties that I keep meaning to re-visit, some of which I haven’t seen since we wrote years beginning with “1.” In 2021 I got around to checking out a few titles from both of these categories, and since there are some that I haven’t discussed I thought the festive season would be a great opportunity for a bit of positivity and to share some of my personal favourite entertainment experiences of 2021… even though they weren’t brand-new!
Film #1: The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)
We’ve recently marked the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s magnum opus. The passage of time has done nothing to detract from these amazing films, and this year a 4K Blu-Ray release has them looking better than ever before.
The early 2000s had some serious pitfalls for film and television. CGI was becoming more mainstream and many filmmakers sought to take advantage of it, but just look to the Star Wars prequels and how outdated the CGI in those titles is; it hasn’t held up well at all. The majority of the special effects in The Lord of the Rings were practical, and combined with clever cinematography even incredibly dense and complex battle sequences still look fantastic two decades on.
Though I don’t re-watch The Lord of the Rings every single year without fail, I’m happy to return to the trilogy time and again – and I almost certainly will be for the rest of my days! The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Middle-earth was one of the first fantasy worlds I encountered as a young child; I can vaguely remember the book being read to me when I was very small. The conventional wisdom for years was that The Lord of the Rings was unfilmable – but Peter Jackson proved that wrong in some style!
Film #2: Despicable Me (2010)
I spotted this while browsing Netflix one evening, and despite having seen at least one film with the Minions, I hadn’t actually seen the title that started it all. I have to confess that I didn’t have particularly high expectations, thinking I was in for a bog-standard animated comedy. But Despicable Me has heart, and there were some genuinely emotional moments hidden inside.
The Minions got most of the attention in the aftermath of Despicable Me, and can now be found on everything from memes to greetings cards! The critters are cute, but they’re also somewhat limited – and I think it’s for that reason that I didn’t really expect too much from Despicable Me except for maybe a few laughs and a way to kill an empty evening. I was pleasantly surprised to find a much more substantial film than I’d been expecting.
There were still plenty of laughs and a ton of cartoon silliness to enjoy and to keep the tone light-hearted. But there was a surprisingly emotional story between the villainous Gru and the three children he adopts – especially Margo, the eldest. I can finally understand why the film has spawned four sequels, fifteen shorts, and a whole range of merchandise!
Film #3: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
The Final Frontierhas a number of issues that I’m sure most of you will be aware of. It arguably suffered from a little too much involvement from William Shatner, who sought to put Captain Kirk at the centre of the story at the expense of others. But The Final Frontier has some truly great character moments, including one of the final times that Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy would be together before The Undiscovered Country brought an end to Star Trek’s original era.
The film has some truly funny moments, too: the scene where Uhura catches Chekov and Sulu pretending to be caught in a storm being one, and Scotty’s moment of slapstick being another that never fails to win a chuckle. The Undiscovered Country was a great send-off for Star Trek’s original crew, but it was quite a heavy film with a lot of tense moments and high-octane action. The Final Frontier brings more light-hearted moments to the table, and that’s something I can appreciate when I’m in the right mood.
There are some exciting sequences too, though. The shuttle crash is a very tense and dramatic moment, and the final confrontation with the entity at the centre of the galaxy, while silly in some respects, does succeed at hitting at least some of those same dramatic highs. Though I wouldn’t suggest that The Final Frontier is anywhere near the best that Star Trek has to offer, it’s well worth a watch from time to time.
Game #1: Control (2019)
Though hardly an “old” game, I missed Control when it was released in 2019. It had been on my list for a couple of years, and I was pleased to finally get around to playing it this year. The game had a far creepier atmosphere than I’d been expecting, with protagonist Jesse having to battle an unseen enemy called the Hiss.
One thing I really admire about Control is the way it made incredibly creative use of some fairly plain environments. The entire game takes place in what’s essentially a glorified office building, and rows of cubicles or the janitor’s workspace could, in other games, come across as feeling bland and uninspired. But Control leans into this, using the environments as a strength, juxtaposing them with incredibly weird goings-on at the Bureau of Control.
I also liked that, for the first time in years, we got full-motion video sequences in a game! FMV was a fad in gaming in the early/mid-1990s I guess, primarily on PC, and titles like Command and Conquer and Star Trek: Starfleet Academy made use of it. It had been years since I played a game with FMV elements, and it worked exceptionally well in Control – as well as being a completely unexpected blast of nostalgia!
Game #2: Super Mario 64 (1996)
Despite the serious limitations of Super Mario 3D All-Stars on the Nintendo Switch, which I picked up last year, I can’t deny that it’s been fun to return to Super Mario 64. One of the first fully 3D games I ever played, Super Mario 64 felt like the future in the late ’90s, and even some titles released this year, such as Kena: Bridge of Spirits, owe parts of their 3D platforming to the pioneering work that Nintendo did with this game.
Super Mario 64 is and always has been good, solid fun. There doesn’t need to be an in-depth, complex story driving Mario forward to collect stars, because the game’s levels and bosses are all so incredibly cleverly-designed. Jumping in and out of different painting worlds is relatively quick and feels great, and the sheer diversity of environments is still noteworthy in 2021. Mario goes on a journey that takes him through snowy mountains, a sunken shipwreck, sunlit plains, cities, clouds, and more.
I can’t in good conscience recommend Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The way these games have been adapted for Nintendo Switch isn’t worth the asking price. But even so, going back to Super Mario 64 has been one of my favourite parts of 2021, a chance to reconnect with a game I played and loved on the Nintendo 64. If you’ve never played it, track down a copy and give it a go. You won’t regret it.
Game #3: Red Dead Redemption II (2018)
I’d been meaning to get around toRed Dead Redemption II for three years – but I’d always found a reason not to pick it up (usually it was too expensive!) It took forever to download on my painfully slow internet connection, but it was well worth the wait. I’ve had a fascination with America in the 19th Century for as long as I can remember – I guess partly inspired by playground games of “the wild west” that were fairly common when I was young. I even had a cowboy hat, toy gun, and “Davy Crockett” hat when I was a kid!
Red Dead Redemption II transported me to that world in a way that I genuinely did not think was possible. Films and TV shows can do a great job at pulling you in and getting you lost in a fictional world, but the interactive element of video games can add to that immersion – something that was absolutely the case with Red Dead Redemption II. The amount of detail in the game’s characters and open-world environments is staggering, and having finally experienced it for myself I can absolutely understand why people hail this game as a “masterpiece.”
I wasn’t prepared for the many emotional gut-punches that Red Dead Redemption II had in store. In many ways the game tells a bleak and even depressing story, one with betrayal, death, and many examples of the absolute worst of humanity. But every once in a while there are some incredibly beautiful moments too, where characters sit together, sing, play, and revel in their bonds of friendship. Red Dead Redemption II gave me the wild west outlaw fantasy that my younger self could have only dreamed of!
TV series #1: Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-69)
I’ve re-watched quite a lot of The Original Series this year, probably more episodes than I’d seen in the past few years. Because of its episodic nature, it’s easy to dip in and out of The Original Series, firing up an episode or two to spend an hour with Captain Kirk and the crew without feeling the need to commit to an entire season of television.
The Original Series started it all for Trekkies, and I’m always so pleased to see that modern Star Trek hasn’t lost sight of that. In this year’s episodes of Lower Decks and Discovery we’ve gotten many references and callbacks to Star Trek’s first series, keeping the show alive and relevant as we celebrated its fifty-fifth anniversary – and the centenary of its creator, Gene Roddenberry.
Though dated in some ways, many of the themes and metaphors present in The Original Series are still relevant today. Society has changed since the 1960s, but in some areas we’re still fighting the same or similar fights for acceptance, for equality, and so on. The Star Trek franchise has always had a lot to say about that, being in some ways a mirror of society and in others depicting a vision of a more enlightened, optimistic future.
TV series #2: Fortitude (2015-18)
I went back to re-watch Fortitude this year, for the first time since its original run. The series starts very slowly, seeming at first to be little more than a murder-mystery in a different setting. But it builds up over the course of its first season into something truly unexpected, crossing over into moments of political thriller, action, and even horror.
There are some truly shocking and gruesome moments in Fortitude, and it can be a harrowing watch in places. But it’s riveting at the same time, and I managed to get hooked all over again by the complex characters, the mysteries and conspiracies, and the bleak but beautiful arctic environment.
Fortitude featured some star names among its cast, including Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, and Dennis Quaid – the second-most-famous Dennis to be featured on this website! Although it was fun to watch it weekly during its original run, Fortitude is definitely a show that can be enjoyed on a binge!
TV series #3: Family Guy (1999-Present)
Family Guy’s sense of humour sometimes runs aground for me, dragging out jokes too long or failing to pay off neat setups with decent punchlines. But with the full series (up to midway through Season 20 at time of writing) available on Disney+, I’ve found myself putting it on in the background a lot this year. The short runtime of episodes, the lightheartedness, and the way many of the jokes are often disconnected from whatever nonsense plot the episodes have going on all come together to make it something I can dip in and out of while doing other things.
There are some insensitive jokes, and some entire storylines in earlier episodes have aged rather poorly. But Family Guy seldom strikes me as a show punching down; it satirises and pokes fun at many different groups. In that sense it’s kind of halfway between The Simpsons and South Park; the former being more sanitised and family-friendly, the latter being edgier and meaner.
I rarely sit down and think “gosh, I must watch the latest Family Guy episode.” But if I’m in need of background noise or something to fill up twenty minutes, I find I’ll happily log into Disney+ and put on an episode or two.
So that’s it.
There have been some great films, games, and television shows that were released in 2021. But there were also plenty of entertainment experiences from years past that, in different ways, brightened my year. As we gear up for New Year and for everyone’s end-of-year top-ten lists, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that.
I hope you had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday, or just a relaxing day yesterday! I did consider writing something to mark the day, but I found that I had remarkably little to say that was different from the piece I wrote last year. 2021 has been “2020 II” in so many respects, unfortunately. However, unlike last Christmas I will be able to visit with some family members – I’ll be seeing my sister and brother-in-law later this week, which will be a nice treat! So here’s to 2021’s entertainment experiences – and as we enter the new year, it’s worth keeping in mind that we don’t only have to watch and play the latest and newest ones!
All titles on the list above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, distributor, developer, network, publisher, studio, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Christmas is edging closer by the day! The main event itself is now only a couple of weeks away, so we’re well and truly in the wintery grip of the Holiday Season. This time I thought it could be fun to take a look at five films and television specials that make for great festive viewing.
Although I’m not a religious person by any stretch, Christmas has always been an event I look forward to… beginning as early as September! Though not every Christmas was perfect when I was a kid, I have some pretty happy memories of this time of year, and there’s something about the juxtaposition of the cold, dark winter going on outside with the warmth and the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree inside that really makes this time of year feel special, almost magical!
Between the lights, decorations, and festive pop hits, I think it’s fair to say I’m all about the secular, commercial side of Christmas; Santa Claus, not Jesus, stands out to me as the season’s main character! So that’s my mindset as we go into this list.
Please keep in mind, as always, that this list is wholly subjective. If you don’t like any of these Christmas films and television specials, that’s perfectly fine. I’m not trying to pretend that these are the “all-time best ever” Christmas specials, or anything of the sort!
With that caveat out of the way, let’s dive into the list!
Number 1: The Polar Express (2004)
When it was released in 2004, The Polar Express received criticism for its “creepy” CGI – but I think it’s safe to say that its semi-realistic animated style has aged pretty well. Tom Hanks stars in this modern animated classic, and takes on several different voice roles across the film. Not providing names for main characters is a risk (not to mention something you’d get a failing grade for in most creative writing classes!) but that doesn’t actually hamper The Polar Express. The nameless protagonists are arguably more relatable as a result, allowing the audience to project themselves onto the characters with ease.
There may have been a couple of Christmases when I was very young where I did, in fact, believe in Santa Claus (or Father Christmas, as we call him here in the UK). But my parents didn’t do the whole “all of your gifts come from Santa” thing, and among my earliest Christmas memories I can remember writing thank-you notes to family members for the gifts they’d given me. These things vary from family to family, though, and while I wouldn’t like to speak outside of my own experience, I think a lot of you probably have some recollection of believing in Santa Claus and subsequently losing that belief. It’s a theme that many different Christmas films have tackled – but The Polar Express gets it right. The protagonist learns, over the course of his adventures, to keep believing – a metaphor, perhaps, for valuing one’s childhood and remaining youthful.
I’ve always liked trains, and The Polar Express shows us a beautiful CGI rendition of an old-fashioned steam locomotive. Trains – model trains in particular – have somewhat of an association with Christmas, but this method of transporting kids to the North Pole was certainly unique! It gives The Polar Express a sense of adventure