Castlevania (Season 4): Out with a BANG – Netflix Review

The show, defying all odds, manages to wrap up everything pretty well in ten episodes.

SUMMARY (Spoilers)

Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage) is the last surviving member of the Belmont family, legendary monster hunters. He is brought out of semi-retirement and full-on alcoholism by the reappearance of Dracula (Graham McTavish), the most powerful vampire lord, who has now dedicated all of his resources to destroying humanity after they killed his wife, Lisa (Emily Swallow). Together with the magician Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso) and Dracula’s half-vampire son Alucard (James Callis), Trevor manages to kill Dracula and supposedly break up his army. Unfortunately, it turns out that many of Dracula’s followers have plans of their own, ranging from the scheming vampiress Carmilla (Jaime Murray) to the demon-conjuring forgemasters Isaac and Hector (Adetokumboh M’Cormack and Theo James). Trevor and Sypha manage to stop a group of evil monks from resurrecting Dracula with the help of the reality-hopping Count of Saint Germain (Bill Nighy). Unfortunately, it seems that a lot more people are trying to do the same thing and it’s up to Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard to finally put an end to the possibility of bringing back the lord of the dead as well as stopping Dracula’s agent Varney (Malcolm McDowell). 

These three show up together and it’s instantly a part.

END SUMMARY

At the end of Season 2 of Castlevania, Dracula is dead. Now, if you’ve played Castlevania games, you’d probably know that Dracula being dead never really stops him from being the villain. In fact, it’s canon that Dracula automatically comes back from Hell every 100 years even if nothing else brings him back in the interim. Only Ganondorf pulls off sequels with a greater level of regularity. However, the third season did a good job of establishing that there are other threats than Dracula in this world, particularly since a number of other vampires have been united via Dracula’s army and many of them have ambitions on a large scale. 

Dracula just giving 0 f*cks. For eternity.

It’s interesting that the show points out that, even though vampires often find different ways to justify it, almost all of them want to take over the world in order to control it and keep it from changing. Vampires are like everyone, they are born into a world that, three generations later, seems almost completely alien to them. While humans who live to 80 might feel like the world moved on, Vampires can live forever, so the feelings get even greater and the fear of change increases even more. It’s also interesting that Dracula is largely the exception to that rule, because he did try to change himself rather than stopping change, until the church killed his wife. I think it’s part of what makes him the head vampire, since he never stops acquiring new skills. 

Carmilla wants to overturn the gender balance, but then just imprison humanity forever.

After spending a season setting up so many other threats, primarily Isaac and Carmilla, the show manages to believably resolve all of the secondary antagonist’s arcs believably, mostly through character growth or self-sabotage, in order to bring us back to the thing that everyone wants to see… an attempt to bring back Dracula. This time, it seems like almost every group has some level of involvement in it. Throughout the series, there has been one Castlevania mainstay which has been conspicuously absent, and their reveal in connection with this revival is nothing short of amazing. 

No, not Varney (named after a cheap British vampire story that predates Dracula).

It helps that the season also focuses on making us more in tune with how Sypha, Trevor, and Alucard are feeling about their places in the world and how much they want to finally bring some level of peace to humanity, meaning when we see them back together again, we know they’re united in their cause. The show also kicks the action sequences up several notches, with a number of them being among the best animated fights I’ve seen in a long while. Creative, fast paced, and intensely focused, it’s clear that there was a lot of effort put into these and the last two are probably the best two, so it really feels like the show builds up as it goes.

It’s. A. Party.

Overall, just a great way to finish a series. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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The Mandalorian (Season 2): Finding Your Potential – Disney+ Review

After a pretty good first season, the show seems to be stepping up its game.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were some battles among celestial bodies. Five years after the Rebellion managed to destroy the second Death Star and kill the Emperor, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) is a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter. He is hired by a client (Werner F*CKING Herzog) to secure a bounty, which is revealed to be a small child of an unnamed species. The Mandalorian betrays the client and decides to protect the child, earning him a host of enemies all over the galaxy, most notably his allies Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris), Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), and the late Kuiil (Nick Nolte) as well as the ire of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito).  Eventually, he is charged by his clan’s armorer (Emily Swallow) with finding a home for the Child with its kind.  All kinds of fun surprises lie in store.

One of which is Timothy Olyphant being a badass space cowboy.

END SUMMARY

When I reviewed the first season of The Mandalorian, I definitely liked it, but I admit to still feeling like they hadn’t quite started fully tapping its potential. This second season started to step up its game a bit and I really appreciate it. 

It’s tough to improve on some things, though.

First, giving the Mandalorian an actual explicit goal beyond “keep the child alive” has given him motivation that he definitely needed. For all of the badass and bravado that we get from Din Djarin, he is a fairly void character. While it’s often fine to have a character onto whom the viewer can project, and having a character who is literally faceless facilitates that well, they still need personality. I think that they’ve done a great job expanding on that without having to use clunky exposition by showing how the Mandalorian handles his current task, particularly since it forces him to interact with people that he normally wouldn’t. 

Including other Mandalorians with different opinions.

Second, while the first season gave us a taste of life in the Star Wars universe for the more normal people, the second season has expanded on that both geographically and politically. It’s shown us monsters on a scale that really had only been alluded to before now. There are extra cultural touches to every planet and hazards that you wouldn’t normally consider for this kind of fantasy universe. It has the effect of giving us more of a frontier element to the series to complement its Western elements. Also, we start to get an idea of why, exactly, the new Republic is going to be put in danger again in The Force Awakens, due to their own incompetence. It turns out that the Empire, while it suppressed everyone through force and violence, did actually at least keep some of the lawlessness on the outer planets, which the Republic completely ignored, in check.

A creature that can swallow buildings is just the tip of the monster iceberg.

Third, they’ve been tying the show into the existing Star Wars mythos in JUST the right way. It was a big deal at the end of the first season to introduce the Darksaber, but this season has reintroduced multiple characters from other Star Wars properties. The key, though, is that none of the references or introductions have required the viewer to know the backstory. If you are familiar with it, then you get more out of the experience, but people I know who have never seen anything other than the films who have been enjoying the series thoroughly.

This shot contains no spoilers. The person he’s hunting would be a big one.

Overall, just a great step-up by Disney+ and I am hoping they keep it going.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Supernatural: One Last Ride – Netflix Review

After 15 years, the Winchester brothers finally come to the end of the road.

SUMMARY (Spoilers. So many spoilers)

Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) lost their mother, Mary (Samantha Smith), to a demon when Sam was a baby. Raised by their father, John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and his friend Bobby (Jim Beavers) to be monster hunters, Sam eventually left and tried to live a normal life. When John disappears, Dean and his brother reunite in order to find him. They then end up fighting a bunch of monsters before finally killing the demon that took their mother, Azazel (Frederic Lehne). Then they fight that demon’s boss, Lilith (Katherine Boecher). They’re joined by an angel named Castiel (Mischa Collins) and together they fight the Devil (Mark Pellegrino). Then they fight the archangel Raphael (Demore Barnes) and the Leviathans, monsters so horrible that God banished them to Limbo. Then it’s God’s scribe Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), a knight of Hell (Alaina Huffman), another king of Hell who is also a dead Scotsman named Crowley (Mark A. Sheppard), God’s evil sister (Emily Swallow), some Brits and the Devil again, the Devil’s son (sort of) (Alexander Calvert), and then finally they fight God himself (Rob Benedict).

But there was always Sam and Dean.

They die a lot, but eventually they actually manage to be the last men standing. 

END SUMMARY

Supernatural’s originally intended plotline ended ten years ago with the defeat of Lucifer and yet that didn’t even slow the show down. There’s a meme online that describes Supernatural as “redneck Dragonball Z” in the sense that every season we’re told that the thing that the boys are fighting is the biggest threat ever and yet the next season the threat is even bigger (with some exceptions). That’s not inaccurate, but the fact that eventually the enemy they fight is literally God (yes, the creator of everything himself) makes me respect the cliche more, since they carried this trend all the way to its logical, yet absurd, conclusion. Also, at least they had the good sense to kill off each of the characters multiple times (I think the Winchesters have died collectively at least a dozen times without counting time-loops), but then I remember that is ALSO a Dragonball Z thing. Maybe it’s that the two shows really contain one very similar theme. Both series are about the ability for people to grow and overcome any challenges through effort and determination. 

Also, there’s some later plotlines on time-travel and alternate universes.

That theme may be the thing that I most like about the series. In Supernatural, there is always a solution to any problem if you work hard enough and learn enough. It’s not just that the Winchesters kick a lot of monster butt, they also constantly are dedicated to reading the lore about all of the enemies that they fight. Sure, ultimately, they have to stand their ground against a horrible monster and stab it through the heart with a thrice-blessed shard of obsidian or whatever, but what worthwhile problem can you solve without exposing yourself to danger? It’s not like the boys always know they’ll come back from the dead, in fact they often assume it’s the last time, but they still stand up and fight the good fight. They hunker down, read a ton of books on the subject, formulate a plan, then put everything on the line to solve it. I FEEL LIKE THERE’S A SOLID LESSON CONTAINED IN THIS.

Rowena literally studies enough to end up a queen.

Then there’s Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. Without them, this show would have failed outright. Their chemistry is as good as any onscreen couple, which is possibly part of why people have shipped them together despite their characters being siblings who have nothing but brotherly affections. Everything about their interplay tends to work, from the comedy to the drama to the tense emotional moments. When they added Mischa Collins, rather than detracting from the duo, it heightened it by giving the pair more time to show how they interact with other close parties. Dean and Castiel may be close as it gets (possibly in canon), but his relationship with Sam is still distinct. No matter what guests showed up, and there were some great ones, the core was still Sam and Dean.

Although Felicia Day could have gotten her own show.

I’m going to opine briefly on the final episode of the show, so if you don’t want spoilers, just know that I will always recommend this series to anyone who likes fantasy. Even if you don’t like some of the episodes, and there are some that are definitely weaker than others (*Cough* racist truck *cough*), the series as a whole is strong. It didn’t last 15 years for nothing.

Not the best part of the show.

As to the finale, I know a lot of people were disappointed. I will admit that I wasn’t happy with it either, but I do have to say I understood why it was a let down and I don’t think it was actually the fault of the show. If you aren’t living under a rock or reading this in the year 2045, you are probably aware that in 2020 the world was struck by a pandemic known as Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and much of the planet was forced to avoid large gatherings of people. You know what usually requires a large amount of people in a single place? Filming a television show. Even with the final drone shot of the series in which the cast and crew say goodbye to the audience, there was a clearly reduced number of people present for the shoot. And I think that’s what really caused the problem for the finale. 

Fortunately, Impalas can’t get Covid.

I think what they were going for, an episode dedicated solely to Sam and Dean, was actually a great way to send off the series. Their bond, as I said, was what kept the show going. The decision to ***SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS*** kill Dean off for real was basically inevitable. Dean Winchester was never going to quit fighting until he could literally fight no more. Sam, on the other hand, could live a normal life. It was inevitable that Dean would go first, particularly since he spent his whole looking after Sam. I wasn’t upset by that and I was genuinely kind of moved by the scene between them. I also appreciated the cameo by Christine Chatelain from season one as well as by Jim Beavers as the “real” Bobby Singer, but the fact is that for a show that lasted 15 years to only give us two cameos in the last episode while name-dropping a half dozen others is a bit of a let-down. The absence of Castiel, Jack, and Mary Winchester was especially notable. However, I think that really just comes down to the impossible choice that the show had: Finish with who was willing and able to be quarantined to shoot the finale safely (within the budget they have for the episode), or just don’t finish the show. They couldn’t reasonably ask for everyone to just come back after COVID was over, because there was no telling when that will be. So, they had to scale it back to what they could get. The final “drive” montage was even the perfect time to show all of the old familiar faces one last time and have those final send-off scenes, but they couldn’t pull it off. I think the show deserves credit for trying and forgiveness for having a logistically impossible task. And while it might have been a bit of a let down, it wasn’t a BAD episode. It was just smaller than it should have been.

Everything about this shot is majestic. Especially the paychecks.

Overall, I still love the show. It’s been around almost my entire adult life, and I will miss it dearly.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Netflix Review – Castlevania Seasons 1 & 2 (Spoiler-Free on Season 2)

Yesterday, The Adventure Zone podcast did a Halloween special which had a reference to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night that I just couldn’t stop laughing at, even though it was so straightforward. But, either way, I decided to do a bonus review of Castlevania in their honor.

Netflix decided to take a shot at every other studio out there by adapting a video game and, despite all of the past history of adapting video games to a narrative (Phoenix Wright notwithstanding), did it really well. Admittedly, the history of adapting video games to television (particularly cartoon series) is much stronger than to the big screen, but those were mostly aimed towards children. This is very much aimed towards people who played the original Castlevania games on the NES, all of whom are now adults.

Castlevania - 1SuperCastlevania.jpg
Or, if you’re like me, on the SNES.

SUMMARY

Vlad Tepes Dracula (Graham McTavish) is… You f*cking know who Dracula is. Well, he’s out there Dracking it up when he is visited by a young woman named Lisa (Emily Swallow) who wishes to be a doctor and believes that Dracula would be the person who would know the most about human medicine, as he has collected books for centuries on every subject and read them all. Not only is she correct, surprisingly, but her resolve towards science and medicine takes Dracula off-guard and he ends up falling in love with her and marrying her. She tries to teach him of the positive traits of humanity and he begins to soften.

Castlevania - 2DracLisa.png
A surprisingly solid relationship for a vampire and a snack.

Unfortunately, twenty-ish years later, Lisa is accused of being a witch (because she’s a doctor and a woman) and is burned at the stake. This leads Dracula to declare that he will spend one year creating an army of the damned, after which he will kill everyone in Wallachia, the kingdom that murdered her. The phrase “Y’all done f*cked up now” comes to mind. Sure enough, one year later, he kills everyone in the town in a gruesome fashion and declares war on humanity. All the noble houses get blamed, including a house known as Belmont.

Castlevania - 3DracFire.png
When this is how the guy tells you you’re screwed, YOU ARE SCREWED.

A few months later, Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), the last of a line of monster hunters, is broke and drunk in a city that is besieged by the forces of darkness every night. The clergy (who started this whole mess) have used this as an opportunity to take power in the area, claiming to be the only force capable of repelling the evil, and blame a group of traveling magic users called the Speakers for Dracula’s assault. Trevor saves some of the Speakers and is told by the Elder (Tony Amendola) that there is a “sleeping soldier” beneath the city who may help save them. The Elder’s granddaughter already sought the soldier but has not returned. Trevor goes below the city and finds a cyclops guarding a crypt. Trevor slays the monster, which releases one of his petrified victims, the Elder’s granddaughter Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso). The pair continue and eventually discover the sleeping soldier is none other than Dracula’s half-human son, Adrian Tepes or “Alucard” (James Callis), who was wounded fighting his father a year prior. The three join forces to stop Dracula’s army from wiping out humanity.

Castlevania - 4Trio.png
Cosplayers are getting aroused at this photo.

END SUMMARY

If I just watched Season 1 of this show, I’d say it was only kind of good. The first season has some great character designs, good action sequences, decent dialogue at some points, and the Bishop (Matt Frewer) is one of the most deeply despicable characters on film, overshadowing Dracula as an antagonist. However, the show doesn’t really hit its stride until Season 2, when you start to have Dracula’s War Council interacting and Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard bantering. All of the dialogue suddenly gets sharper and better, mostly because of all of the conflicting philosophies and backstories.

The show is, so far, an adaptation of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, something that was a great decision. It’s the first game chronologically, except for Castlevania: Lament of Innocence which doesn’t have Dracula in it, and was the first one to have multiple characters, giving the writers more to work with. I was surprised that they cut out the character of Grant Danasty, the pirate from the game, but maybe he’ll come back later. Still, even without him, we’re not short on great characters on either the hero or villain sides. As with most good series, most of the characters aren’t morally black and white, they’re all fairly flawed and driven by their own wants and histories. For example, two of Dracula’s Generals, Hector and Isaac (Theo James and Adetokumboh M’Cormack), are humans who have decided to side against humanity because of their personal histories, and Isaac’s backstory in particular will just hit you right in the heart.

Castlevania - 5DraculasCurse.png
Man, this game cover was awesome in the 80s.

The animation style is a tribute to one of the most popular games in the series, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which gives it a strong anime influence, but still with a lot of gothic European character designs. The fight scenes look like elaborate video game cut-scenes, which is exactly what they should look like. The combat involving Alucard is particularly impressive, because his fighting style is literally impossible to do in reality.

Overall, I hope that they keep this series going. There are so many more interesting stories that can be told in the Castlevania universe. They’ve set up several more at the end of Season 2, and Dracula literally always comes back in the games, so they can reuse him as much as they need.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.