Why Marvel and Netflix are telling some of the best superhero stories today

Luke-and-MistyThere’s a scene in the middle of the new season of Marvel/Netflix’s “Luke Cage” where Mariah Dillard, the season’s main villain, displays a rare moment of extremely vulnerable honesty. Now, Mariah is a truly terrible person. The former politician has committed horrible crimes during her quest for power, and by the end of the season, I’m sure most viewers would agree that she deserves all the bad things coming to her.

And yet…in this one moment, where she reveals a painful emotional scar from her past, we do genuinely pity her. She remains a terrible person, but the tragedy she experienced is real and heartbreaking, and you can’t help but imagine the better person she could have become if she’d grown up in better circumstances.

Nuanced characters like Mariah Dillard is one of the key strengths shared by the Marvel/Netflix superhero shows (well, most of them, at least). I finished up the new season of “Luke Cage” this past weekend, and since then I’ve been thinking about all the Marvel/Netflix shows and how, overall, they’ve done a fantastic job adding to the Marvel universe we know and love. Some of the best superhero storytelling today is being done on the small screen, and Marvel/Netflix’s partnership is a true standout.

I remember starting the very first Marvel/Netflix show, “Daredevil,” back in 2015 and wondering how it would compare to the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Sometimes it’s tough to capture that same epic, sweeping feel on a smaller screen with a smaller budget. Thankfully, the Marvel/Netflix shows don’t try to replicate what we’re seeing in the MCU. Instead, they use their smaller scale to their advantage. The whole world isn’t in peril; maybe it’s just one neighborhood in New York City. But through this more narrow focus, we have a chance to dive really deeply into a lineup of fascinating heroes AND villains.

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Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Danny Rand/Iron Fist, and Frank Castle/Punisher are all completely different people. Some, like Matt and Luke, are able to claim the moral high ground as superheroes (at least at first), while others, like Punisher, tend more towards the antihero end of the spectrum. But each are fascinating in their own way, and the shows have their own unique tone and themes. Perhaps that’s why, at least to me, the Marvel/Netflix team-up series, “The Defenders,” didn’t work as well; it lost the unique flavor that made each of the individual shows stand out.

Now, some of these individual series are more compelling than others. I never finished “Iron Fist,” and I felt the back half of “Daredevil” season 2 suffered after the Punisher’s arc on that show wrapped up. I tried the first episode of “Jessica Jones” season 2, but it didn’t grab me like the first season did. Maybe I need to give it another shot.

Still, there’s some really excellent character development in these shows, and not just for the heroes. The villains are just as fascinating (and in some cases, even more fascinating!) than the heroes themselves.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been criticized in the past for some of its more lackluster villains, who are more of an obstacle for the hero to overcome than a fully realized character. That’s why Wilson Fisk/Kingpin, the main villain in “Daredevil” season 1, felt like such a revelation. He was definitely a bad guy, and I wasn’t really sorry to see him go to prison. However, the show made him a compelling villain by giving him flashes of humanity, including a surprisingly tender and genuine relationship with his girlfriend, Vanessa. He was by no means a stereotypical “mustache-twirling” villain.

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For the most part, all the Marvel/Netflix shows have followed that trend. By showing us the flaws in the heroes and the humanity in the villains, the shows become more real and thought-provoking. All the characters have hurts that haunt them.

Due to the shows’ format, they’re able to tell darker stories than the MCU is able to. I’m okay with that, really. I don’t necessarily want/need the MCU to be gritty; I like that they are family films that are accessible to a wide audience. But it’s nice to see some heavier superhero storytelling as well.

Although these shows work on a surface level as compelling action/dramas, there are some really relevant themes to chew on as well. When I first heard about “The Punisher” series, I was excited, because I loved Jon Bernthal’s performance as the character in “Daredevil” season 2. However, I was a little worried about how they would handle a character centered around guns and violence, especially with all the tragic real-life headlines we continue to see. Thankfully, they approached the subject with sensitivity and nuance. The show also touched on another important issue: what happens to veterans after they return from combat.

“Jessica Jones” addressed domestic violence and abuse, “Luke Cage” tackled racism, and so on. I hope that the fans who watch these shows are inspired to have real-life conversations about these issues. That, I think, is the real power of entertainment: to get us to look at the world through a different lens than our own. In our increasingly politically-charged world, I think pop culture has a real opportunity to break down barriers and tell stories that have the power to bring real-world change.

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On a lighter note, the shows’ practical effects and well-choreographed fight scenes are also a nice change of pace from CGI-heavy blockbusters (even though if you know me, you know that I love big-budget special effects). 🙂 And the shows also use music really effectively to help tell the story, particularly “Luke Cage.”

If you haven’t tried any of these shows yet, I’d highly recommend them. I know some fans who’ve watched all of them, and others who have tried a couple and just stuck with their favorites. Although as previously mentioned, there have been a few bumps along the way, overall the Marvel/Netflix partnership has definitely been a winning one.

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A ‘Marvel-ous’ list: An updated ranking of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films (July 2018)

3372097-1Now that all the new Marvel Cinematic Universe movies for 2018 have been released, here’s my updated ranking of MCU films!
https://boxofficebuzzab.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/a-marvel-ous-list-an-updated-ranking-of-my-favorite-marvel-cinematic-universe-films/

Movie review: ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ fun, but not as fresh as the original

antmanhr-5.jpgI’ve always felt that the original “Ant-Man” is a bit of an underrated gem within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although it had a much more modest box office haul than Marvel’s bigger hits, it’s a fun (and funny) heist flick starring a perfectly-cast Paul Rudd as the sometimes misguided but always well-meaning ex-con Scott Lang. It just barely misses out on ranking amongst my top five MCU films, and I was really looking forward to the sequel, “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”

I had a lot of fun watching the sequel, and it’s refreshing to have a superhero flick with a lighter tone and smaller stakes (no pun intended there). It’s a perfect summer blockbuster and certainly isn’t as intense as “Infinity War.” However, it didn’t feel *quite* as fresh or fun as the original. I’ll get my criticisms out of the way first, and then I’ll dive into what I liked best, because I really did enjoy watching this film.

My reaction to “Ant-Man and the Wasp” reminds me a little of my reaction to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” actually. With the first “Ant-Man,” I had no idea what to expect, and there was a certain glee in discovering how awesomely they executed the challenging concept of this tiny superhero who commands an army of ants. With the sequel, the writing didn’t feel quite as snappy or tight. We’ve seen this before, and it’s still fun, but the element of surprise isn’t there anymore.

My only real issue with the first “Ant-Man” was the lackluster villain, but I actually liked the “villain” here. I use “villain” with quotation marks, because the primary villain isn’t necessarily a “bad guy” in the traditional sense but more of an antagonist whose goals are in opposition to the hero’s. It’s tricky to say more about Ghost without diving into spoilers, but I really liked the nuance Hannah John-Kamen brought to this character. In fact, I wish the film had dedicated even more time to delving into who she is and the reasons she is seeking justice/revenge. I personally would have jettisoned the second villain, an underused Walton Goggins as black market dealer Sonny Burch, in favor of more screen time for Ghost.

There were a couple of other moments I would have tweaked, as well. The jokes weren’t quite as snappy as the original, which I rewatched right after seeing “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and was still a delight. I also thought there were some too-obvious moments of exposition.

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Still, I don’t want this to come across as a negative review, because I really did have fun watching this. Paul Rudd is still great as Ant-Man/Scott Lang, and I loved that they brought back Abby Ryder Fortson as his daughter, Cassie. All of Rudd and Fortson’s scenes together are utterly charming, and their father-daughter relationship is a highlight in both Ant-Man films. It was also super cool to see Evangeline Lilly share top billing as the Wasp/Hope van Dyne. She and Ant-Man make a great team.

One of my favorite parts of the film was the finale. Although we’ve seen plenty of car chases in films before, it was super fun to see a chase scene where the heroes’ car used what I’d call “strategic shrinking” to avoid the villains in pursuit. And I loved seeing Ant-Man become Giant-Man again, especially after the teaser we got for that in “Civil War.” Plus, Michael Peña’s Luis is my favorite MCU sidekick, right after Ned in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Another great part was watching Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope researching the quantum realm and their attempts to find Hank’s wife Janet, who disappeared in the quantum realm years ago. Again, I don’t want to dive too heavily into spoilers, but I think the quantum realm offers a lot of fascinating potential for storytelling within the MCU. And I think it’s definitely going to play a big role in Avengers 4. I always encourage people to wait for the after credits scenes in MCU movies, but this time it’s especially important!

In short, I love Ant-Man as a character and am really glad that Marvel decided to make a sequel. It’s definitely worth watching, and I’ll look forward to adding it to my MCU Blu-ray collection once it comes out. This is something I’ve always said about the MCU; even though we all have our favorites, and there are a few that disappointed me just a little bit, they each have their fun moments and are still enjoyable to watch. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is probably going to land somewhere in the middle of the pack for me.

Geeks and gatekeeping: Discussing our favorite franchises without shutting out other fans

unnamedThe Internet — and the rise of social media — has benefited geek culture in a number of ways. It’s now easier than ever to meet fellow geeks and discuss your favorite franchises, share podcasts/article links, stay up-to-date on the latest movie/TV announcements, and more. Thanks to social media, I’ve made some new friends that I might never have met in person if it wasn’t for geek Facebook discussion groups, podcasting, blogging, etc. I appreciate the connections that are made possible by technology.

However, we also can’t ignore the fact that the Internet and social media have provided a platform for toxic behavior from a small but vocal group of fans. Although they certainly don’t represent the majority, this group’s negativity is capable of doing real harm, such as the recent bullying of Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran. We also don’t know how much this negativity is driving away potential new fans of our favorite franchises.

Unfortunately, social media can facilitate discussion “echo chambers” that shut out certain opinions. I don’t know that I have a solution to some of these issues, but I think it’s important that as geeks we start talking about this and help to keep each other accountable, especially as geek culture continues to grow in popularity. Here are some thoughts on why gatekeeping is happening, and how we can work together to stop it.

‘You shall not pass!’

You’ve probably heard the buzzword “gatekeeping” by now; I see gatekeeping as fans engaging in behavior that seeks to limit or restrict who is a “real fan” and to unfairly define how a “true member” of a fandom should think/feel.

It’s never usually as direct as, say, “Anyone who disagrees that David Tennant is the best ‘Doctor Who’ actor should leave the fandom right now and never come back.” 😉 It’s usually more along the lines of, “True ‘Doctor Who’ fans appreciate the David Tennant seasons as the pinnacle of the franchise.”

On the surface, that last sentence doesn’t seem as damaging. In my own personal opinion, I do think the David Tennant seasons represent the best of the franchise. The problem is the qualifier “true ‘Doctor Who’ fans.” Anyone who likes “Doctor Who” has the right to call themselves a “true fan”; it doesn’t matter whether you prefer David Tennant, Peter Capaldi, Tom Baker, or any other Doctor. If you’re a fan, you’re a fan, and you should be welcomed in the community.

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What is driving gatekeeping?

Although there are some mean-spirited fans out there who derive a twisted sense of enjoyment from bullying, many gatekeepers probably don’t even realize they are doing it. It’s easy to become attached to/passionate about our favorite franchises, and to feel some ownership in those franchises. However, it’s important for all of us (myself included) to remember that we don’t own those franchises, and we don’t get to define another fan’s experience with that franchise.

I think sometimes fans feel “protective” of their favorite franchises, especially when they get expanded/rebooted. I’ve seen comments online putting down fans of, for example, the rebooted J.J. Abrams Star Trek universe and the new Disney Star Wars films. I have spotted comments saying “as a true fan, I can’t stand where Disney is taking the Star Wars franchise,” etc.

It’s perfectly okay to like or dislike a film or TV show. People should be allowed to have a respectful discussion where they air their criticisms, and this can become a deep and meaningful conversation. Yet at the end of the day, an opinion is just an opinion, and there are a huge variety of thoughts out there regarding entertainment and what a franchise should or shouldn’t be.

Maybe there are fans out there who only like the Disney Star Wars films, and they’ve connected with these new movies in a way they never connected with Star Wars before. That is okay. If you like the Star Wars prequels, that’s still okay! As long as you are respectful to other fans, you should be free to enjoy what you enjoy. Or, if a franchise just isn’t speaking to you anymore, it’s okay to walk away, and you shouldn’t be pressured to stay in the fandom.

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Keeping fandom fun

Something I’ve been trying to work on is just really listening to other fans and letting them share their passion. Like, even though I personally was disappointed by “Justice League,” I loved hearing from other fans about why they liked it and what that film meant to them. Then, hopefully this can lead to a back-and-forth discussion about our differing thoughts on the film. We may not agree in the end, but both of us can feel equally respected as superhero fans.

I’ve also been trying to avoid using the word “objectively,” even though it’s hard to do. 😉 I really want to say that the prequels are “objectively” the worst Star Wars movies, but at the end of the day, entertainment is really just subjective. Instead, I can maybe say that critical and fan consensus seems to indicate that the prequels are the lowest-quality Star Wars films, but if you liked them, you shouldn’t be kicked out of the fandom for that.

I think the best cure for gatekeeping is just keeping in mind that geekdom is this incredibly diverse, fun place, and it’s important to make sure that everyone feels safe and welcome. Geek culture has experienced this awesome explosion in popularity the past few years, with more and more people getting into sci-fi, fantasy, and superheroes. I hope this influx continues! 😊 Some of these new fans may become hardcore devotees; others may just remain casual fans. Both perspectives are okay, and the more casual fans shouldn’t feel as though they are less welcome.

So, what are your thoughts on this issue? Have you ever experienced gatekeeping? What do you think is the best way to address it?

Movie review: Dinosaurs face uncertain future in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

Jurassic-World-Fallen-Kingdom-2018-Movie-4k-Wallpaper-3840x2160Although bringing dinosaurs back from extinction sounds really cool, in reality this would probably be a terrible idea. It would be an especially bad idea to create an amusement park filled with these dinosaurs and open it to the public.

However, that didn’t exactly stop the creators of the original Jurassic Park, OR the creators of the even more dangerous Jurassic World. In the new movie “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” people seemed to have finally learned the lesson that making a dinosaur theme park with real dinosaurs is a bad plan; however, dinosaurs still exist in this new world and now we have to deal with the aftermath.

“Jurassic World” was a surprise mega-hit in the summer of 2015, bringing the Jurassic Park franchise roaring back to the box office and earning $1.7 billion worldwide. Although not *quite* as critically beloved as the original “Jurassic Park,” the financial success of “Jurassic World” ensured that we’d be getting a sequel.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is sitting at 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and while some of the criticisms are fair, I personally enjoyed the heck out of this movie. Although the trailers for this one initially didn’t grab me as much as the trailers for “Jurassic World,” I had a blast watching this (well, at least the parts where I wasn’t terrified; the Jurassic Park series has never been the most relaxing franchise). 😉

The basic story involves former Jurassic World operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) trying to save the dinosaurs left on the island, which is in danger of being destroyed by a volcano. Raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) reluctantly agrees to help her, and they join a rescue mission financed by Benjamin Lockwood, the former partner of Jurassic Park mastermind John Hammond. Of course, there are other forces working behind the scenes, and the rescue op turns into something more sinister.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” actually feels like two different movies. The first part feels a lot like “Jurassic World,” with an adventure on the island and the famous scene from the trailers of all the dinosaurs running from the exploding volcano. The second half of the film plays surprisingly more like a horror flick. Without giving away too many spoilers, most of the action takes place in a mansion, utilizing the sense of claustrophobic terror to great effect.

I will never complain about seeing Chris Pratt in a dinosaur movie, and his raptor from the previous film, Blue, is definitely a scene-stealer (baby raptor flashbacks = adorable). While Claire gets more to do in this film, her character still doesn’t have as much depth as I would have liked, and the character feels a little inconsistent between films. It also might have been nice to have some more nuance in the villain characters.

Portions of the plot do stretch plausibility, and I’m sure other reviewers/bloggers have already covered that in depth. Again, many of those criticisms are valid. However, sometimes I just like going to the theater and enjoying a fun summer blockbuster with a big bucket of popcorn, and that’s what this movie did for me. I just had fun watching the dinosaurs and returning to this world. And no matter how many times it happens, it’s always great to see the T-Rex arrive to save the day (I think the T-Rex is actually my favorite character in the franchise at this point). 😉

I also appreciated that they touched on some deeper issues (though I wish they would have spent more time delving into these — and included more of Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm). Was it ever ethical to bring back dinosaurs in the first place? What should we do with dinosaurs now that they are here? Do they pose a threat to the survival of modern life? Should we let them go extinct again, or is it now our responsibility to treat them as a regular endangered species?

It seems like it’s a dangerous idea to just let the dinosaurs roam free, but neither does it feel right to let the creatures suffer and die. I didn’t expect to cry during this movie, but there’s a shot *minor spoiler alert!* of the characters having to leave a dinosaur behind on the island, when it’s clearly terrified and trying frantically to escape. That scene really got to me.

With “Jurassic World” opening to $150 million, it’s almost guaranteed we’re getting a sequel. I would like them to take a different approach and have the next (and possibly final?) “Jurassic Park” film go for more of a post-apocalyptic “Planet of the Apes” feel, like now these dinosaurs are back in the wild and our planet has changed forever. I’m placing my bets on the title being “Jurassic World: Extinction,” and it could be a great way to wrap up the franchise.

Movie review: Was ‘Incredibles 2’ worth the wait?

Incredibles-2-Wallpaper-HD-30073It’s been 14 years since the first “Incredibles” movie premiered in theaters, and it’s amazing to see how much the superhero genre has changed during that time. The original “Incredibles” came out a year before Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking Dark Knight trilogy and four years before the very first Marvel Cinematic Universe film, “Iron Man.” I don’t think anybody buying a ticket for “The Incredibles” back in 2004 imagined that by the time we finally got a sequel in 2018, we’d also be watching the epic superhero mashup “Infinity War.” So, how does the Incredibles franchise hold up after all these changes and all this time?

The original Incredibles movie introduced us to the Parr family, who were trying to live under the radar after superheroes had been made illegal. Despite their best efforts to live a “normal” life, parents Bob and Helen find themselves pulled back into the superhero business, except this time they also take their super-powered kids with them.

The sequel picks up right where the first film left off, with the Parr family jumping into action to stop a super villain with a giant drill, named the Underminer. Unfortunately, their attempt to save the day is a bit…well…messy, and isn’t exactly a PR win for the campaign to bring back superheroes. However, a wealthy benefactor named Winston Deavor offers to help superheroes like the Parrs become legal again by demonstrating to the public how great superheroes are. He picks Helen (a.k.a. Elastigirl) to be the poster child of these efforts. Of course, a new super villain arrives to foil their plans — the mysterious Screenslaver, who hypnotizes people using video screens.

Before I say anything else, I have to emphasize that “Incredibles 2” is a fun movie. It’s a good movie to take the kids to on a hot summer afternoon (and adults too, of course!) Although it seems like there are fewer films geared towards kids these days, at least in theaters, there’s clearly still a demand for this type of family film. “Incredibles 2” premiered to an amazing $180 million this past weekend — that’s a huge number, and a nice boost for Disney after the underperformance of “Solo.”

Still, I also have to say that at least for me, the sequel didn’t feel quite as fresh or exciting as the original. Maybe that’s a symptom of the 14-year gap between the two films, or the fact that so much has changed within the superhero genre in that time. Plus, sometimes it’s just tough to recapture the same magic in a sequel, because this time the concept isn’t a surprise.

The original “Incredibles” is such a good film, blending retro aesthetics, a fantastic soundtrack, and interesting family dynamics into this perfect cocktail of fun and adventure. For whatever reason, the plot of the sequel didn’t engage me as much, even though I still had fun watching the movie. I also thought the villain wasn’t as interesting this time; it’s hard to beat Syndrome, who was fascinating because Mr. Incredible inadvertently creates his own villain. The reveal of the Screenslaver’s true identity didn’t really come as a shock, and I thought it was interesting how much monologue-ing this villain did, since they made a joke about villain monologue-ing in the original.

However, let’s move on to the positive. Baby Jack-Jack was, hands down, the best part of the movie for me. Watching him discover his powers (and subsequently terrify his poor family) was absolutely hilarious. I loved superhero suit designer Edna Mode’s reappearance (she and Jack-Jack absolutely deserve a spin-off short). And I enjoyed seeing how the Parr family continues to love and support each other, even though they hit a few road bumps. The interactions between the family members provide both the film’s best comedic moments and its heart.

In short, I enjoyed watching “Incredibles 2” and thought it was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. If you were a fan of the first, definitely go see the sequel. However, for me it didn’t *quite* live up to the original, and I left the theater wishing for just a little bit more than it ended up delivering.

Too much of a good thing: Are sequels/revivals always a great idea?

arresteddevelopmentallcharacters2“Arrested Development” is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. The series, featuring the misadventures of the spectacularly dysfunctional Bluth family, ran for a mere three seasons on Fox before getting canceled. However, thanks to a still-devoted fanbase, the show was revived seven years later on Netflix.

Although Netflix swooping in to save the day seemed like a good thing at the time, response to the show’s fourth season was…well…a little lukewarm. But showrunners were determined to try again, and Netflix recently released a fifth season of the show that appeared to be a return to form.

I binged most of the fifth season of “Arrested Development” this past week. It was good to see the gang back together, and there were plenty of moments that made me laugh out loud. Still, it’s fair to say that the show didn’t have *quite* the same magic of its initial run, though it’s tough to pinpoint exactly why.

Revivals/sequels to beloved TV shows and movies often seem like a good idea on paper, but that’s not always the case in practice. Especially when there’s a long gap between the original product and the revival.

Sometimes it works out, like the 35-year gap between the original “Blade Runner” and the sequel “Blade Runner 2049.” Although not a box office blockbuster per se, “Blade Runner 2049” was a masterful science fiction film in its own right, at least in my opinion. But then you have other examples like the “Arrested Development” revival, which *should* work flawlessly since you’ve still got the same cast. But it just doesn’t seem quite as fresh or funny. Whether that’s because the show has changed or the audience has, is an interesting question to ponder.

Whether a revival/sequel is worthwhile or not has to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Is there anything new to add to the original story? Are there opportunities to add more layers or nuance, or portray the characters, setting, etc. in a new way? If the answer is yes, then a sequel or revival can be the perfect way to capture nostalgia while also offering fresh material. I know not all Star Wars fans are pleased with how Disney has handled the franchise, but I love the direction Star Wars is going these days. At the heart of it, it’s still the same Star Wars we know and love (at least to me!), but we’re viewing these characters/places/themes through a new lens.

Alternatively, I was initially a little skeptical about “Incredibles 2,” because it’s been 14 years since the previous film and I wasn’t sure the movie needed a follow-up. But judging by the reviews so far, it looks like it’s a worthy successor to the original film, and I’m now looking forward to seeing how it will play out. It will be especially interesting to see if the film riffs on all the changes that have occurred in the superhero genre since the original Incredibles flick.

As fans, I think it’s also important to keep our expectations in check when it comes to a return/revival. Nostalgia can be a powerful drug, making us see things as better than they really are simply because they’ve been a part of our lives for so long.

That’s partly why, as much as I love Joss Whedon’s “Firefly,” I’m not really sure I’d want to see a revival, even if the cast got back together. That show is so beloved by many fans, and we’ve all had years to watch — and re-watch, and re-watch — the series. No matter how good a reboot was, would it ever feel the same? Maybe yes, maybe not.

While there are some complaints in Hollywood about too many sequels and “retreading old ground,” I think there’s nothing wrong with continuing a story, as long as it’s done in an authentic and creative way. Audiences are pretty savvy; they can spot which products are a labor of love, and which are a shameless cash grab. And creators should also be willing to let a concept go when its time has come, no matter how beloved it was in the past.

So, what do you think the “magic ingredients” are for a successful sequel or revival? What shows, franchises, etc. would you like to see revived, and which ones should remain as they are in the past?

What do we do about toxic fandom?

LastJedi-1I’m proud to be a geek. If people give me a window of opportunity, I’ll gladly talk about Star Wars, Star Trek, superhero films, Doctor Who, etc. for hours. I’ve made a lot of new friends through the geek community, both in person and online, and it’s cool to find people who share a passion for the same franchises, films, and TV shows that I do.

However, there have been a few times when I’ve felt bad about being part of a fandom. I had a moment like that this week, when I heard that actress Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” had deleted all her Instagram posts after months of being harassed online.

Fans had some pretty strong reactions to “The Last Jedi,” both positive and negative. Although I liked Rose and thought her place in the story made sense, some fans didn’t care for the character. Unfortunately, some of them decided to go online and harass the actress directly.

I actually saw some of this behavior firsthand, a few months ago when Mark Hamill decided to say “happy birthday” to Kelly Marie Tran on Facebook. It wasn’t anything major, just a nice little “happy birthday” post for an actress he enjoyed working with. However, the comments on this post were beyond cringe-worthy. Some fans took this as an opportunity to share just how much they hated Rose’s character in “The Last Jedi”; the venom and anger shocked me, and, frankly, broke my heart. There’s a time and place for criticizing films, characters, performances, etc., but posting nasty comments on a birthday post seemed in poor taste.

I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here — the WordPress blogging community I’m a part of is a great group of people who aren’t the sort of fans who would go online and send death threats to actors, directors, etc. just because they didn’t like a film. Unfortunately, these kinds of fans ARE out there, though, and they have the potential to make all of us look bad. Sadly, sometimes negative voices get heard the most, and I would hate to think that people like Kelly Marie Tran feel the majority of Star Wars fans behave like this.

Even though these mean-spirited people are a minority, I don’t think we can necessarily afford to ignore this toxicity within the fandom. On the other hand, I’m not exactly sure how we fix it. Anytime we see someone post an over-the-top, hateful, sexist, and/or racist comment, do we call them out on it? Or is that simply “feeding the trolls” and egging them on? I’ve always wondered if the kind of fans that harass performers like Kelly Marie Tran are themselves damaged and/or hurting, and they lash out as a way to deflect their own pain.

The frustrating thing about this toxicity is that it drowns out deeper discussions between fans, where people can respectfully state why they did or didn’t like a particular film or TV show. It’s one thing to say you didn’t care for a director’s choices, or the casting of a particular role. It’s another to go online and try to hurt a filmmaker or actor, who at the end of the day are regular humans, just like us.

So, do we post positive content to drown out some of the mean-spiritedness? Does that even make a difference? Maybe I’m a stubborn idealist, but I think it does. I searched “Kelly Marie Tran” on Twitter this morning, afraid of what I would find, but was pleasantly surprised by an outpouring of love, warmth, and support. I think that messages of kindness like this DO matter. I retweeted some of the nice messages; I’d encourage you to do the same.

Like I said before, I don’t know that I have a solution to this issue right now, but as geeks and fans of entertainment, we have to start talking about this. Let’s make sure that the geek community remains a safe and welcoming place for all — including fans, creators, and performers.

Box office breakdown: Is ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ really a flop, and what does this mean for Disney going forward?

HS-551136_R“Solo: A Star Wars Story” premiered to an estimated $103 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend. Now, ordinarily this wouldn’t be considered a bad number. Plenty of films would kill to have this kind of opening weekend. However, it’s fair to say this is still a lot less than Disney had hoped for, especially considering the project’s reported $300 million budget and additional advertising expenses. Original projections were closer to $130-150 million for the opening weekend.

So, what happened to “Solo,” and what does this mean for the franchise going forward? There are lots of narratives flying around the internet theorizing what happened; some of the questions people are asking are valid, though this isn’t the harbinger of the demise of Disney Star Wars, by any means.

I personally wouldn’t call “Solo” a complete flop, despite what some are claiming. Still, the film has underperformed, considering its budget — which is a real shame, because “Solo” is a fun film and I thought Ron Howard did a good job salvaging the movie. It could have easily been a disaster with all that behind-the-scenes drama, including the director shake-up, reshoots, and casting controversy.

One of the phrases I’ve heard tossed around is “Star Wars fatigue.” Do I think that has anything to do with “Solo” underperforming? Yes and no. “Solo” came out about five months after “The Last Jedi,” and I think Disney would have been much smarter to hold this until late fall. Yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe can sustain several releases a year but A) Star Wars is a different animal and B) not all Marvel films are the billion-dollar hits people seem to expect Star Wars to be. Star Wars movies have always felt more like event films — something that comes up every once in a while and people get really hyped for. As much as I love Star Wars (and believe me, I do love Star Wars), I really only want one Star Wars movie a year. Plus, I think people have kind of gotten used to Star Wars movies around Christmastime, and the summer movie season is so crowded these days. “Solo” wasn’t helped by being released so close to “Infinity War” and “Deadpool 2.”

Others argue “Solo” is underperforming due to the supposed fan backlash to “The Last Jedi.” Although critically well-received and financially successful, the film proved divisive amongst the fan base for some of its surprising narrative choices. As someone who really, really loved “The Last Jedi,” maybe I’m biased, but I just don’t think the majority of people (particularly the general public) completely loathed “The Last Jedi” with the passion of a thousand simultaneously-firing Death Stars. 😉 It absolutely inspired debate, and I totally respect the opinions of those who had a different reaction to the film than I did. However, I don’t see “Solo’s” underperformance as a direct tie to some kind of post-“Last Jedi” boycott, although that may have played a small role. I feel Disney doesn’t need to be concerned about Episode IX.

I think overall, people just weren’t as hyped to see a Han Solo origin story. The premise didn’t have the same intrigue as “Rogue One” or the buzz of the main “episodes.” People were skeptical about the re-casting of Han Solo, even though I think Alden Ehrenreich did a pretty good job. As I’ve mentioned before, even though we didn’t strictly need a Han Solo movie, the final product is a lot of fun, and I’m glad it’s part of the Star Wars canon. However, if Disney can’t motivate people to buy a ticket, how good the movie is or isn’t doesn’t matter. Maybe people didn’t view this as a “must see” film. Maybe some weren’t even aware it was coming out due to the delayed advertising and hype over “Infinity War.”

I wish Disney had just gone with Ron Howard as the director in the beginning and stuck with a more modest budget. Because if that was the case, “Solo” would be a moderate hit instead of an underperformer. I don’t think Disney should expect every Star Wars movie to be a billion-dollar hit. Not every Marvel movie is one of those, and that’s perfectly fine. The first Captain America and Thor movies both premiered under $70 million, and I think Disney should have been expecting numbers closer to that for “Solo.” It’s easy to treat Star Wars as an established franchise, like the MCU, but really the Disney Star Wars universe is its own thing (separate from the original trilogy and the prequels), and should be compared to the early days of the MCU, not the MCU as it is now (if it’s even fair to compare it to the MCU at all). Especially for these anthology films, Disney has to be prepared to tell smaller-scale stories and get a smaller box office gross. Also, for whatever reason, Star Wars just isn’t as big a hit internationally, and Disney will probably have to factor that into its future calculations as well.

Now, I will be really interested to see how “Solo” does its second weekend, because word of mouth for this film has actually been fairly positive (at least judging by what I’ve heard from fans). It doesn’t have a lot of competition the next two weeks, so hopefully more people will give it a chance. As a fan of what Disney has done with the Star Wars brand so far, this isn’t the result for “Solo” that I was hoping for, but hopefully this will simply help Disney adjust its budgeting process, release strategy, and expectations, and keep producing great Star Wars content for many years to come.

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: My Star Wars film rankings (updated May 2018)

Now that “Solo” is out, here’s my updated ranking of all the Star Wars films!

Box Office Buzz

Empire-Strikes-Back-Wallpaper-6In 2016, I put together a blog post ranking my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films that I could just return to and update as more films came out; that way I wouldn’t have to make a new post every time a new MCU movie was released. 😉 Anyway, since Star Wars films and TV shows are now coming out on a more regular basis, I figured it was time to make a Star Wars post too. As with the MCU post, I’ll just update it as the new films come out, and some of the films will probably shift around over time as well. I’ve also now added tiers to my list because there are groups of Star Wars movies/TV shows I love, ones I like, and ones that are just “okay.”

Tier 1 – I love it! 

empirestrikesback-yoga-lukeskywalker-training1. The Empire Strikes Back

I’m pretty sure this comes as a…

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