Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Post Comic-Con Edition

Over the weekend, Comic-Con once again descended on San Diego. Even though I’ve heard stories about how crowded and miserable the Comic-Con experience can be, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. This is apparently a sentiment shared by a lot of other people, since tickets to Comic-Con are very difficult to get. I haven’t even been able to pull off tickets to the New York Comic Con, which would logistically be a lot easier to navigate. I’ll make it to a Con eventually – probably right around the time that they are no longer popular.

One of the reasons that I’d be willing to deal with all the crowds and waiting in line for Comic-Con is because a lot of info gets revealed about upcoming projects. Of course, most of that info hits the internet shortly thereafter, but it still would be nice to be in “the room where it happened” when some announcement is made. But until then, I’ve cultivated some of the major news that came out of San Diego Comic-Con and the rest of the world of pop culture for you to enjoy.

Television

Movies

Trailers

  • Ready Player One:

 

  • Thor: Ragnarok:

 

  • Stranger Things, season 2:

 

  • Justice League:

 

  • Star Trek: Discovery:

 

  • The Walking Dead, season 8:

 

  • Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time:

 

  • Westworld, season 2:

 

  • The LEGO Ninjago Movie:

 

  • Black Lightening:

 

  • Kingsman: The Golden Circle:

 

  • Supergirl, season 3:

 

  • Arrow, season 6:

 

  • The Defenders:

 

  • Bushwick:

 

  • The Flash, season 4:

 

  • Preacher, season 2:

 

  • Alpha:

 

  • Bright:

 

  • The Shape of Water:

 

  • The Hitman’s Bodyguard:

 

  • Wonderstruck:

 

  • Brad’s Status:

 

  • Boo 2! A Madea Halloween:

 

  • Alias Grace:

 

  • Triple Threat:

 

  • The Gifted:

 

Music

Books

Odds and Ends

Mashups and Supercuts

  • A heavy metal cover of “Despacito”:

 

  • Actors audition to play teen Dumbledore for Conan:

 

  •  An Archer/Kingsman crossover:

  • Apple and The Rock team-up for a short film:

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Wonder Woman – A Review

Unlike most women my age, I did not grow up with any special affection for Wonder Woman. Since I didn’t read comic books, my exposure to superheroes was limited to the occasional movie and television show; I cut my teeth on Adam West’s Batman, Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Christopher Reeves as Superman and Spider-Man on The Electric Company (who honestly freaked me out a little because he didn’t talk). Honestly I wasn’t all that interested in superheroes when I was I kid; to the extent that I cared, I was far more invested in Batman then I was in Wonder Woman. On some level, I kind of resented not Wonder Woman herself, but that idea that I should like Wonder Woman best just because she was the only female option. I was glad that she existed, but wasn’t going to be forced into liking her just because we were similar. My gender politics were nuanced even when I was young.

Even though I wasn’t a huge Wonder Woman fan, as I got older and superhero movies became box office catnip, I bemoaned the fact that no female superheroes were given the chance to headline their own movie. Sure there was Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005), but those existed before the modern resurgence of the genre. The lack of female-led superhero movies coupled with failure to incorporate female superhero characters into promotion and merchandising was problematic. I knew it was only a matter of time until this changed – thankfully plenty of people have called out Marvel and DC on this double-standard- and when they announced that Wonder Woman would get her own stand-alone film I was elated – and also a little concerned.

Adapting Wonder Woman has been tried many times in the past and none of them got off the ground. Anyone remember the much ballyhooed Wonder Woman TV series from 2011? Even written by David E. Kelly and starring Adrianne Palicki, the pilot never aired. The CW also attempted a Wonder Woman series that never came to fruition. Joss Whedon wrote an entire script for a Wonder Woman movie that never got off the ground. I’m sure that other men and women tried as well. Wonder Woman is capable of vanquishing a lot of enemies, but she couldn’t seem to escape herself from development hell. There was a lot attached to getting a Wonder Woman adaptation right, not only to appease the usually rabid fanboy/girl base, but because what Wonder Woman represented. Any adaptation was going to be under a microscope and held to a ridiculously high level of scrutiny. Rightly or wrongly, the reception of a Wonder Woman movie was going to be a barometer for female-led superhero movies going forward. There was a lot at stake.

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This led to my larger concern – that the DC universe was the company nurturing Wonder Woman to the big screen. While the Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman movies were great, once creative control for the DC film adaptations was handed over to Zack Snyder they have basically gone to hell in a handbasket. Man of Steel and Suicide Squad were both terrible and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was downright unwatchable – it was so bad that for the first time in years I didn’t even bother to go see a new superhero movie in the theater, instead waiting until it was on HBO. Admittedly, the only ray of light in Batman v. Superman was Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, but I didn’t have a lot of faith that this was the crew to deliver on a Wonder Woman movie. I would have had a lot more trust if it was a female Marvel character breaking the modern proverbial glass ceiling; the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t perfect when it comes to depictions of female characters either, but they at least have a history of making good movies. I look forward to Marvel movies, but mostly I endure the recent DC films. With so much on the line with Wonder Woman, I didn’t necessarily think that the people who messed up Superman should be entrusted with such an important mission. Female-led superhero movies should have the right to be as crappy as some of their male-helmed counterparts, but unfortunately we aren’t there yet.

Thankfully Wonder Woman was a solid movie – not great, but good. It’s definitely the best of the recent DC movies, but that is a pretty low bar. The promise that Gadot showed in Batman v. Superman is fully realized as she makes the most of her starring vehicle. She’s wonderful throughout the film, doing a nice job of balancing Diana’s ability to kick ass with her naiveté about the workings of the outside world. And my goodness, kick ass she does; though conscious choices were made to keep Wonder Woman PG-13 so that young fans could go see it, Gadot and her female co-stars completely deliver on all the action sequences. This shouldn’t be a surprise, of course, but the power of this representation should not be lost. Even my cold, dark heart warmed a bit to see Gal Gadot, Robin Wright, and others depicted as fierce warriors who are more than capable of taking down a battalion of men. I could have done without all the slow-motion dubbing of some of these sequences, which is fine in moderation but was used far too often throughout the film. I mean, this isn’t The Matrix. The final climatic scene also relies a little too heavily on the CGI, but that is par for the course with these types of movies.

Wonder Woman covers a lot of ground, covering Diana’s childhood on Themyscira, among the Amazons. As a young woman, Diana rescues pilot Steve Trevor (Pine) who crashes on the island. Upon learning that World War I is waging on outside of Themyscira, Diana resolves to leave with Steve to kill Ares, the god of war, whom Diana believes to be responsible. When they arrive in London, Diana is something of a fish out of water and begins to realize that her understanding of mankind and their inherent goodness may not be completely accurate.

Gal Gadot also has excellent chemistry with her co-star/love interest Chris Pine, who as usual is a delight to watch. The way that they depicted the relationship between Steve Trevor and Diana Prince would set a lot of the tone of the movie and I think that they found a pretty good balance. Steve is more than capable in his own right, but he has no problem taking a back seat to the even more capable Diana. Gadot and Pine play quite nicely off one another, as evidenced by the fact that one of the funniest scenes in the movie was improvised between the two of them. There’s been some criticism that Steve was unnecessary for the film or that he steals the hero spotlight from Wonder Woman. Those complaints are not without merit – I have never understood why they have to foist a love story into almost all these films – but that wasn’t the lens through which I saw the film. For me, there were more than enough heroics to go around in the film and Wonder Woman didn’t play second fiddle to anyone.

One of the major strikes against my full enjoyment of Wonder Woman was that it was just way too long. Clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes, there were definitely moments in the film that I thought dragged. Personally I thought too much time was spent on her origin and some of the subplot with Doctor Poison probably could have been cut. I checked the time on more than one occasion, which is a clear indication that I wasn’t fully engaged. I thought the story was a little clunky too; a lot of characters are only vaguely drawn, including Steve’s buddies that join their team later in the film. Gadot’s performance minimizes a lot of other potential issues with the writing. DC still insists on wading in the emo end of the superhero pool, but for once that focus makes sense. Diana’s journey over the course of the film is an emotional one and while I still prefer a few more laughs in my superhero films, Wonder Woman felt less dour than many of the other recent DC films.

Overall, I did enjoy Wonder Woman, though probably a little less than most people. This film is a star-turn for Gal Gadot and has proven that there is definitely an audience for female-led superhero movies. It’s easily the best of the recent DC slate and I’d probably put it middle of the pack when taking all the Marvel movies into consideration. Wonder Woman is a solid movie that has hopefully paved the way for more women in the superhero universe – both in front of and behind the camera.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – A Review

When the original Guardians of the Galaxy came out back in 2014, I was one of the few people that I knew that was eagerly anticipating the release. My enthusiasm had nothing to do with any great familiarity or affinity for the source material – I’d never read the obscure comics – but out of the sheer potential of what might be. I was a big fan of Chris Pratt’s from his time on Parks and Recreation and knew that if he found the right platform he could probably become a real star. I hoped that Guardians would provide that for him. But mostly I was excited for a movie that featured a talking tree and raccoon as two of its main characters. I figured this could play out one of two ways: either these characters would be wonderfully weird and be endlessly entraining or the execution would be so bad that the movie would be fun to make fun of. I was rooting for the former, but was prepared for the latter. Up to that point Marvel hadn’t really let their freak flag fly with their film adaptations, so it was possible that Guardians was going to be too corporate and over managed to be much of anything. Thankfully, they totally nailed Guardians of the Galaxy and the movie about superhero characters no one had ever heard of became a really big surprise hit. It was easily one of my cinematic highlights of the year and now that Guardians is on regular rotation on basic cable, I still find myself stopping to watch it – especially if it is the opening sequence with Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord boogieing down. I even have not one, but two, figures of Groot in my office. Obviously, I was buying what Guardians of the Galaxy was selling.

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I have been anxiously awaiting the sequel, but with a slight bit of trepidation. I loved Guardians of the Galaxy so much that I was skeptical if they could pull it off a second time. One of the things that made Guardians so fun was that it was such a surprise; it was an unexpected delight, unhindered by any expectations. While Guardians of the Galaxy was charming and fun, how much of its appeal was because it seemingly came out of nowhere? Would the sequel crumble under the weight of heightened expectations? While the bar was set pretty low for the success of the first film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is being predicted to be one of the big runaway blockbusters of the summer. Could they recapture that lightening in a bottle and live up to the hype?

The good news is that if you liked the original Guardians of the Galaxy, you’ll have a very good time at Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While a lot of the sequel is more of the same stuff that people loved in the original, for the most part it all still works. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still charming, funny, and unexpectedly sad, all set to a soundtrack of hits from the 70s and 80s and shot in a visually interesting way. And frankly, in my humble opinion, the opening credit sequence with baby Groot is worth the price of admission alone. My baby nephew is still the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, but baby Groot gives him a run for his money.

Guardians Vol 2 picks up with our favorite band of misfits doing their thing – Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the aforementioned baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel) are guns for hire, blowing up bad guys and bickering the whole time. Along the way, they manage to pick up Gamora’s estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) for bounty and piss off Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), leader of the Sovereigns. The latter sets off all the remaining action of the story as this puts Yondu (Michael Rooker) on their tail, but more importantly, Star-Lord’s absentee father Ego (Kurt Russell) finally reunites with abandoned son. While there is a lot of action in Guardians Vol. 2, this film is also focused on filling in a lot of the back story of many of these characters. In some ways, Guardians Vol. 2 borrows a page from the Fast and the Furious franchise and explores ideas of what it means to have a family – both biological and the one that you have chosen for yourself. If you cried a little during the “We are Groot” scene in the first movie, have some tissues ready for Vol. 2; I was wholly unprepared for some of the emotions that swept over me toward the end of the movie.

That is not to say that Vol. 2 is a sad movie; for the majority of the viewing experience, it was pretty joyful, even if some of what they are doing isn’t as fresh anymore. The jokes still work, even if it sometimes feels like everyone involved is straining a little too hard to hit a lot of the same beats of the first film. Occasionally you can almost feel them checking off the requisite boxes in scenes – use soft rock from the 70s as the soundtrack to a battle scene, Drax has no social skills, etc. – but it manages to not feel completely formulaic, in part because this stuff is still fun. One of the more interesting things that the film does is sideline Star-Lord from a lot of the comedy and leans more on Drax and Rocket to help fill the void. The daddy issues that Star-Lord is dealing with keeps him from interacting as much with the rest of the group as he did in the first film, but I thought that mostly worked.

The cinematography is also great in Vol 2 and I appreciate the creative way that they decided to shoot some of the scenes. If you see every Marvel movie like I do, the fight scenes often tend to blend together after a while, since they are all kind of organized chaos. Vol. 2 mixes things up a bit and finds fresh ways to frame the action and make it visually interesting. Director James Gunn is very creative and stylized in how he approaches these scenes and I think it greatly improves the Guardian movies. This is evident in not only the great opening credits, but scenes with Yondu and Rocket.

Some other random thoughts:

  • Stay comfy in your seats – there are five post-credit sequences.
  • As someone who has always had a weird fondness for the song “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl” by Looking Glass, Vol. 2 was definitely made for me.
  • I’m going to be very disappointed if “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all” doesn’t become a catchphrase.
  • I didn’t spring to see this in 3-D, but I heard it looked pretty great.
  • Be forewarned – between the bazillion trailers before the movie and the slightly long run-time of the actual film, I was in the theater nearly 3 hours. The film itself is slightly too long – if they could have carved about ten minutes off the run-time, I think it would have been a leaner and meaner film.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a fun movie that isn’t quite as good as the first movie, but dodges the curse of the sequel by providing a very fun movie. Watching Vol. 2 is mostly a delightful experience, even if some of the movie feels very familiar and covers all the things that you liked about the original. When Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 inevitably drops, I think that they are going to have to mix things up a little bit to avoid disappointment and diminishing returns. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a thrilling ride that captures a lot of the spirit of the original. There’s a lot of big blockbusters coming down the pike this summer, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of any of them that are as much fun as Guardians Vol. 2. If you liked the first movie, you won’t be disappointed.