- What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark? Reviewby Trey Plays
The only difference between you and me is that you can’t see the difference between you and me.
After saving genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens is on the rise, first named head of security, and later as COO for Stark Industries after uncovering a plot to assassinate Tony by The Ten Rings and Obadiah Stane. Working closely with Tony, they build a legion of drones meant to replace and save soldiers’ lives on the front lines of war, but the only way to get them working is to acquire vibranium. Meeting with black market merchant Ulysses Klaue, Killmonger reveals his true plans, killing Tony, Rhodey, Klaue, and T’challa aka The Black Panther when he tries to take the vibranium back to Wakanda.
Arriving at the gates of what would have been his homeland, Killmonger delivers the body of Klaue as a show of service to Wakanda. King T’chaka is happy to embrace his lost nephew, but the time for reunion is cut short when General Ross sends the army of drones against the technologically advanced African nation under Killmonger’s deception that Wakanda assassinated Tony Stark. Killmonger quickly offers a plan to defeat the drones he created, and fights admirably alongside the Dora Milaje and fellow warriors of Wakanda. Rewarded for his bravery, Killmonger is named The Black Panther, protector of Wakanda.
Episode six of “What If…?” Takes us back to the very beginning of the MCU; the first scene of its first movie, Iron Man. With Killmonger’s rescue of Tony, the entire timeline is rewritten, leaving the world without Iron Man, and without the Avengers. It tells a dark story not only of Killmonger, but of Tony Stark, who without his experience being captured by the Ten Rings and learning a humbling lesson, instead sees his almost assassination as a reason to create bigger and badder weapons. Killmonger’s manipulations must have been planned over years to pull the strings of not only Tony, but two world superpowers, forcing America and Wakanda into a conflict he created only for himself to become the victor. It’s a plan worthy of the Killmonger we first met in Black Panther, and that’s kind of the problem.
As intriguing as his plan was, he was still the same villain we’ve seen before. Wonderfully performed by Michael B. Jordan who returned to voice the character again in “What If…?”, Killmonger was one of the better villains of the MCU. He wasn’t simply after power or money, or even solely vengeance. His motivations come from the oppression of African Americans which make his aggressive actions almost justified. He was a villain who not only nearly defeated The Black Panther, but forced T’challa to reconsider his perspective of how his nation could help African Americans in the US and throughout the world. But this episode misses the opportunity to show a different Killmonger, one who doesn’t resort to murder and deception to advance his agenda, but could be a true hero to his people in the US and Wakanda, standing beside The Black Panther to change the world.
It’s difficult to disagree with Killmonger’s perspective, because he’s absolutely correct about the oppression African Americans have suffered at the hands of imperial minded countries. In Black Panther, we got to see Killmonger acting in the same vein as Malcom X, a leader who advocates fighting fire with fire. In this episode, Marvel missed the chance to show Killmonger taking a different approach, advocating for peace and progress through unity and understanding, similar to Martin Luther King.
- What If… Zombies?! Reviewby Trey Plays
So you wanna survive the zombie apocalypse.
After Thanos’ destruction of Thor’s Asgardian refugee ship, Heimdall uses the last of his power to send Dr. Bruce Banner aka The Hulk back to Earth to warn the Avengers of the impending danger. However, landing in Doctor Strange’s empty Sanctum Santorum, Bruce discovers a ravaged world full of zombies infected by a quantumverse virus brought back by Dr. Hank Pym. Running for his life from the undead versions of Tony Stark aka Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Wong, Bruce is saved just in time by Peter Parker aka Spider-man, and Hope Van Dyne aka The Wasp.
Taking refuge among other Avenger survivors like Okoye, General of the Dora Milaje, Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier, Sharon Carter, Happy Hogan, and Kurt Goreshter, they discover a signal from another survivor camp located at Camp Lehigh, the base where Steve Rogers trained during World War 2. Fighting through waves of zombies led by the undead Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, Sam Wilson aka Falcon, and Steve Rogers aka Captain America, they arrive at Camp Lehigh and find Vision, who believes he’s discovered a cure to the quantum zombie plague with the Mind Stone after a successful test performed on the reanimated, dad-joke spewing head of Scott Lang aka Ant-Man. But after a thorough exploration of the camp, they discover Vision is keeping a dark secret; the undead Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch.
Since her undeath, Vision has been luring survivors to the camp to feed Wanda while he tried to find a cure, but her powers proved too strong. Hoping to make amends for his deception, Vision sacrifices himself and gives the Mind Stone to Peter and the few remaining survivors so they can travel to Wakanda and use their technology and the Stone to counteract the virus. Because of Wakanda’s shields, they hope to find the African nation free of the zombie plague. What greets them, however, is a zombie horde led by an undead Thanos.
“What if… Zombies?!” brings to the MCU one of my favorite things; zombies! As a fan of zombie narratives and action, I’d like to admit my own bias for this episode. I knew it was coming, and now that I’ve seen it, I know the wait was worth it. From the first scene of Bruce arriving in New York, this episode delivered a fun, gory, action packed adventure worthy of being a part of the MCU. While the story was full of heart breaking moments, like Happy’s death or Hope’s tragic sacrifice, the strength of this episode comes from Peter Parker, voiced by Hudson Thames, Kurt Goreshter, voiced by David Dasmalchian, and the overall comedy as they try to lead everyone through popular zombie movie cliches.
As unique as this episode was, the story felt rushed as it squeezed a number of heavy plot points in 30 minutes. The narrative would benefit from a longer runtime, or even better if it were a series unto itself. While I know many are burnt out over zombies and the multiple Walking Dead series, a zombie series with our favorite Avengers that is the same quality as this episode would be a fun and worthwhile addition to the MCU, even if it remained an animated series. This episode also misses out on an opportunity of making a Walking Dead reference between Peter and Okoye, voiced by Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead’s fan-favorite Michonne.
Despite “What If… Zombies?!” flaws, this episode was a fun and thrilling adventure that made me laugh, and almost made me cry. It’s evidence that the best stories are the ones that have fun.
- What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands? Reviewby Trey Plays
You’re a god! You can undo this!
With the death of the love of his life, Dr. Christine Palmer, in a tragic car accident, Dr. Stephen Strange, expert surgeon and future Sorcerer Supreme, seeks to master the mystical arts to bring her back in this alternate timeline. After mastering the Eye of Agamotto and defeating Dormammu (I’ve come to bargain), Strange turns his attention to reversing time to try and save Christine, but fails over and over again. Explained by the Ancient One, Christine’s death is an Absolute Point, the necessary event that cannot be changed that begins Strange’s path to becoming the Sorcerer Supreme.
In a desperate attempt to stop Strange from continuing his misguided path, the Ancient One splits this alternate timeline in two. As one Strange decides to ultimately move on from his memory of Christine, another pursues that memory to the Lost Library of Cagliostro, a sorcerer rumored to have found a way to change an absolute point. Strange finds the answer to saving Christine and begins to capture and harness the power of countless mystical beings (one probably being Cthulhu…) until he has the power he needs. Seeking out the other Doctor Strange to absorb his power as well, the two doppelgängers enter into a battle of mystic arts, ultimately ending in the Dark Strange’s victory.
Now, with all the power he needs, he revives Christine, only for her to meet the hideous creature he’s become as reality breaks around them. With a desperate plea to The Watcher to fix his mistake, to not let Christine and the world be punished for his arrogance, the universe is destroyed, leaving the smallest pocket dimension for Strange to spend an eternity in, alone and, once again, without Christine.
Despite all the excitement of WandaVision, the hype of Spider-Man: No Way Home, and the upcoming Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Episode Four of What If…? is the first time we’ve returned to Dr. Stephen Strange since Avengers: Endgame, and I couldn’t be more excited. Getting back into the fray of Marvel’s mystical side is something I’ve missed since the first Doctor Strange and his roles in Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War. The magic shown is so unique from the rest of the MCU. Doctor Strange brings something else to the table other than superpowers, he brings intelligence and wit, as well as some much enjoyed sarcasm and sass. Against Dormammu, instead of beating him to a pulp, he tricked him into a time loop until he was ready to relent, and his spells and magical items sound as if they’ve come straight out of the D&D Player’s Handbook. Which is where this particular adventure of Doctor Strange falls short.
While the overarching plot was heartbreaking and compelling, the magic this Strange used was more brute force than intellect or cunning. He consistently summons and defeats these beasts over and over, and his conflict with the other Strange throws away wits and uses another generic fight to beat the protective warding off of Strange until he’s defenseless. It lacks what I personally enjoy about the character. However, this episode offers another intriguing element that we haven’t seen yet; The Watcher in direct contact with the universe. In the beginning the Watcher warned us that he could not, would not, should not interfere in the timelines, that he must only watch. However, he’s now spoken directly the the timelines focal point, Doctor Strange. Is this foreshadowing that not only can The Watcher interfere, but will he if the situation were dire enough. Will these alternate timelines eventually converge into something dangerous that the Watcher must confront directly, or will they remain something only to be watched?
- Marvel’s WandaVision “We Interrupt this Program” Reviewby Trey Plays
It’s all Wanda.
Meet Capt. Monica Rambeau; pilot, agent of SWORD (Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division), daughter to Capt. Maria Rambeau, and surrogate family member to Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. After the shock of returning from five years being vanished from Thanos’ Snappening, she’s ready to return to work at SWORD. Unfortunately, due to the anomalies of the re-Snappening, Director of SWORD Tyler Hayward is grounding her until his agency is back on its feet. In the meantime, Monica is sent to Westview, New Jersey to help FBI agent Jimmy Woo on a missing persons case that has now turned into a whole missing town. Upon discovering a strange force field surrounding the town, Monica is quickly sucked inside, vanishing from sight.
Meet Dr. Darcy Lewis; astrophysicist, colleague of Dr. Jane Foster and Dr. Erik Selvig, and friend of Thor Odinson. After Monica’s disappearance, SWORD is calling in every scientist they can to help solve what is going on in Westview. Running every test they can think of, Darcy picks up a hidden signal through an older television and discovers the strange new TV show, WandaVision, starring two Avengers, one thought to be dead, the citizens of Westview, and Monica as Wanda’s new friend Geraldine. SWORD tries to contact Wanda through a number of ways that somehow change when they come into contact with the force field, such as the red and yellow toy helicopter that was once a drone, and the beekeeper from the sewers that was once a SWORD agent. They’re quickly running out of ideas when Darcy and Jimmy watch WandaVision’s third episode, the one where Geraldine delivers Wanda’s babies, and she mentions Ultron. The episode is cut short and Monica is violently thrown out of the Westview force field and returned to SWORD.
After three decreasingly charming episodes, “We Interrupt this Program” FINALLY gives us a clue to the greater plot of WandaVision. While feeling like a very fast and short episode, we are introduced to some of the bigger events and characters not only involved in this show, but the greater MCU, such as SWORD, Monica Rambeau (Teyona Parris), and the return of Thor fan-favorite, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). Though there are still plenty of questions surrounding Wanda and Vision’s situation, we are given the sense that Wanda has some measure of control and awareness, along with a cryptic warning from Monica that “It’s all Wanda.”
This episode also answers some logistical questions of how the world is operating post-Endgame. Earth and the rest of the universe suffered when Thanos snapped away half of all life, but five years after the fact, the world was healing and finding a new normal. Then, suddenly, those who vanished return without warning. We only see a glimpse of the chaos in the hospital Monica vanished from, where her mother Maria was undergoing cancer treatments, but imagine that chaos spread across the entire planet. People who vanished from crosswalks suddenly reappearing in the middle of the street. People who vanished and left empty homes reappearing to find themselves now homeless. Fortunately for Monica, her career with SWORD was waiting for her, for the most part, and she has the chance to resume some semblance of her old life, but others may not be as lucky.
- Marvel’s What If… The World Lost its Mightiest Heroes? Reviewby Trey Plays
There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, until those remarkable people began being murdered one by one. In just one week, Tony Stark, Thor Odinson, and Dr. Bruce Banner are found dead, presumably at the hands of SHIELD’s best agents, Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton. However, SHIELD Director Nick Fury isn’t so sure these cases are as cut and dry as they seem, especially when the Black Widow and Hawkeye die under even stranger circumstances. Trying to solve these murders goes from difficult to nearly impossible when an Asgardian army led by Loki Laufeyson invade Earth seeking vengeance for his brother’s murder.
Striking a deal with Loki, Fury has one day to find the would-be Avengers’ killer. With help from Agent Coulson, Fury thinks he’s discovered the killer’s identity, but to be sure, he needs the help of the God of Mischief. Traveling to a graveyard in San Francisco, Fury finds the tombstone of Hope Van Dyne, daughter of Dr. Hank Pym, and an agent of SHIELD. Pym confronts Fury while wearing his own modified version of the Yellow Jacket suit and blames him for his daughter’s death, revealing his motive and methods of murdering each of the Avengers in an attempt to leave Fury and SHIELD crippled. However, after some clever tricks, Fury reveals himself to be Loki, who captures his brother’s killer. Instead of returning to Asgard, Loki decides he’d like to stay on Earth a bit longer, and in only a day, conquers all of Misgard’s disparate nations, forcing them under his rule. Things seem bleak for Earth, but Fury has two more cards to play; two captains, one frozen in ice, and one returning from space.
Taking place over the timelines of Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk, What If…?’s third episode attempts to be a classic whodunnit as Nick Fury tries to solve the murders of the Avengers. Much of the conflicts surround memorable scenes from the three films, much like its Captain Carter episode, though ending very differently as each of the Avengers end up dead. The twist of a vengeful Hank Pym and how he commits these murders is interesting, but the episode focuses more on Hulk’s fight scene, Tony’s donut scene, and Thor’s luxurious hair, rather than letting it play out like an actual mystery, lacking any real clues until the very end. Instead of an interesting whodunnit where the audience tries to solve the case along with Fury, it’s simply an instant replay of the MCU’s phase one with the end delivered on a silver platter.
- Marvel’s WandaVision “Now in Color” Reviewby Trey Plays
I think something’s wrong here, Wanda.
Changes abound for Wanda and Vision. A new house, a new time period, new colors, and Wanda finds herself halfway through her pregnancy overnight! With the baby on the way, there is plenty to prepare, such as setting up the nursery and keeping Wanda’s early trimesters a secret from the neighbors, especially when the rapid changes affect Wanda’s magic, sending the whole neighborhood buzzing.
In the blink of an eye, Wanda transitions from four months all the way to nine months and starts having contractions. As Vision rushes to find the doctor, Geraldine pays Wanda a visit to borrow some supplies and gossip about her new job. Wanda can only hide her pregnancy for so long until the baby decides to come early. With Geraldine’s help, Wanda delivers a healthy pair of twins, just like Wanda and Pietro, named Tommy and Billy. But the mention of Pietro sparks something in Geraldine as she remembers his death at the hands of Ultron. Memories begin to flood her mind until she simply disappears.
Outside the city limits of Westview, a shimmering disturbance launches Geraldine into an empty field that quickly fills with SUVs, helicopters, and soldiers.
“Now in Color” continues WandaVisions journey through classic television series, moving from the 50’s and 60’s of Bewitched and Dick Van Dyke, and onto the 70’s of Mary Tyler Moore. The hour long episode is full of wacky shenanigans trying to hide Wanda’s magic and pregnancy that are mildly entertaining, but more of the same that we’ve seen in the last two episodes without introducing any of the greater plot until the very last moments of the episode. This episode also misses a huge opportunity by not having That 70’s Show actor Debra Jo Rupp appear in a 70’s themed show after her appearances in both previous episodes. Hopefully with this glimpse of the world outside WandaVision, we’ll finally start getting answers as to what is going on.
- What If… T’challa Became a Star-Lord? Reviewby Trey Plays
When young T’challa (Chadwick Boseman), Prince of the technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda, seeks to explore the world, he is abducted by an alien spacecraft helmed by Ravager Captain Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), due to a mix up when trying to find Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Offering to show T’challa the entire Galaxy, Yondu takes the young prince under his wing, and together they reshape the entire galaxy. Now a man grown, T’challa goes by the name Star-Lord, a renowned intergalactic adventurer known for taking on dangerous missions, saving entire planets, and never backing down from a fight. And he does not travel alone; along with Yondu’s crew of ravages, including Kraglin (Sean Gunn), newly recruited fanboy Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou), and the reformed Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), he also calls on the help of the galaxy’s most infamous femme fatal, the luxuriously blonde adopted daughter of Thanos, Nebula (Karen Gillan).
When Nebula offers a job to T’challa and the Ravagers to steal an ancient artifact from the galaxy’s kingpin of crime, The Collector, they hatch a scheme to sneak into his museum past his guards, The Black Order. Everything seems to be going to plan until Nebula double crosses them, paying off a debt to The Collector with the capture of the famous Star-Lord. However, to the Ravagers’ surprise, Nebula reveals this was all a part of T’challa’s plan. As Nebula leads the Ravagers in their escape, along with the artifact, saving her Mad Titan father in the process and building a bond between them, Yondu races to T’challa’s aid as he fights The Collector. Stuffing him in one of his own display boxes, they manage to make their escape. Having saved the galaxy countless times, T’challa feels the pull of his home in Wakanda. Returning to Earth, T’challa introduces his royal family to his adopted galactic family.
What If…?’s second episode is a huge turn around from its previous Captain Carter season premiere. Unlike its first episode, this wasn’t trying to fit all of the same plot points of a film into a thirty minute retelling with just a few changes, but was a wholly new and original story, though still worthy of director James Gunn’s usual insanity. While it begins almost exactly like Guardians of the Galaxy, with Star-Lord on Morag, it quickly evolves into a comedic adventure starring the dashing galactic hero, T’challa.
There wasn’t a moment of this episode that I wasn’t laughing at the jokes or references or smiling because a galaxy with T’challa in it is genuinely a better place. Not only does he convince the Ravagers to become adventuring saviors instead of space pirates, or convince Thanos that there are better ways to allocate the universe’s resources than to cull half the population (everyone calling out Thanos’ genocide plan was the funniest running gag of the episode), but he even managed to save Drax’s (Dave Bautista) planet from a kree invasion, leaving him to be a happy family man and bartender. This was a fun episode where you knew everything was going to work out in the end and I was totally fine with that because it was just so much fun. It was truly worthy of the best and most exciting Saturday morning cartoons.
The only way this episode falls short is a missed opportunity for a special cameo. This episode was full of little references that were pure fan service, such as the Collector having all of the Avengers’ weapons and Hell’s stylish helmet, or Howard the Duck, but one Easter egg was missing; Stan Lee. Rumors abound that Marvel’s famed comics creator and “Generalissimo” had a different cameo than what was eventually seen in Guardians of the Galaxy. Instead of his appearance in the beginning of the film with Rocket and Groot, he was supposedly meant to actually be apart of The Collector’s collection, not as some alien species, but as Stan Lee himself. Whether this was rumor or fact, the idea has become so wide spread that it is genuinely surprising they didn’t add it into this episode.
The fact that so many of the original Guardians of the Galaxy cast returned to lend their voices to this episode was such a treat. Michael Rooker was expected, but imagine my surprise to hear Josh Brolin and Karen Gillan’s voices, especially as the variant characters they were.
But the obvious star (lord) of the episode was Chadwick Boseman, performing his role as T’challa for the last time after his sudden passing a year ago. Just like this episode, this T’challa wasn’t weighed down by the burdens of leading a kingdom, avenging his father, or facing the world’s systemic racism. He was fun and charming and all of the good things you want in a character. He may have even been too perfect, but it worked and I’m not complaining. I’m so glad that Chadwick Boseman was able to perform this fun character before his passing.
“Dedicated to our friend, our inspiration, and our hero, Chadwick Boseman.”
- Marvel’s WandaVision “Don’t Touch that Dial” Reviewby Trey Plays
How is anyone doing this sober?
Tonight is the big talent show and Wanda and Vision are preparing to perform a mysterious magic act. Before attending the show’s planning committee with the rest of the town’s housewives, Wanda discovers something strange; a red and yellow toy helicopter, clashing with the rest of the show’s black and white scenes. Putting it aside to think on later, Wanda and Agnes attend the meeting, hosted by Dottie, everyone’s least favorite and most feared planning committee leader. While Agnes gets drunk, Wanda meets a new, like minded friend, Geraldine.
Before the show begins, Vision accidentally swallows a piece of gum and it “gums up the works”. Taking to the stage in a humorous and inebriated state, Wanda manages to steer him on the right track of showing off the staged magical tricks instead of the town witnessing their own supernatural abilities. To great applause, they are awarded Best Comedy Act and return home to discover Wanda is pregnant! Before they can celebrate, they hear a noise outside and find a beekeeper climbing out of a sewer grate. With a simple “No”, Wanda manages to rewind the episode back to the magical discovery of her pregnancy just as the black and white transitions to full color.
Much like the first episode, “Don’t Touch That Dial” continues the wacky mishaps so often seen in Nick-at-Nite reruns. While we see more of the town and the cast of WandaVision, including meeting Geraldine, this episode doesn’t offer much else aside from a few WTF moments with no answers in sight. The strange moments of the episode, the beekeeper, the helicopter, radio message to Wanda, grab your attention, but they’re so brief compared to the lengthy sitcom narrative. It’s just as charming as the last episode, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
- Marvel’s What If… Captain Carter were the First Avenger? Series Premiere Reviewby Trey Plays
That was brilliant! Let’s give it another go!
Meet The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), a cosmic being who observes the ebb and flow of time and reality. Guiding us through the multiverse of infinite possibilities and choices diverging into new timelines, he asks us to ponder the question what if…? For example, what if Agent Peggy Carter were given the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers?
Events are changed by a simple decision during what was meant to be Steve’s injection as a covert HYDRA agent shoots Steve before he can enter the test chamber. In an effort to save the experiment, Peggy Carter jumps into the test chamber and becomes enhanced in Steve’s place. Despite Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) claims of success, the patriarchal military refuses to accept a woman as a soldier. With Stark’s help, and some encouragement from a recovering Steve, Carter takes up her shield, emblazoned with England’s flag, and goes after HYDRA.
After kidnapping Dr. Armin Zola (Toby Jones) and the tesseract, which Howard uses to build Steve the first Iron Man suit AKA The HYDRA Stomper, Carter builds her forces and pushes the Red Skull’s army back to their headquarters. Launching a full scale attack of his castle, she witnesses the Red Skull’s ultimate goal; to summon HYDRA’s true champion, a tentacle monster from beyond the stars. Carter manages to push the creature back behind its dimensional gateway, but finds herself trapped with it. Seventy years later, as SHIELD experiments with the tesseract, the portal reopens, allowing Carter to return, though no time has passed for her. Met by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Hawkeye, he tells her the war is over, they won, but Steve and everyone she knew has passed.
With the end of Loki breaking the sacred timeline and releasing the multiverse, What If…? gets to work on what exactly that multiverse looks like. For the first time, Marvel Studios is choosing an animated approach to tell this chapter of the MCU, and it benefits from having Disney’s backing and expertise to create the animations. While still staying very cartoonish, the effects and art style is worthy of Disney and Pixar’s legacy.
Hayley Atwell shines in this series premiere, as she always does. She’s played the role of Peggy Carter in four films, though only briefly in three of them, a cameo in Agents of SHIELD, and her own popular, but short lived, series Agent Carter. As much as I would love to see her return in greater fashion, having her back for this short episode just reminds me of how great she is in the role. Not only does she bring the charm and attitude of Carter to the animated screen, but now that she gets to be Captain Carter, it’s clear just how much fun she’s having playing the frontline soldier as opposed to the covert agent. Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, and Samual L. Jackson also reprise their respective roles, and while they only have brief scenes, it’s good to see the old Captain America: First Avenger cast back together (sans Chris Evans).
It’s not just the cast of Captain America that returns, but unfortunately some of its flaws come with it. What If…? is about thirty minutes long and attempts the retell the story of a two hour movie in that half hour. Because of that, the pacing feels rushed, and while it’s entertaining, things happen almost too fast to fully enjoy each scene. While there are obvious changes from the Captain America: First Avenger storyline, such as Captain Carter, Steve “HYDRA Stomper” Rogers, and Red Skull summoning an alien, for the most part, the rest of the story follows the same exact plot lines of the original film. It felt like even with the variants of Captain Carter, I was still just watching a sped up version of the film I’ve watched more than a dozen times since 2011.
Like every other Disney+ Marvel show, What If…? leaves us with some exciting speculations and intriguing questions. What was HYDRA’s champion? My first guess was that it was Hive, the ancient Inhuman that the HYDRA cult worshipped and was seen in Agents of SHIELD. Both are described as champions of HYDRA, and both have tentacles, though the tentacles were toned down in Agents of SHIELD. With Peggy trapped in an inter dimensional gateway, who created SHIELD? Howard Stark would still have been involved, but who else? Steve and Bucky? What was The Watcher doing before Loki released the multiverse, aside from listening to Earth adventures from The Stan Lee Watcher as seen in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? Or because of time travel, did Loki breaking the multiverse at the end of time somehow make the multiverse an ever existing thing reaching back to the beginning of time? Finally, what is The Watchers agenda, if he has one at all? Obviously, his whole thing is just watching, and he states at the end of the episode that he should not, cannot, will not interfere. However, why show us these stories? Is he saying he won’t interfere to convince us, or himself?
This series premiere of What If…? is a fun, animated, and imaginative view of the big events of the MCU. While it relies heavily on already seen plot points, it still manages to entertain and give fans a breather from the dramatic live action shows.
- Trey Plays The Witcher 3: Wild Huntby Trey Plays
This is my story, not yours. You must let me finish telling it.
Geralt of Rivia, a revered monster slayer who has fought legendary beasts, saved kings, and faced prophecies. Now, as he searches for his lost love, the sorceress Yennefer, and his daughter Cirilla, the destined savior of the world, Geralt’s story approaches its end. While involved in the politics of a war torn land and facing an old, powerful foe, Geralt must not only protect his family, but the rest of the world. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt concludes the story begun in The Witcher novels by Andrzej Sapkowski and picked up by game developer CD Projekt Red. Not only did CDPR deliver a massive game with exciting mechanics in swordplay and magic, a living, breathing fantasy world, and strong and enticing story and characters, but they also set the gold standard for DLC and microtransactions. After a year of offering free DLC missions, items, and cosmetics, their Hearts or Stone and Blood and Wine DLC offered new lands, monsters, and stories as massive and complete as the base game. Not only do I give The Witcher 3 five stars, but I consider it to be one of the best games I’ve ever played.
- WandaVision’s Series Premiere “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience” Reviewby Trey Plays
We are an unusual couple, ya know.
Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), once Avengers, are now newlyweds moving into their first home. They have everything; a lovely house in a lovely neighborhood, Visions job and career prospects, helpful neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), and of course Wanda’s magic. Everything a charming 1950’s sitcom household could need.
The only thing missing is their past, but more importantly, what special occasion marks the day. While Wanda spends time with Agnes preparing for what she believes to be their anniversary of… something, Vision is hard at work calculating numbers to increase the productivity of their input and output of… something. Vision begins to panic when he learns that they’d forgotten about having dinner with Vision’s boss, Mr. Hart and his wife (Debra Jo Rupp).
In a classic mixup, Vision and Wanda try to salvage the dinner as best they can with some help from their special abilities, and Agnes. When dinner conversation turns towards Wanda and Vision’s past, who they were, when they were married, where they came from, the situation becomes strange as Mr. and Mrs. Hart are temporarily stuck in a loop. Once passed it, they act as if nothing had happened and Mr. Hart awards Vision on his new promotion. After a wacky day of close calls, Wanda and Vision settle in for the night, deciding that this day will mark their anniversary.
WandaVision’s series premiere “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience” has all of the trademarks of classic sitcoms like Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie. A loving yet quirky family in a normal suburb, striving to live a normal life while hiding their secrets through fun and mischievous scenarios.
Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are delightful and fun to watch in their unique performances as they take on the characteristics of these sitcom characters. Particularly Bettany, who has most recently been seen as the stoic Vision. Seeing him simply as the charming and funny Bettany is a reminder of his range as an actor. Kathryn Hahn’s Agnes also offers her own brand of comedy as the borderline raunchy neighbor.
Despite being filmed with the advantages of today’s production and CGI, many of the effects of Wanda’s magic and Visions powers look authentically 1950’s with flying pans held up by strings and magic costume changes done with quick editing. It stays delightful until it takes a turn for the weird and moves from Bewitched to Twilight Zone.
This is already proving to be a fun, weird, and unique take on classic sitcoms and the superhero genre.
- Marvel‘s Loki “For All Time. Always.” Season Finale Reviewby Trey Plays
We’re all villains here.
With Alioth defeated and the pathway clear, Loki and Sylvie find themselves at the steps of an ominous castle floating beyond the void. As they prepare to battle whatever powerful creature waiting within, the doors open and they find themselves invited inside by the man behind the curtain; He Who Remains (HWR) (Jonathan Majors). A charismatic and welcoming host, HWR enjoys the company of the Lokis as he explains his role behind the TVA, how the brilliant and powerful variants of himself discovered the multiverse in the 31st century, and despite some variants wanting peace, others were more interested in conquering the other timelines which led to the Multiversal War. At the end of the war, the variant now known as HWR harnessed the power of Alioth and ended the conflict, then built the TVA to maintain order to avoid another war.
Now, HWR is tired and wants to pass on the responsibility of running the TVA to the Lokis. Sylvie refuses outright and tries to kill HWR, but Loki is hesitant from his warning that by killing him, the conquering variants from other timelines will start another Multiversal War. Sylvie and Loki combat each other as they try to determine if he is telling the truth or not, until Sylvie opens a portal and sends Loki back to the TVA. Now alone, Sylvie plunges her sword into HWR’s chest, setting free the timelines.
Meanwhile, Mobius returns to the TVA and with the help of B-15, reveals the truth about the TVA and all of its agents being variants. Finally confronting Renslayer, he tries to convince her the importance of free will and that what the TVA is doing is wrong. She however has other ideas, committed to HWR’s cause. After receiving a mysterious message from Ms. Minutes, controlled by HWR, she opens a portal and disappears. The Sacred Timeline is destroyed. Sylvie sits alone in HWR’s castle, and Loki runs through the halls of the TVA to find Mobius, only to discover he’s in a different timeline where Mobius has no idea who he is.
It’s been an incredible fun run through time and space, but “For All Time. Always.” brings Loki’s first season to a satisfying end. Though it’s Loki’s show, Jonathan Majors’ HWR, which we already know to be Kang the Conqueror who will be returning in Antman and the Wasp: Quantumania, takes the lion’s share of screen time in this finale, and rightly so. Despite only appearing in one episode, he performs wonderfully, showing off the range of this character from comedic to insane to fury. Even when he has no lines and is just watching the Lokis interact from the background, you can’t help but focus on him. He’s like a sci-fi Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder, not Johnny Depp).
While it’s great that we got the answers we’ve wanted all season, and despite Majors’ performance, the reveal of Kang felt expected. It was already reported that he would play Kang in Antman and the Wasp, and many of the show’s easter eggs pointed heavily to Kang. It felt so obvious that it had to be a feint. But if we’ve learned anything from WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s that the obvious answer is usually the correct one. Of the three Marvel shows so far, Loki is the first to introduce not only a villain who will show up in a future movie, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, but the potential big bad villain for phase four, maybe even further. It will be interesting to see how his story plays out, either as He Who Remains or other variants of Kang. If it does go the variant route, Majors will have the task and opportunity to test his range performing as different versions of the same character.
Spider Man: No Way Home is set to come out in 2021, but we’ve seen no trailer under the mountain of rumors of the live action Spider-verse, fueled by Doctor Strange’s apparent involvement in the film. Doctor Strange’s own film, the Multiverse of Madness, is set for 2022 and will likely involve Scarlet Witch and the affects of these new multiverses. And Antman and the Wasp: Quantumania, which will feature Kang, doesn’t come out until 2023. And those are just the films that will most likely address the multiverse canonically. While the next MCU show, Marvel’s What If…?, will probably be more of a fun show and not affect the greater MCU, it is possible that the different episodes will actually be the peaks into different timelines.
What’s next? He Who Remains is dead, the multiverse is branching, leaving the door open for worse Kang variants. Loki is seemingly lost in another timeline. Sylvie’s mission is over but she may be trapped in the void. Loki is confirmed to have a season 2 but there’s no release date yet, and we don’t know if Tom Hiddleston will appear in any of the upcoming films, such as those involving the multiverse or Thor: Love and Thunder.
Loki has been a strong balance of fun mischief and somber moments of character development from one of the MCU’s best anti-heroes. Who would have thought the Asgardian god of mischief would work with a bureaucratic time agency? The entire show played well with common time travel motifs, making it feel like Marvel’s own version of Doctor Who, but an episode where there are multiple Doctors (Tom Hiddleston would make a great Doctor, by the way).
- Marvel’s Loki, “Journey Into Mystery” Reviewby Trey Plays
Why the Hel is there any alligator in here?!
After witnessing the pruning of Loki, Sylvie confronts Renslayer about the truth about the TVA. Renslayer admits she’s as much in the dark as Sylvie is, except for the fact that the temporal energy can’t be destroyed, so when something is pruned it is sent to void at the end of time. After some stalling from Renslayer, Sylvie prunes herself in order to rejoin Loki and find whoever is behind the TVA.
Meanwhile, back in the void, Loki joins four other variant Lokis; Kid Loki, Old Man Loki, Worthy Loki holding a variant of Mjolnir, and an alligator with Loki horns I am lovingly calling Loki-gator (move over Baby Yoda!). After discussing their backstories, the strangeness of Loki-gator, and fight the more violent variant Lokis who have survived the void, Loki learns about the greatest danger of the void, a beast named Alioth, an all consuming cosmic being who devours everything in its path. As Sylvie arrives, finds Mobius, and joins Loki, they come up with a plan to enchant Alioth and find whoever is behind the TVA. With some distraction from Loki and an impressive display of magic and sacrifice from Old Man Loki, Alioth is enchanted and dissipates, revealing a castle beyond.
After the last episode’s dramatic revelations and near goodbyes to favorite characters, “Journey Into Mystery” throws out some silly antics to lighten the mood. Particularly funny are the variant Lokis Loki meets in the void, such as Worthy Mjolnir wielding Loki who lies about gathering the Infinity Stones, or President Loki and his “Vote for Loki” marauder Lokis who are constantly betraying one another. But honestly, Loki-gator steals every scene he’s in just by existing and having his growls translated. But when there’s danger, Loki-gator is fast to lend a hand to his friends, or bite one off.
It didn’t skip out on offering more insight into the greater story though, or building the love between Loki and Sylvie. Having the different Lokis, while entertaining, also offers new perspectives for Loki to see himself, such as Old Man Loki who was tired of the destruction left in his wake and chose to simply live alone instead of being killed by Thanos. Loki also glimpses just how powerful he could be based on Old Man Loki’s magic.
One of the biggest, and exciting, questions from this episode, though, is the origin behind Alioth. It’s not likely to be a creation of whatever is behind the TVA, but an inevitability that will occur at the end of time. Given its nature, is it possible that Alioth is somehow connected to Galactus, the all encompassing cosmos being who feasts on galaxies? Could Loki and Alioth be evidence of the MCU beginning to focus on its cosmic elements? Silver Surfer? The Fantastic Four?
Who is behind the TVA? What will Loki and Sylvie find in the castle? Is Loki-gator going to save the day? There is only one episode left of this season and we are only steps away from answers, hopefully.
- Marvel’s Loki “The Nexus Event” Reviewby Trey Plays
Work your Loki.
While Mobius and Renslayer deal with the fallout of Sylvie’s attack and the Lokis’ escape, Loki and Sylvie sit on Lamentis-1 accepting their doomed fate. Then, the blossoming love Loki feels for Sylvie causes a nexus event the likes of which has never been seen before, and the TVA rescues them just in time.
Loki is placed in a time-loop cell of a memory of Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) beating him up and Sylvie is put under guard. Renslayer and Mobius toast to a case closed, however, Mobius can’t shake the feeling that something is off after Loki tells him what he learned from Sylvie; the TVA agents are all variants. While he digs for the truth, Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) forms her own doubts after Sylvie brought up an old memory when she was enchanted in RoxxCart.
Finding his own evidence of the TVA’s lies, Mobius makes his move to release Loki and Sylvie, but is quickly found out and pruned. Renslayer brings the Lokis to stand before the Time-Keepers, then with help from B-15, Sylvie and Loki fight their way to the Time-Keepers and cut off one of their heads, only to discover… it’s a robot. Unsure of what to do now, Loki seizes his chance to reveal to Sylvie his feelings for her, but before he can say it, Renslayer prunes him.
In an after credits scene, Loki awakens in a strange place, with two variant Lokis and a variant Thor standing over him.
That escalated quickly! Not only were the seeds of doubt planted in “The Nexus Event”, but they were watered, harvested into cabbages, brought to the market to sell, only for the cabbage cart to be knocked over. So many significant developments happened that it’s hard to review this episode, and instead I just have to freak out and speculate on what we just saw. Mobius and Loki were pruned! The Time-Keepers are robots and even Renslayer is in on at least part of the lies. Will word spread of Mobius’ and B-15’s rebellion and cause other agents to doubt and want to find their old lives, possibly causing a civil war within the TVA?
All this time we thought when a variant was pruned, they were destroyed. But with Loki’s awakening in another place, does pruning instead transport variants to some sort of TVA re-education camp to bolster their ranks? Are these other Loki’s leading some sort of resistance? What other variants are we going to see here? Since they would vary from the Sacred Timeline versions and Avengers and other characters, there are literally no limits to who we might see. We could even see characters from other universes from Marvel Comics (please be Marvel Zombies!). Finally, who is behind the Time-Keepers and the TVA? The level of technology within the TVA was always advanced, but now that we know the Keepers themselves are robots, perhaps that technology is the clue. MODOK? Mephisto? (Probably not) Some other villain we haven’t thought of yet?
I don’t even know what to do with all of the information we learned in this episode. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going into deep hibernation until next week’s episode airs.
- Marvel’s Loki “Lamentis” Reviewby Trey Plays
Independence, authority, style.
After setting off dozens of TVA time bombs across the sacred timeline, the Variant Loki, aka Val, aka Sylvie, her actual name that we soon learn, jumps through a portal to commence her attack against the TVA with Loki close behind her. Fighting her way through TVA hunters, Loki eventually corners her, using her TVA TemPad to transport them away from the TVA and to one of Sylvie’s hideout apocalypses; Lamentis-1, a sci-fi, western, mining town about to collide with a moon.
Now stuck, Sylvie and Loki agree to a truce until they find a way to escape. During their time together, the Lokis get to know each other better, discovering their similarities and differences, and even forming a bond with each other. Running out of time, they decide to hijack the planet’s ark, meant to transport civilians to safety, but arrive too late as the ark is destroyed by crashing meteors.
The focus of “Lamentis-1” falls on the variants Loki and Sylvie as they dig into each other’s backstories, allowing us to find out just who Sylvie is, and more about her motivations. Apparently living a harder life on the run from the TVA, Sylvie lacks the magical abilities Loki does, aside from her self taught enchantments, though it seems she does have some raw, untapped power within her. They also share their own stories of their mother, Loki’s memories of Frigga, and Sylvie’s loss of her own, though whether they share Frigga as an adoptive mother is uncertain.
This episode also touches on the theme of romantic love, an aspect of Loki we’ve never seen before. It’s been confirmed that Loki identifies as gender fluid and they outright state their interest in “princesses and princes”, but what’s interesting is the kind of romantic spark between Loki and Sylvie, so essentially Loki and… Loki. Leave it to Loki to fall in love with him or herself, finally finding someone they’d consider an equal.
One last bomb of information is about the TVA itself. According to Mobius, who is missed in this episode for obvious reasons, everyone in the TVA was created by the Time Keepers. However, according to Sylvie, the truth is all of the TVA agents are actually other variants who’ve had their minds wiped. What other secrets are the Time Keepers hiding? It seems obvious that while destructive, Sylvie’s motives may be more altruistic than we’ve been led to believe.
- Marvel’s Loki “The Variant” Reviewby Trey Plays
Are we holding out for a hero?
After an annoying TVA training orientation, Loki and Mobius visit the most recent attack of the Loki Variant; a renaissance festival in 1985. Finding nothing except signs of a struggle and a missing TVA agent, Mobius puts Loki to work studying all of the past encounters with the Variant to see if they missed something. Searching through the records, Loki comes up with a theory; the Variant is hiding in timeline apocalypses where consequences don’t matter since everything is about to be destroyed anyway. Confirming their theory with a visit to Pompei on Volcano Day, Mobius and Loki’s next stop in search for the Variant is during an apocalyptic event at a RoxxCart superstore in 2050 Alabama. Splitting up, Loki encounters the Variant through a number of mind controlled people and tries to discover their motives until he meets the real Variant face to face; a female variant of Loki. Setting up a series of bombs in an attempt to destabilize the Timeline, Variant Loki escapes through her own TVA portal with Loki following close behind.
After a therapeutic first episode, “The Variant” quickly puts Loki to work with Mobius and the rest of the TVA on their hunt for the Variant Loki, who I’m currently calling Val, because 1. Variant Loki is a lot to type over and over, and 2. throughout the credits the TVA logo is shown upside down and spells out VAL and I’m speculating there’s a reason for that. Or maybe not. We’ll see.
This second episode also raises questions about the origins and true motives of the TVA and the mysterious lizard people aka Time Keepers. In an enlightening conversation between Loki and Mobius, they discuss the nature of existence; Loki’s birth of a frost giant and raised of Odin in Asgard, realm of the gods, and Mobius and the TVA’s creation by the Time Keepers and the predetermination of the end of time. Mobius’ comments on the end of time and everyone joining in an everlasting peace and an end to chaos is said with reverence, making the TVA sound almost like zealots rather than a fascist time dictatorship erasing free will, with the Time Keepers set as gods and saviors, which fits strongly with Loki’s running theme and self identity as a god.
This idea of an end to chaos might also illuminate the motives behind Val’s war against the TVA. As the god of mischief, an end to chaos would likely mean an end to Val, and in turn Loki. But chaos comes with negative connotations when in Loki’s perspective, chaos would also mean free will. Destabilizing the timeline creates branches of new timelines which could create a sense of free will against the TVA. Val’s motives may actually be altruistic, even if her methods are extreme. This chaos Val might be striving for could lead to the reformation of the Multiverse, which may come into play in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
This episode also brings a small reference to the greater MCU with RoxxCart, which is likely a retail outlet owned by Roxxon, a familiar, and often villainous, corporation seen in other shows and movies like Agent Carter and Daredevil. And finally, a possible nod to another popular time traveling series, Doctor Who, after the “you’re the criminal with the blue box!” line in episode one, when Loki and Mobius visit Pompei, which the Tenth Doctor visited as well.
- Loki, “Glorious Purpose” Series Premiere Reviewby Trey Plays
You’re that criminal with the blue box!
Only enjoying a brief escape from the Avengers after the events of Endgame, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) finds himself a prisoner of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), a powerful agency charged with protecting the timeline from disruptions. While many wish to “reset” Loki for his crimes, Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) has other ideas. Sitting down with the god of mischief, he digs deep to find out Loki’s motivations before offering him a chance at redemption for helping them catch another dangerous time variant: another Loki.
Loki’s series premiere continues to fix the character of Loki that was introduced in Thor: Ragnarok; more mischief, less gloom. However, where Ragnorok focused more on the mischief and comedy, “Loki” manages to strike a strong balance of causing mischief and still playing the dramatic role Hiddleston so excels at.
The TVA is an interesting addition to the MCU. Created by three all-powerful beings, the TVA seems to be even more powerful than the Infinity Stones, which many employees use as paper weights. But with their power also comes a comedic bureaucracy that you’d find in a Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett book.
Finally, Wilson’s Mobius is a surprisingly charming and insightful counterpart to Hiddleston’s Loki. It might even be said that Mobius is the Agent Coulson of the TVA, who is also seen briefly in a memory. The majority of this episode focusing on their conversation, it was almost like a therapy session that also caught this post-Battle of New York Loki up to speed to the current events of Infinity War and Endgame, successfully continuing Loki’s overall character development since the first Thor instead of resetting the entire arc.
Just how powerful is the TVA? What are the other variant Loki’s motives and where does he come from? What are Mobius’ plans for the god of mischief? Hopefully we’ll have answers to these questions in the coming weeks.
- Falcon and the Winter Soldier “One World, One People”, Finale Recap Reviewby Trey Plays
The only power I have is that I believe we can do better.
The Flag Smashers have made their move to stop the GRC’s vote, which would restore the world’s borders and status quo before the Snap, by attacking their offices in New York City. Bucky tries to make his way up from the ground while Sam, sporting a brand new Captain America uniform and wings, gifts from Shuri in Wakanda, and the shield, makes his way to the top floor. Before getting very far, he encounters an angered Batroc, hired by Sharon to help the Flag Smashers, who is out for revenge, as Bucky and a covert Sharon Carter try to track down the Flag Smashers and their GRC hostages.
Making short work of Batroc, Sam takes to the sky as the Flag Smashers escape with the GRC by both air and truck. Following their helicopter, Sam manages to to unseat the Flag Smasher pilot and get the hostages to safety. Bucky chases Karli through the streets until they’re interrupted by John Walker, equipped with a DIY shield and a thirst for vengeance against Karli. Bucky trades blows between Karli, John, and the rest of the Flag Smashers, until Karli maneuvers a situation where John must choose to go after her or save the hostages. John, surprisingly clearing his head, chooses to save the hostages, with a little more help from Sam. With the hostages safe, Sam, Bucky, John, and Sharon, go after Karli, enraged at her failure. Cornering her alone, Sharon and Karli stand off at gunpoint where it’s revealed that Sharon was the Power Broker all along. Interrupted, Sam confronts Karli one last time, urging her to stand down before she draws a gun on him and Sharon takes her shot, killing Karli, ending the Flag Smashers, and keeping her secret role as the Power Broker safe.
Outside, a stunned crowd and GRC thank Sam for his heroics, though he quickly shuts them down and explains the ramifications of their actions trying to return the borders to how things were before the Snap, comparing them to the actions of the Mad Titan, Thanos five years ago. Giving them something to think about, Sam has one more thing to take care of before returning home. Visiting Isaiah Bradley, Sam brings him and his grandson to Washington DC, where he shows them a new addition to the Captain America memorial exhibit in the Smithsonian; a statue of Isaiah and a history of his service as a super soldier, ensuring that America will never forget what he has done for this country.
The season/series finale of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or Captain America and the Winter Soldier as the end credits show us, makes up for the lack of action from the previous episode by getting right into thick of things. Sam has shown some pretty incredible moves as the Falcon throughout the entire season, super soldier or not. But when he adds attacks with the shield AND his wings? That was AWESOME! It would have been even cooler if I wasn’t so distracted by the new uniform. I hate to admit it, but I’m not a fan. I know it looks very similar to the comics, but I’ve never been a fan of that outfit either. It may just be a preference thing, and it’s a trifling matter as Sam’s real moment to shine was not how he looked or his sweet moves, but what he says in his ending monologue to the GRC, and really the whole world. And it’s not just what he said but it’s THAT he said it. So often people shy away for fear of rocking the boat or biting the hand that feeds or poking the bear or any other metaphor, and not take a stand for or against something. Not to say Steve or even Tony Stark ever kept their opinions to themselves, but seeing this character share this view was refreshing, even if it was the view he’s had for the whole season. Something about him standing up for what was right, directly to the politicians and the reporters and the mob, right beside the river of truth, and telling them “No, YOU move.” Of all the moments Sam earned the title of Captain America, that one shined the brightest.
John Walker, former Captain America, received his own small redemption arc as he made the right choice to forgo his pursuit of vengeance against Karli and instead helped save hostages. Good for him for doing the bare minimum of saving people over killing someone? If you’re going to give a villain, or even just an asshole, a redemption arc, make it a strong one. This felt too easy. Even Bucky, who had the most to say against John, seemed to quickly accept him as a new team mate, at least in this particular fight, even somewhat teasing him later on like they were old pals. Of course, that could show some of Bucky’s own character development, but for John it didn’t feel earned. Especially given his new role as US Agent by Contessa Valentina and evidence that he’s perhaps learned nothing from this experience.
What are Valentina’s true motives, and who does she work for? Remnants of Hydra? Some new government agency we haven’t met yet? What are Sharon’s plans as the Power Broker now that she’s back in the good graces of the US intelligence community? Either seem like a formidable enemy for Captain America and the Winter Soldier to face in an upcoming movie or second season.
- Falcon and the Winter Soldier, “Truth” Recap Reviewby Trey Plays
They will never let a Black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever wanna be.
Confronting John after his brutal and public murder of one of the Flag Smashers, Sam and Bucky take the shield from him, aggressively. With Karli’s disappearance and John being brought up on war crime charges, the US government and Global Repatriation Council (GRC) taking over jurisdiction of the hunt for the Flag Smashers, Sam seeks out Isaiah Bradley to understand his story and experience as one of the first Black superheroes. Hearing his tragic tale, Sam returns home to Louisiana to focus on saving his family and his community rather than saving the world.
Bucky easily tracks Zemo down at the Sokovian memorial where the city once stood before it was destroyed by Ultron, one of the big three. Bucky isn’t swayed by Zemo’s warnings against Karli’s radicalism and that the only way to stop her is to kill her, and to Zemo’s surprise, Bucky turns him over to Ayo and the Dora Milaje who promise to bring him to the Raft, the government’s maximum security lock-up for enhanced criminals, like Jessica Jones’ Trish Walker. Bucky also asks one small favor from Ayo and Shuri; a new set of wings for Sam, which he delivers to Sam back in New Orleans, and stays for a time getting to know his family and slowly becomes a part of the community. Before he leaves, Sam and Bucky discuss the ideas and unfortunate repercussions of Steve’s decision to pass the shield to Sam, a Black man. However good intentioned he was, neither Steve nor Bucky could truly understand what experiences Black men like Sam and Isaiah have had, and why their representing the stars and stripes of America is complicated, to say the least. But, knowing Karli and the Flag Smashers are still out there, Sam and Bucky decide to not let the shield’s legacy decide who they are, and build their own identity away from Steve’s shadow.
The building intensity and globe trotting of Sam and Bucky’s hunt for the Flag Smashers takes a back seat in “Truth”. That back seat however is actually the trunk of a large van with three rows of seats that are filled with the messages of racial inequality and mistreatment of veterans that this show has put at the forefront of Sam, Bucky, and even John Walker’s story, just in case those messages were too subtle for you.
Early in the episode we see John Walker’s hearing for the murder he committed, and as much as we want to rail against him for his actions, the statements he makes about doing what he was trained to do, what he was “built” to do, the same actions that the US government were now discharging him for, weren’t wrong. While there aren’t many super soldier veterans, this same scenario is a familiar one for many who find themselves tossed aside after a military career because they were no longer needed or they were inconvenient. While they give John a pass on the murder due to his service, he’s given no counseling, no accountability, and no military benefits often reserved for veterans. The men who trained John to be the ultimate American star-spangled man are the same exact ones tossing him aside, not because he murdered someone, but because he did it in front of everyone and made them look bad. Does any of this forgive John of his actions? No. But just like many aspects of this series it offers an intriguing perspective into how soldiers and veterans are treated.
It’s also interesting, and tragic, to hear Isaiah Bradley’s full story as a Black superhero. What stands out is how similar it is to Steve Rogers story, a man even Zemo had admiration for, though with key differences. While Steve signed up for the super soldier serum and was hailed as hero, Isaiah was lied to and used as a test subject for the experimental serum. Steve single handedly fought his way into a Hydra base and freed Bucky and the rest of his future Howling Commandos, and in return was heralded as Captain America and given his own authority to lead troops in the war. Isaiah broke into an enemy POW camp to rescue his fellow soldiers before the American army could bomb the compound and kill them to get rid of the evidence of their experimental serum, and in return was locked away from the rest of the world for 30 years. This parallel shows signs of the two (Captain) Americas that are still present today; one for the white majority, and one for the Black community and other minority groups. And Isaiah is right, nothing has changed.
Lastly, who is Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine?! It was a huge surprise to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus take the screen in a very brief meeting with John Walker after his hearing? A woman who clearly has big plans for John, but what are they? Could she be the mysterious Power Broker we’ve been hearing about? Does that take the suspicion from Sharon Carter now that she’s apparently helping the Flag Smashers by connecting them with Batroc? But then Batroc wants revenge on Sam? So many questions. Hopefully they will be answered in next week’s season (series?) finale.
- Falcon and the Winter Soldier, “The Whole World is Watching”, Reviewby Trey Plays
Were you ever offered it, the serum? If you had been, hypothetically, would you have taken it?
Following up on their lead from Madripoor, Donya Madani, Sam, Bucky, and Zemo find themselves in Ziga. After learning that Madani has since passed, Bucky discovers another complication; Ayo and the Dora Milaje have followed them and intends to take Zemo back to Wakanda to answer for his murder of King T’chaka in Captain America: Civil War. Uninterested in Bucky’s reasons for working with him, she gives him eight hours to conclude his business and hand him over.
Pressed for time, they search for the location of Donya Madani’s funeral, hoping to find Karli and her Flag Smashers and stop her before she becomes even more violent in her crusade. But again, they find themselves followed by the new wanna-be Captain America and Battlestar, John Walker and Lamar Hoskins. Hoping calmer heads will prevail, Sam convinces the others to let him speak with Karli alone, referring back to his experiences as a counselor for fellow veterans who struggled with mental health after returning home from war. They’re talk begins to go somewhere as Sam and Karli discover they’re more alike then they thought, before a hot headed John breaks up the conversation, sending Karli on the run. Losing Karli, John focuses on capturing Zemo who had his own plans with Karli as he catches up with her and destroys what little super soldier serum she has left. John knocks him out and discovers one intact vial left. Blaming Sam and Bucky for Karli’s escape (seriously?), John assumes to take command of their mission and Zemo, until Ayo and her sisters arrive to take Zemo on their own. Tearing through John and his shield as if he were wet tissue paper, they discover that Zemo had slipped away during the fight.
Emasculated by being beaten so badly by warriors he assumed were just girls with “pointy sticks”, John secretly takes the last vial of serum before going after Karli one more time. Unbeknownst to him, Karli was setting a trap to kill the symbol of a bygone era as she lured away Sam and Bucky by calling his sister, subtly threatening her and setting a meeting. Once they discover her plans, Sam and Bucky chase after her before she and the Flag Smashers kill John, but are too late as they instead kill Lamar in the struggle. Enraged, John chases the Flag Smashers through the streets of Ziga until catching one unawares and smashing his skull with the shield in front of everyone.
While it was only a small part of “The Whole World is Watching”, the inclusion of not just the Dora Milaje, but also a short scene of Ayo and Bucky in Wakanda during his recuperation, was exciting to see. For a moment, I half expected to see the late Chadwick Boseman appear on screen, and was heart broken when I was reminded of his passing. But this scene in Wakanda also came with it a brief moment of celebration for Bucky as we were witness to the first moment he knew he was free of Hydra’s programming as Ayo repeated his trigger words and he remained in control of himself. Knowing Bucky’s history, so many of the things he’s been through, this one true, pure, moment of happiness was such a powerful, if brief scene.
While this is a buddy-cop-esque series between Sam and Bucky, more and more I feel Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes takes more of the spotlight, or at least pulls a lot of the weight of the show. I LOVE Anthony Mackie as an actor (NOLA represent!), but I’ve always felt his portrayal of Sam Wilson wasn’t that far from his own personality, which isn’t a bad thing. Stan’s performance as Bucky, however, is so layered. He has plenty of humor to offer the show, but it’s a dry kind of humor based off the stark contrast of Mackie’s sarcastic and upbeat attitude. But Stan also has the challenge of presenting a veteran suffering from extreme cases of PTSD from nearly a century of horrifying experiences of war and violence. Not that Sam doesn’t have his own share of turmoil, but his war time experiences are more managed, to the point that he is even able to act as support for his fellow veterans, like Bucky. But Bucky is still healing, still sleeping on the floor and waking up in old sweats, still having nightmares and flashbacks. So that one moment of happiness that Stan shows on Wakanda was performed beautifully and made you feel for this character, if you weren’t already.
This episode also gave a small glimpse into the war time experiences of Wyatt Russell’s John Walker. There is very little we know about this character before being given the title of Captain America aside from a service record that earned him three Medals of Honor. But in a short discussion, we learn that those medals are apparently reminders of the worst day in his life, a time when he did things that didn’t seem heroic. We now see more of John’s motivations for taking up the mantle of Captain America, and why he puts so much pressure on performing to the best of his abilities, despite seeming to fail time and time again, pushing him further over the edge as we see in this episode.
One final note…
STOP HARRAASING WYATT RUSSELL! STOP HARRASING ACTORS AND PEOPLE IN GENERAL BECAUSE OF A ROLE THEY PLAY IN FILM OR TV! IF YOU DON’T LIKE THEIR PORTRAYAL OF A VILLAIN, IT MEANS THEY’RE DOING THEIR JOB AND GIVING A GOOD PERFORMANCE!
Time and time again we “fans” have shown just how emotionally immature we are because we apparently think it’s a good idea to harass and bully and threaten people because we don’t like the character they play on screen. This kind of behavior is unacceptable. These actors, these PEOPLE, owe us NOTHING. They don’t have to portray a character accurately from the comics. They don’t have to give a good performance for us. Yet they do their best, take the criticism that is bound to come with the job, and still show up to press conferences and conventions to meet fans. And for this, we take things too far and threaten them for performing a character to the best of their ability. If this continues, actors are going to stop taking these roles, and I wouldn’t blame. No one deserves that kind of treatment, and we should be ashamed.
- Falcon and the Winter Soldier, “Power Broker” Reviewby Trey Plays
I can’t run in these heels!
Hitting a dead end on their investigation into the Flag Smashers and their super soldier serum, Sam and Bucky decide to take drastic actions and visit Zemo, the Avengers manipulative enemy from Captain America: Civil War. In return for information on Hydra’s involvement with making the serum, Zemo demands that Bucky break him out of prison, promising he is an invaluable asset and ally as he shares their desire to rid the world of super soldiers and to stop the creation of an army of Avengers. While not thrilled with the idea of allying themselves with the man who pitted Cap and Iron Man against each other, crumbling the Avengers from the inside before their initial battle with Thanos, Sam goes along with the plan and they make their way to Madripoor, a city that has maintained its status as a haven for crime lords despite governments’ best efforts.
After some failed cloak and dagger tactics to acquire information about the serum, they receive some surprise help from an old friend, Sharon Carter, former SHIELD agent and niece of Peggy Carter. With her aid, Sam and Bucky manage to find the scientist, Dr. Nagal, who was able to recreate the serum from Isaiah Bradley’s blood samples for a criminal known as the Power Broker. That’s all they manage to learn, however, before Zemo quickly kills Nagal and they’re attacked by more of Madripoor’s criminals. Escaping again with Sharon’s help, Sam, Bucky, and Zemo try to follow up on their next lead to the Flag Smashers, Donya Madani, while the new Captain America and Battlestar pick up their trail after breaking out Zemo.
While it was fun watching Sam trying to act the part of a hardened crime and lord and intriguing to see Bucky once again take on the role of the Winter Soldier to infiltrate Madripoor, Sharon Carter and Baron Zemo steal the spotlight in “Power Broker”. Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo was an interesting but underused villain in Civil War, so getting to see him as the fully realized Baron Zemo, complete with riches, private jets, cool cars, and his famed comic book mask was a treat. Bruhl dances on the line of maniac killer and sophisticated aristocrat while staying humorous and even charming, even when getting down at Sharon Carter’s party in Madripoor.
Another under used character, Emily Van Camp’s kind of former Steve Roger love interest before he went back in time and married her aunt, Sharon Carter, gets the chance to show just how much of a bad ass SHIELD agent she was. While Sam, Bucky, and Zemo hold their own in the fight in Madripoor, Sharon takes on the majority of their foes single handed with maneuvers that would rival Black Widow. But, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something more villainous behind Carter’s motives of helping Sam and Bucky.
It’s obvious Zemo will have alterior motives, that’s what his character does; schemes within schemes. But Carter has always been fairly straight forward (for a spy). Bucky was able to get pardoned after the snap, but not Carter when all she did was steal Steve and Sam’s gear from the CIA? There was no point in that five years that Steve didn’t try to clear her name after Civil War? While it’s clear she’s done very well for herself while hiding in Madripoor, it seems like there is something else keeping her there. Is she perhaps the mysterious Power Broker?
What are Sharon’s and Zemo’s true motives? what are the Flag Smashers planning? Who is Donya Madani, Sam and Bucky’s next clue to Karli Morganthau, the leader of the Flag Smashers, and is there a connection to agent Dinah Madani from Marvel’s The Punisher (doubtful)? Hopefully these questions, and more, will be answered next week.
- Falcon and the Winter Soldier, “New World Order” and “The Star-Spangled Man” Reviewby Trey Plays
The world’s broken. Everyone’s just looking for someone to fix it.
Months after half of Earth’s population was snapped back into existence due to the efforts of Iron Man and the Avengers, the world makes an effort to move on and find a new normal. Offered the role of the new Captain America by Steve Rogers himself, Sam Wilson aka The Falcon decides it’s best that the world not focus on empty symbols, but instead remember the men, like Steve, who gave those symbols weight. However, when new world order groups like the Flag Smashers come on the scene with enhanced abilities, the US government decides it’s time for a new Capt. America of their own choosing: All-American hero and veteran, John Walker.
While Sam deals with the news of Steve’s replacement, Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier is making an effort to fix the mistakes he made as Hydra’s assassin over the past century. In therapy and performing his own step-by-step program to make amends, Bucky’s world is shaken when he learns of Sam’s declining of Cap’s shield, and of John Walker. Begrudgingly following Sam on a mission to uncover the mystery behind the Flag Smasher’s enhanced abilities, they’re taken on a chase through Europe, struggling to work together, and run into even more problems when John Walker arrives on the scene with his hot shot sidekick, Battlestar aka Lemar Hoskins. Thoroughly beaten by the Flag Smashers, Bucky reveals to Sam a secret he’s kept about another enhanced soldier, much like Steve Rogers; Isaiah Bradley.
From the beginning, Falcon and the Winter Soldier presents itself less like a superhero or sci-fi show, like that of WandaVision, and more of a political and military thriller, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Its opening of Sam packing up Cap’s shield to bring to a donation ceremony to the Smithsonian carries the reverence of a veteran preparing for the memorial to a fallen comrade. But, if the tone wasn’t strong enough, Sam’s mission as the Falcon against French terrorist Batroc, previously seen in The Winter Soldier, carries the message home of what kind of show this is going to be.
What is surprising, though perhaps it shouldn’t be, is how it approaches the topic of racism and economics after the Snap (I’m not calling it the Blip). We’re given a peek into Sam’s personal life and family as he travels back to New Orleans to be with his sister and nephews and handle the selling of their family’s fishing boat. Despite being a hero, an avenger, a military contractor, and meeting all of the requirements for a loan to help their business, they’re denied a loan for reasons of “the economy”, or more likely “being black”. However, this racism may not be apparent to some. The banker makes good points about the economy being in flux after billions of people were snapped back into existence and banks are making it even harder to apply for loans. So, to drive the point home about racism and the differences between white and Black America, we witness Sam and Bucky being harassed by police, presuming to check on Bucky’s “safety” because he and Sam were having an argument.
With the introduction of Isaiah Bradley as one of the first Black superheroes, and the privileged status of John Walker’s Capt. America, who thinks Sam and Bucky should “stay out of [his] way” (seriously?), these themes of inequality and racial injustice are only going to become more apparent. Even the Flag Smashers, whatever their ultimate goals are, claim to act on the ideals of economic equality and fighting for the people who were abandoned by their government during the Snap, and are now even more desperate as the government tries to go back to the normal status quo of giving the lion’s share of resources and wealth to the wealthy and powerful.
What is Isaiah Bradley’s story? Who are the Flag Smashers? Will John Walker succeed or fail in his role as the new Captain America, or will Sam pick up the shield? Hopefully, these questions and more will be answered in upcoming episodes.
- “You’ll get through this”: Celebrities Helping Social Distancingby Trey Plays
Last week we talked about “The Office’s” John Krasinski and his new YouTube series, “Some Good News,” helping everyone who is social distancing by reporting only on the good news that is going on in our world today. While he’s still knocking it out of the park with this series (literally, as he treated some of Boston’s COVID-19 medical staff and Red Sox fans to a private trip to Fenway Park), there are so many other celebrities who are taking the time to reach out to us to remind us that things will be okay, and we are all in this together. Below are just examples of a few.
Gearbox Studio’s latest entry into the first person “shlooter” series “Borderlands,” is still running strong since it’s release in September 2019. Since it’s release, they’ve added new DLC’s, including an exciting return to the world of Handsome Jack, “Borderlands 2’s” fan-favorite villain. Another addition to the game is now allowing “Borderlands” players to help with real-world science with a small mini-game called “Borderlands Science.” “By playing ‘Borderlands 3,’ you can contribute to real-world scientific research,” says “Big Bang Theory” actor, Ph.D. scientist, researcher, and your favorite person, Mayim Bialik in a short introduction to “Borderlands Science.” The mini-game itself is very similar to phone games like “Candy Crush” as you simply match the retro-style colors and pictures together until you hit the point goal and move on to the next level. It’s what the game does behind the scenes that brings the science into it. In an effort to organize the data of the 55% of foreign DNA in human bodies, the Microsetta Initiative is teaming up with Gearbox Studios and gamers like you. By organizing this open-source data, scientists can use this research for new breakthroughs in food, medicine, and more. So next time someone thinks you’re wasting time playing video games, tell them you’re engaging in real-world science.
A Message from The Doctor
“Oh! Hi! This is an emergency transmission,” begins Jodi Whitaker as The Thirteenth Doctor from the beloved BBC sci-fi show “Doctor Who.” “If you’re seeing this, then the TARDIS must have detected an upsurge of psychological signals from somewhere in space and time. Basically, I think someone somewhere might be a little bit worried.” Filming from her phone and posted on the official “Doctor Who” Twitter, dressed as The Doctor, Whitaker gave some tips to survive the social distancing and quarantine, and the message that “you’ll get through this.” She lists The Doctor’s own methods of self-isolation, or as she likes to call it, hiding, such as tell jokes, even bad ones, be kind, look out for each other, listen to science, and to stay strong, stay positive; you’ve got this.
“Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;”
Beloved and renowned actor, Sir Patrick Stewart, known for his roles as “Star Trek’s” Capt. Jean-Luc Piccard, “X-Men’s” Dr. Xavier, and an endless history of roles in films and plays, is taking the time to deliver to us #ASonnetADay. Working his way through playwright and poet William Shakespeare’s volumes of sonnets, Sir Stewart is using his naturally soothing voice and demeanor to deliver what many believe is food for the soul; poetry.
Coldplay’s Chris Martin put on an Instagram Live mini-concert called #TogetherAtHome. Ellen Degeneres is updating us on her putting together a 4000 piece puzzle. Ryan Reynolds is reminding us that it’s the celebrities that will help us get through this, right after the healthcare professionals. Even actor Tom Hardy is reading and recording bedtime stories to play for kids. There are so many who are giving everything they can from their time to their financial support to help flatten the curve of COVID-19. In uncertain times like these, having sources of entertainment, comedy, poetry, and even gaming, are invaluable as we self-isolate to flatten the curve.
- “I’m only delivering the good news. You ARE the good news.”: John Krasinski’s “Some Good News”by Trey Plays
There’s no point in denying it; right now we are living in a scary time. While we can make jokes and share memes about Covid-19, it doesn’t change the fact that this is something that most of us, if not all of us, have never experienced. Even for those who grew up in a post-9/11 world and survivors of Hurricane Katrina had the hopeful perspective that there will be a tomorrow. With Covid-19, that kind of outlook gets a little fizzier day by day.
Thankfully, there are those out there doing everything within their power to make sure we’re not only taken care of via healthcare, but emotionally. Teachers have gone to great lengths to make sure their students have what they need to finish their school year. Sports teams and celebrities are donating resources and money to medical professionals and affected families to survive the coming months. Even video game developers have added bonuses to their games to give old and new players a more fun experience, like Blizzard Entertainment offering a 100% Experience Bonus in their MMO World of Warcraft, or Gear Box increasing the drop rate of legendary items in Borderlands 3. All of this good news is being collected and delivered to us in a brand new YouTube series to help hold back the despair of the Covid-19 news cycle.
“Why is there not a news show dedicated entirely to good news?” wonders “The Office” and “Jack Ryan” star, and director of “A Quiet Place,” John Krasinski in the opening of his latest project, “Some Good News” on YouTube. “Without question, we are all going through an incredibly trying time. But, through all the anxiety, through all the confusion, the isolation, and all ‘The Tiger King,’ the human spirit still found a way to break through and blow us all away.”
Krasinski’s “Some Good News” series is only two short episodes in, but it’s already succeeding in reporting on some of the most heart-warming events from around the globe. In his very first segment, after making a few jokes at himself and the DIY quality of his videos, he showcased social media posts and videos from Spain to London to right here in the USA of patients and ordinary civilians taking the time to show their appreciation and applaud the healthcare professionals who are working around the clock to save their lives (I’m starting to cry just while thinking about it). Another piece of good news Krasinski shared was the 15th anniversary of his beloved series “The Office,” and was joined by Some Good News Entertainment Correspondent Steve Carrell. But, as if sharing their funniest and most touching moments from “The Office” wasn’t enough of a show topper, Krasinski took time to interview Coco, a young girl who, on her return home from her last chemotherapy treatment, was welcomed back by her friends lining the streets and decorating their cars to celebrate her cancer remission.
Krasinski’s video was a huge success and he went on to make his second episode, sharing clips of fans who took his lead to create their own “Some Good News” segments. He continued his coverage of the support of healthcare professionals who received masks, medical gowns, and even protective face wear made by baseball and hockey equipment manufacturers, with some being delivered on the New England Patriots private jet, as well equipment made by students across the country. He quickly switched to his new weather correspondent, Robert De Niro, who reported that the weather “looks, uh, looks pretty good.” His last story, how young Aubrey couldn’t attend a cancelled “Hamilton” show, brought a surprise to the young fan when the entire cast of the smash Broadway musical (THE ENTIRE CAST) performed the opening song “Alexander Hamilton” via video conference.
The stories John Krasinski shares in this series may not be ground breaking or world changing, but they may change the world for one person, like Aubrey, or like his viewers. Only two weeks in and Some Good News already has 1.41 million subscribers and is trending in YouTube’s Top 3.
Humor my getting personal for a moment, but watching these videos was the first time I’ve cried tears of joy since this quarantine began. This comedy and bliss at seeing enormous acts by people like you and me just trying to fix a world gone mad has helped keep me sane. So far, videos are only premiering once a week, but I would willingly donate to a patreon to make them daily. Then, I’ve started rewatching “The Office” again.
As John Krasinski signs off, “No matter how dark it gets, there’s always some good in the world.”
- Castlevania Season 3 Reviewby Trey Plays
On March 5th, Netflix premiered the third season of “Castlevania,” its anime adaptation of the popular video game series of the same name. After defeating Dracula and his war against humanity, Sypha (Alejandra Reynoso), Alucard (James Callis), and Trevor (Richard Armitage) find themselves separated as Alucard tries to rebuild his castle, formerly Dracula’s castle, and Trevor and Sypha travel looking for adventure. Coming upon the town of Lindenfield, Trevor and Sypha investigate a mysterious church that is planning to bring Dracula back from hell.
Season 3 of “Castlevania” builds on the strong foundations that were previously laid in seasons one and two, its strongest aspect being its characters. “My favorite character is definitely Alucard,” says UNO graduate Grecia Medina, who’s been a fan of the show for a little over a year. “But right after that comes Sypha and Trevor because they are great. As a group, they are comedic gold.” When not fighting against Dracula’s monsters, the series’ three main characters spend their time throwing quips at each other in entertaining battles of wit. With Sypha as the upbeat magician, Alucard as the dark and depressed vampire, and Trevor as the stoic, feigning apathetic monster slayer, their personalities compliment each other incredibly well.
It’s not just the main three characters that serve as protagonists, as with each season the list of characters and strong side plots grows. Season one introduced us to Sypha, Trevor and Alucard. Season two showed us Dracula’s vampire war council with Carmilla (Jaime Murray), and the two human forge smiths, who create his army of demons, Isaac (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) and Hector (Theo James). Now, in season three, we meet new characters such as Carmilla’s own sisterhood of vampires, and the mysterious Saint Germine, voiced by award-winning actor Bill Nighy. While all of these characters have their own agendas pushing them forward, it’s hard to find a character that you’re not rooting against. There are clear lines between the sides of good and evil, but audiences still found themselves hoping to see Isaac succeed in his goal of growing his demonic army in hopes of defeating Dracula’s killers, Sypha, Alucard, and Trevor. “The series is really interesting and I love how they portray each character. The art is also amazing and don’t get me started on the music. It’s superb,” says Medina.
The quality of this show is due in large part of this being a work of passion, at least for its producer, Adi Shankar. While still relatively unknown as a filmmaker, Shankar has a popular following of his “Bootleg Universe” on YouTube where he’s made short films of popular titles like “The Punisher: Dirty Laundry” (2012) starring Thomas Jane, which gave the initial “Punisher” (2004) a second chance to be as brutally close to the comics as possible. Shankar makes these short films as a fan himself, which shows his ethics of care when handling a video game adaptation, a genre that has consistently received poor reception. “Watching the series does make me want to try the games,” says Medina. “but I find myself stuck because the games aren’t as interesting as the show is to me.” As “Castlevania” has been seen as one of the best video game adaptions, it serves as a small hope that the quality of future videogame adaptations will increase, and perhaps the Netflix series will bring new fans to the older game series.
Trying to find something critical to say about “Castlevania” is often as hard as the original games can be. As a videogame adaptation, it presents a strong story with nostalgic characters from the games. As an anime, it strikes the balance of comedic and dramatic storytelling, mixed in with powerful and often overexaggerated fight scenes. The one negative aspect of the show is its runtime; twenty to twenty-five minutes, with only ten episodes a season that premier once a year. This show is so good it’s a tragedy that it’s so short. On the other hand, its short length may be an advantage. With such limited time, “Castlevania” delivers quality over quantity.
“What I really hope for is a reunion between Alucard, Trevor, and Sypha,” says Medina. “I also want to see the Vampire Council of women start to move their plans into action. It’s gonna be really interesting and crazy.” By the end of season three, the main characters are left in a state of melancholy after the season’s events, especially Alucard, who may begin to understand his father’s feelings about humanity. Audiences could take this chance to play through many of the old “Castlevania” games and learn the series’ history, but as the show doesn’t strictly follow the games’ timeline, that could leave them with more questions than answers.
- Doctor Who Season 12: Reviewby Trey Plays
The BBC’s 57-year-old science fiction series “Doctor Who” ended its 12th season of “New Who” with its 13th Doctor played by Jodi Whitaker. Investigating strange extraterrestrial signals coming from Earth, the Doctor and her new fam’ of Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tasin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh), find themselves entangled in the sinister plot of the Doctor’s oldest friend and enemy, the Master (Sasha Dhawan). Narrowly escaping with their lives, the Doctor is left a final message from the Master that forces her to question everything she knows about her people, the Time Lords, and her own memories. Searching for answers, the Doctor and fam’ travel through time, going on adventures with historical figures like Mary Shelley, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla.
This latest season of “Doctor Who,” led by showrunner Chris Chibnal, offered its viewers a wide range of adventures through space and time that didn’t have everything in the universe at stake in every episode. Being able to breathe from one dire episode to another made the show feel more fun, and most of all let Jodi Whitaker’s Doctor have more room to play to her strengths; her enthusiastically geeky moments when meeting historical figures like Tesla and Shelley. This Doctor is such a nerd and is so much fun to watch as she travels from place to place genuinely excited to be there. But this season also gave Whitaker opportunities to play the more dramatic role of the Doctor as she dealt with somber issues of her own identity.
With the Master’s return, this season dances around the line of an overdone gimmick and a welcome classic aspect of the series. Just as the Doctor always finds a way to survive at the last moment, escaping whatever danger may be facing them, so too does the Master and surviving whatever scheme they throw at the Doctor. Having the Doctor and Master locked in their battle of intellect is as fundamental to “Doctor Who” as Batman and the Joker or Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty. But Dhawan’s performance of the Master was sometimes lacking. The strength of his character is a strength he’s carried in a number of his other roles in “Iron Fist” or “Sherlock;” a strong, imposing figure, a softly, but confidently, spoken villain. But his moments of whimsy and craziness felt very forced as if he was trying to recapture the madness of John Simm’s Master from 2007.
This season also had a very obvious message it was trying to convey to the audience on the subject of climate change, specifically in two episodes. In “Orphan 55,” the Doctor and fam’ travel to a possible future of Earth where humans have evolved into monstrous biped predators living in an ashen wasteland, ravaged by climate change from a world government who chose to do nothing to save their planet. In another episode, “Praxeus,” they discover a microscopic virus made of plastic particles infecting people and turning them to dust when they come into contact with a massive plastic waste heap floating in the ocean. While this message is strong and should be taken more seriously than the flu or a presidential scandal, the end messages of these episodes felt slightly shoehorned in. However forced, taking up a good cause like climate change or social justice is what the Doctor has always done, at least in the New Who that began in 2005.
Where we last left the Doctor, she’d somehow found herself in trouble with another group of aliens and her fam’ stranded back on Earth with her TARDIS. We may have to wait until the next Christmas Special to find out how she’ll escape and get back to Earth, but hopefully, we’ll be traveling with her a lot sooner.
- Spotlight on “Altered Carbon’s” Anthony Mackie: NOLA REPRESENT!by Trey Plays
Takeshi Kovacs, the Last Envoy, a highly-skilled freedom fighter from a bygone era, continues his search for his lost love, Quellcrest Falconer. Taking place 30 years after the events of the first season of Netflix’s sci-fi film noir action series, “Altered Carbon,” season two sees Kovacs returning to Harlan’s World, his home planet and the richest mining operation of Elder technology, a species long dead. Following a clue to Falconer’s whereabouts puts him in the crosshairs of bounty hunters, the universe’s governing body the Protectorate, and a conspiracy dating back over three hundred years.
Taking over the role from Joel Kinneman as Takeshi Kovacs inhabits a new “sleeve” (human consciousness is now held on small data drives than can be interchangeable from one body to the next), popular New Orleans actor Anthony Mackie picks up where the last season left off, plus some thirty years. Following Kovacs investigation, as he digs deeper to the source of the dark secrets of Harlan’s World, season two throws a lot of complicated world-building at the audience, Mackie doesn’t miss a beat as the anti-social investigator with a heart of gold introduced in the first season. This role is made even more difficult when having to mimic the acting styles of other actors who have played Kovacs like Kinnaman and Will Yun Lee, who plays Kovacs’ “birth sleeve.” But just like the others, Mackie delivers on the familiar character of Kovacs while making the role his own. If Lee is the young soldier and Kinnaman is the brooding detective, then Mackie succeeds in combining the two previous incarnations into the warrior fighting for love, but still with a lot of brooding.
This, of course, isn’t Mackie’s first role in science fiction or action. While the NOLA actor has plenty of dramatic performances under his belt, like playing Martin Luther King Jr. in “All the Way” (2016) and Tupac Shakur in “Notorious” (2009), Mackie’s breakout and most popular performance was as Sam Wilson aka the Falcon in Marvel’s “Captain America: Winter Soldier” (2014). But Wilson was no simple sidekick. Mackie portrays the ride or die best friend to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers aka Captain America and was responsible for gathering compatriots to Capt. America’s side in the divisive “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) and crucial to helping Cap’ avoid authorities during his nomadic missions before “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018). He’s reprised the role in a number of other Marvel films, most recently, though only briefly, in Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” (2019). While Mackie was only involved at the end of the three-hour film encompassing ten years of Avengers movies, it’s in “Endgame” that Mackie was passed a new role as Sam Wilson accepted the title and shield of Capt. America from the elderly Steve Rogers. While he will still fly on Falcon’s wings, Mackie will add the iconic vibranium shield to his arsenal when he first takes the stage in the upcoming Disney+ series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” (2020). Little is known about the upcoming series aside from Sam Wilson will be teaming up with Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier, another past friend of Steve Rogers, as they go up against “Captain America: Civil War’s” manipulative villain Zemo played by Daniel Bruhl.
It’s inspiring to see such a talented actor from New Orleans now portraying Captain America (NOLA REPRESENT!). But despite his rising fame, Mackie has never forgotten his home town and even returned to take up the role of the King of Bacchus’ Mardi Gras parade and attended Wizard World New Orleans Comic Con in 2016. A New Orleans native, Mackie grew up among his family’s roofing business, Mackie Roofing. As a teenager with an early love for acting, he attended both Warren Eastern Sr. High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), graduating in 1997. From there, Mackie went on to study at New York’s performing arts conservatory, Juilliard School’s Drama Division and graduated in 2001. Many are looking forward to what Anthony Mackie’s future career will have in store, and are excited to see his return to the character of Sam Wilson aka The Falcon aka Captain America.
- The Pharmacist: One Person Really Can Make a Differenceby Trey Plays
After the shooting of his son in a drug deal gone bad in 1999, St. Bernard Parish resident and pharmacist Dan Schneider strives to find his son’s killer while the police write it off another dead junkie. After beating the odds and putting the murderer behind bars, Dan becomes aware of the opioid epidemic spreading in the New Orleans area and crusades to save other parents from losing their children to drugs. Despite warnings from police, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), and threats from former pill-mill doctor Jaqueline Cleggett, Dan again defies the odds by shutting Cleggett down and brings awareness of the opioid epidemic to the public.
Netflix’s new documentary “The Pharmacist” takes audiences through the emotional journey of Dan Schneider and his war against drugs and big pharma. This impact is even more significant for GNO (Greater New Orleans) residents as they witness the events that took place in their own communities. “I lived down the road in St. B. during that time. It’s surreal to see all these facts in front of your face not realizing it was happening,” says a former St. Bernard resident who wished to only be identified by the initial C. “I never knew it was that bad, just a bunch of teenagers getting high.”
Beginning the story with the murder of Schneider’s son, Danny Jr., the first episode brings us step by step through the Schneider family’s grief and galvanization into taking their son’s murder case into their own hands. This first episode is a strong introduction to the story, a moving tale of loss as well as one of intrigue for any true crime enthusiast. The documentary’s pacing slows down to process Schneider’s grief, then ramps back up as he starts to uncover the pill-mill of Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett. “I was impressed by the way [Schneider] was able to help his community see the opiate crisis with more compassion by sharing his story,” says Shannon Williamson, Director of UNO’s Learning Resource Center. “There’s no telling how many lives this one guy really saved with all the work he did. Sometimes I forget that one person really can make a difference in the world.”
Schneider’s own brand of vigilante justice was a far cry of what the word vigilante often brings to mind; images of caped crusaders stalking nighttime rooftops. His methods were less exciting but just as effective as Schneider kept records of every interview and scrap of information he could find. Had he not succeeded in his quest, he may have been looked on as obsessively paranoid rather than the key to taking down Cleggett. “My dude lived in the neighborhood behind the sketchy af ‘doctor’ office behind the pharmacy where they would give you a shot of b12 for literally everything,” says a Reddit user who goes by Sarah. “Watching this with him was a lot of ‘That guy played ball with my son’ and ‘That girl used to be friends with my daughter.’ He knows Mr. Danny. We are both in awe of Mr. Danny’s badassness.”
What the series doesn’t give as much focus to is the pill-mill doctor herself, Jaqueline Cleggett. While there is one brief interview with Cleggett, there aren’t too many other details explained about her. This could be due to her own wishes of not wanting to be interviewed, or some other legal reason we are unaware of. What her interview does give us is her sense of arrogance and inability to accept the consequences of her actions, or responsibility for those who suffered addiction under her care.
“The Pharmacist” is a shocking reality of the opioid and drug crisis we see not only in America, but in our own community of the GNO area. Schneider’s persistence and bravery should be applauded for what he accomplished, and it’s thanks to this documentary that more are able to see the effects of his investigation. However, as this entire series of events was sparked by the death of Schneider’s son, Danny Jr., it begs the question of how many deaths of the Black community, or other minorities, did it take until someone started paying attention to the death of a young white man. This neglect is neither on the part of the documentary filmmakers who succeeded in telling this true tale or on Dan Schneider himself. But it is still a tragedy to see that issues such as this can be passed over so easily until it affects someone with more privilege than others.
- Netflix’s “Dracula” Sucks the Life from its Audienceby Trey Plays
When it was announced that Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat were reuniting to bring the classic story of Dracula to the small screen, fans were excited for a new series from the former “Sherlock” showrunners. Running from 2010-2017, “Sherlock” amassed one of the largest and most devoted fan bases to date. The modern adaptation reintroduced the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner in deduction Dr. John Watson as they solved murders around London while trying to stop the infamous criminal mastermind James Moriarty. Unfortunately, Sherlock’s series finale left the “Sherlock” fandom adrift in a sea of melancholy, so a new series from the same creators was a glimmer of hope. Sadly, that hope was misplaced.
Premiering on Netflix in early January, 2020, “Dracula” adapts the story of Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror story of the brilliant and deadly vampire, Dracula. Arriving under the guise of assisting the reclusive Count Dracula to sell his Transylvanian castle before he ventures to the new world of England, he quickly becomes Dracula’s latest victim as his life and blood is slowly drained, reinvigorating Dracula. Finding the case of Jonathan Harker and his experience with Dracula fascinating, Sister Agatha Van Helsing investigates Dracula in Transylvania and his escape to the shores of England. With their fates now intertwined, Van Helsing’s descendant, Dr. Zoe Van Helsing, attempts to continue her work and prepare for Dracula’s return to the modern day world.
“I thought the use of dreamlike states and important reveals was handled really nicely,” says UNO graduate student Chad Hopkins. “The acting was much better than I thought it’d be, and it managed to portray a homosexual relationship faily respectfully. Not perfect, but better than most.” While many enjoyed a number of aspects of “Dracula,” to others it felt like slow, dull narrative that leaves its viewers drained of life, much like Dracula’s own victims.
Netflix’s “Dracula” only adds a few new, fresh aspects to the classic Dracula story, overall, it’s the same tale we’ve seen before. It’s one saving grace comes in the character of Sister Agatha Van Helsing played by Dolly Wells. Similar to Anthony Hopkins’ Prof. Abraham Van Helsing in the 1992 film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” Agatha Van Helsing steals the show in every one of her scenes with her quick wit, snarky comebacks to the manipulative vampire, and her ingenious MacGyver like methods of keeping the creature of the night at bay. The decision to cast a woman as the popular vampire hunter isn’t surprising from Moffat and Gatiss, as they’ve at least attempted to promote women in their casting of past shows like “Sherlock” or “Doctor Who,” but their choices often feel like mansplaining to its viewers, such as in “Sherlock’s” “The Abominable Bride” where Sherlock explained feminism to a group of female feminists.
Outside of the character of Van Helsing, the rest of the series is a drag focusing on the uninteresting title character of Count Dracula. With each episode spanning around 90 minutes, the slow narrative focuses on telling its audience how manipulative, ingenious, and seductive he is, but these characteristics are rarely shown in Claes Bang’s Count Dracula. Where “Sherlock’s” 90 minute episodes on Sherlock and Watson working to solve the crime, seeing their methods and watching them connect the dots, all we see of Dracula’s manipulations are the aftereffects and the unearned fear it instills in his future victims. The few moments and twists that do take place throughout the story are thrown away shortly after their introduction, like the 2020 institute studying Dracula’s blood contagion in preparation for his inevitable return. This was one of the most interesting and new aspects to the story, and is quickly ended when Dracula’s lawyer shows up, played by show creator Mark Gatiss. Once Dracula is free and clear from the institute, it’s back to being told how awesome Dracula is, when he is in fact not.
It may be unfair to compare Netflix’s “Dracula” to “Sherlock.” It’s simply difficult to understand how the creators of a brilliant adaptation of the world’s greatest detective would create a dulled adaptation of the world’s greatest vampire. Thankfully, “Dracula’s” slow pacing is briefly lifted by the brilliance and snark of Sister Van Helsing, but even that isn’t enough to make the 90 minutes of each episode feel like a never ending vacation slideshow of how cool Dracula is supposed to be.
- Cute, Baby Yoda Isby Trey Plays
Jon Favreau’s latest show, “The Mandalorian” on Disney+, is already shaping up to be a strong entry into the “Star Wars” canon. Taking place between Episode VI “Return of the Jedi” and Episode VII “The Force Awakens,” “The Mandalorian” follows the adventures of a mysterious and skilled bounty hunter simply known as the Mandalorian. During one particularly difficult bounty, he discovers his objective is to retrieve a child of a mysterious species and hand it over to holdouts of the defeated Galactic Empire. Finding a source of empathy, the Mandalorian chooses to escape with the child and go into hiding until he can ensure its safety. While the premise of the space-western genre with gun-slinger with a rough exterior looking after an innocent and learning to love along the way is a bit cliche, “The Mandalorian” still manages to keep things interesting, action-packed, and intricately simple. But, the quality of the show isn’t what’s catching everyone’s attention.
The child the Mandalorian is protecting is ADORABLE. The child, who fans have dubbed Baby Yoda, is probably the cutest thing since Baby Groot in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” and fans cannot get enough of him. Despite the series only being four episodes into its first season, posts and memes about Baby Yoda have flooded the internet on social media, Reddit, gifs, and he already has his own memes. Baby Yoda has even replaced Kermit in the “Kermit sipping tea” meme and the cat in the “woman yelling at a cat” meme. Even though the Baby Yoda’s name isn’t accurate, as Yoda died in “Return of the Jedi” (pushes up glasses), anyone who has spent even a minute checking their email on the internet has become familiar with the character. But what do we actually know about him?
Baby Yoda is from a species that is still a mystery in the “Star Wars” canon. After some research, it is the fifth member of its race that we’ve seen, following Jedi Master Yoda from the entire “Star Wars” saga, Master Yaddle from Episode I “The Phantom Menace,” Master Vandar from the RPG “Knights of the Old Republic,” and Master Oteg from the MMORPG “The Old Republic.” Despite this handful of characters that have been present in multiple “Star Wars” titles ranging from 1980 to the present, there are only a few details available on this short, green, force-sensitive race. There is no name, no planet of origin, no information about its culture, or even what they like to eat, aside from seeing Baby Yoda capturing and eating frogs whole. What we do know is that their lifespan can last to almost 1,000 years, and their species is apparently strong in the force, as all the members we’ve been introduced to have been Jedi Masters, aside from Baby Yoda, who we’ve seen is able to use the Force, even at his young age of 50. According to “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, Yoda’s species was meant to remain a mystery, adding some unknown mysticism to the character. This could just be an excuse, however, for Lucas to not have to flesh out another alien race.
Baby Yoda is not the first adorable member of the “Star Wars” galaxy. Throughout the films, books, TV series, and video games, we’ve met Jawas, Ewoks, Porgs, Lothcats, and even the droid BB-8, which have all been met with varying degrees of acceptance. There have been some fans who have been enraged by the cute races of the galaxy far, far away, considering them nothing more than a cheap form of fan service and toy marketing. However, most fans, new and old, have been able to take some delight in these creatures while still loving “Star Wars” for the epic science-fantasy saga that it is.