The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman’s teen hero comes to the small screen.
Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) is the son of realtor Debbie Grayson (Sandra Oh) and writer Nolan Grayson (J.K. Simmons). Oh, and Nolan is actually Omni-Man, the world’s greatest superhero. Before his 18th birthday, Mark finally gets his superpowers and adopts the superhero moniker of Invincible. Now armed with flight, superstrength, superspeed, and the ability to make bad jokes mid-fight, Mark tries to live up to his father’s example. He works with the Teen Team, a group comprised of the Robot (Zachary Quinto), Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs), Rex Splode (Jason Mantzoukas), and Dupli-Kate (Malese Jow). Shortly after this, the Guardians of the Globe, the most powerful superteam on the planet, are killed, leading the world to need the Teen Team and Invincible to start picking up the slack, as new threats seem to be constantly on the rise.
I loved the Invincible comic, as it was a story in which the main character dealt with real problems, hero problems, and the intersection between what a superhero is supposed to do and what would actually help people. Mark grows a lot over the series in believable ways that sometimes reflect his loss of idealism and often demonstrate that this loss allows him to evolve his sense of right and wrong without being broken by the weight of trying to take on the world’s problems. Also, the writing was pretty funny. Naturally, when I heard it was getting an animated adaptation, I was very excited, but also concerned. Invincible, while it was well-done and liked by many comic fans, didn’t have a lot of mainstream success. Typically, this means two things can happen in an adaptation: Either they’ll change everything (hoping the new version gets more attention) or they’ll just adapt it as closely as possible (since not enough people know what’s going to happen for it to matter).
Fortunately, this show seems to be eschewing both of those and giving a mostly-faithful adaptation with enough differences that comic fans will not be sure where it’s going. The story is mostly the same as the comics, so far, dealing with Mark trying to come to terms with being a superhero and also being a teenager. His insecurities about living up to his father’s example are a bit more exaggerated in the show, but that will likely change a bit during this season. There’s a mystery angle going on in the series that didn’t really happen in the comics and I’m excited to see if they play it out the same.
The voice cast in this show is as good as it gets, possibly rivaled only by DuckTales (woo-oo). Steven Yeun gives a ton of extra personality to Mark and J.K. Simmons as Superman with a mustache is nothing short of awesome. The supporting cast of the Teen Team has a ton of talent, and their expanded roster includes veteran voice actors Grey Griffin and Khary Payton. Walton Goggins plays the uptight and slightly shady head of the Global Defense Agency, Zazie Beetz plays Mark’s love interest Amber, and there are too many other great cameos and recurring performances to count, including Mahershala Ali, Clancy Brown, and Mark Hamill (Applause).
Overall, give this show a shot if you like solid superhero stories. I can’t wait for it to keep going.
This cinematic mistake has never been released officially and that’s for the best.
SUMMARY (Spoilers, but you should be thanking me)
Look, here’s the damn video:
It’s Life Day, which is apparently like Wookie Christmas. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is trying to get Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) home to his wife, Malla (Mickey Morton), his father, Itchy (Paul Gale), and his son, Lumpy (Patty Maloney). Most of the special is dealing with the family waiting for his return. Malla contacts Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill *Applause*) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker wasn’t in this, but he’s awesome and I’m putting his name here), who explains that Chewy already left with Han. Malla contacts the trader Saun Dann (Art Carney), who tells her that Han is on the way and heads out toward her house. Malla watches Chef Gormaanda (Harvey Korman) demonstrate cooking a Bantha loin. Saun arrives with a VR program as a gift for Itchy that features Diahann Carroll and is uncomfortably erotic. The Imperials arrive at the house searching for Chewbacca and Saun distracts them with a VR performance by Jefferson Starship.
Malla keeps Lumpy distracted with a cartoon featuring the adventures of the cast of Star Wars meeting Boba Fett (Don “Iron Buffalo” Francks). A video is played by the Imperials announcing that Tatooine is being placed under curfew, represented by Ackmena (Bea Arthur), the Mos Eisley Bartender, having to kick out her clients while singing. Lumpy creates a translation device that mimics the voice of the Imperial commander and tricks the stormtroopers into leaving. One stormtrooper sees through it and attacks Lumpy, only for Han to arrive and kill him. Saun covers for the dead trooper and the whole group joins Luke, Leia (Carrie “Space Mom” Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 at the Tree of Life church “Our Lady of WRaaaaaaagh.” Leia gives a short speech and a song, then the Wookies sit down to eat.
There’s also a crazy troupe of mummers, a bad instruction manual featuring Harvey Korman, and enough drugs to put a charging rhino down.
This is the third time I’ve seen this special. It seemed bad when I was a teenager and some people from my school had a bootleg. It seemed really bad when I was in college and a friend of mine showed it while we were drunk. It somehow was even worse when I watched it this time, probably because I was mostly sober. That was a mistake.
Almost everything in this is astonishingly bad and it’s bad in the worst way. Someone said it was written by a sentient bag of cocaine and I find that to be completely untrue. If it was a bag of cocaine it would likely have been alert, wild, and interestingly off-kilter (cards on the table, I haven’t done cocaine, but I’ve been with people who have). This was crazy, but in a lazy way where everything is left on the screen for so long that any charm it might have had slowly dies a painful death. It’s like it was written by a sentient barrel of laudanum.
It’s all about the tolerance we have for these scenes. Wookies talking without subtitles is fine as long as you either A) have someone who can clue us in or B) the conversations are completely clear from their body language and actions. In this case, some of the wookie-only scenes are so long that I assume there was a discussion of either baseball statistics or the plot of Inception. The mummer troupe goes from “kind of amusing” to “way too creepy.” In two entirely different bits, Harvey Korman, one of the funniest people alive, is forced to stretch for time. My only conclusion is that this was written for one hour and then they were spontaneously told that the Love Boat had sank or something, so they had to fill double the time. It’s just painful how everything goes on well past what you would have tolerated. Even if the scenes had been good, 10 minutes of watching a four-armed chef is just going to get old.
Then there are the other, much more bizarre moments. For example, the video program that Itchy watches is pretty clearly the Star Wars version of pornography. My first thought on re-watch is “oh damn, they still dragged poor Diahann Carroll into this.” It would be bad enough to just watch some of the things she says into the camera, but Itchy’s reaction shots ratchet it up from “uncomfortable” to “nightmare-inducing.” The same is true of many of Lumpy’s facial movements. I’m not going to take shots at Stan Winston or at Patty Maloney, I’m just going to say that someone, somewhere, needed to realize the only solution to this costume issue was fire and lots of it. It’s like I’m seeing into the eyes of a damned soul and now I feel only cold. I swear I thought I had a heart attack during some parts of this because my body started going numb.
It doesn’t help that so much of the film is based around watching people watching things as the framing device. Diahann Carroll, Jefferson Starship, the cartoon, etc. are all things that are being watched by the characters. It’s a conceit designed to work the guests into the story, but it’s kind of a terrible one and it really makes you question how media promulgates in the Star Wars universe. Since Star Wars doesn’t really seem to have pop culture or media in any other incarnation, it makes it even more glaringly awkward to inject weird modern-day references.
Overall, this is just so very bad. It’s almost worth seeing just to recognize how bad it is. It’s astonishing that something like this ever got made.
And since she requested that I watch it, here’s a forced commentary from The Faceless Old Woman that Lives on my Couch:
What more is there to say about this work of cinema? I spent most of it wondering “is something going to happen soon?” I was told that was the theme of this special. I’d wanted to see this because it seemed like everyone else had. Everyone had told me it was very bad and never to watch it, but I didn’t really understand. Given what I knew of Star Wars, I assumed it was just very cheesy and not very good. I couldn’t have conceived of how BAD it was, though. Maybe if someone had just explained to me that it is not like a regular piece of Star Wars media, where there is a story and the characters do things in the story – it is meant to be like a variety show. How could I have predicted the uninterpreted Wookie? That the characters everyone likes would barely be in it? The perm machine that’s actually a VR porn viewer? It’s truly an accomplishment to make Star Wars deeply disturbing and NOT entertaining, but they did it! The best thing about it is Mark Hamill in eyeliner and hearing my boyfriend repeatedly moan, “I didn’t know I could be this dead inside.” I’m going to finish this eggnog and try to forget about what I saw.
Jack Sullivan (Nick Wolfhard) is a teenager and one of the only survivors of an apocalypse that brings forth a horde of zombies and eldritch monsters. He soon joins up with his tech genius best friend Quint (Garland Whitt), former bully Dirk (Charles Demers), and his crush and ace warrior June (Montserrat Hernandez) in order to start taking out the bigger threats and make the apocalypse more bearable. They’re joined by the mutant dog Rover (Brian Drummond). Soon, they find out that other sentient monsters were pulled into our world, including the expert hunter Skaelka (Catherine O’Hara), wizard Bardle (Mark Hamill), chef… Chef (Bruce Campbell), and leader Thrull (Keith David). Thrull soon betrays the group in order to summon the dark goddess Rezzoch (Rosario Dawson), but Jack and crew manage to stop him. The world is a little bit safer, but Rezzoch is now looking for a new way in, and she will stop at nothing.
When this show first came out, I compared it to the other then-recent “kids in the apocalypse” show, Daybreak. Well, this show has now gotten two more seasons with awesome new regulars while Daybreak got cancelled, so I guess we know who won. Honestly, I wish they’d continued both, but I admit that this show has kept things fresh as it keeps going.
A big part of why it still works is that they’ve given each of the characters deeper arcs that expand on their initial characterization. Jack gamifies the world and tries to make everyone happy because he is afraid of being left behind. June keeps people at a distance because she’s focused on her missing family. Dirk, who is accustomed to being the biggest guy around, now finds himself outclassed by the monsters and wants to regain his position. Quint is nervous about keeping everyone happy because he thinks people only want him for what he can do, not who he is. These feel like real people with real flaws and their interactions are all heightened by desperation.
The monsters are also amazing. They’re simpler characters in some ways, each mostly matching a traditional fantasy archetype, but that makes it all the more interesting when they reveal something that subverts your expectations. The fact that they all have great voice actors is a huge bonus. The show has used the fact that their main characters are mostly genre savvy as a way to work in pop culture references, but with the presence of actual sci-fi/fantasy/horror legends on the cast, you knew that some in-jokes were made. Campbell and Hamill have a great interaction in this season that made me laugh for a solid minute only because it was the joke that had to be made.
Overall, solid series for kids and adults, glad it’s still going.
I take a look at what might be the best Batman film.
A group of mob bosses, including Chuckie Sol (Dick Miller), are planning to launder a bunch of fake bills through a casino. They’re ambushed by Batman (Kevin Conroy), who takes out most of the thugs as Sol escapes to his car. He’s met in the parking garage by a different figure, the Phantasm (Stacy Keach), who appears to be an embodiment of Death itself. Sol tries to kill the Phantasm, but ends up driving off of the edge of the garage and dying. People at the scene see Batman looking out over the wreck and assume he was responsible. Local politician Arthur Reeves (Hart Bochner) tells the media that Batman is a menace, despite Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) saying that Batman doesn’t kill people. Later, the Phantasm murders another mob boss, Buzz Bronski (John P. Ryan), and Bronski’s goons believe Batman did it.
At the same time, Andrea Beaumont (Dana “I was Lois Lane” Delaney), one of Bruce’s oldest flames, returns. We see in flashbacks that Andrea met Bruce when he was first trying to start his career as a crimefighter. The two grew close, to the point that Bruce even asked her to marry him and thought about abandoning his quest to be a vigilante. However, Andrea left the country with her father, Carl (Keach), and broke up with Bruce via a letter. Believing that he has lost his last chance at a happy life, Bruce finally becomes Batman. While investigating Bronski’s death as Batman, Andrea sees him next to the Wayne grave, leading her to realize that Bruce is Batman. Bruce later discovers a photo linking Andrea’s father to the two dead gangsters and a third mob boss, Sal “The Weezer” Valestra (Abe Vigoda).
Valestra sees the reports of Batman killing the mobsters and goes to seek help from the Joker (Mark Hamill). The Joker tells Valestra that he’s going to help him, but when the Phantasm arrives at Valestra’s house, Joker has killed the aged mob boss and used his body as a bomb after strapping a camera to the corpse. When the building blows up, Batman meets the Phantasm, who escapes and leaves the police to chase Batman. He narrowly evades capture with the help of Andrea, who admits that she left with her father because he stole from the three mobsters. Batman now believes that Carl is the phantasm, but also discovers that there is one more target: the man who later became the Joker was Valestra’s chauffeur. Joker, now aware that the murderer isn’t Batman, goes to confront Reeves, who used to work for Carl Beaumont, and gasses him with Joker toxin after suspecting that Reeves might be the Phantasm. Batman confronts Reeves, who reveals that he leaked Andrea and Carl’s location to the mob after they refused to fund his first campaign.
*** MASSIVE SPOILER. THIS IS ON NETFLIX, YOU MIGHT WANT TO JUST WATCH THE MOVIE, BUT IT’S STILL GREAT EVEN IF YOU KNOW THE TWIST***
The Phantasm tracks Joker to his hideout, where the Joker reveals he’s figured out the identity of the killer: Andrea. She intends to kill all of the mobsters as vengeance for killing her father, something that the Joker apparently did personally when he was still “normal.” Batman, who has also figured out that Andrea is the Phantasm, arrives as the Joker has her on the ropes. After saving her, Batman and the Joker fight to a stalemate, with the Joker revealing that his lair is wired to blow. Andrea grabs the Joker and holds him, telling Bruce goodbye as flames erupt around her. Later, Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) consoles Bruce, saying that he walks the edge of darkness, but hasn’t fallen in, while Andrea fell long ago. Bruce finds Andrea’s locket in the cave. Meanwhile, Andrea, who survived, leaves the country on a boat.
I picked this one as my choice for “A Film Based on a TV Show” for three reasons. First, because this movie got screwed over and it needs to get all the respect and viewership it can get. Second, because Batman: The Animated Series was amazing. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, the minds behind it, revolutionized superhero shows. Last, because most other films based on TV shows suck unless they’re comedies.
If you grew up in the 1990s, you probably remember Batman: The Animated Series. It was one of the darkest cartoons that was on TV at the time, both literally and figuratively. The animation was so dark that they frequently found it cheaper to buy black paper and draw the white parts over it. In terms of content, it frequently dealt with themes of mortality, loss, the nature of evil, and the general unfairness of life, things that children’s TV shows just flat-out didn’t address back then. It also had great action sequences, great writing, and an abundance of imagination in characters and plotlines. It still holds up as being one of the greatest animated series of all time, and I put one of the episodes on my list of the greatest television episodes of all time. This film was their attempt to bring that creativity to the big screen and it should have been the Batman movie of the decade. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite get its due, losing money at the box office.
When the team started making the film, it was supposed to be a direct-to-video release. Soon, Warner Brothers decided to make it a theatrical film. Moreover, they decided that it was going to be released on Christmas Day of that same year, 1993. This meant that they had eight months to make the movie. For perspective, Disney typically gives four years to make an animated film. Moreover, Warner Brothers decided, after dumping a ton of money into making the film to compensate for the short time frame, to save money by cutting the marketing budget for the film. This is generally considered a stupid, stupid move, especially when the movie already had been rushed so much that it hadn’t really had time to generate buzz. Despite the fact that it was a Batman movie based on a massive hit show right after the show’s first season ended, only a year after Batman Returns had been one of the biggest moneymakers of all time, this movie was promoted for less than two months at less than half the rate of other films. Coming from someone who was a Batman-obsessed kid at the time, I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THIS MOVIE WAS COMING OUT. Hell, Siskel and Ebert missed it. Moreover, they rushed the toys from the film into development so fast that they accidentally released a figuring of the Phantasm in November… marketed with the secret identity on display. Yeah, they destroyed the great mystery of the movie a month before it even came out. Great job, WB.
The key to this movie is that it’s really the one threat that we never see Batman deal with: Happiness. Batman always is depicted as a dark, wounded soul who is trying to seek justice and vengeance upon the world as a way to deal with his pain. But, in this movie, we see him actually question his vow and whether it’s worthwhile because he actually finds himself being happy with Andrea. There’s a climactic scene in which he is at his parents’ grave, telling them that he can’t be Batman if there’s someone to go home to. He offers to help the city financially instead (gee, what an idea), but he can’t risk his life, and doesn’t want to, if he’s not miserable. It’s a great way to show that there are really layers between Bruce Wayne and Batman and that the interplay between them is part of what makes the character so strong.
Possibly the greatest decision in the movie, though, was including the Joker. Mark Hamill’s Joker is usually considered to be the best iteration of the character, and adding him in during the second act, despite him originally seeming to be unconnected to the central conflict, was a master stroke. None of the mobsters or the Phantasm could possibly have justified the magnificent set piece of the “City of the Future” for the final fight sequences, and only the Joker could have provided the comic relief to off-set the violence. Plus, the final shot of the Joker laughing as he awaits his death by explosion is amazing, particularly since it’s accompanied by a powerful choir crescendo.
Overall, this movie is amazing and I really wish it got the respect it’s due at the time, but you can at least relive your childhood with one of the few parts that will hold up well by watching this.
Not to be confused with the terrible live action film. Or the other live action film with blue cat people.
Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony, each possessing some citizens who had the ability to control, or “bend,” their respective elements. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them. But when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and two children from the water tribe, Katara (Mae Whitman) and Sokka (Jack DeSena), discover a young boy trapped in an iceberg. It turns out that this boy is Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen), the most recent reincarnation of the Avatar. He was frozen for a century, during which time Fire Lord Ozai (Mark Hamill *Applause*), the new head of the fire nation, has been slowly attempting to dominate all four of the nations, having wiped out all of the Air Nomads, the benders of the Air nation, except for Aang. Together, the three set off to try and save the world. They are pursued by the Fire Prince Zuko (Dante “Rufio” Basco) and his sweet-hearted uncle, Iroh (Mako *May He Reign Forever*), as they journey through the water, earth, and fire nations. They are eventually joined by the blind Earthbender Toph Beifong (Jessie Flower) and opposed further by Zuko’s sister Azula (Grey DeLisle).
While I always have a soft spot for Disney and have to admire the number of good series that they have put forth over the years, including now, they have sometimes played it too safe. Even during the 80s and 90s, when Disney shows dominated the afternoon cartoon lineup, most of them were, in retrospect, pretty formulaic, from the stories to the characters to the art style. There were exceptions, of course, like Gargoyles, but for the most part they all kind of looked the same and felt the same. You could tell they all were cut from the same cloth. Then there was Nickelodeon, who due to starting out by importing cartoons from multiple different cultures, decided to take things in another direction with Nicktoons. If you can remember this far back, think about the fact that the same studio made the gross and shocking Ren and Stimpy, the slice-of-life Doug, the surprisingly lovable Rugrats, the brilliant and dark Invader Zim, and the zany Angry Beavers. If I’ve missed one of your favorites, sorry, but my point is that all of those shows were massively different, from tone to art style to audience, but Nickelodeon was willing to give them a chance. Avatar was no different, in that it was completely different.
Taking inspiration from anime for its art style and Wuxia martial arts films for its fighting sequences, Avatar forged a world that was simultaneously easy to understand and yet so complex that it kept you wanting to know more about it. Part of that was that it always blended together different storytelling elements and artistic styles while still celebrating and honoring what made each of the originals great. Each of the four nations was inspired by a real life culture, with the Water Tribes being based on Arctic tribes, like the Inuits, the Earth kingdom being based on Imperial China, and the Air Nomads being monks based on Tibetan or Shaolin Monks. The Fire Nation’s a little harder to nail down, but I think that’s because as a conquering empire, they’ve blended a ton of cultures together. Despite the fact that characters from each of these nations work together towards a common goal, their cultures are always respected and honored for their own unique traits. Given that the central villain in the series is an empire trying to destroy everyone that isn’t them, it’s safe to say that the concept of respecting other people’s heritage was going to be a central theme of the show, despite how much of a minefield that can be.
Part of what makes me love Avatar was that as the show went on, it stopped trying to give definitive, easy answers to issues. For example, a character seeks revenge on the person who killed their mother, but finds out that the murderer is just a pathetic coward. They decide not to kill the murderer, because he’s not worth it, but also refuse to ever forgive him. And that’s just where it stays. Sometimes you can’t force yourself to forgive someone. You can stop letting that pain dictate your actions, but that doesn’t mean that you have to pretend that things can ever be right. That’s not a typical message for a show like this and the show is filled with them. There are messages about overzealous dedication to a cause, dealing with abuse, nationalism, and a major one about propaganda. Also one about coping with your girlfriend becoming the moon, but that’s not super common.
Rather than ever start to devolve into simpler, Flanderized versions of their characters, Avatar constantly kept building more and more complexity into them. They actually keep growing to the point that in the third season, towards the end of the show, there is an episode that lampoons how much more basic they were at the beginning. To that end, I do have to warn you that some of the earlier Avatar episodes are a little weak. Honestly, I don’t think the show gets going until episode 12, “The Storm,” and that is a long time to wait. I can’t even tell you to skip them (aside from “The Great Divide,” which everyone should skip) because they all set up for stuff that pays off later. However, it is absolutely worth a little bit of boredom to eventually find out what this show grows into.
It’s on Netflix right now, at least for a little while, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The kid-friendly apocalypse returns with Keith David, Bruce Campbell, and Mark Hamill.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for Book 1)
It was a normal day, up until a bunch of portals to other dimensions opened up and allowed a number of nightmarish horrors onto the Earth… or at least around Wakefield, Indiana. Zombies, mutant insects, giant eldritch abominations, you name it, it’s destroying the town. Many people escaped, many more were turned into zombies, but four kids were trapped in the town: Video gamer and natural leader Jack Sullivan (Nick Wolfhard), bully and strongman Dirk Savage (Charles Demers), action girl June Del Toro (Montserrat Hernandez), and tech nerd Quint Baker (Garland Whitt). Together with their pet mega-dog Rover, they managed to defeat the giant alpha monster Blarg.
Now, the four have to deal with the fact that there are a number of humanoid and sentient monsters who have come here from other dimensions who are trying to find their way home. They’re led by the warrior Thrull (Keith David) and include such members as the Chef (Bruce Campbell), the gruff Bardle (Mark Hamill “Applause”), and the deadly Skaelka (Catherine O’Hara). Unfortunately, it seems that an evil being called Rezzoch (Rosario Dawson), is also trying to find her way to Earth.
I have to give the show credit for completely changing the structure of the show during the second season. First off, the show is now made up of episodes rather than just a single film. This gives the show more time to do subplots and b-plots which help when you have a cast of this size, particularly now that there are other characters they can interact with. Second, rather than just being a survival story in the dystopia, now the characters have a set of goals involved in preventing the arrival of Rezzoch.
The four person group dynamic is an old one and it plays out well here. They map roughly onto the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles model, with the leader (Jack), the “does machines” guy (Quint), the cool but rude (June), and the idiot (Dirk). I also appreciate that they have a lot of moments where they each step outside of their expected model. They also do play up some more of the realities of being teenagers who are now living in the apocalypse, even though they are still handling it better than most people would.
Overall, it’s a pretty solid show… also, it has Keith David, Mark Hamill, and Bruce Campbell.
For my 500th Review, I’m doing the one movie I swore never to touch.
There are wars! In the stars!
Right after the end of the last film, the First Order attacks the Resistance base. General Leia Organa (Carrie “on, dear wayward space mom” Fisher) orders the base to evacuate. It turns out that the First Order can track them, so the evacuation doesn’t do much more than buy time. Leia gets shot into space, but manages to save herself through Force Pulling in Zero Gravity (any other explanation is terrible). Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura “I Kissed Ellen” Dern) takes over while she recovers. Running out of fuel, the rest of the fleet tries to outrun the First Order.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy “Not Peach” Ridley) attempts to talk Luke Skywalker (Hey Kids, It’s Mark Hamill) into helping the Resistance, but he declines to aid and believes that the Jedi Order needs to end. He ends up agreeing to give Rey some lessons in the Force. Rey finds herself communicating with Kylo Ren (Adam “I’m trying harder than everyone else” Driver) using the Force despite not really understanding how. It’s revealed that Kylo Ren betrayed Luke after Luke contemplated killing Kylo after Snoke (Andy “Bread and” Serkis) started speaking with Kylo (how close he actually came is debated). Rey thinks she can save Kylo from the dark side, so she leaves. Luke is counseled by the spirit of Yoda (Frank “Miss Piggy” Oz) to learn from his failure.
Meanwhile to the meanwhile, Poe Dameron (Oscar “The Grouch” Isaac) sends Finn (John “You ship them” Boyega), Rose the mechanic (Be nicer to Kelly Marie Tran, internet), and BB-8 to find a way to deactivate the First Order’s tracking device. They’re told that there is only one person in the Galaxy with the skills. They head to Canto Bight, the space Las Vegas, and don’t find that person, instead meeting a hacker who also has the skills in prison named DJ (Benecio Del Toro). Finn, Rose, and DJ infiltrate the First Order flagship and get captured by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), the only Stormtrooper with the budget for useful armor. Rey finds Kylo who brings her to Snoke, who claims he connected Rey and Kylo to find Luke.
Vice Admiral Holdo plans to evacuate the Resistance. Poe, thinking that’s the cowardly act, leads a mutiny that ends when Leia shoots him. Holdo stays on the main ship and tries to buy the evacuation time, but DJ betrays the people who he just met while in prison and tells the First Order what’s happening. The First Order blows up a bunch of the small ships that they’re using to evacuate. Snoke orders Kylo to kill Rey, but he kills Snoke instead. Rey and Kylo fight together, then against each other. Holdo sacrifices herself by accelerating to light speed and destroying the flagship, crippling the First Order fleet. Kylo takes over the First Order. Finn, Rose, and BB-8 kill Phasma then rejoin the Resistance survivors on planet Crait. Finn prepares to sacrifice himself to buy time, but Rose stops him.
Luke Skywalker appears before the First Order and confronts them, buying time for the Resistance to escape. Despite an army firing at him, Luke appears to be unscathed. Kylo Ren challenges him to a duel, but discovers that Luke is just a Force projection. Luke then passes away. On Canto Bight, a group of stablehands who helped Finn and Rose escape talk about the Resistance, and one uses the Force to move a broom. It never gets brought up again, but I’m sure the figurine for that kid sells for a lot.
So, I acknowledge that I was poisoned against this movie before I saw it. One of my family members called me after seeing the premiere and said “White. Ford. Bronco. Chase.” I knew it was a reference to the OJ Simpson police chase, but I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. Unfortunately, once I saw it, I couldn’t un-see it, because that’s what a lot of this movie is: a low-speed chase where the parties conveniently always maintain an enforced distance that doesn’t make sense. The focus on this element led me to join a bit of the crowd decrying this as a terrible film. However, I also disliked most of the groups of people that were crapping on the film, so I decided this would forever be the one film I would not give an opinion on.
Then, I had to think of something special to commemorate the 500th review, so congratulations to all of you for getting to hear my opinion about a movie that is now 3 years old and completely out of the zeitgeist. So, let’s get to it:
I once said that the closest thing I could get to my feelings on this film were contained in my review of the Breaking Bad episode “Fly.” That episode, also by Rian Johnson, is amazingly well-shot, contains some of the best interactions between the leads in the show, is perfectly performed, has some of the best dialogue in TV history, and completely destroys a lot of what the rest of the series built up. This movie is the same: It’s a great movie, but a terrible Star Wars film.
First, let’s say why this is a good movie.
Artistically, this is the best-shot Star Wars film. One of Rian Johnson’s strengths is his grasp of quality cinematography and this movie is no exception. Since its inspiration was in the Republic Serials of the 1930s and ‘40s, the franchise often had relied on the same kind of straight-forward camerawork with most of the beauty and art coming from the scenery and matte work. This film, instead, makes use of more dramatic framing and shot progression. Some of the scenes, particularly the fight scene in Snoke’s throne room and the silent shot following Holdo’s maneuver, are nothing short of beautiful. Even the scenes of the speeders on the salt plains are more visually stimulating than most of the settings of Star Wars.
In terms of dialogue, this film has a lot of great exchanges. The style is energetic, like The Force Awakens, but also has more willingness to play with itself. Rey and Kylo Ren’s exchanges are particularly well-done, with each using a linguistic style that represents their position. Rey uses emotional language while Kylo is blunter and more aggressive. It also has a lot of decent jokes that, if I wasn’t so blinded by rage during my first viewing, probably would have elicited a chuckle. Now, does it have any lines as good as The Empire Strikes Back? Well, no, but neither does most of the Criterion Collection and they’re still considered art.
In terms of performances… well, that’s tough. Star Wars is not Shakespeare and it’s not supposed to be (unless you read the Star Wars Shakespeare books). It always is meant to have a pulp feel, with characters who are more wildly expressive, like Han Solo. In that sense, everyone does a great job except for Adam Driver, who unfortunately thought he was in a much, much more sophisticated film. Seriously, he has a level of subtlety that is generally overlooked by these kinds of films, and while it’s impressive, it’s also somewhat jarring. However, that’s what Alec Guinness did for the original trilogy, so there’s precedent and therefore it’s okay.
Really, from a critic’s point of view so far, this movie has all of the basics down solidly. Unfortunately, we have to shift from my position as critic to my position as Star Wars fan.
Interestingly, one of the things that actually makes this a solid film is the exact thing that makes it bad as a franchise movie: Subversion of expectations. This movie thrives on trying to avoid giving the audience what they think they deserve and instead tries to give them something new and challenging. Since The Force Awakens was mostly a retread of something that even the movie pointed out had already been done twice, this really wasn’t a bad idea. The problem is that this film attempted to subvert EVERYTHING and it came off less as challenging the audience and more as profaning the franchise it was supposed to continue.
Some of the things this movie challenged really deserved to be subverted. Star Wars has always been a big example of a cultural submission to the “Great Man” theory of history and societal progress. In all of the original films, and even the prequels, great Galactic conflicts largely boil down to a few personalities that end up doing almost all of the work and they’re almost all from the same family. As opposed to saying “there are chosen ones in this lineage which basically decide the fate of the masses,” this movie takes the opposite position and says that the masses themselves ARE the power and that lineage means nothing. That’s why at the end of the movie they suggest that Force users can come from anywhere and that’s why it was so important for Rey to actually have parents who were nobodies (to be undone in the next film for reasons I’ll cover below). This is a great subversion that is representative of how Western society has shifted since the Republic Serials which inspired the original film and supports the more diverse casting in the film. The movie contains a number of scenes which debate whether the past should be destroyed in order to create something better and whether revering the past as an ideal leads to replicating the mistakes. This is a great theme that challenges the nature of a franchise and, if that were all the movie did, I think it would have made this the equal of every Star Wars film except maybe Empire.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that it did. Instead, Rian Johnson also decided to highlight some things that, while they may have been dumb, were parts of the franchise that everyone had already accepted. A large part of the film is dependent on the fact that the fleet is short on fuel, something that A) makes no sense considering they’re a rebellion that had long been based on the planet and B) has never really been an issue in Star Wars to begin with. This was likely supposed to be a shot at creating arbitrary new rules to heighten tension that seem illogical, like forcing the X-wings to do a trench run rather than just shooting at the Death Star from the outside. Similarly, Finn and Rose run into the single person who is capable of doing the job they need by complete coincidence, a shot at how characters in Star Wars will coincidentally be in the same place as the person they need to find (like Luke landing near Yoda despite only being told to go to the Dagobah System). Most famously, and perhaps insultingly, Holdo accelerates to lightspeed and, using relativistic physics, proves that to be an incredibly powerful attack that devastates larger enemies, something that apparently no one in Star Wars had ever thought of doing. These are all just exaggerations of elements that were already in the series, but they were elements that we had already accepted as part of our suspension of disbelief in this universe. By trying to subvert or attack them, this seemed less like a “commentary,” and instead more like an assault on the people who liked the previous films.
Then there’s how the film treated some of the previous characters. I’m willing to ignore Leia’s flying, because I refuse to acknowledge the difference between that and a Force pull or Force jump in zero gravity. However, I’m less willing to ignore the fact that when Leia awoke to find that Poe Dameron was literally leading a mutiny, that she basically just knocks him out and says “okay, well, lesson learned.” She’s a General and should know better than that how you handle failures to follow chains of command. It undermines her position as leader. Also, not telling Poe the plan in the first place is ridiculous and unnecessary. Luke Skywalker’s self-imposed exile is selfish and born out of his own shame, but that’s not actually crazy given that he spent an entire trilogy overcoming his anger and impulse issues only to falter and give in when facing Kylo’s power. While Luke denies the version of the night where he attacks Kylo first, the fact is that he may be deceiving himself, something that actually explores interesting new paths with the character. Unfortunately, at the end of the film, rather than see Luke actually try to correct his error, we instead see him play an elaborate game to buy time and then die from the effort… somehow. It undercut most of the progress that Luke made in the original trilogy and denied him another opportunity.
If the film had only done a few of these things, this would probably have been an amazing experience, having enough familiarity to feel loyal but also challenging the status quo. However, since it decided to do all of them, it felt like a rejection of the franchise and of the fans who support it. As someone who spent a LOT of their childhood, teen years, adulthood, and probably future on this franchise, that makes me naturally opposed to it. On the other other hand… This didn’t do midichlorians, so let’s not pretend it’s the worse thing.
If you made it all the way to this part of the review, thank you for reading and thank you for supporting me through 500 reviews.
Futurama returns in a film that literally breaks the world.
The summary for this movie is so damned long I am just going to put it at the end. If you need a refresher, just skip down the page and come back.
This was the first of the four movies designed to reinvigorate Futurama to try and get it back on the air after its cancellation. Much like Family Guy, Futurama had been doing really well on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup, and since Family Guy got brought back, why not Futurama? This ended up being a good plan, not just because it gave us a few more seasons of a great show that includes some great episodes, but also because the used these movies to try and deal with a few of the hanging plotlines that the show hadn’t fully resolved. Mostly we got some apology to Seymour the dog, who first debuted in “Jurassic Bark” and was, by this point, famous for being the saddest thing ever animated. In this movie, it’s revealed that Seymour didn’t die waiting for Fry to come home, he lived for 12 years with the Fry duplicate that would eventually become Lars. This may seem like it was pulled from nowhere, but it actually answers the question of how a dog could be fast-fossilized while living in New York, a place not known for sudden volcanic eruptions.
A lot of the plot elements in this film were apparently just the ideas left on the table when the original show got cancelled, including the concept of a nude beach planet. The idea of scammers being able to convince literally everyone to give them their property was probably also left from the original run because it seems like internet scams of the types featured were more on the rise in 2004 than 2007. I think that the plotline with Lars was likely not written for the original series, because that’s not the kind of plot that really can be shown within a single half-hour of television and the writers didn’t like multi-episode arcs. However, the idea of Leela falling for an older, more grizzled, more mature Fry is something that I absolutely loved. It proves what we knew the whole time: Fry might not be the guy for Leela, but eventually he can be. He just has to work on himself. I also believe that this is what kicks off some actual character development in Fry that culminates in the fourth movie and continues into the finale of the series.
I also love the idea of “paradox-correcting time travel,” a version of time-travel that the universe fixes by murdering any paradox. Even funnier, the Globetrotters determine that the cause of the destruction is a “doom field.” Yes, in the future, doom is actually a measurable quantity, with the average person apparently having a background amount of 10 millidooms and a time-paradox clone having over 10 times the amount. We later see it spike all the way up to almost 1000, which would be when a person is actually “doomed.” This seems to be evocative of the Larry Niven “Known Space” series, where luck is actually a measurable quantity that can not only be utilized but can be carried down through breeding. Was this a direct reference? Probably not, but I still think the concept is similar.
Overall, this was a great movie to bring the show back and I think it’s the 2nd best of the films, despite a convoluted plot.
It’s the running gag of LaBarbara repeatedly leaving Hermes for Barbados Slim. She barely waits a second to leave him the first time, even though she’s told he’ll be normal in a few weeks. When Hermes returns with a new body, even though it’s on backwards, she returns, only to leave again a few moments later. At last, she ends up coming back to him only after he manages to save the entire Earth. It’s a huge exaggeration of the idea of a fickle spouse who won’t stay with a disabled partner, but since it’s really only a temporary inconvenience, it becomes more comic than tragic.
Planet Express discovers that they have been cancelled for the last 2 years, but that the executives that cancelled them have themselves been cancelled… in the form of being turned into executive powder. The crew throws a party and Hermes (Phil LaMarr) accidentally gets decapitated. Hermes’s head is placed in a jar until it can be reattached by Lars Fillmore (Billy West), who flirts with Leela (Katey Sagal) to Fry’s (West) annoyance. When Hermes’s wife LaBarbara (Dawnn Lewis) finds out about Hermes, she leaves him.
The crew goes on a delivery run to the Nude planet where it’s revealed that Fry has Bender’s (John DiMaggio) face tattooed on his ass. The members of the crew are approached by Nude Scammers, led by Nudar (David Herman), who all con them into giving their personal information, resulting in them getting overwhelmed by spam. Bender downloads a virus from spam, resulting in him being taken over by the Scammers. The Scammers then reveal they’ve stolen all of the property from the crew, including the business. Lars asks Leela out which upsets Fry, since he always thought they’d end up together.
While the Scammers search Planet Express for personal information, they determine that Fry’s tattoo is a binary code that allows for paradox-correcting time travel. Nibbler (Frank Welker) reveals himself and advises everyone that using the code would potentially destroy the universe. The Scammers use it anyway, but discover that there’s no way to return without waiting. Around this time, LaBarbara hooks up with Barbados Slim (DiMaggio). The Scammers send Bender back in time to steal valuable historical items and wait underneath the building until the time he left to come out. Bender also steals a new body for Hermes, but Zoidberg puts his head on backwards.
Farnsworth and the Globetrotters work together to dissect the tattoo version of time travel, discovering that any time duplicate is doomed to be killed by the universe. Bender finishes stealing a ton of stuff from history, but now the Scammers want to avoid destroying the universe, so they delete the code from Bender’s memory and order him to kill Fry. Fry escapes by reading the code in a mirror, sending himself back to January 1, 2000, 30 minutes after he was frozen. Bender is sent back to kill him, meeting a version of Bender from the end of the movie who puts the tattoo on Fry’s ass. Fry manages to elude him for 12 years, but Bender ends up blowing up Panucci’s pizza, killing Fry and fossilizing Seymour the dog. He returns to the year 3007 and tells the Scammers of his success. At Fry’s funeral, Fry appears and tells them that Bender actually killed a time duplicate from when he went into the past a second time to get free pizza, but ended up getting frozen again. He re-froze himself a second time for 7.95 years and reemerged in 3007. Fry wonders what life was like for his duplicate before Bender kills him.
In a flashback for the viewer, the duplicate rents a room above Panucci’s pizza and starts to spend time living with his family and Seymour while trying to move on from Leela. He ends up becoming attached to a purple haired narwhal named Leelu and becoming her caretaker. Eventually Leelu gets released into the wild, so Fry2 gets on a boat and tracks her down over 2 years to capture her and take her back. He manages to find her, but it turns out that she now has a family with an orange-colored narwhal, so he is forced to let her go and be happy.
Back in 3007, the Scammers have taken almost everything from everyone on Earth, as well as Robot Santa (DiMaggio), but Lars proposes to Leela. At their wedding, Hermes wins LaBarbara back, only for his body to be destroyed by a chandelier. Farnsworth mentions that all time-duplicates are doomed, leading Lars to say he’s calling off the wedding. Leela is heartbroken. After President Nixon (West) loses the Earth itself to the scammers, the population has to leave. The crew goes to Neptune where Robot Santa is too depressed to attack them. Leela convinces the citizens of Earth to fight back. The Scammers build a fleet of gold Death Stars, but Robot Santa has his elves produce weapons, along with help from Kwanzaa-bot (Coolio) and the Chanukah Zombie (Mark Hamill “Applause”). Zapp Brannigan (West) is put in charge of the attack and fortunately gets shot down quickly. Leela takes over, but she too cannot win. Instead, Hermes gets wired into the entire fleet and uses his vast knowledge of coordinated actions to destroy the Death Stars. Nudar reveals he has a doomsday device stolen from Farnsworth by Bender and tells the citizens of Earth to submit or die. Bender reveals that he actually double-crossed them and kept the bomb, despite being under their control at the time. They blow up the Scammers using the device.
Lars brings Hermes his body back and Fry uses the opportunity to set him back up with Leela, believing that it’s better to see Leela happy than being with her himself. However, the Scammers reappear, having worn doomproof vests, claiming that Lars has the same Bender tattoo as Fry. Lars uses a Bender duplicate to kill Nudar and himself. It turns out that Lars was actually the duplicate of Fry that Bender thought he killed. The explosion from Bender’s weapon just changed his voice and burned off all of his hair. Lars broke up with Leela because he realized that, as a duplicate, he was doomed to die and leave her alone. Leela admits that Lars is the only man she’ll ever love, admitting that Fry could be the love of her life someday. Bender goes back in time to put the tattoo on Fry when he gets frozen, creating a time loop, but then tells all of his duplicates to come up now instead of when they logically should have, creating hundreds of copies of himself. The Benders start exploding and a giant rift in time and space appears. Bender mutters “Well, we’re boned.”
The third Star Wars trilogy has ended and I’m finally agreeing to review one of them.
THE DEAD SPEAK!!! By which I mean that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) sends a broadcast into the galaxy in order to apparently draw in Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). It turns out that Palpatine created Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) in order to draw Ren to the dark side. He reveals that he has a fleet of planet-killing ships called the “Final Order” that are set to launch soon and promises Ren a place at his side if he kills Rey (Daisy Ridley). Naturally, the good guys find this out with about 24 hours to stop it. Rey is training under General Leia Organa (Carrie “I love you, Space Mom” Fisher), but upon finding out that Palpatine is back, she joins Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and BB-8 in order to locate a wayfinder to the planet where Palpatine is.
The group heads to desert planet Pasaana where they meet Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee “F*cking” Williams), who helps them find a dagger that contains Sith writing. Rey and Kylo Ren fight and Rey accidentally blows up a ship that she thinks has Chewbacca on it. C-3PO can translate the dagger, but he can’t divulge the translation, so they have to take him to another planet where he gets his memory wiped and Poe sees his ex-girlfriend Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell). Rey finds out Chewbacca’s still alive, so the group rescues him and they find the location of the wayfinder is… on the second Death Star. Or what’s left of it, rather.
When the group gets there, they meet Jannah (Naomi Ackle), a former stormtrooper and Rey and Kylo Ren fight again. Leia dies calling out to Kylo Ren, allowing Rey to strike a lethal blow, but she heals him. Rey leaves, alone, but finds the wayfinder after speaking with a dead Luke Skywalker (Mark “The Best Joker” Hamill) as Kylo Ren turns good after speaking with a memory of the dead Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Also, Rey’s Palpatine’s granddaughter, because sure. Rey heads to Exegol, the hidden planet of the Sith, while telling the rest of the Resistance how to get there. The Resistance is short on manpower, but Poe believes that the rest of the galaxy will show up to fight when the chips are down. Kylo Ren, now Ben Solo again, arrive at Exegol and kill the knights of Ren, but get their asses kicked by a literally crippled and blind Palpatine, who incapacitates them both. Rey, empowered by all the Jedi from the series so far, uses two lightsabers to reflect Palpatine’s force lightning back at him, killing him until the plot will require otherwise. Rey dies from her injuries, but is revived by Ben Solo who dies in her place. Lando Calrissian does most of the Resistance’s heavy lifting and brings reinforcements to destroy the “Final Order.” Rey goes to Tatooine and buries Luke’s and Leia’s lightsabers, presumably because Alderaan is harder to bury stuff in, and changes her name to Rey Skywalker.
Star Wars has been a big part of my life, as I’m sure it has for almost everyone from my generation. I was too young to see the original films, but I watched the VHS copies at more than a dozen houses when I was growing up, because I was friends with nerds. Since then, I’ve been with it through the good and the bad. I was there when Han stopped shooting first. I was there when Shadows of the Empire gave us that awesome Hoth level. I was there when Midichlorians were suddenly how the Force worked rather than, you know, space magic. I was there when Captain Rex ran the last flight to Endor on Star Tours. I was there when Ahsoka Tano met the completely different Captain Rex. I read the Thrawn Trilogy and still consider the character to be one of the best contributions to the franchise and I was there when he finally became canon. I owe a ton to this franchise and, even when it’s had its low points, they’ve always been worth it for the highs.
And that’s this film in a nutshell: A bunch of lows that you can ignore to get to the highs.
I assume after suggesting that this film has lows that several of you are going to attempt to leap through the screen and murder me, so I can only respond that I love Star Wars and part of loving it is accepting that it isn’t perfect. Love requires accepting flaws, otherwise you’re just lusting after an ideal… of Star Wars.
The biggest problem with the film is that Carrie Fisher died and everything is worse for it. Not just in the movie, but in the world. Watching the film try to shoehorn in whatever unused footage they had on the cutting room floor and make her into a central character was painful on a lot of levels. They had to write constantly awkward dialogue in order for her responses to make sense, or, at one point, literally have another character give exposition about what she’s doing. It reminded me of Bela Lugosi’s “performance” in Plan 9 from Outer Space and that bodes well for no one.
Another problem for me came from the fact that the film tries to retcon parts of The Last Jedi that people didn’t like, rather than just accept them and move on. Not that there weren’t things in that movie that needed to be addressed and perhaps corrected, but a lot of the stuff could just have been ignored rather than overwritten and seeing that kind of forced correction in a film can get distracting. I mean, they did have to talk about the “Holdo Maneuver” (and WHY EVERYONE WOULDN’T JUST CONSTANTLY USE IT), but the response that it’s just “a one-in-a-million shot” makes Holdo’s actions in the previous movie completely ridiculous. There were a bunch of moments like that where I kept hearing Abrams screaming “F*CK YOU RIAN JOHNSON” through the camera.
The film refuses to explain a lot of things, even by Star Wars standards. (How is Palpatine alive? Why would he broadcast his plans to the rest of the galaxy? How did he get to Exegol? How did he build and staff all of those ships in 30 years? Who developed the technology to destroy a planet with a Star Destroyer? If you had that technology, why not just give it to the First Order? Since when does the Force allow people to teleport stuff? When did Palpatine have a kid and how and why?) Since it’s Star Wars, most of that stuff can be ignored as being a tribute to the series’ origins in Republic Serials, which rarely explained anything, but I do understand why some people might be annoyed by it.
Also, there are a few weird fanservice moments, like Chewie finally getting a medal, which don’t completely make sense within the movie even if they were sweet.
However, all of those things are offset by all of the things that this movie did well. It gave us some of the best lightsaber battles in the series which weren’t marred by the overused acrobatics of the prequels. It managed to connect more of the franchise together than any previous film (except maybe Solo) by including references to the prequels, original films, spin-offs, cartoons, and of course the current trilogy. It had some great emotional moments and some beautiful shots, as well as the happy ending that we needed.
What it did best was remind us of all the great moments that we’ve had because of Star Wars. This movie finally gave us sequences of the whole current team together after a movie of being constantly split up and reminded us of how well the series always handled personality interplay. That’s been true since watching Obi-Wan, Luke, Han, and even Chewie interact in A New Hope. We got to watch Billy Dee Williams show us what an old Lando who has had some hard times would look like, but we also got to see him bring hope to everyone. Seeing Han Solo have a real heart-to-heart with his son was beautiful, even if it was clearly supposed to have been Leia’s scene. It’s something that can only work so well because we spent years with these characters and we know how they got to this point. People may complain that some things are just fanservice, but seeing Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson) back behind the controls of an X-Wing is an experience that no other series can really give you, and there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of that to deepen an emotional moment.
This isn’t the best Star Wars movie, but it did provide me with an experience that no other movie could and I have to give it credit for that.
Netflix gives us a prequel to Jim Henson’s film The Dark Crystal and it captures the spirit, imagination, and pants-crapping horror of the original.
The Planet Thra is a living entity which shares its life force with all of its creatures through the Crystal of Truth, a mass of concentrated energy. Of all of the lifeforms on Thra, the most favored are the Gelflings, a race of small humanoids who ruled over most of the planet through their seven kingdoms. A thousand years ago, two new races arrived on Thra, the Uru Mystics and the Bird-like Skeksis, cracking the crystal in the process. The Mystics secluded themselves and studied the mysteries of Thra while the Skeksis took control of the Crystal of Truth and started to drain the energy from it, causing it to become the Dark Crystal. As the custodians of the Crystal, the Skeksis rule over the Gelflings, who believe them to be benevolent and immortal. However, the Skeksis have discovered that they can make themselves nigh-indestructible by consuming the essence, the life and soul, of Gelflings. It’s up to three Gelflings – Rian, the Warrior (Taron Egerton), Brea, the Princess of Knowledge (Anna Taylor-Joy), and Deet, the underground seer (Nathalie Emmanuel) – to stop the Skekis’ plan to devour their world.
END SUMMARY (Spoilers for the original film The Dark Crystal)
If you haven’t seen the original film The Dark Crystal, I honestly cannot recommend watching it first. As this is a prequel, I think that it might be better to watch this series and then watch the film to see how eventually the whole conflict resolves. If you have, however, seen the film, then you will know from the beginning that this story wasn’t going to be super happy.
The Dark Crystal was a pretty dark venture for a movie made by the guy who brought us The Muppets. Jim Henson was pretty honest from the beginning that he intended the film to be terrifying to children. He believed that it should be a throwback to the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales, because, much like Secret of Nimh director Don Bluth, he thought children benefited from being scared as long as they got a happy ending. This theory was fully tested in The Dark Crystal, which starts off with a showing of the horrifying Skeksis and only gets worse from there.
The Skeksis are one of the best villains ever created for a children’s movie/TV Show, because they’re simultaneously horrifying and cartoonish. They’re essentially giant, clumsy vultures with absurd voices that often act so over-the-top in their indulgence of vice that they seem almost harmless, right until they reveal that they are doing things that would make Cobra Commander blush. In the movie, that includes torturing sentient creatures, eating said creatures, genetically creating monstrosities, and, oh yeah, drinking the life-force of Gelflings to stay young. In the film, it’s implied that they’ve killed and devoured most of the Gelflings for this purpose. This show is the beginning of that process and contains some of the most grim and genuinely horrifying implications of it, ranging from forcing Gelflings to betray their own kind for safety to making it clear that they’re not just eating the Gelflings, but sucking their total souls away and condemning them to eternal torment. Some of the scenes genuinely made me feel scared, despite the acts happening to puppets. Seriously, my stomach churned with the screams.
The main narrative of the show is the traditional fantasy fare, with all of the characters going on a quest across the various realms of the world of Thra, with a number of side characters undergoing their own arcs. Much like with the film, a lot of the character arcs actually belong to the Skeksis and their internal politics, particularly the rise and fall of the Chamberlain skekSil (Simon Pegg) from his position as the favorite of the Emperor skekSo (Jason Isaacs). We also deal with the conflicts between the seven kingdoms of the Gelflings, particularly of the All-Maudra, the queen of the race (Helena Bonham-Carter). Basically, this is more a story about the world of Thra and its eventual fate than of any of the characters. Despite this, most of the characters are distinct and well-crafted, even though they’re mostly archetypes.
The puppetry is what you would expect from the Jim Henson Company and the set pieces are wonderful. The sheer size of the world they created and all of the creatures that populate it is a worthy expansion from the source.
Overall, I think this was a great prequel to the film, even if, by implication, stuff’s gonna go bad from here. We haven’t quite gotten to the events of the movie, so they could still make more episodes of this, and hopefully will, but whether they do or not this was well made. I enjoyed it.