Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy are the two Marvel franchises I still mostly (mostly) uncomplicatedly like, which probably isn’t the most surprising, right? That I would continue liking the space bullshit ones? I really hope that isn’t surprising, otherwise I’ve done a very poor job of establishing my brand. What I’ve always liked about Thor specifically is the way it combines high fantasy and science fiction tropes. I’ve written previously about how that doesn’t make it immune to reinforcing the sort of hegemonic narratives that the rest of the MCU reinforces, but it’s still different. It’s Tolkien-style ruling class apologia rather than just literally U.S. Army: Be All You Can Be or The Few, The Proud, The Marines with the branding removed. I’m not saying that makes it okay, but it does at least make it less grating.
Thor himself is a big part of the appeal. They figure out how to write him even better as the MCU goes on and he interacts with all the other characters, but even in the first movie his personality is basically “cheerful himbo” and it rules. He needs to learn some humility, but there’s a reason he’s able to learn that lesson and become a true hero. I know the MCU likes telling stories with this general shape, and I know there’s a superficial resemblance to one Anthony Edward Stark, but I think it feels more authentic with Thor. Even before he turns a corner there, you can clearly see that at his core he’s an extremely good boy, especially in all his interactions with Jane, Erik, and Darcy. He’s just so bright and sunny, but it isn’t toxic positivity like you sometimes get in Marvel, you really do feel like this is him being true to himself. It makes him putting everything together to blossom into the self-sacrificing hero he was always meant to be so satisfying to see.
Although Thor undeniably needed a lesson in humility, I would argue that Odin is the absolute last person who gets to make that judgment. And the way he goes about it, if that’s even what he’s trying to do, is just awful. Just casting him out the second he makes a huge mistake without even trying to help him is just the fucking worst kind of parenting. Yeah, maybe strip him of his powers. In fact, probably do that. But keep him home while he works on making things right. Make yourself part of the solution. What Odin does instead is a total abdication of his responsibility as both a parent and a leader of his people. It’s honestly pretty fucking abusive, and the fact that he doesn’t get taken to task for that at all pisses me off. Thor succeeds in becoming a better man and a better hero in spite of Odin’s actions, not because of them. It would be nice if the movie acknowledged that at all, but oh well.
If I look at this movie selfishly, I would’ve liked more realm-hopping Lord of the Rings-style bullshit with Thor, Lady Sif, and the Warriors Three. I wouldn’t even bother bringing that up, except my boyfriend pointed out that the movie kind of super sets up like that’s the kind of story it’s going to tell? And we only ever get tiny tastes of it between this movie and like the first five minutes of The Dark World. Like, this movie is fine. It’s one of the better MCU movies in my opinion (though, again, I have a fairly low opinion of the MCU), but it really does feel like a lot of more interesting stuff was left on the table.
I do like what we got, though. And Loki is a great villain, not necessarily because he’s a particularly great villain here but because he’s so amazing for the rest of the series and it’s nice that he got slotted in as the big bad in his first appearance (okay also in The Avengers but whatever) to get that out of the way and have him be a more interesting and complicated character going forward.
Oh last thing. I don’t… super care about this necessarily? but the CGI in this aged so poorly, oh my gosh. Which isn’t to say I didn’t love a lot of the visuals, especially at night on Asgard, but it was still pretty distracting how poorly it held up.
Thor: Tales of Asgard (2011)
This is exactly what I was asking for!! Thor and Loki go on a hecking adventure with the Warriors Three. There’s a tavern and what looks like orcs and goblins and there’s some animal people. Jotunheim is way more interesting than it was in the MCU movie. Thor feels remorse after killing two frost giants in battle. Odin is slightly less of a dick (still a huge dick, though). Sif has an actual, like, story and stuff. This rules!
I also appreciate that instead of having a magic teleporting bridge that takes you literally anywhere you want, everyone travels around on winged horses and flying boats and shit. On the flying horses note, yeah I’m hella thirsty for the Valkyries being all “on your knees, male” and “silence, male” and whatnot. I don’t consider myself male, though, so hopefully they’d have the same attitude towards an enby boy.
I think this story also made way more sense with a younger Thor, and I appreciated seeing him and his brother palling around. Loki is an adorable femboy in this, and instead of having him just constantly plotting against Thor there’s a setup that shows him as a more conflicted character that could pretty easily go in a bunch of directions if this had ever gotten a sequel. For that matter, there’s a dark elf hanging around Asgard the whole movie and you’re just constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop with him, and when it inevitably does his motivations make perfect sense and he hasn’t just been biding his time waiting to do a betrayal, he’s presented with a powerful temptation and he succumbs. There is just so much more pathos to the villains in this little movie than anything you get in the MCU.
Honestly, although I have a pretty low opinion of most of the other movies I’ve seen in this line, I really wish it had continued if only to get sequels to this one! I think it’s decently likely I would’ve liked this series better than the MCU’s Thor if it had continued. It’s just such a shame this was the only one.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
I used to pretty consistently defend this one when I was a dumb MCU stan (would that be a Stan stan?). When I reevaluated all the Marvel movies back in the day when I was experimenting with how much to integrate my reading of a movie’s politics into my evaluation of how much I enjoyed said movie, I wrote a much more scathing review of it. The one part of that review I still absolutely stand by is this movie has a ton of problems with women. Natalie Portman has to show up to work for this movie just to be blatantly shoe-horned into the plot because She Had To Be There and not because anything that was happening was remotely motivated by her character. Darcy is nearly the best thing about the movie but it’s entirely because of Kat Dennings’ performance. All the script really has for her is some compulsory heterosexuality because Sure, Why Not. Lady Sif is in the movie for about five minutes and it’s just for Odin to literally dangle her in front of Thor as a consolation prize, so that’s lovely, thanks for that.
Most glaringly, though, Frigga gets fridged (there’s a pun in there somewhere) in one of the most textbook examples you’ll ever see of the awful trope. Everyone talks about their Feelings about her being dead for the rest of the movie but no one talks about her. Her funeral is a silent affair with sad music blaring over a bunch of boys looking sad. Gag.
Today, I mostly look at broadly entertaining blockbusters (especially superhero movies) as silly, disposable entertainment and while I still think it’s necessary to explicitly call out their awful politics, I don’t take them too too seriously. As long as they’re entertaining, not genuinely hateful, and their bad politics aren’t too intrusive (most of the MCU fails on this last point), I just let myself enjoy them. And The Dark World does continue the Tolkien-style imperialism of the first movie (I jokingly called it Asgardian exceptionalism in an earlier review), but it’s just normal Fantasy Written By White People stuff, not exactly a high bar for awfulness in the MCU.
So, with that in mind, the place I land with Thor: The Dark World is basically “yeah it’s kinda bad?” But like. It’s not the worst way to spend two hours, and you’re largely spending it with a radiant himbo, Natalie Portman, and the radiant himbo’s scheming genderfluid sibling, so like? It really isn’t the worst.
The effects in this one aren’t as glaringly bad for the most part, either. A lot of the Aether effects are super, super bad, but Asgard doesn’t look like it was built for a sixth-generation video game cutscene, and that matters.
The finale in London is aggressively bad. One cute gag about Thor having to ride the subway aside, it’s just so boring it’s like watching paint dry. The movie definitely peaks around Loki’s fake death, they probably should’ve retooled the script and found a way to make that the actual climax of the movie, then it would probably be a lot better. Maybe do like a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style thing with the Aether and have it kill all the dark elves instead of having Malekith absorb it.
Idk, there’s obviously problems with my suggestion too, but it would still be way better than what we got? The way things are, it feels more like “oh okay this is still happening?” for basically the whole third act.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
I think this narrowly edges out the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie as my favorite MCU movie but it honestly usually comes down to which one I’ve watched the most recently. And these two movies are in a class of their own when it comes to MCU movies. It just honestly doesn’t even make sense to compare them to any other MCU movies, just other superhero movies, and other movies in general. Except maybe Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? I want to rewatch that one sometime (probably right before Vol. 3 comes out) before I decide for sure.
Despite being saddled with the usual MCU movie problems, principally the fact that the studio insists that all these movies basically just be commercials for the next movie, Waititi & co managed to make something really different and fresh, and largely self-contained. That last point is a bit bittersweet because part of what makes this movie so self-contained is that Infinity War effectively used all of Thor’s screentime to take a sledgehammer to everything that happened in the third act of Ragnarok, but y’know. MCU gonna MCU.
I’d be lying if I said that Thor blasting onto the field in Wakanda and defiantly shouting “BRING ME THANOS!” while the Avengers theme blared and Thanos’s minions (the ones he didn’t cleave in half on his way in) cowered wasn’t an awesome moment that I think about in a positive light more frequently than I think about most of the rest of the non-Thor/Guardians MCU combined. The only things that might beat it are Hulk’s “that’s my secret: I’m always angry” from the first Avengers and Iron Man’s helicopter suit-up in Civil War. And I like Infinity War way better than I like either of those other two movies. But the thing all of those moments have in common (besides a great score behind them) is that I enjoy them only in isolation. Ragnarok actually told a great, character-driven story. It had consequences that made sense. It had hope triumphing. It was emotionally satisfying. And half of it was swept away between Ragnarok’s mid-credits scene and Infinity War’s opening credits while the other half was jettisoned by Thor’s entire deal in Infinity War being “me need big, strong weapon to be big, strong boy.”
Just. Fellas. What the heck. Why can’t we have nice things? (Oh right because it’s the fucking MCU.)
All I’m really saying is that Thor: Ragnarok’s awesomeness being self-contained is a, uh, double-edged… hammer? Is that anything? I’m not sure if that’s anything. I know the MCU frequently gets too much credit for being quirky and “weird,” or my personal favorite (which I am guilty of parroting in the past) “risky.” The fucking audacity of calling any of the vanilla soft serve ice cream cinematic universe movies “risky.”
What I will say in the case of Ragnarok is okay wow thank you a movie that has a fucking personality. But now I’m sliding back into negging the MCU instead of talking about what I like about this movie. I know “funny and lighthearted but with 80s arcade music for a soundtrack” might not sound like the most radical departure, but I promise you, it’s all in the details. Like The Dark World setting up Loki on the throne and pretending that’s going to be a big deal and we’re just going round and round with the whole Loki betraying Thor carousel, and Ragnarok just straight up says “no we’re not gonna do that” and makes Thor exposing Loki’s treachery into a fun comedic moment before quickly moving on to something else. Thor could have basically turned to the camera and told the audience directly, “We’re done with this shit, do you hear me? We’re moving on to something more interesting.” Thank fuck.
In case you didn’t get it, the movie comes right out and says it when Loki tries to betray Thor one last time by thwarting his escape in exchange for the reward money the Grand Master is offering, and Thor is actually one step ahead of him. “Dear brother, you’re becoming predictable. I trust you, you betray me, round and round in circles we go. See Loki, life is about… It’s about growth, it’s about change, but you seem to just want to stay the same. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’ll always be the god of mischief, but you could be more.”
And it’s not just talk! Which, you know, I thoroughly enjoy Thor embodying the trope of “surprisingly insightful himbo who understands psychological health” trope, but it doesn’t stop there. Loki does change! He helps Thor save the people of Asgard, and he actually goes with him to help with whatever comes next.
It’s like the creative team here decided to base this movie on all the nerd press’s voluntary propagandizing about the MCU being character-driven and interested in showing people growing and hope overcoming trauma and disillusionment instead of just quipping every five seconds and aping their own memes.
Look I’m sorry this keeps looping back to “the MCU sucks,” but let’s just look for a second at all the things this movie does and that the rest of the MCU squanders almost immediately. You probably think Thor is out of lessons to learn at this point but he learns a big one in the form of “Asgard isn’t a place, it’s a people.” Armed with that perspective, he makes the incredible choice to sacrifice the realm of Asgard without a second’s hesitation.
Attendant to this, Thor also learns to trust his power without Mjolnir. This is largely summed up by Odin’s line, “Are you Thor, god of hammers?” and Hela’s “What were you the god of again?” I hate, hate, hate that Odin gets this moment, but oh well. It’s still great to see Thor come into his own even more than he already had.
Where this falls short, though, is that after all of that, and after agreeing with Valkyrie that the monarchy sucks… Thor just takes the throne anyway, and Valkyrie seems to fully support him in this. Just… why? Your people are literally starting over, this is the perfect time to enact change. Why cling to an institution that you paid lipservice to understanding is inherently immoral? I just hate this choice for them. And there are echoes of this in the movie’s inch-deep anti-imperialism. It doesn’t earn the moment when Hela breaks down the ceiling of the throne room to reveal the mural of her father’s “peaceful” reign has been built over a mural depicting Asgard’s bloody conquests which her father presided over and she executed. Nor is Hela the right person to be calling attention to this. As often happens in the MCU, the audience isn’t really forced to grapple with any of this because the well is poisoned by putting these words in the lips of the film’s big bad, and Thor himself basically shrugs it off. It’s a stirring visual but the movie around it needs to treat it with more weight for it to be really effective.
In a more consensual scene, though, I would absolutely kneel before Hela as she keeps demanding of everyone. (It’s literally like her second line and she never stops for the rest of the movie.) And that was before she had a giant wolf and a skeleton army. I also badly need Valkyrie to step on me (she seems pleased with herself for beating up and chaining Loki so I’m pretty sure we could have fun together), so yeah. Thor isn’t really my type physically, but his personality is so radiant that I would absolutely go there. I’d probably let Loki do problematic things to me. Okay sorry we got to this part of the review.
Since we’re into the superficial stuff, so many people get tied up in this movie, you guys. Okay, not exactly tied up, but like. Thor opens the movie in a cage in chains basically doing a “so you’re probably wondering how I got here” monologue. And then he’s hanging in chains in front of a big, scary demon thing sitting on an ancient throne and I’m thinking “that’s how I’d like to spend my summer vacation, dude.” (Yeah, I’m a little fucked up.) And yeah, that joke where he was slowly spinning because of the dangling chain so he had to keep interrupting Surtur’s speech to ask him to wait when he was facing away from him was pretty damn hilarious.
Anyway, because this movie loves me and wants me to be happy, Thor isn’t free for much longer before he’s told to kneel before his queen (which he refuses because he’s some kind of weird idiot), escapes, immediately gets captured by a gang with some kind of awesome net gun thing, only to be “rescued” and immediately captured by Valkyrie. Who is amazing, by the way. And then he wakes up in a glass cage literally beneath her feet, and just… okay, I don’t want you to think that the only reason I enjoyed this movie is because it kept putting its hero in bondage peril, but guys, come on.
It really, really isn’t just the bondage, though. I mean, it definitely helps, but I just love this weird space techno bullshit so much.
Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
(CW: Spoilers, horny)
I gotta say, I really don’t get the hate. This is like a tweak away from being pretty easily my favorite Marvel movie ever. Basically if Mighty Thor and Valkyrie hadn’t been sidelined for the final battle it would have been.
This is exactly the kind of weird space shit and weird mythology shit I love from this franchise. The fights were fantastic. The penultimate fight where Thor, Mighty Thor, and Valkyrie are teaming up to fight Gorr and his shadow minions was definitely better than the final fight, but oh well.
I’ve seen a lot on Twitter about queerbaiting in relation to this movie, and like… yeah, okay, it’s not a super gay movie or anything, but there are explicitly gay characters in it? Korg literally has two dads, and literally marries another guy at the end of the movie? Valkyrie is explicitly primarily interested in other women? I’m going to be pretty upset if they don’t give her a girlfriend soon, and also if she doesn’t get a spinoff solo movie at some point that’s much gayer than this. I mean, not really upset because this is the MCU I expect literally nothing from them, but I’m just saying.
There is, uh, quite a lot of extremely good bondage in this. I just. Yeah. I just felt I needed to mention that.
They kill Zeus for being a big, dumb idiot. (Yeah okay fine he ends up being not dead in the midcredits scene, whatever.) They fly around on a boat that’s pulled by giant goats. The goats yell. The goats are extremely good. I love the goats. And hey wait a second wasn’t I complaining during earlier movies that the bifrost was really boring when other versions have flying horses and flying boats and shit? Well, wish granted!
I liked literally every part of this movie except the last fight, and even then there are things I liked about it? I mean, the fight itself was fine, I just didn’t like Valkyrie being abruptly sidelined. And ultimately the conflict is literally solved by Thor talking the bad guy into… not being a bad guy anymore. And he gets there through empathy, not browbeating. I’m sorry, but that’s way better than everyone having a big stupid fight while a giant blue beam shoots into the sky.
I don’t know. I’m being pretty uncritical here, but I just don’t know, guys. This was almost exactly what I wanted. It’s possible I’ll like it even more when I rewatch it and have time to digest it.
This was so good I literally cried. This is easily, and I mean easily the best first episode of a Star Trek series. And as much as I like nuTrek better than a lot of others who have been fans of the franchise since the Golden Age, this just blows everything else out of the water in terms of making me like holy shit Star Trek is back.
This series is like they took all the best parts of TOS and Discovery, and a lot (not all, but a lot) of the best parts of TNG and tossed them in a blender and said “here you go!” It’s like the much better series the first episode of Discovery teased us with but we actually get to keep it this time. And that is more or less what I was hoping for, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would just immediately be that, right out of the gates. This was breathtaking.
I’m struggling to remember the last time I allowed myself to be this unguardedly hyped for something, and having that thing just so resoundingly live up to that hype… I can’t stop gushing about it??? I am literally incapable.
So, in the first episode of your new Star Trek series you’re going to go with a botched first contact scenario with Prime Directive implications aplenty. That’s a bold choice, and this episode not only makes it work, it actually makes it work in its favor.
Firstly, the voiceover from Number One at the beginning of the episode is just the Star Trekkiest Star Trekky speech that ever Star Trekked. It’s full of hope and bravery and honesty. We then slide over to Captain Pike on shore leave. The “Pike knows he’s going to die” subplot isn’t my favorite tack to take with this character. It was one of the rare things I didn’t like about season 2 of Discovery. But in spite of disagreeing with it on a kind of fundamental level, I actually love the way it was deployed here? It’s a believable way to get him to a place where he’s a character in crisis without compromising his fundamental values or the things that made everyone collectively fall in love with him in the first place.
And that sets you up to do the whole reluctant captain dragged back to duty thing, which… I don’t love refusing the call as a trope usually, but for some reason Star Trek has always found a way to do it that doesn’t bother me? And this is probably one of the best examples I’ve seen. Both of establishing the character’s reluctance, and of showing his willingness to rise to the occasion in spite of said reluctance. I also loved the Admiral’s reasonable attempts to reach him not working (his communicator beeping over and over and him ignoring it), ultimately requiring his unreasonable attempt to reach him (flying a fucking shuttlecraft overhead while he’s taking his horse out for a ride). Also also on a much geekeir and less consequential note, it hecking ruled that we finally had a canon appearance from Robert April.
I know a lot of people are probably upset about the portrayal of Spock’s relationship with T’Pring but I actually loved it? It’s nice to get some actual romance and levity in that story, and I really liked the scene where she proposed to him a lot! I also think it ties back into TOS just fine considering we literally already established that T’Pring is irritated with him for unflinchingly choosing duty over her and he is pretty blatantly oblivious, so it’s not really difficult to see how that relationship is going to end up cooling off.
Everyone returns to the Enterprise which is being rushed back to active duty, and this feels like the right time to say oh my gods I love the look and feel of this series? The Enterprise itself is gorgeous, like even better than the version from season 2 of Discovery. The bridge and other sets all look like believable, more fully-realized versions of the equivalent TOS sets but with a lot more of the original design elements and overall look/feel retained than in previous attempts like the Kelvinverse.
Oh, and the opening theme and title sequence? Resoundingly awesome.
Anyway, once everybody’s back aboard, we get into the main action of the story and Pike does his best to toe the Prime Directive line but once they’re committed past the point of no return anyway he just barges right in and does a The Day the Earth Stood Still, in a way that both explicitly references contemporary politics and emphatically makes a case for the best aspects of the Federation’s (and, by extension, Star Trek’s) values. I really needed to hear this right now.
Oh, yeah, earlier in the episode he’s watching The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is great foreshadowing but is also a great way to let the audience know that the people making this show are huge nerds who love science fiction. So that was pretty awesome.
1×02 “Children of the Comet”
Sitting down to watch the second episode, my feelings were more or less “okay, but like… it can’t always be as good as that first episode, right???” And the second episode answered with a resounding “hold my beer.”
It’s so, so nice to have “monster of the week plus at least one focus character and oh yeah everyone likes each other”-style storytelling back in this franchise, but with a side of nuTrek’s willingness to be real about mental health.
Picking up on my compliments about the look and feel from the previous episode, the scene where the Enterprise spun and wove through the comet as it was breaking up was exhilarating to the same degree that many of the best Star Wars space scenes are, but unlike previous attempts (*cough*KelvinversePicard*cough*), it still absolutely felt like a Star Trek scene. This isn’t hugely essential as these sorts of action scenes aren’t the reason I come to Star Trek, but it’s really nice to have.
This was an Uhura episode, but Spock and Pike also got chances to shine. Which, you know. They’re probably pretty much always gonna, but Spock’s interactions with Uhura were amazing??? Both for his character and hers. And this is so much better than their relationship in TOS or the Kelvinverse, while still fitting in with their TOS relationship quite a bit better than the Kelvinverse version did.
… speaking of which, I also like this version of Nurse Chapel flirting with Spock so much better than the TOS version. You don’t ever get the impression she’s actually pining for him, more like she’s benignly toying with him.
Actually, this is an opportunity to talk about one of my favorite things about this show so far. Strange New Worlds “fits in” with the TOS canon in a way that doesn’t feel like it hamstrings the show in the way that Enterprise’s attempts to do the same (which, fwiw, they did a really bad job of sometimes anyway) really did. This show doesn’t “fit in” with the TOS that aired in the 60s, rather you can imagine it fitting in with an updated version of TOS that does away with many frustrating artifacts of the time it was made and brings it more into line with the franchise as a whole. It suggests a version of TOS that is more Star Trek than the first Star Trek series. It stands on its own, and it fits in. Like any new Star Trek series should, it exists in a universe of limitless possibilities.
1×03 “Ghosts of Illyria”
… okay, but like, can one of these eventually not be an S-Rank so I don’t look like such a shill?
… actually, you know what? I want to see how long we can keep this up.
So, it’s been a minute, but TOS and TNG established a tradition of one of the early episodes being devoted to the whole crew getting Space Drunk and Space Horny. I don’t think DS9 or Voyager did it, Enterprise did something that was arguably similar, Discovery and Picard didn’t do it, but Strange New Worlds is all about bringing back Trek traditions and putting a new spin on them so of course they couldn’t resist.
But this is Strange New Worlds, so, based on our current sample size there’s really no surprise that A) it managed to not suck, and B) it did a ton of character work at the same time.
So, the previous examples of This Kind of Episode came way too early in the show’s run, so they weren’t nearly as fun as they could have been. This was a bigger problem in TNG where the series eventually developed rather strong characterizations for most of its central characters, in TOS it was probably fine because they never really grew over the course of the show. Strange New Worlds, on the other hand, has already done such a good job of developing its characters in just two episodes that they were able to do one of these what feels like it should be more of a mid-seasons episodes right off the bat and it was just fine. And yeah, you can argue “but we already know who Pike and Spock are!” and yeah, we do, so they weren’t even on the damn ship when everyone got Space Drunk.
Also, instead of getting Space Horny and whatnot, everyone develops a sudden, unreasonably acute Vitamin D deficiency (heh, they need the D) and basically become moths? Like, they just desperately need light. It’s a novel approach to this sort of thing. I guess that also kinda circumvents the needing more characterization before you do the Space Drunk episode, but a regular Space Drunk episode still woulda worked? Idk.
Anyway, this ends up being a very heavy Number One episode, and we learn a lot about her. And we get to see Captain Pike’s devotion to his crew demonstrated once again, and his example helps Number One do the right thing in a parallel situation as well (though, admittedly she probably woulda anyway; she’s extremely good).
So, uh, yeah! Let’s see how long we can keep this ridiculous standard of quality up for, I guess!
1×04 “Memento Mori”
So here I am, all ready to finally give Strange New Worlds its first A-Rank. Like, don’t get me wrong! There’s a lot of awesome stuff going on in this episode! I’ve always wanted more of the Gorn, and that was before I realized vore was on the menu!! … by which I guess I mean we’re on the menu!! Which, y’know… hot! (Sorry, not sorry.)
So, yeah! It was pretty cool seeing Pike’s Enterprise tangle with the buff scalie bois. And the whole deal with La’an working through her PTSD was handled extremely well. There were even great secondary stories going on in the form of Number One’s injury and Uhura & Hemmer being trapped in that cargo bay somewhat reminiscent of when Beverly & Geordi found themselves in a similar situation in the excellent TNG episode “Disaster.”
But, y’know! Then they had to go and have that fucking amazing scene where Pike comes up with the plan of using the black hole to slingshot to safety, while using gravitational redshift to convince the Gorn that they’re actually standing still. And the science of that is fucking amazing and I actually cackled out loud when I realized what they were doing. This show is so fucking nerdy!! And then they also make it look and feel awesome because of course they do and ugh!!!
I don’t care if I’m a shill, if I am it’s because I like this show that much and can’t stop gushing about it!! If Strange New Worlds can keep this up for a few seasons, there will be no question in my mind what the best Star Trek series of all time is.
1×05 “Spock Amok”
I’M SORRY BUT THEY DID FREAKY FRIDAY WITH SPOCK AND HIS BETROTHED??? AND IT WAS??? SO???? GOOD??????? AND THEY NOW HAVE A GREATER APPRECIATION FOR EACH OTHER AND PIKE GAVE THAT BRILLIANT SPEECH ABOUT HOW AWESOME SPOCK IS AND ALSO HE SOLVED THAT DIPLOMATIC THINGYMAJIG AND AND????
I just. I can’t with this show!! How is it this consistently great??? This was like… “The Trouble with Tribbles”-level TOS humor mixed with TNG-level diplomacy and Discovery-level characterizations. You guys!!! I want to have this show’s babies!!!
1×06 “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach”
I am pleased to announce that I am willing to admit this show is not perfect. I mean, depending on your definition of perfect. There isn’t anything wrong with this episode, there just isn’t anything transcendent enough about it to give it an S-Rank? For American readers who aren’t weebos, I’m essentially giving it an A instead of an A+. So, uh, yeah, that’s where we’re at.
Like, every episode up until now has been of a kind that will be instantaneously memorable for decades to come. This one will be more of the Google it, read a summary, “oh yeah that one was pretty good” variety.
Oh also as soon as it became pretty clear that something not great was going on with the First Servant I kind of sussed out what was going on and as soon as the credits rolled I told my partners that it reminded me of Ursula Le Guin’s story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and sure enough it turns out that the episode was directly inspired by that story. So, if you’re keeping track at home, this show has already based episodes on The Day the Earth Stood Still and “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” and those are just the ones I immediately noticed.
1×07 “The Serene Squall”
All the pirate stuff is super hot and the Enterprise crew members get thrown in cages so uh yeah clearly there’s some stuff for me here. Also the pirate captain is an enby??? And they’re impersonating an enby??? So that’s awesome!!!
I figured out who Captain Angel’s Vulcan partner was before the big reveal, and I just bitterly laughed out loud when they confirmed it. What sucks is that this is Strange New Worlds so they’re going to make Sybok actually good and I’m already mad about it. I’m just. I’m just preemptively mad about it.
This was some pretty great action bullshit with a side of an actually pretty interesting love triangle starting to form between Spock, T’Pring, and Nurse Chapel. Love triangles are super not my favorite, but I’m actually willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt until it gives me a reason not to.
1×08 “The Elysian Kingdom”
This is not how I expected this particular character arc to be resolved, but as I lay sobbing in my partners’ arms I was not particularly inclined to give notes, y’know?
Like maybe 7/8ths of this episode are a delightful little romp where most of the ship’s crew is stuck behaving like characters from a children’s fantasy book that Dr. M’Benga has been reading to his daughter. Captain Pike as a cowardly flunky and La’an as a prissy noblewoman were hilariously off-type, Ortegas as a swashbuckling swordswoman and Number One as a confident archer were both pretty easy fits. Though them being gay for each other because they are in the little girl’s mental fanfiction additions to the story was freaking adorable.
Oh yeah and Cadet Uhura plays a cruel monarch who commands people to kneel before her and brags about the skills of her torturers and uh yeah I had Feelings about that. Y’know. The gay kind.
But then it turns out that it’s all leading up to a tearful goodbye between father and daughter as, instead of a cure, he finds a way for her to live a fuller life than she likely could have even if he had cured her. But just. Fuck. Those sorts of goodbyes still just absolutely decimate me, and it really isn’t fair when most of the episode has been a playful romp, dang it!
If it wasn’t obvious, by the way, I’m not trying to lodge substantive complaints here. I’m just whining because I was having fun and then the episode made me cry and that’s mean, y’know? So don’t take this too seriously. This was a phenomenal episode.
1×09 “All Those Who Wander”
Add Alien to the list of scifi classics the inaugural season of Strange New Worlds has based an episode on. You guys, I think the people making this show might be huge nerds or something.
I wonder if there’s a story behind Hemmer’s death similar to Tasha’s in season 1 of TNG. It feels like they never really did enough with his character, with his high point probably coming in the previous episode when he was hamming it up using his engineering prowess to be a “wizard” in the episode’s fantasy realm. It’s also possible this was always planned, considering the character was a mentor for Cadet Uhura and this episode finds Uhura making a final decision to remain with Starfleet.
It was also a shame to see La’an departing in a less final way. I really hope she isn’t gone for long.
On the whole this was an okay episode, but probably the weakest or second weakest of the season? (And I’m giving it an A lmao. That’s how good this season has been.) I’m glad the Gorn are continuing to be a going concern. I’ve always wished we’d get more of them, and Strange New Worlds seems willing to deliver on that front.
1×10 “A Quality of Mercy”
They did it. They stuck the landing.
I kind of sussed out from the various clips and trailers the general shape of what this episode was going to be, and it seemed like a good idea but a risky one. And, you know, that’s kind of super appropriate actually? Considering you have Pike meeting Captain James “risk is our business, gentlemen” Kirk. And while Kirk is certainly more synonymous with risk-taking, and does indeed accuse Pike of being too risk-averse, the narrative ends up not bearing him out. Because Pike does take a risk, a huge one. Just a much different one than the kind Kirk is synonymous with. It doesn’t pan out, but in that last scene between Pike and Kirk, you can tell that Kirk had a newfound respect for Pike. And that they have more in common than might first appear.
The other side of this episode also finds a Captain Pike armed with the knowledge that sometimes you can’t avoid a fight. And that seems like a pretty important thing for him to have heard right at that moment in time for, you know, reasons.
The second I heard future Pike’s voice I knew basically what was going to happen, but when they cut to him standing there in a Wrath of Khan-era admiral uniform I couldn’t help but let out a fanby squee.
Ending on a retelling of one of the best and most beloved TOS episodes was a bold move. But it paid off. What they did with it was fantastic. And this episode accomplished so much. It closed the book on a difficult part of Pike’s life, and he’s clearly approaching the future with a more resolute attitude. I’m looking forward to him, hopefully, just being the best captain he can be going forward.
It’s funny, I started the season a little annoyed that they were continuing this plot thread from Discovery because I just wanted an uncomplicated TNG-style Star Trek show, but I have to admit at this point that I was just super wrong. The way they resolved it took it from a liability to an asset, and on top of that the moment where him and Spock told each other how important they were to each other genuinely made me tear up. I’m not saying I ship it, but I’m also not saying I don’t ship it.
Literally my only complaint is that slotting Ortegas into a toned down version of Lt. Riley’s space racism storyline felt thoroughly awkward, and I think it did a disservice to her character. It didn’t really add anything to the story, and it wasn’t really resolved. It feels a little like it was included out of a sense of obligation.
Still, though, I’m nitpicking at this point. This was a fantastic episode, and it sets up a great future for the show going forward. And considering its first season might very well be the best season of any Star Trek show, I cannot wait to see where the show goes from here.
A landmark episode in terms of character development for Spock and worldbuilding for Vulcan. I don’t love the essentialism around mating and reproduction, obviously, and I would love for nuTrek to follow up on how pon farr affects queer Vulcans. But Spock and Kirk fighting with those stupid American Gladiator things is just joyful.
2×02 “Who Mourns for Adonais?”
Like, it’s not the worst or anything, but why do so many of these kinds of episodes just have to absolutely hinge on some female crew member we’ve never met before falling head-over-heels for the villain? You get one of those, and you burned it on “Space Seed,” and I actually really liked it but it happens over and over and I just can’t stand it. (Okay, fine, technically you burned it on the second pilot but I’m not counting that as much because almost everyone was a new character we didn’t know and she actually got lines and a chance to actually do her job and stuff.)
Like, yeah, I actually kinda enjoy silly bullshit like the giant hand grabbing the Enterprise and whatnot, but so much of this episode is just nails-on-chalkboard misogyny and I just… I cannot. And it’s not even just all the stuff that happens on the planet, the episode just weirdly starts off with everyone on the bridge fawning over this random lady and being all dumb and competitive and just… gag!! It feels weird even for TOS.
I know some of you are probably thinking about whining “but you have to allow for historical context!” and I hear you, but you have to allow for my historical context of not wanting to watch this shit, and your historical context of eating my entire ass.
2×03 “The Changeling”
What if The Motion Picture were dumber and badder. There’s some stuff here I don’t hate, but then there’s all the other stuff.
Also, Uhura’s subplot in this is just weird. TOS was so weird.
2×04 “Mirror, Mirror”
This is a landmark episode, and while I disagree with how much of the episode is devoted to the Kirk/Marlena stuff, it’s impossible to overrate its lasting impact on the franchise.
And, I mean, c’mon. Evil Spock with an evil beard.
2×05 “The Apple”
The early parts of the episode were a hilarious bloodbath, so that was actually pretty entertaining. But once the racistly-depicted natives and their giant computer got involved it just got boring and awkward as fuck.
2×06 “The Doomsday Machine”
This episode rules. It’s got plenty of action, it’s got another Constitution-class ship. It has an important bit of lore with the introduction of Commodore Decker, who is Commander Decker from Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s father. The scene where Kirk orders Spock to relieve Decker and assume command of the Enterprise is one of my favorites in the entire series. The dramatic/heroic swell of music when Spock sits down in the captain’s chair is just priceless.
This is definitely one of the episodes I always look forward to. Just a lot of quality Star Trek stuff happening.
Fuck you, it’s good.
Yeah, I get it, the big threat towards the end is just literally a housecat that’s composited in to try to make it look much larger than it is. Yeah, I know it’s not convincing at all. But this is a silly Halloween episode, and I’m judging it on those grounds. This Scooby-Doo bullshit is exactly what I want out of a Halloween episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, are you kidding? This is flawless.
2×08 “I, Mudd”
This is absolutely a much better Mudd episode than “Mudd’s Women,” but Mudd episodes are just… not great episodes? I’m glad that they was so much better in Discovery, and I’m sure his episodes will be great in Strange New Worlds if he ever shows up there as well. Which is funny because I actually like the way he’s portrayed in TOS a lot better than the way he’s portrayed in Discovery? Like, conniving con man who gets under the captain’s skin is way more Star Trekky to me than just… “straight-up a murderer.” But the episodes around him in TOS are just… ugh.
I loved all the silly stuff Kirk & co did to try to confuse the androids, though. Definitely the highlight of either of TOS’s Mudd episodes.
I don’t have a lot to say about this one? It’s just… kinda boring and lonely. Cool that they introduced Zefram Cochrane for later shows (even Enterprise) to do a much better job with, I guess.
2×10 “Journey to Babel”
This would be a landmark episode if only for introducing Spock’s parents and two founding members of the Federation (the Andorians and Tellerites). But it’s also got some of the most plentiful and in-your-face Play-Doh food of the series, an absolutely bonkers Star Trek fight, a murder investigation, Dr. McCoy doing bullshit Star Trek medicine, a space battle… there’s kind of a lot going on in this episode! It really is one I always look forward to. I really think this kind of stuff is TOS at its best.
2×11 “Friday’s Child”
… and this is TOS at its worst.
Seriously, this is so boring. It’s just 45 minutes of nothing! And oh yeah, my abusive ex “ironically” loved McCoy slapping that one lady across the face and then her following him around all doe-eyed for the rest of the episode. So, you know. Not exactly an association it’s easy to get out of my head, and not a pleasant one in the first place.
I’m not just docking it because of that, though. It was already extremely bad all on its own.
2×12 “The Deadly Years”
The best part of this episode is when they reuse footage from “Balance of Terror” to make it look like the Enterprise is under attack by the Romulans.
Hey. Hey. What if we did “The Man Trap” again, but like, kinda worse? Like, not bad bad, but just kinda… ever so slightly worse? And added a whole thing where the monster of the week was just super in Captain Kirk’s head. And he takes it out on some poor hapless security guy. Wouldn’t that be fun!!
… would it not? Where are you going?
2×14 “Wolf in the Fold”
Yeah, okay, it’s bad, but it’s still a Star Trek murder mystery, so it’s at least watchable!! Seriously, though, Jack the Ripper is a disembodied psychic force of evil? And he sounds like that? Go fuck yourself lmao.
2×15 “The Trouble with Tribbles”
I had this on VHS and watched it over and over and over, and then they did that giftset that bundled it with the DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” and a little electronic plush tribble, so obviously I had to get that which gave me a second VHS copy of “The Trouble with Tribbles,” but it had a different cover so I was fine with it.
This is the best episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. Let’s just get that out of the way. This is one of the best episodes of any Star Trek series. I think there’s a decent chance this is one of the biggest reasons there are other Star Trek shows.
Seriously, this is the TOS episode. It’s just everything about the show working to absolute perfection. Plenty of characters get meaningful screentime. The tone is pitch perfect. Kirk spars with a Klingon captain and belittles a Federation bureaucrat (that was cathartic given how those interactions usually go). The tribbles are adorable and a genuine menace. There is a Starfleet/Klingon bar fight. Again, there is a Starfleet/Klingon bar fight.
It’s also the standard that all other Star Trek forays into comedy are measured against. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is probably the only more famous example of Star Trek doing comedy well, and that’s only because it’s a feature film. “The Trouble with Tribbles” set the bar, and I genuinely don’t think it’s ever been–or is ever likely to be–surpassed.
2×16 “The Gamesters of Triskelion”
Liiiiiiiike. This is a super BDSMy episode with tons of bondage, so I don’t… I can’t completely hate it? But in spite of that… yeah, I really kind of hate it!! And I feel like that should be a pretty searing indictment coming from me?
The campy bondage stuff is great, don’t get me wrong. But the episode around it is just… so. bad!!!!
2×17 “A Piece of the Action”
This is freaking adorable. I know it’s kind of a one-trick pony (juxtaposing the Enterprise’s crew against caricatures of the mafia), but they find basically every single possible way to mine comedy out of that one trick and it doesn’t get old!
There isn’t really a lot to this episode, but that’s okay! This is TOS camp at its best.
2×18 “The Immunity Syndrome”
This is a good bad episode! I laughed hysterically when I realized it was next, and I laugh every time I see that stupid giant amoeba. I love this shit.
2×19 “A Private Little War”
This is a bad bad episode. It’s an anemic attempt to Say Something about U.S. imperialist aggression in Vietnam, but it pretty explicitly portrays the U.S. as the Good Guys and does a painfully generic bit of “war is hell”/”look what our enemy is making us do” imperialist apologia. With a side of super obvious racism! The planet’s natives, who are pretty blatantly meant to be analogues for the Vietnamese people, are infantilized and given “noble savage” treatment throughout the episode. The whole thing is just hella gross and I’m so glad Star Trek has largely grown past this kind of bullshit.
2×20 “Return to Tomorrow”
This is a pretty prototypical TOS snoozefest, notable only for Captain Kirk’s famous “risk is our business!” speech, which despite being stirring and a good bit of character writing, seems wholly out of proportion with the episode it actually occurs in. It’s drastically better if you take it out of context. It’s also hilariously overacted by an increasingly sweaty Shatner. Like, someone really decided, “Yeah, that was fine, let’s go with that take.”
2×21 “Patterns of Force”
The episode is boring and generic as fuck aside from an uncomfortably sexy whipping/aftermath of whipping scene featuring gay power couple Kirk and Spock, but the episode is just so fucking cavalier about everyone including the two main characters wearing Nazi uniforms. It even finds an excuse to have Kirk wear two different Nazi uniforms. It’s honestly super gross.
2×22 “By Any Other Name”
Like, it’s not good, but it’s harmless TOS bad. Oh also, I love how upon reaching the galactic barrier, Spock recites exactly the same readings as in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” It was literally word for word. That was a cute little detail.
2×23 “The Omega Glory”
Yeah I misspoke when I said that “The Alternative Factor” is the worst episode of Star Trek. Now, admittedly, “The Omega Glory” is a bit less of a chore to watch. But everything about it is just so antithetical to what Star Trek is, and so unbelievably offensive and racist regardless, that it’s just genuinely pretty hard to watch. Captain Tracy is a much better villain than… evil Lazarus? I don’t even remember what the fuck was going on there, to be honest. And the episode might be more engaging, but for being so loudly and unavoidably the opposite of everything good about Star Trek, this is the worst episode.
2×24 “The Ultimate Computer”
The Enterprise is chosen to test the new “M5 computer,” an artificial intelligence from famed scientist Richard Daystrom. You hear that name over and over in Golden Age Trek because the Federation’s foremost computer and robotics laboratory is named after him. He also invented the revolutionary technology that Starfleet’s computer systems are based on when he was a very young man, which the episode presents as giving him a bit of a complex about having made his greatest achievement when he was so young and then watching others get famous building upon his work while he seemingly stood still.
The M5 is going to be tested via some war game simulations pitting the Enterprise against four other Constitution-class starships–the Lexington, the Potemkin, the Excalibur, and the Hood.
Super Star Trek nerd note: interestingly, all four of these are legacy ships! Or, at least, ships carrying the same name appear in later installments of Star Trek. The Lexington is a Nebula-class ship that has brief background appearances in both TNG and DS9. The Potemkin is an Excelsior-class ship that appears in at least one episode of TNG, but is referenced on numerous occasions because Will Riker served aboard it. He also briefly served aboard the Ambassador-class USS Excalibur as acting captain in TNG’s “Redemption, Part 2,” but the ship is perhaps more famous to hardcore Star Trek fans as the hero ship of Peter David’s Star Trek: New Frontier book series. Lastly, the Excelsior-class USS Hood appears frequently in TNG, and is referenced even more frequently because of its former first officer, one Will Riker.
… hold on a second, really? Will Riker served on ships named after three of the four ships (four of five if you count the Enterprise) in this episode? Are we sure he never served on the Lexington?
At any rate, no sooner is the computer installed on the Enterprise than Captain Kirk has to be thinking “I’m gonna have to talk that thing to death aren’t I?” and Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy have to be thinking “Jim’s gonna have to talk that thing to death, isn’t he?” and particularly savvy members of the audience who have picked up on how bizarrely often Kirk has to talk robots or computers to death are likely thinking “Kirk’s gonna have to talk that thing to death, isn’t he?”
And wouldn’t you just know it, the computer malfunctions and begins treating the war games like they’re real, and attacks the other Starfleet ships with fully-powered phasers rather than low-powered simulated phasers. Shockingly, Kirk ends up talking the computer to death. Truly no one could have foreseen this outcome.
2×25 “Bread and Circuses”
They copy/pasted the “Patterns of Force” script and used find/replace to change all instances of “Nazi” to “Roman.” So they did this dumb alternate earth development thing with two of the four eras of history that The History Channel used to cover pretty exclusively. One presumes they would’ve gotten around to ancient Egypt and Civil War America eventually if the series had gone on for longer.
Seriously, “Patterns of Force” wasn’t that many episodes ago, and that makes some of the plot points in this episode so unintentionally hilarious. Like when they’re looking for this captain guy and they’re all like gee I wonder where he could be he’s probably not doing exactly the same thing as that other captain guy from the previous episode right, and then they find out that Rome’s “first citizen”–a sort of lapdog soldier of their Emperor–has a name that sounds virtually identical to his and they’re like whoa hey that can’t be him right, he’s definitely probably not doing the exact same thing that one captain guy did a few episodes ago in virtually identical circumstances right?
Oh wait this does have one distinguishing feature from “Patterns of Force.” I mean, aside from the fact that Roman costumes are way less offensive than Nazi costumes but also they put way less effort into the authenticity of their Roman costumes than they did into their Nazi costumes. Ummm awkward. Anyway uh yeah! The episode also had several moments where the characters stopped just short of turning directly to the camera and saying “hey NBC is thinking about canceling us tell them not to and also that they suck because regardless of whether they cancel us or not they suck.” Sort of like the movie Network, but even less subtle or funny.
2×26 “Assignment: Earth”
So just in case the moments in the previous episode where the characters stopped just short of turning directly to the camera and saying “hey NBC is thinking about canceling us tell them not to and also that they suck because regardless of whether they cancel us or not they suck” and the fan letter-writing campaigns didn’t succeed in stopping Star Trek from being canceled, Gene Rodenberry decided to devote the last episode of the show’s second season to a backdoor pilot for his backup plan. It’s really funny that Roddenberry acted like Star Trek was his baby and he deeply cared about it when he spent what he had every reason to believe could have been the last episode of the show devoting all of his time to the television equivalent of “hey, this is the new guy who’s going to be replacing you, please train him” instead of like, I don’t know… doing something that felt meaningful to the rest of the series or its characters or something? Also his super original, creative concept for his next show is just… it’s just bad Doctor Who, guys. It’s just drastically worse Doctor Who.
Oh and things not making sense isn’t… usually something I bother pointing out in TOS. Okay, that’s honestly probably a lie, but I mostly only point them out because they’re funny not because I think they’re worth pointing out. But this episode just opens with a captain’s log where the first words after “Captain’s log, stardate [whatever]” are “Using the light-speed breakaway factor, the Enterprise has moved back through time to the 20th century. We are now in extended orbit around Earth, using our ship’s deflector shields to remain unobserved. Our mission – historical research.” Like it’s just the most casual shit ever and they do it all the time. And I don’t know I’ve just always found this so glaringly dumb that it feels wrong not to mention it.
But yeah, I don’t know. At least it gives us the crucial information that MR. SPOCK INSTINCTIVELY LIKES KITTIES!!! I knew he was the smartest.
(CW: Sexual assault, sexual themes, reviewer being horny for same.)
I love this movie.
I love the whole aesthetic. I love the grimy future as envisioned by the late 70s. I love that space travel is slow and laborious, unromanticized. I love that everybody is so dang human without it having to be a character study. Just show them unfreezing and eating dinner, it’s not that hard.
I love that Ripley is deeply human and an action movie goddess in equal measure. I love that she’s vulnerable in believable ways but shown to be easily the most competent and capable person in this movie and probably basically any other movie. I love that she saved the hecking cat. I know it’s literally the screenwriting shorthand for “this is a good guy,” but I love it here. I love what it says about her specifically. Also, y’know, KITTY!
I love that my partners put up with me being inexplicably horny for the idea of being choke-fucked by a facehugger or just completely destroyed by a full-fledged Xenomorph. I love how horny this movie is, and that it wants you to be scared of its horny. And I am scared, but more horny than scared. It’s very effectively terrifying and violent, but it’s nevertheless thoroughly horny.
This is just a masterclass in effectively using sex in a horror movie. This movie’s horror is violent, penetrative. It’s thematically about cis boys being at risk for rape and pregnancy, and that hits on so many levels for me. Like, there’s a weird element of wish fulfillment there for me that the filmmakers absolutely did not intend (sorry not sorry I have some pretty intense kinks), but it still works for me on the level they did intend. It’s scary. It’s just that I find scary pretty damn sexy. But like. I’m also genuinely empathetic to the characters this is all happening to. I don’t want it to happen to them, I want it to happen to me!
From the standpoint of fantasy, I mean. It would be hard for me to keep writing these reviews for y’all if any of this happened to me lmao.
For real, though. I love this movie. It is one of my favorite movies of all time. The rest of this marathon is largely going to be pale imitations of this, but I don’t care because even a pale imitation of this still has so much to enjoy.
Aliens (movie 1986)
From easily the best movie I’m going to watch in this marathon to easily the second best movie I’m going to watch in this marathon. James Cameron’s sequel famously genre shifts from horror/scifi to action/scifi, and unsurprisingly he makes about the best action/scifi movie you could possibly make in this franchise. Comparing the first two movies is justifiably considered difficult because they’re apples and oranges, but I’m not afraid to say that I like apples better and I like what Alien is trying to do better than what Aliens is trying to do.
It’s a James Cameron movie, so there is a maximum amount of effort put into every facet of the production. And the genre pivot doesn’t leave behind many of the core aspects of the first movie.
I’ll never not be impressed by the fact that Aliens managed to pull off this genre shift–and send an entire horde of Xenomorphs after our heroes instead of just the one–without sacrificing the feeling that Xenomorphs are unstoppable killing machines and our heroes are hopelessly outmatched against them in combat. Part of this comes from the fact that Aliens is a lot more liberal in killing off characters than you’d expect from most scifi/action movies, but even scenes where characters are imperiled by them but manage to escape really sell them as an absolutely deadly threat. When Ripley and Newt are trapped in a room with two facehuggers, they keep just barely managing to avoid being implanted by the skin of their teeth until help arrives, and even when it does (in the form of several heavily-armed space marines no less), the resulting rescue has an air of desperation to it that leaves the audience catching their breath along with the characters.
Ripley continues to be an unmitigated badass in tangible ways while also becoming much more relatable to the audience as she’s fleshed out a bit more. She’s shaken from her trauma, and would much rather stay in her spartan apartment and hug her cat than go back to that place, even with a group of heavily-armed space marines. Once she’s there, she tries to stay out of the line of fire as much as possible, and rolls her eyes at the overly macho marines but lets them do their thing until it all comes crumbling down around them because their leader is useless, at which point she just takes over and everyone just kind of falls in line behind her. All of this without sacrificing who she is as a person, or suggesting that she’s invincible. She’s not a badass because she’s unaffected, she’s a badass because she just keeps going. I love it.
Predator (movie 1987)
(CW: Extremely frank discussion of homophobia/politics and some horniness for murdering space aliens.)
Homoerotic macho posturing (with requiste homophobia to reassure the audience none of them are actually gay) and then imperialist adventures in the jungle of an unspecified Central American country and then a kinda underwhelming stretch where the Predator is shooting guys dead one at a time and then finally we get to the only good part of the movie and it just kind of isn’t even worth it?
The good part, the actually kinda good part is Arnold vs. the Predator, and it’s good mostly because the Predator has so much personality despite spending most of the movie as an invisible killing machine. That little moment where Arnold is basically begging him to come fight him (and walk into a trap in the process) and the Predator, despite presumably not understanding the words he’s yelling or anything else about his cultural context, shrewdly stepping back and approaching from a completely different direction. That was so small but it was so effective. And the preceding parts of the movie that went from “when is the Predator going to show up” to “when is the Predator going to do something interesting” as he just killed soldier after soldier
The preceding portions were entertaining often in spite of themselves, in the way that insecure macho homoeroticism always is when you’re watching it as a queer person. It’s funny, but it’s sad, but it’s just slightly funnier than it is sad. But also at the back of your mind is that the exact same societal forces that demand these characters be given a convincing case of the Not Gays are the ones that are currently working tirelessly to strip you of all the rights you’ve gained since Stonewall.
And no matter how much you can make them a joke when you’re watching a movie that was made under the auspices of their repressive culture of violent conformism, they can and will make you a joke with more deadly consequences. Say did you hear the one about the f****t who walked into the bar. We joked about Jesse Ventura and Bill Duke’s characters being married and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers’ characters being ex-husbands whose arm wrestling contest was to see who was going to top when they had their platonic makeup sex. The culture that demanded the movies’ increasingly implausible “no homo”s is working on outlawing the first two’s marriage, and if they get that they’re gonna come for the second two’s makeup sex.
Alien with its genderblind scripting or Aliens with its background reference (in 1986) to a character being transgender, this is not. (Yeah the language used in Aliens was outdated, but was it still rad as fuck anyway considering the context.)
It might be some consolation that some idiots decided to put these two franchises next to each other which just begs for comparison and having watched Predator after the first two Alien movies yeah wow there is just no comparison. The first two Alien movies are having Predator do their homework after they free it from the locker they shoved it into at the beginning of school. It lives in that locker now. It somehow magically gets lunch money transported to it every day just for Alien and Aliens to take it from it.
On a more petty note, I’ve always wished the Predators had more bondagey weapons. I don’t know, it just seems weird given the whole hunting focus that they don’t use nets and whatnot, and they only ever boringly kill their quarry rather than capturing them. I guess it’s still kinda kinky that they’re treating humans the way humans treat animals or whatever, but it still feels like a missed opportunity.
Also, Arnie is an idiot. The Predator isn’t nearly as cute as a Xenomorph, but he’s cute enough.
Aliens vs. Predator (comic 1989-91)
As the story goes, the first Alien vs. Predator comics were the result of a brainstorming session between writers and executives at Dark Horse Comics. They were apparently initially discussing doing some sort of crossover with DC Comics, and as we’ll see in Part 2 of this review that would eventually end up happening. But during the meeting they apparently realized that they could get started with a pretty big crossover between two entities they already owned. It would be simpler to pull off, and more profitable for them if it worked out.
The first Alien vs. Predators stories appeared as in issues 34-36 of the Dark Horse Presents anthology series in 1989. With the success of this trial balloon, Dark Horse would move on to give Alien vs. Predator its own 4-issue miniseries in 1990, with the previously anthologized short story collected as Alien vs. Predator #0. The last story considered part of this run was another short that appeared in the Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special in 1991. Collectively, the two short stories acted as a sort of prologue and epilogue to the miniseries.
The story here is understandably quite straightforward, but considering some of the media tie-in comics I’ve slogged through recently (RoboCop vs. Terminator…) I was pleasantly surprised by just how well-executed the whole thing is. I’m on record as a Paul W.S. Anderson stan and an unironic fan of his AVP movie in particular, but I gotta say I actually think the story in this comic makes a lot more sense and I’d love to see a movie somewhat closer to this. (I still want the Paul W.S. Anderson movie though. I’m greedy.)
I appreciate the setting being Alien’s futuristic one rather than Predator’s contemporary one. The mechanics of getting the Xenomorphs and Yautja to fight each other are pretty similar between this and the movie, with the Yautja dropping some Xenomorph eggs on a world to hunt them for sport. And Machiko being adopted by Broken Tusk–the Yautja she befriends–is also echoed in the movie with Lex being adopted by Scar. So the broad strokes are similar, it’s mostly just the setting and details that are different. Plus the comic was able to be a bit less restrained with huge clashes between multiple Xenomorphs and Yautja.
I’m really glad this crossover is as good as it is, and it’s got me looking forward to further stories set in this continuity.
Predator 2 (movie 1990)
There is not a single movie in either of these franchises that is as bad as Predator 2. There just isn’t. This is the absolute worst. But it ends this first (of three) part of my AVP megareview for one very simple reason: there’s a visual easter egg (a Xenomorph skull in the Predator’s trophy room) that demonstrated that Dark Horse Comics wasn’t the only entity considering bringing these two franchises together for an explosive confrontation.
While we’re on the topic of connections between these two franchises, it’s pretty damn weird that Bill Paxton is a major supporing character in the second installment of both franchises, right?
Let’s see. Positive things. Say something positive. Uh. Well, to reiterate, there isn’t a single movie in either of these franchises that is as bad as Predator 2. Oh, also, the Predator uses a net gun! Twice! A thing they should really do more often in these movies imo! Thank you for that.
Oh yeah, also also the whole time Danny Glover’s character, uh, Protagonist McCopaganda? Whatever. The whole time he’s on the Predator’s ship this suddenly morphs into a much better movie for a few minutes? And if you’re like me, you’re just so mad because it could have been this at any time? And instead it was… Predator 2???
Yeah, sorry, we’re ending on a downer note. I just don’t even get how a movie can be this mind-numbingly boring and this loudly, offensively bad at the same time. Usually you have to pick one or the other! Everything is just so meandering and unmotivated, but it’s so loud and dumb, and not fun loud and dumb.
This is trash before you even factor in the staggering amounts of racism, misogyny, and copaganda. When you factor those in, it’s mega trash. What a just genuinely unpleasant viewing experience.
I re-reiterate: there isn’t a single movie in either of these franchises that is as bad as Predator 2. It’s okay. We made it.
This is where the real meat of this two-parter is. The Klingon Civil War just absolutely explodes, and Worf is in the thick of it. Meanwhile Captain Picard assembles a fleet to blockade the Romulan/Klingon border and faces off with Commander Sela.
The A plot has Worf grappling with his place in his native culture and realizing that while he values that culture more than maybe any other Klingon we’ve ever met, he holds some principles that are in opposition to the vast majority of his fellow Klingons and that’s okay. He’s tried so hard for so long to be the perfect Klingon, whatever that is, but at the end of the day all he really needs to be is Lieutenant Worf. One of the bravest, most honorable characters I’ve ever seen in any medium.
The A plot also features Worf being kidnapped by the Duras sisters who then attempt to seduce him over to their side and um yeah I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this enough but I really am going to need them to step on me please thank you.
Over in the B plot, Captain Picard solves the dearth of experienced captains by assigning members of his senior officers command of some of the ships to fill those gaps. One of these newly-minted acting captains is Lt. Commander Data, who ends up with a prejudiced first officer and puts him in his place repeatedly. It’s really quite cathartic. And also the space racism here is just so provably dumb. Like, he says he doesn’t think a Klingon would make a good ship’s counselor. And honestly? I think Worf would make a fucking amazing ship’s counselor, given proper training and experience. It’s not something he’s likely to ever pursue, but… I can still totally see it. There’s also a fun easter egg here for fans of the expanded universe as Commander Riker is given temporary command of the U.S.S. Excalibur, the Ambassador-class hero ship of the popular Star Trek: New Frontier novel series.
All in all, this episode just thoroughly kicks so much ass. It’s always been one of my favorites, I look forward to it every time I’m rewatching the series. I just love Worf episodes so much.
I know I’m probably committing sacrilege by “only” giving this a B, and I know it’s the episode a lot of people point to as exemplifying a lot of the best qualities of TNG. I get it. I really do. And I’m not denying for a single moment that this episode is incredibly well-written and well-performed. It just doesn’t get me as excited as it gets most people. I’m 100% aware of the fact that this is a me thing, but I just don’t look forward to it and go out of my way to watch it like I do with a lot of other episodes.
Again, don’t get me wrong. It’s fantastic, and I admire it quite a lot. I just don’t think “admire” always has to translate to “love,” and for me this doesn’t quite hit me in the right spot for the latter.
5×03 “Ensign Ro”
I love Ensign Ro and I love the story they told here and how she persevered, and I love Captain Picard for overcoming his initial skepticism of her to forge the start of a very rewarding relationship for both of them.
With all due respect to Kira Nerys, I really wish Michelle Forbes had been willing to make a long-term commitment to DS9. I love Kira, but I think I love Ro just ever so slightly more. It would’ve been so great to see her rise up in the ranks like that.
5×04 “Silicon Avatar”
Data is pretty great in this episode, but some of that old lady’s interactions with him get suuuuuuper creepy once she stops being a space racist and starts awkwardly projecting her feelings for her dead son onto him.
I love, love, loved Riker’s fling with civilian engineer Carmen Davila at the beginning of the episode, she felt like such a fully realized character in so little screen time, and that really made her abrupt death hit harder. It also helped emphasize how genuinely frightening the rather disarmingly-beautiful Crystaline Entity really can be.
I do have some nitpicky frustration with the idea that a civilian scientist can gain exclusive control of any function of the Enterprise, no matter how seemingly trivial. But the death of the Crystaline Entity really did feel appropriately tragic, and Captain Picard and the rest of the crew’s anger really helped express how absolutely sacred the Federation considers all life, so I’m willing to grant some dramatic license there.
I kind of always somehow sleep on this episode, but it really is just fantastic.
The Enterprise is damaged and loses main power. And we’re not talking someone says “emergency power” and they activate mood lighting and keep trucking along. The lights are out. Like, out out. And most of the ship’s primary functions just aren’t available. Shit is dire, yo!
This also lets them do the classic TV thing and split up the crew into little separate areas dealing with an assortment of emergencies cut off from everyone else. We see all of them working at similar problems and having to make assumptions about what everyone else is doing.
I love what a lot of the individual groups are doing. Captain Picard is trapped in a turbolift with a group of children, and due to an injury has to talk them through how to deal with the situation. This entire subplot is honestly super sweet, and another example of how Captain Picard is deeply uncomfortable with children but literally every time he has to interact with them in any meaningful way, he just does a fantastic job. Him handing out his pips (two for the oldest, as his Number One, and one for the other two) and giving them each little responsibilities was super heartwarming.
Elsewhere, most of the ship’s most useful officers (Commander Riker, Lt. Commander Data, and Lt. Worf) are trapped in Ten Forward and initially not able to do much other than gather the injured and assess the situation. You really do see that all of them are highly trained to deal with this sort of thing, and it’s honestly pretty terrific to see that in action. Eventually Riker and Data split off to try to get to engineering, while Worf stays behind to help the wounded–annnnd Keiko O’Brien, who has suddenly gone into labor. Worf is super good at all of this. He’s very reassuring, but in a way that feels authentic to him. If he tried to be like Dr. Crusher or something it would come off as very inauthentic. I really liked getting a chance to see this side of him.
Speaking of Dr. Crusher, though, her and Geordi end up trapped in a cargo bay and the emergency that unfolds there and how they have to deal with it is pretty great but there isn’t really a lot of character stuff happening for them? It’s another example of the crew’s professionalism and problem-solving skills, but that’s kind of it. It just feels like it’s missing a dimension that some of the other scenarios bring to the table. And I guess that’s okay, but I also feel like Dr. Crusher in particular is often pretty underdeveloped, so this does end up feeling like a bit of a missed opportunity.
Finally, a combination of circumstances ends up leaving Counselor Troi in command of the bridge during the disaster, and she has to make several command decisions and defend them while Ensign Ro occasionally tries to steamroll her and Chief O’Brien does his best to offer advice without stepping on either officer’s toes. Honestly, everyone ends up looking pretty great here, even Ro.
This really is a pretty great episode. It isn’t an episode I often hear people talking about when they talk about great TNG episodes, but it really does a lot.
5×06 “The Game”
This episode is super fun and Robin Lefler is a super great character and I’m genuinely sad that we don’t get to see any more of her. Her and Wesley are super cute together, even. Like, it’s cool that she gets to be a huge part of the Star Trek: New Frontier novels, but it’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more of her on screen.
Oh and of course if an Enterprise crewmember ends up falling under the spell of a hypnodomme and spreading that danger around to the rest of the crew it would be Will Riker. Who the hell else could it possibly have been?
5×07 “Unification, Part 1”
The main attraction for the audience (Spock’s presence) is certainly more pronounced in Part 2 given that all we get in Part 1 is his dramatic entrance and immediately throw to one of the show’s most dramatic “To Be Continued”s. In retrospect it’s kind of amazing that this two-parter didn’t straddle the end of one season and the beginning of another. But Part 1 does have a lot more going for it than it might initially seem.
Captain Picard’s scene with Sarek is difficult–it’s hard to see Sarek in so much turmoil and pain–but it’s also full of super touching moments. Despite his compromised state and the state of his relationship with his estranged son, Sarek immediately declares, “Never!” when Picard informs him that many within Starfleet worry Spock has defected. When Picard says that thanks to their mind meld he knows their relationship is difficult but he also knows Sarek loves Spock very much, Sarek pleads, “Tell him.” But maybe the most touching moment of the whole scene comes when Sarek is struggling to give Picard the Vulcan salute, and the Captain gently helps the Ambassador’s fingers into the correct position.
In order to journey to Romulus to see what’s become of Ambassador Spock, Picard is going to need a cloaked ship. The scene where he speaks with a junior Klingon diplomat because Gowron and the rest of the High Council are ducking him and Picard tactfully eviscerates Gowron in absentia is one of my favorite scenes in the entire damn show, it’s just so damn good.
With Captain Picard and Data finally underway to Romulus, we get a B-plot where Commander Riker and the Enterprise are trying to unravel the mystery of some parts from scuttled Vulcan ships ending up in Ferengi hands. Their investigation takes them to a space junkyard where Riker and Troi have to deal with a guy with a serious case of Big Fish, Small Pond syndrome, and watching them maneuver their way through this is honestly delightful. It’s definitely one of the more inconsequential parts of the episode, but it adds a needed element of fun to counterbalance all the heavy stuff going on.
And apart from that we get the first real appearance of Romulus in the franchise (unless you count the holodeck scene in “The Defector”) and Ambassador Spock’s aforementioned dramatic entrance, which is more than enough to round this out into one of the best episodes of the series.
5×08 “Unification, Part 2”
The first scene with Captain Picard and Ambassador Spock is just a pretty straightforward conversation, but by the end of it I was just like… yeah. This episode is exactly as good as I remember it being. Patrick Stewart and Leonardo Nimoy are just absolute legends, and seeing them play off of each other while Stewart is at the height of his powers and Nimoy might be a bit past that but definitely has still got it was just all kinds of breathtaking.
This is one of those episodes that’s just jam-packed with amazing stuff from start to finish. There isn’t a single bad scene in the entire episode. It’s all Romulan scheming and Riker visiting a fucking awesome alien bar and wholesomely hitting on a four-armed piano player who plays Klingon opera for Worf later and Data and Spock bonding and Spock passing the torch to Picard and Picard comforting Spock over his father’s death and Sela being a super effective villain and omfg this episode is just so freaking good, you guys. Easily in the conversation as one of the best episodes in Star Trek history.
5×09 “A Matter of Time”
A time-traveling con man from the past poses as a history professor from the future. Hijinks ensue. Meanwhile, the Enterprise saves a planet from ecological disaster. Classic Starfleet stuff ensues.
Nothing much to write home about, but pretty solid and fun.
5×10 “New Ground”
TROI ACTUALLY GETS TO DO SOME AWESOME THERAPIST STUFF IN HERE, WHAT THE HECK. Her session with Worf is maybe the best work we’ve seen her do… ever? Like, ever ever??? Why don’t we get to see her do this kind of stuff all the time???
Worf being a bad father at first was uncomfortable and difficult to get through considering *gestures vaguely at my entire life*, but it’s pretty realistic and seeing him improve so quickly thanks to some good guidance combined with his heart having been in the right place the whole time is such a profound relief.
My only real complaint here is I could’ve used some Riker/Worf interactions. Even if you’re not a weird Riker/Worf shipper like me, Worf goes to Riker for advice so often it felt like a kind of weird omission.
5×11 “Hero Worship”
The kid trying to be an android was cute, and the scene on the bridge where he helps Data figure out how to save the Enterprise from destruction is pretty cool and dramatic. I just always find these “kid who lost his parents and is now bonding with a random crewmember” episodes super heavy. Usually whatever crewmember is being focused on smooths over some of that uncomfortable emotional space with their warmth and compassion, and while Data is totally doing that in his own way, this still feels like a profoundly lonely episode to me? And that doesn’t make it bad, but it does mean it’s just never gonna hit my list of favorite episodes.
It’s a 90s show doing an episode about rape. It could’ve been a lot worse, but yeah, it sure wasn’t good.
5×13 “The Masterpiece Society”
The stellar fragment and how they figured out how to divert it was pretty cool, especially with Geordi explicitly pointing out the irony of how they arrived at the solution considering the A plot.
Having Deanna in a torid romantic subplot that she feels conflicted about literally right after the episode where she’s sexually assaulted is… not great? Like, this show doesn’t do continuity enough with that kind of thing for them to make, you know, a whole Thing about it, so it’s really just something that they should’ve waited at least a few episodes on.
I also just think it’s an awkward look to like… waffle at all about eugenics? I know it’s made clear that most of the Enterprise’s crew “don’t agree with” the colonists, and that’s good. I just would’ve preferred if something like this was treated like as much of a black and white issue as it truly is.
Still, the thing about mid-to-late seasons TNG is it kind of hits a similar spot to a cozy mystery etc where even when an episode has stuff you don’t really like in it, it’s still really pleasant and easy to watch? And weirdly comforting? It kind of has to deviate from that quite a bit to really sink too far rating-wise, imo, and this one didn’t.
I fucking love the concept of this episode, and it’s executed extremely well! The Enterprise’s crew has their memories temporarily erased by an alien species that is hoping to manipulate them into fighting a war for them. What I really love about this is the characters still act like themselves, sort of? But in a way that’s believable if they’re operating off of basically the “core software” of their personalities plus their skills, minus any memories or knowledge of who they are and what their mission is.
The characters that get to shine the most in these unique circumstances are Captain Picard, Lieutenant Worf, and Ensign Ro. Picard immediately jumps into a facilitation/leadership role but also doesn’t prioritize figuring out who’s in charge (even though it clearly should be him). When Worf assumes a leadership role instead (which makes sense for him also), Picard gracefully reassures him
5×15 “Power Play”
This has always been a favorite of mine. Troi, Data, and Barclay are possessed by incorporeal aliens and try to take over the Enterprise. They end up taking everyone in Ten Forward hostage, and Picard offers himself as a hostage in exchange for them releasing all the hostages who need medical attention. Everyone who’s possessed really gets to ham it up, but I especially love Marina Sirtis’s performance as their leader. She kicks ass as a baddie.
I always dread this episode because of how heavy the subject matter is, and I always end up enjoying watching it way better than I’m bracing myself for. It’s just a super good episode, and it does that extremely TNG thing of handling difficult subject matter in a way that still feels approachable and comfortable.
Obviously this is a very Worf-heavy episode, but I think Dr. Crusher and Commander Riker get just as much to do. This is one of those times that you really get to see Beverly’s commitment to medicine, which is pretty much always a good look for her. In Riker’s case, we get to see just how deep his friendship with Worf goes. (My headcanon is still that it’s more than friendship, but y’know.)
It’s always fun to see Star Trek play around in other genres. Star Trek courtroom drama, Star Trek mysteries, etc. So it was nice to see the show take a stab at medical drama while maintaining its focus on characters and relationships.
5×17 “The Outcast”
Yeah, I have kind of a lot to say about this one.
So, if you’re watching this for the first time sometime in the 2020s, you’re probably thinking something like, “Um, wow? This is shockingly good trans representation for something that was made 30 years ago? Like, yeah, there’s some rather irritating gender essentialism on display, and it’s kind of ironic that the bad guys are basically enbies before it was widely understood that enbies were a thing, but still!” And you would be right if this was supposed to be about transgender people, but actually what actually happened is much sadder and much more hilarious.
You know that thing where misogyny was so ingrained into every aspect of Victorian society that men and women were kind of forced into almost exclusively homosocial friendships, and consequently a lot of Victorian literature now accidentally reads as hella gay? This is like that, but it’s so homophobic it accidentally reads as a shockingly modern depiction of a transgender character.
I’m gonna get into all the reasons why this sucks, and it really does suck, but I do want to pause for a second and enjoy the fact that bigotry is so unnatural and so governed by context that it can literally have trouble surviving in static artifacts of media because society is evolving around it. I know there’s plenty of counterexamples, but I just want to enjoy this one for a second.
So, yeah. What actually happened here is TNG was trying to finally make good on Gene Roddenberry’s broken promise to feature gay characters and stories on the show. Apparently they had been receiving fanmail pretty regularly about how awkwardly obvious this omission was by this point in the franchise’s history. If you’ve read my post about Blood and Fire, the fact that they didn’t just… straightforwardly present a character as gay probably comes as no surprise. But what they ended up doing instead was having a planet where everyone is functionally nonbinary and asexual (though, again, those being legitimate identities people can have wasn’t really a well-understood fact at the time, and I find it almost impossible that anyone in the writers room was approaching it that way) and, omg, what if heterosexual people with binary gender were the ones being discriminated against???
Star Trek can be really infuriatingly gutless and liberal sometimes, guys.
There is one good guy in this situation, though, and that’s Jonathan Frakes. Apparently he strongly lobbied behind the scenes for them to at least have his romantic interest in the episode be played by a man instead of a woman, but Rick Berman was having none of it. And to Frakes’ further credit, he also went public with his criticisms, saying, “I didn’t think they were gutsy enough to take it where they should have. Soren should have been more obviously male. We’ve gotten a lot of mail on this episode, but I’m not sure it was as good as it could have been – if they were trying to do what they call a gay episode.”
Riker is increasingly becoming one of my favorite Star Trek characters thanks to how awesome Jonathan Frakes is, y’all. This is just the year of me finally realizing that Riker is the fucking best.
Anyway, the episode is about Commander Riker falling in love with a member of an androgynoous species called the J’naii. Aside from my aforementioned frustrations, I find it really frustrating that stories like this often locate other forms of gender expression within an individual species where that’s just kind of… their entire deal? Like, basically every species should have whatever kind of dominant gender narrative they have, and then all kinds of variations on that gender narrative. That’s really something that not even nuTrek is really living up to in my opinion, and it’s probably the biggest thing I’d like to see change going forward.
The reason I still have this episode ranked so highly in spite of my obvious frustrations is that it’s actually just a damn good tragic love story? I usually cry when I watch it, but this time I rather intentionally distracted myself at key moments to try to keep myself emotionally insulated from it, and it did actually work unlike when we watched “The Offspring.” But, yeah. There’s also a ton of nice little touches like Riker seeking Counselor Troi’s blessing to embark on the relationship, and Worf barging into Riker’s rescue mission and demanding to help. Everything really does frame this as a very important relationship for Riker, and it would’ve been honestly terrific if they had just had it be an actual gay relationship instead of this weird tangled allegorical web. Even Captain Picard, who initially warns Riker that he can only protect him so far, is a consummate bro at the end of the episode when he asks Riker if their business with the J’naii is concluded before proceeding on their next mission.
So, yeah, I have some pretty profound frustrations with this episode but it’s still kind of impossible to say that it isn’t a good episode. It’s not one I’m necessarily going to go to bat for if I see people (understandably) hating on it, but on the whole I actually do think it’s a pretty good episode in spite of all the things working against it.
5×18 “Cause and Effect”
This is one of my favorite TNG episodes. It starts out with a truly terrifying cold open where the Enterprise is in the process of being destroyed. It’s probably one of the shortest cold opens of the entire series, but it’s so effective and just leaves you like “… whoa, okay” before the throw to credits. One thing you’re immediately aware of from just that cold open is that they’re throwing a ton of production budget at this one. We get one of the most best-looking ship explosions of the entire show, and we’re actually going to get it multiple times and you can kind of tell it’s actually a different model being exploded each time! Because each one explodes ever so slightly differently. We also get a ton of sets for what, from what was written in the script, easily could’ve just been a bottle episode. Instead, we get a ton of effort and money thrown at it, and every bit of that shows up on the screen, which is part of what makes this such a landmark episode of the series.
This is one of my favorite TNG episodes. Wait, hang on, have I already reviewed this episode? Let me check. Hmmm. Doesn’t look like it, must just be deja vu. Anyway, the writing on this episode is just terrific. I know the time loop thing might seem derivative at first blush, but they really Star Trek it up. One of my favorite little tricks here is that after the cold open it isn’t necessarily immediately obvious that they’re going through a time loop! It could just be a simpler nonlinear storytelling format where you see the dramatic, action-packed conclusion and then wrap back around to the beginning to show how we got there, and with some added context we find out the ship didn’t really blow up, or there was a copy of the ship, or etc etc, and that kind of storytelling method would definitely not be out of place in Star Trek! That kind of subtlety is characteristic of a very clever script in general, which is part of what makes this such a landmark episode of the series.
This is one of my favorite TNG episodes. Hang on, we’ve definitely done this review before? Maybe we should just turn around? Actually, wait, maybe not reviewing this episode is how we keep ending up reviewing this episode. We can’t afford to second-guess ourselves, let’s just proceed with the review until we see a reason not to. So obviously the plotting of this episode is super clever and I really like how they learn more each time through the loop as everyone’s deja vu grows more pronounced and genuinely creepy. We also get some just absolutely aces character moments including everyone at each iteration of the successively creepier poker game, a few interactions between Dr. Crusher and Captain Picard that show how warm the two of them are and how increasingly unnerved Beverly is, and there’s also several staff meetings that happen at basically the same time in the plot but each of them have drastically different tones. It’s pretty impressive to have us watch like five versions of the same scenes but keep them entertaining each time, but the one scene that doesn’t really change at all in any version is the scene where the Enterprise and Bozeman collide. So that scene needs to be tight and interesting enough to watch a bunch of times with no substantive changes to the dialogue. One of my favorite little moments in that scene is when Counselor Troi tells Captain Picard, “We have to get out of here,” and she is just blatantly terrified and it makes it a genuinely chilling moment. There’s just a bunch of interesting little moments like this, which is part of what makes this such a landmark episode of the series.
This is one of my favorite TNG episodes. Hang on, no, I’ve definitely already reviewed this episode! What the hell is going on here? It appears we’re caught in some sort of temporal loop. The really scary thing is it’s almost impossible to say how many times we’ve been through the loop. It could have been minutes, hours, days… okay, we need to break this cycle. What we’ve got to do is send a message to the next review to make sure we close the loop. So let’s just keep our eyes open. I didn’t notice before watching this that it was a Jonathan Frakes-directed episode, and to be honest I don’t usually pay as close of attention to creative credits unless the director is a regular cast member. But there was a specific shot late in the episode that just screamed his name, and I looked it up and sure enough it was Frakes, and that just made all the sense in the world. He loves shooting the familiar sets of the Enterprise from unique angles, so this is just completely in his wheelhouse. He shoots like four or five versions of the same few scenes over and over, and he doesn’t shoot any of them the same way twice. I bet he loved playing around with that. Hey, wait, that’s it! Jonathan Frakes! He’s the missing piece! Alright, we’re probably about to reset again so just think really hard about Jonathan Frakes! Jonathan Frakes. Jonathan Frakes. Jonathan Frakes. Jonathan Frakes did a fantastic job directing this episode, which is part of what makes this such a landmark episode of the series.
This is one of my favorite TNG episodes.
5×19 “The First Duty”
Wes, Definitely Not Tom Paris, Sito Jaxa, and Random Brunette #9000 do a shuttlecraft whoopsie uh-oh that kills their teammate, and Definitely Not Tom Paris uses his position as commander of their team to try to convince everyone to lie to the Academy’s investigation into the incident. It’s pretty cool to get some lore expansion around Starfleet Academy, and to see Wesley back on the show. And this is that kind of narrative that shows you what someone is made of by having them initially fall short of what you’ve come to expect of them only to have them find their way back.
In professional wrestling there’s what’s known as a “visual pinfall” or “visual win” where you see someone pin someone for what would be a three-count or see their opponent tap out, but the referee (who are notoriously made of glass) is knocked out so they don’t actually get the win. It’s a way of building drama and making the wrestler (who often goes on to lose the match) look strong in defeat. We get basically that here, with the admiral who’s presiding over the investigation actually banging her gavel and saying that the investigation will be closed, but Wesley finally stands up and reverse Columbos himself. (“Just one more thing…”)
This is a pretty fantastic episode in a lot of facets. And what’s extra cool is that Sito Jaxa actually comes back in a later episode, which is not something you usually expect from a character in her position. And the episode where she comes back doesn’t shy away from the blemish on her record, it actually makes it a major plot point of that episode. So we have that to look forward to!
5×20 “Cost of Living”
Like, a lot of the hate this episode gets is pretty exaggerated, but it’s certainly not good. I kind of find myself wanting to go to bat for it because the amount of hate it gets for just being a pretty mediocre TNG episode is kind of wild. Like, if it weren’t for Alexander’s inclusion it really would feel more like a season 1 or 2 episode than a season 5 episode, I get it. But come on, guys, it’s not that bad.
It’s bad. I get it. But it doesn’t bore me to tears or make me experience secondhand embarrassment for everyone involved in the way that some of the truly awful episodes do.
5×21 “The Perfect Mate”
You guys, Famke Janssen is so good that I made it all the way through the episode thinking that this was anything, and just… NO!!!! Wow, I am SO embarrassed that I, for a single godsdamned second, thought this was anything. This is NOTHING!!!
This is human trafficking apologism!!! No one comes out of this looking good. Even Dr. Crusher, the only person who raises a token objection, ends up looking weak and uncommitted! And she fucking frames her problem with it as “prostitution,” which hey fuck you, sex work is work!!!
This is watchable. Everyone says and does Star Trek things. But it’s so unbelievably morally rotten at its very core. What a waste of an episode.
5×22 “Imaginary Friend”
Let’s start with a couple incredibly nerdy Star Trek notes. The guy who plays Clara’s father plays the POV protagonist’s father in the Star Trek: Borg FMV game, and honestly I get it? He totally has nonthreatening dad energy. Also the nebula they’re in is blatantly a recolor of the Mutara Nebula from Wrath of Khan, which I suppose is a step up from “The Best of Both Worlds” just literally reusing the same nebula. Also like, don’t get me wrong: this isn’t actually a criticism? I know it probably sounds like one, but it’s honestly just a super nerdy thing that only like four people are gonna notice, and it actually makes me feel quite a bit of joy.
I feel like this is an episode a lot of people hate on, and its premise definitely sounds like it could potentially be a trashfire, but I actually like this episode quite a bit! When Captain Picard tells “Isabella” that she’s seeing the ship from the perspective of a child, he’s honestly kind of talking about the perspective of the episode as a whole. And I just think it’s super neat every time the show goes out of its way to show us a different perspective than we usually get! Like, I wouldn’t want every episode to deviate to this degree, but it’s a really refreshing change of pace.
Clara and Isabella do interact with a rather improbable number of main cast members, but I think every single crew member they interact with knocks it out of the park in terms of how they treat Clara. Worf infuses his lecture about them being in a restricted area with more warmth than he normally would and conspiratorially tells them they should return to their quarters and “we will forget this incident.” Deanna does some fucking fantastic therapy stuff and gives consistently great advice to Clara’s father. Guinan probably fares the best of anyone, but that’s going to be true in most of the episodes she appears in, she’s just the best.
Captain Picard, for all his protestations of being terrible with children, also just does a fantastic job in this episode. I love his little speech to Isabella about the importance of children, I love how calmly yet firmly he negotiates with her, and I love how warm and encouraging he is towards Clara in his brief interaction with her!
If they had tried to do something like this episode in season 1 it probably would’ve just been the fucking worst, but this is some quality TNG!
5×23 “I, Borg”
I don’t like how long this episode has everyone (especially Picard) carry the idiot/genocide ball. Guinan is literally the only one written particularly well in this context (and has a lot more trauma informing her initial stance), though I also did appreciate Beverly and Geordi’s part in it. I would have liked to have heard from Data more in an episode like this, but I get that you’re not always going to be able to hear from everyone.
And once Picard was confronted with the ethics of the situation in the form of Hugh, he did dutifully about-face and start stridently defending his rights, just like he literally always does when he starts out on the wrong side of an issue like this. Like I’ve said in other, similar episodes, I get that this is the best way to dramatize this kind of ethical conflict to force the viewer to grapple with it along with the characters, it’s just still really hard to have characters you genuinely respect approaching this like, “Gosh, I don’t know about this whole ‘not doing a genocide’ idea.” Obviously it isn’t enough to sink the episode, mostly because wow Hugh is such a good boy, but it still wasn’t my favorite approach.
5×24 “The Next Phase”
Geordi and Ro are ghosts! Except they’re not actually ghosts! They’re out of phase with normal matter and energy. They need to get their crewmates to notice they aren’t actually dead, all while a Romulan ship plans to destroy the Enterprise and they know about it but have no way of telling the rest of the crew.
Seriously, this episode rocks. It’s super fun and I always look forward to it.
5×25 “The Inner Light”
I’m at the landmark episode. I’m at the emotional terrorism. I’m at the combination landmark episode and emotional terrorism.
This is maybe one of the most famous episodes of TNG among fans. In this episode Captain Picard’s brain gets zapped by a probe and in a period of about 20 minutes he lives an entire lifetime in the waning years of a doomed planet. He has a wife who loves him very much and who he comes to love, even though he’s initially reluctant to engage with “his” life on this other world. He has a dear friend who passes away. He eventually has children and grandchildren. He grows old through the magic of hair extensions and bad makeup.
I joke, but this is a genuinely fantastic episode. It’s such a profoundly important event in Captain Picard’s life, and one that to some degree remains a constant presence for him going forward. Mostly this is just the fact that you occasionally see him practicing his flute, but there’s actually an episode next season where he explains what the flute means to him to a character he has a brief but intense romance with. Also one of the flute songs heard in this episode provides the basis for the melody of the Star Trek: Picard opening theme, so that’s pretty awesome.
This isn’t an episode I come back to very often, because it’s very effective at making you feel all of the feelings and that can be a lot, but it’s nevertheless unquestionably one of the best TNG episodes.
5×26 “Time’s Arrow, Part 1”
This is pretty easily the most underwhelming season finale since the first season’s, but it’s still a perfectly serviceable episode. Time travel stuff is always fun, and I really like this two-parter’s take on Mark Twain even though I have no earthly idea how accurate it is. Data as a fish out of water in 19th century San Francisco is delightful, and Guinan having a large role is pretty much always going to be welcome.
This isn’t “The Best of Both Worlds,” or even “Redemption,” but it’s still not half-bad. And it rounds out what’s probably TNG’s best season.
This episode had a lot to do and did all of it fantastically well. It gave us our first full episode of Captain Burnham, and gave her a believable obstacle to overcome as she’s struggling to delegate and to let go. It updated us on the political situation within the Federation and it didn’t just do that with lines of dialogue, we got to physically see Starfleet Academy reopen, Discovery delivering dilithium to worlds that have been cut off from the Federation. So now we have the overall arc of what’s going on with the Federation and Starfleet over the next season. We even got to meet the Federation President, who will be a recurring character this season! Which is kind of a new thing in Star Trek, but the galaxy is also looking much different in the 32nd century than it ever has.
We’re also introduced to this season’s “big bad,” which instead of being a person is a massive, destructive spatial anomaly. We get our first hint of it as Discovery is sent to answer a distress call from a space station that is tumbling out of control. Tilly and Adira are the focus characters here, and they do some absolutely fantastic work. Tilly’s determination to get everyone home safely mirrors Burnham’s, but is different in important ways. Adira’s eagerness to prove themself is a great direction to take their character.
The violently-spinning space station was merely side-swiped by the anomaly, but Book’s home planet is just completely obliterated. It’s an incredible sequence for its spectacle, and an absolute gut punch that drives home the terrifying scale of this anomaly.
This is an incredible action-packed episode that also finds time to do a ton of character work. Burnham does some great captain stuff, and also does a great job pulling Book out of a scary catatonic state. Stamets and Book begin to develop a surprising rapport, and from an interpersonal standpoint it’s some pretty great development for Stamets! He definitely isn’t one of the big connectors of the crew, and it shows when he tries to approach Book from a place of more generic warmth and emotional availability, but when he approaches it in a way that’s more true to himself the two find common ground almost immediately.
Adira figures out how to save Book and kicks ALL the ass, I love that part so much. Sorry. Sorry, I am extremely invested in their success. Wait I’m not sorry at all. ENBY POWER BITCHES.
We get our first, terrifying glimpses of the true scale of the anomaly, and at this point all I could really say is it sure looked an awful lot like gravitational lensing. I love, love, love how on point this show’s real-world science almost always is. It isn’t one of the biggest things that I look for in a Star Trek show, but it sure does scratch a very particular part of my brain, and I just. I just love it!!
4×03 “Choose to Live”
GRAY IS ALIVE. GRAY IS ALIVE AND CAN INTERACT WITH EVERYONE. GRAY IS ALIVE AND IS SO GAY WITH ADIRA. I LOVE THEM SO MUCH. I CAN’T BELIEVE I LIVED TO SEE STAR TREK GET THIS GAY. FUCK. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.
Culber is really coming into his own pulling double duty as medical doctor and ship’s counselor. It really suits him.
The main plot of the episode isn’t my favorite conceptually (it’s Captain Burnham, her mother, and Tilly hunting down a rogue Qowat Milat warrior monk), but it was well executed and they do a great job with it and use it to nudge Tilly’s character arc along.
I was worried about whether this season would be a significant dropoff from season 3, and here I am giving an episode whose main plot wasn’t my favorite an A. I think the show is in a good place, y’all.
4×04 “All Is Possible”
OKAY FIRST OF ALL I LOVE GRAY’S NEW LOOK, OMG. Seriously, he looks so badass with long hair!!
But if you’re going to force me to actually talk about the substance of the season’s first S-Rank episode, I mean, I guess.
I am genuinely emotional about Tilly stepping away from Discovery. She is such a vital part of the ship’s family that it feels like something of real significance is being lost. But man, teaching at the Academy is just perfect for her. And wow did the episode ever earn her ending up in that spot, putting her in a life-or-death situation with a group of cadets stranded on an ice planet.
This also furthered our understanding of what challenges the Federation is facing as it begins to reintegrate, as the individually brilliant cadets struggle to work as a team on even a rudimentary level. The fact that Tilly manages to break that ice (sorry) is really a testament to the fact that she’s exactly where she needs to be. And, as much as I love her, it’s nice to see someone besides Michael articulating what Starfleet is and why it’s so amazing and why maybe just maybe the people serving in it should abide its principles or whatever works for them I guess.
Then again, Michael (and Saru) are engaged in the totally mundane task of saving the negotiations to bring one of the Federation’s most important founding members back into the fold. Ni’Var is itself the product of the reunification of the Romulans and Vulcans, so this is really one in a series of profound reconciliations and it feels it.
This episode is so ambitious it’s kind of staggering. Which feels pretty appropriate for a series that is increasingly explicitly about the dream that is the Federation enduring, and continuing to be itself, regardless of the circumstances. And, you know, it’s probably pretty damn obvious by now that I love that shit.
4×05 “The Examples”
Ruon Tarka is a manipulative asshole and someone needs to see through him soon. He blatantly manipulates Stamets in front of Saru, and Saru doesn’t notice. He uses withholding praise and then doling it out in small quantities in a way that feels like it’s right out of a PUA handbook.
Jet Reno is back!!!! Sorry, I miss her so much when she isn’t there, and having her be the grownup in the room during Stamets and Tarka’s experiment was so freaking perfect.
Dr. Culber feeling the strain of his double duty and developing a hero complex is a believable challenge for him to be facing, and I appreciated the show giving him space to express that and be vulnerable. Stamets does a good job supporting him, not challenging him too much when he withdraws, but making it obvious that he’s available which helps Culber circle back to him later. The scene with the two of them in bed talking is an all-time great moment of any Star Trek show for me. It was so gay, and so sincere, and it felt so, so real from my own experience in the actually functional relationships of my life.
I know I’m kind of gushing here which might make it seem weird that this is the first episode of the season I’m not giving at least an A, and I’m not saying this wasn’t a good episode it just felt like it was carried by a lot of its big moments but there was maybe not that much to it otherwise? Like, don’t get me wrong. Michael rescuing those prisoners and then telling off the magistrate of their destroyed world was great, it just also wasn’t exactly a high water mark or anything in terms of memorable stories?
… I’m literally bending myself into a pretzel to explain why I “only” gave an episode a B. Dang this show is in a good place, y’all.
4×06 “Stormy Weather”
The Discovery finds itself in a weird region of space in a thoroughly Star Trekky sort of plot. The biggest obstacle ends up being that the computer is scared? Which is just wild, I love how Zora is developing into a Data/The Doctor-ish character this season. Also also it was so awesome that Gray got to help with that and that it tied in with his desire to be a Guardian. I agree with Adira, he’s going to make an amazing Guardian.
4×07 “…But to Connect.”
Intercutting between the establishment of Zora’s sentience and the conference deciding whether to meet Species 10-C with force or diplomacy was such an amazingly effective choice. Adira and Gray’s part in the Zora plotline was so freaking good. And both plotlines were used to reinforce the Federation’s principles, something this show has been doing a great job of, I don’t care if you think it’s too preachy.
Also also I am so happy for Gray starting his training as a Guardian, and how supportive Adira is being. They are so good and so gay, it is such a great relationship. I am continually impressed with how fucking gay this show actually lets its gay characters be. They feel so real, and so familiar.
4×08 “All In”
This is a damn fun episode that’s basically a Bond movie at times. The dueling agendas. The deception. The intrigue. The climactic game of space poker. The fact that Burnham snuck a tracker onto the prize. But like, it’s Star Trek: Discovery so it manages to be fun and have believable emotional and dramatic stakes.
Also I’ve been begging for more Owosekun and this not only delivered, it gave me her beating the absolute shit out of someone in a space MMA ring, so yeah wow hi I’m gay.
This was the right mix of fun and seriousness. And the fun had undercurrents of seriousness throughout, but it was still fun.
The action in this episode is fantastic, and motivated by character conflict. Burnham puts her entire damn heart into everything like she always does, and it makes this conflict so rewarding. Also she was fucking right, even though ultimately the bad outcome still happened. She knew she could talk Book down, she believed in herself and she believed in him. And the drama and tension of all of this was handled so, so well, even though Tarka’s betrayal was predictable as fuck.
4×10 “The Galactic Barrier”
Right so this should have been a transition episode, a lot of episodes in this season should have been transition episodes, but what Discovery is becoming increasingly good at is doing serialized storytelling in a way that still makes each individual piece a Whole Big, Damn Thing of its own.
Even breaking it down further than that… everything that happened before the godsdamned opening credits was just some of the most thoroughly satisfying tablesetting you’ll ever get in a television series? Everything is just practically blaring at you that Starfleet is amazing and you should believe in them, and yeah wow it turns out I actually love propaganda when it’s fucking accurate, and for the real good guys.
I love the development that happens with all the relationships in this episode. I squeed way more at Saru and President T’Rina obviously, they are so sweet! But a lot of this episode is working on Michael and President Rillak.
Also even though Michael and Rillak are the two who needed the most shoring up and development, I continue to just absolutely love the relationship between the Federation’s three de facto principals–the president, the admiral, and the captain of Starfleet’s most important ship. Even when there’s tension, there is so fucking much mutual respect between all of them and it’s just so godsdamned refreshing to just see all of this be so damn functional.
Also ADIRA IS BACK!!! And Stamets is doing the super proud awkward gay space dad thing and he explicitly said it’s because his father wasn’t supportive which stops just short of acknowledging that he is Adira’s dad but HE IS TOTALLY ADIRA’S DAD, I love it so much.
Also also the flashbacks to Tarka’s past as an Emerald Chain prisoner succeed in almost making me like him, and while it falls short there because it absolutely has to, it does succeed in at least getting me to empathize with the fucker. Which is definitely something at this point, because the dude has a serious case of asshole who needs an asskicking.
This is a Jett Reno episode!! Which is always such a pleasure, I still kind of can’t believe Tig Notaro is in Star Trek what a fucking coup. Also she’s gonna be a hostage in the next episode or two, which is going to be fucking fantastic, she is going to be the best/worst hostage.
I love Book’s confidence in Michael, despite them being on opposite sides of this. (“Is Michael down there? She’ll get what they need.”) I love Adira hero worshiping Detmer a little, and I love how awkward and dumb they are about it, and Reno giving them advice about it.
This is probably the most a transition episode has felt like a transition episode this season, but it has enough going for it that it’s still an excellent episode.
4×12 “Species Ten-C”
I’m so fucking glad Species Ten-C wasn’t someone we’d met before and that they were genuinely alien, that finding common ground with them took real work. Like, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the vast majority of species we encounter in Star Trek being humanoid, especially since there’s an in-universe explanation for that, but it’s still nice to have our curiosity satisfied with something that feels genuinely new.
This might be the most Reno-heavy episode we’ve ever gotten and Tig Notaro was predictably amazing. I’m so glad my prediction about her being the best/worst prisoner came to fruition, not that I was exactly going out on a limb or anything.
This was probably the best episode of the season? It’s hard to choose between this one and the finale. They’re both incredible. But this one is so tight and it ends on a moment that would absolutely rival “Mr. Worf… fire” if it were a season finale rather than the setup for a season finale, and Sonequa Martin-Green’s facial acting here is incredible.
4×13 “Coming Home”
THIS EPISODE HAD SO MUCH TO DO AND IT DID ALL OF IT AND TILLY IS BACK AND I LOVE HER SO MUCH AND I LOVE HER PART IN THIS SO MUCH AND OMG.
And because it’s not content with all the obvious stuff it needed to accomplish we get an extended denouement where Discovery’s family comes down from the incredible high that this mission was and EARTH REJOINS THE FEDERATION? And I don’t care how much of a fucking soft nerd this makes me, I literally cried about earth rejoining the Federation. It felt like such a culmination of everything that started last season. Seeing the Federation gradually knit itself back together has been so rewarding, and I know a lot of people apparently didn’t like this season because they didn’t think we needed a big threat like the DMA and you’d probably think based on things I’ve said about other seasons that I would agree, but nah. It was a genuinely new thing for them to face, it led to this thoroughly Star Trekky moment of discovery and connection, and the rest of the important stuff from the previous season was still going on and still obviously at the forefront of the creatives’ minds, they just could do two things at once.
Okay that’s technically a Strange New Worlds reference, but it still works.
Fathom Events was doing a screening in honor of The Thing’s 40th anniversary, and obviously I had to check it out. I can’t pass up an excuse to see one of my favorite movies on the big screen. It’s just not allowed. But because I’m me, I’ll take basically any excuse to get all autistic about something and read/watch/etc a ton of it at once, so here we are!
Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. (novella 1938)
The vast majority of this novella is multi-paragraph monologuing by like two or three characters, and it’s occasionally genuinely a bit difficult to imagine everyone else just standing around and listening patiently? Especially when Blair is the one monologuing. Yeesh. Things do get a bit more interesting towards the end of the novella when there’s less talk and more action, but only a bit.
Honestly, I don’t want to yuck anyone’s yum, but it’s a bit surprising to me that this story developed into not one but two drastically more famous films. I mean, the premise is obviously inherently interesting, but if you’ve seen the 1982 film adaptation first (which, let’s be honest, you have) the novella just… doesn’t have much to offer you? Worse, I actually think the movie improved on its source material to such a degree that the original story is just super underwhelming.
The Thing from Another World (movie 1951)
The first time I saw this I gave it quite a bit of leeway because having already seen the 1982 version felt kind of unfair. A rewatch unfortunately didn’t bear that out. It’s not just that the 1982 version is better, this is… just kind of not great? It feels much longer despite being over 20 minutes shorter, likely owing to its relative lack of characterization and glacial (sorry) pace.
Having now read the story both films are based on, I’m actually surprised by how little it has to do with the original story. I figured maybe the 1982 film just drastically expanded upon a rather threadbare story, but actually quite a few details like many of the characters’ names, the general nature of the alien creature, and everyone’s paranoia were lifted right from the novella, though most of them were expanded and improved upon. This version feels like it deserves a “suggested by” credit rather than a “based on” credit.
To end on a positive note, this does portray a couple being slightly kinky, which I didn’t know was even allowed in 1951? So, there is that!
The Thing (movie 1982)
Yeah, I know most people would probably go with the extremely obvious/iconic “nobody trusts anybody now and we’re all very tired” if they were gonna open with a quote. And it’s for sure one of my favorite lines in the movie, too. But there’s a couple times MacReady is deescalating and says “you don’t want to hurt anybody,” and it’s just weirdly meaningful to me. I believe the kids would say I vibe with it.
I love scifi/horror, especially from around this period. Actually, fuck, I might just be thinking of this and Alien. That being said, please please please feel free to recommend me movies with similar vibes and quality if there are such things!! (Just to preempt literally everyone suggesting it: yes, I’ve seen The Fly. Not a fan.)
The isolated, desolate setting is a big part of the appeal here. It’s funny that I like snowy settings so much in movies, but I just love how much it can contribute to the mood of a setting? It can make cozy movies cozier, creepy movies creepier. You can do so many interesting things with it visually, which this movie takes ample advantage of. But I actually hate snow in real life? Or, at least, I used to? I’ve been living in California for a few years now, so it’s easy to forget how awful Chicago and New England winters were.
Kurt Russell is also a big part of the appeal. I’ve said this before, but I think any movie that has an all-male cast should be required to have Kurt Russell. It’s like basically the least you can do. I don’t have a crush on him or anything–he’s super not my type. He just makes every movie he’s in better. He exudes a kind of effortless, rugged masculinity, the kind you also get from a Harrison Ford or a Michael Douglas, those types of guys. It’s kind of perfect for a scifi/horror if you can’t get Sigourney Weaver.
Okay, yeah, we’re back to the Alien comparisons. This certainly has a lot in common with it. Whereas a lot of scifi tries to astonish, both try to keep their non-monster stuff grounded and relatable to enhance the horror of their monster stuff. Their settings are inherently dangerous–Antarctica and space–and both are made even more dangerous by the monsters.
I also noticed a lot more this time what pains the actors (and director, and editor) went through to make the characters feel a lot more human and grounded. Everybody does things a bit more awkwardly and realistically than you often get in movies. There’s a scene where MacReady is going to check on the helicopter that Blair has smashed, and he kind of stumbles on his way to it and struggles with the tarp a few times before actually getting a peek beneath it. The camera doesn’t track either of these things the way you would expect it to if it were intentional. There’s a few times I noticed him making choices like these, and he’s not the only one. It just adds a little texture of realism and verisimilitude to his performance.
The monster effects are pretty outlandish, and they totally hold up on the big screen. I’d even go so far as to say they’re more effective on the big screen. I sometimes struggle to enjoy the gross out brand of horror, but Carpenter deploys it here in ways that work for me quite a bit more than a Raimi or Cronenberg does.
I know faithfulness to Who Goes There? is hardly a metric most people are concerned about with The Thing, given that it has without a doubt surpassed the novella it’s based on as the ur-text of this story. Still, unlike The Thing from Another World before it, this is definitely a “based on” not a “suggested by.” A few things are moved around–MacReady’s name is spelled differently and he’s the helicopter pilot instead of second in command, the expedition’s complement is a more manageable 12 instead of 37. Plenty of details are also expanded upon or altered completely. A lot of the discoveries being related to the team in the infodumps by MacReady and Blair in the text are instead moved to a separate, Norwegian (or is it Swedish, Mac?) expedition. This allows us to see through the characters’ eyes as they investigate the other doomed expedition’s base at a slow and methodical pace, making everything feel even more grounded and creepy.
But compared to The Thing from Another World which has differently-named characters fighting some sort of super carrot man (and even changes its setting from the South Pole to the North Pole, seemingly out of spite), this is actually a pretty faithful adaptation. Again, not that it matters.
What really astonishes me is that when approached about the project, Carpenter was reluctant because he didn’t think he could improve upon The Thing from Another World. The man is either seeing something I’m not in that movie, or is in possession of an overabundance of humility that’s directly proportional to his skill as a director. Or maybe he was just trying to be merciful, because he absolutely blew the earlier adaptation out of the water in every category.
The Thing from Another World (comic 1991-92)
Yeah, no, this is not good. It did absolutely nothing to justify its existence. The only thing stopping me from declaring it a soulless cash grab is that the art is actually pretty fantastic, like I think quite a bit of effort went into it, but they just didn’t have a story to tell here. And to me, that is the absolutely one essential element you need to even bother with something like this.
The Thing from Another World: Climate of Fear (comic 1992)
This wasn’t great or anything, but it was definitely an improvement over the other one. In this one McReady wakes up on a base in mainland Argentina, and it’s honestly just pretty refreshing to at least have some new characters and something different going on. Also there’s a huge herd of sheep on the base and obviously one of them gets infected and it’s very tragic but also aww sheep.
The first issue is probably the strongest one, overall this is just kind of okay, but “okay” is still a definite improvement.
The Thing from Another World: Eternal Vows (comic 1993)
Whoa, dang, one of these was actually good! (And is apparently the most-hated of these. What the heck, guys?)
I knew this one had potential when I first heard about the concept. In this story, one of the Things that survived the other two stories assimilates a couple and the pair of them just want to live quietly in a small coastal town, eating as many other humans as they need to to survive. I don’t think this quite fits in with how the Things were supposed to work in the movie, but I kind of don’t even care since we finally got a wholly original story in one of these comics.
MacReady eventually shows up because I guess he’s some kind of Thing hunter now, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense imo, but again I kind of don’t care!! Issue 3 has a truly iconic moment where one of the Things is in human form but with tentacles going everywhere from her, and she licks up some human blood from one of her tentacles. It was weirdly sexy? And just when I was starting to think there wasn’t much more they could do in their current setting, issue 4 takes place mostly on a boat!
Seriously, I can’t believe this is the most-hated one of these. It’s one of the best ones imo. And it’s largely self-contained so you can safely skip the other two stories and read this one on its own.
The Thing from Another World: Questionable Research (comic 1993)
This one was much shorter than the others by virtue of being serialized in Dark Horse Comics’ short-lived eponymous anthology series. It appeared in Dark Horse Comics #13-16 alongside the likes of Aliens and Predator and whatnot, and each of the four parts was around half a dozen pages long. So if you put all of them together you get basically the length of a single issue.
Still, this one was in a similar vein to Eternal Vows inasmuch as it featured wholly original characters. It’s also even more disconnected from the other comics, picking up with a research team investigating the destruction of the Antarctic station from the movie. MacReady doesn’t even show up in this one!
It’s hard to compare this to the other comics given that it’s so much shorter, but it definitely fits in with the movie better than most of them, if that matters to you. But it manages to do so while still also telling a new story with a new group of characters, which is honestly how all of these should be approaching things in my opinion. MacReady is great, but having him survive the movie at all never really felt necessary to me. If you want to continue this story, you really should find another way to do it like this comic did.
“The Things” by Peter Watts (short story 2010)
I was actually really sympathetic to the Thing right up until the last line of the story. I mean, in retrospect the whole thing is actually colonial apologia, so I shouldn’t have sympathized in the first place. But the author did such a great job of portraying a genuinely alien voice. I was sucked in–entranced, almost.
A lot of The Thing relies on the visceral horror of its human protagonists when confronted with something so alien, so (to their eyes) obscene. Seeing that reflected from the aliens’ point of view was a really interesting direction to go. The shock value of the last line reframes the entire narrative, and makes me notice obvious things I had missed. Overall the structure of this is just pretty fantastic.
This story deliberately retcons major aspects of the creature’s biology, by the way, and it buys wholly into the idea that Childs was assimilated by the end of the movie. So if either of those things matter to you, know that going in. Also, CW: for sexual assault language as allegory for the physical violation represented by assimilation.
The Thing: The Northman Nightmare (comic 2011)
I really loved the concept of this, but sadly this was totally phoned in. The idea of a bunch of Vikings facing off against one of the Things in Greenland had a lot of potential. I know this was a single issue but it doesn’t give anything time to breathe, you don’t get to know any of the characters at all, and at the end of the day I’m just not sure why I’m supposed to care even a little. The art was good, though? So there’s that I guess.
The Thing (movie 2011)
What if we made a dull, lifeless remake of The Thing with dull, lifeless CGI and dull, lifeless characters and dull, lifeless writing. Okay, that’s not totally fair. The CGI is sometimes laugh-out-loud-funny bad, and one of the characters is played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She’s not written any better than anyone else, mind you. She’s just played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, so, that helps.
Wait, does that actually make this worse? I think that might actually make this worse. That you had fucking Mary Elizabeth Winstead and just weren’t remotely prepared to utilize her.
There is a staggering lack of effort on display here. This is one for the “why did they even bother?” file. John Carpenter’s film was oozing with personality. This one has none whatsoever.
Short Things (book 2019)
Anthologies can often be a mixed bag, and this one was no exception. I also have to say that it was rather frustrating how blatantly this needed way more copyediting than it got. It’s honestly kinda embarrassing for something attached to a major franchise. (Yes, I know it started life as a series of Kickstarter incentives that got out of hand, but you still decided to compile it and make money off of it, so put some effort into that please?)
Sidenote: after how much of a big deal the introduction made about Frozen Things (the recently-discovered longer draft of Who Goes There? that was published), I did actually start reading it, but tapped out after a couple chapters when I realized it wasn’t any less boring than Who Goes There? And like, I’m a masochist, but reading a longer version of a boring novella isn’t one of my kinks, sorry.
On that note, I should add that these stories are based on Who Goes There? not on its drastically more popular film adaptation, so bear that in mind I guess? And a lot of the stories left me feeling like “meh whatever,” but the ones I enjoyed made this anthology more than worth it. My favorite stories, in the order they appeared in the anthology:
“The” by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo
This was probably the one that seems the most out of place in this anthology since I can’t really see that it has anything to do with Who Goes There?, but I’m way more interested in her weird Star Trek populated by beings with weird pronouns (!!!) and whatnot.
“Cold Storage” by Kevin J. Anderson
This is honestly exactly what I would expect Kevin J. Anderson to write given this assignment. His is probably the most lighthearted story in the anthology. It has two government employees who are heavily implied to work at Area 51, one of whom ends up studying Blair’s journal.
“Good as Dead” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
In this story the wife of one of the Antarctic expedition members deals with her husband returning after a long time away, and her nosey neighbor trying to bully her. She actually ends up befriending one of the Things to an extent, as it takes up residence in her beloved family dog and puts an end to her neighbor bullying her.
“The Horror on the Superyacht” by Mark McLaughlin
This has the feel of one of those horror comedies where everyone is half naked and you’re not supposed to take anything seriously but it turns into a massive bloodbath. It’s a lot of fun. Not where I would want most of these stories to go, but an effective change of pace to have in an anthology like this one.
“Apollyon” by G.D. Falksen
This was a story about Roman centurions encountering a Thing centuries ago. It was a little difficult to get into at first, but once it got going it was just phenomenal. And the pathos of the protagonist listening to a Thing that took the form of his dead lover hearing “her” talk about what it’s like to be alone in the universe, cut off from your home… this one was a lot.
“The Monster at World’s End” by Allan Cole
This is probably my favorite story of the anthology. This one is told from the point of view of a Thing, but unlike “The Things” by Peter Watts it’s telling a wholly original story. In this one a captured Thing is being tortured but ends up befriending a human woman. Amusingly, it refers to humans as Things from its perspective, which is a fun little inversion. When it’s later able to escape, it hears her in the process of being sexually assaulted and rescues her. She convinces it to let her run away with it, and as their friendship deepens she begins to convince him that humans are not inherently evil. There’s even some pretty rad class consciousness on display as she tells him “those depredations are the fault of a greedy, deliberately ignorant few who have seized power over the rest of us.” It’s a remarkably succinct way of describing capitalism to a literal space alien.
And yeah, there are plenty of clunkers too. But I think there’s more than enough in here to make it worth your while if you enjoy science fiction and want more Things to read.
(CW: Atomic bombings, various imperialist attrocities.)
I kind of made it through most of the day we ended up watching this without noticing it was 9/11. It’s just not really something I notice anymore. And while my heart genuinely goes out to anyone who was directly affected, my heart also goes out to all the much, much greater number of people who have been affected by the U.S.’s wars of imperialist aggression for which 9/11 has served as a flimsy excuse despite not standing up to the slightest scrutiny. It goes out to the people that this government is still allowing to be killed or maimed through criminal negligence by the ongoing pandemic that is ravaging the working class. And I sit here incredibly angry that a historical footnote is treated like some kind of special tragedy when what followed has been so much worse, when what came before was so much worse.
You know what should be treated like 9/11? The days that the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Germany remembers Auschwitz, remembers Kristallnacht. Americans should not remember the day this empire was given a black eye and some of us were caught in the crossfire. We should remember the acts of genocide that were committed against indigenous people. We should remember the enslavement of Africans. We should remember the lynchings. We should remember the concentration camps FDR threw Japanese Americans into, the concentration camps every recent president has thrown latinx migrants into. We should remember the rates of mass incarceration that are absolutely unparalleled in the world today.
And we should remember the atomic bombings. We should remember that we are living in what is still the only country that has ever engaged in acts of nuclear war.
We should remember, and we should rise up and declare with one voice, NEVER AGAIN.
Believe it or not, this is not some polemic occasioned merely by the day on which I happened to watch this film. Return of Godzilla is the first of the Heisei era of Godzilla films, and it resets the continuity such that only the 1954 original precedes it. For the purposes of this film, Godzilla has been dead for 30 years, and life has sort of gotten back to normal. That period of absence adds something so raw and real to his re-emergence. It makes him so like the atomic bomb he is so often associated with. There must be a strange sort of tension when that kind of threat is hanging over you. When it’s actually happened once, and all you can do is just pray it never happens again.
Having Godzilla once again positioned as an avatar of destruction, while not my preference, obviously opens things up quite a bit in terms of what you can say thematically. And I just love that the power fantasy this movie puts forward is the Japanese Prime Minister standing up and saying “absolutely not” to using nuclear weapons on Japanese soil, even to defeat Godzilla. There are some qualifiers which I’ll get into momentarily, but I don’t want to breeze past the fact that I just love this as an aspiration.
The most clear-cut issue here is that this narrative doesn’t even come close to fitting the facts. In actuality, Japan’s government was a more than willing partner in the U.S.’s belligerent foreign policy against the Soviet Union. Still, for a narrative like this to be put forward in what was sure to be a massively popular movie in Japan isn’t nothing! And I don’t want to lose sight of that.
A more insidious issue we get into here is the movie’s false equivalence between the U.S.S.R. who had a no-first strike policy and the U.S. who has very publicly refused to have one to this day, and who has engaged in dangerous nuclear sabre rattling basically constantly since–and I must belabor this–literally dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. (Quick aside: Russia dropped their no-first strike policy after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yay capitalism and freedom, huh?)
Where this gets thorny is that I don’t really think I’m in a position to lecture people who lived through actual nuclear attacks and their descendants on the difference between the U.S.’s nuclear bullying and the U.S.S.R.’s responses to the same, but they are very different. And the actions of the fictional Soviet diplomat depicted here just do not ring true to me at all.
But, yeah. The resemblances between this and the first film are actually kind of uncanny. The majority of the runtime is just very straightforwardly about people being terrified of a giant kaiju destroying their city. He basically picks up right where he left off, but with much improved special effects which is no small thing in this kind of movie. The 1954 film still blows this out of the water for so many reasons, but I don’t want to understate how cool it is seeing a much more modern-looking kaiju movie. This looks like it easily could’ve been made sometime in the last few years. And that rules!
Big picture wise, I much prefer a heroic Godzilla. I just like the kinds of stories you can tell with him, and just… ok, I’ll be superficial here. He’s really hot, you guys. I’m such a simp for him. I don’t want him to have to get his ass kicked all the time!!! But, yeah. This recaptures a lot of what made the original movie so good, and it’s a really good jumping off point to continue the series.
Godzilla vs. Biollante
Yeah, I’m really not as high on this one as a lot of others seem to be? I do love that Biollante has tentacles and a final form that features a mouth that’s completely filled with teeth? I’m always kinda weak to plant-based creatures and plant people etc, so I’m not sure why I wasn’t too into her the first time, but yeah, she is definitely on the list of kaiju who can step on me/eat me/whatever.
I just kind of don’t care about any of the human characters even a little bit? Miki is a non-character. I don’t remember much about her in the other movies which doesn’t bode well, but I sincerely hope she gets better to somehow justify her being basically the only recurring human character this franchise has ever had.
Of the kaiju-centric stuff, the parts that were actually Godzilla vs. Biollante were fine, though certainly not among the series’ best fights. And there was definitely way too much kaiju gore for my taste, but ymmv there. The brief parts that were just Godzilla stomping around were also fine. The Godzilla vs. Super-X2 parts were… just… whatever.
This wasn’t boring or unwatchable or anything? There isn’t really a <i>bad</i> Heisei era Godzilla film (other than SpaceGodzilla), but I was just kinda hoping I would come around on it a bit this time but I ended up just still really not grooving on it. Ah well! Plenty of other giant lizards in the sea.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah
Y’know what? This one is surprisingly good!
Okay, kind of a weird thing for me to say about a Godzilla movie considering how much I love the series as a whole. Basically, this one didn’t leave much of an impression last time–which, admittedly, I was running through a crazy marathon of watching basically all of the Godzilla movies for the first time in the space of I think less than a week? I had just started getting into kaiju movies and I immediately fell in love, so there was a breathless “now, now, NOW” excitement about getting through the whole series that I don’t really regret. Unfortunately as a result there were definitely a few that ended up kind of blurring together in a “yeah, that was good, what’s the next one?” kind of space. Watching them on their own and only thinking about them as individual movies is just almost always gonna do them some pretty big favors.
I’ve also just never been the biggest fan of King Ghidorah? I recognize his importance in the series and I think he’s often a good antagonist, he just isn’t really as much of an intrinsic draw for me in the way a lot of other kaiju are?
… a particular guy being a “draw” is a thing that gets talked about a lot in wrestling. As longtime readers may have noticed, it’s hard for me to not occasionally frame these movies in wrestling terms.
And on top of that, this movie has Godzilla as a baddie and Mecha-King Ghidorah swooping in to save the day!! I hate that!! Like, despite my mostly-indifference towards him I think Ghidorah works fine as a Godzilla antagonist, but having him as the good guy and Godzilla as the bad guy is just never really gonna work for me.
So yeah, that plus the ridiculous time-travel plot were basically the main things I remembered about the movie. And the ridiculous time-travel plot was a point in its favor for me, but not really enough on its own for me to look back on it as one of the better ones. So, yeah! I didn’t really know what to expect upon revisiting it.
Plus one of my concerns before doing these rewatches was that I might be overrating the Heisei era movies slightly just because of the drastic increase in production values, but honestly? That drastic increase matters. There are some shots of Godzilla’s maw in this that are gonna make anyone with even the slightest inclination towards vore blush, and the increased facial articulation lets him emote so much more without like literally having to do a jig or whatever. It just really opens up how much he can be characterized. And even though that characterization is still gonna be broad, obvious wrestling-adjacent stuff, those little details still really help. Like, when Godzilla’s pissed, he looks pissed. The music and dialogue don’t have to do as much heavy lifting.
The music!! This installment represents legendary composer Ifukube Akira’s return to the series for the first time since Terror of Mechagodzilla. As well as the first time he’s worked on an entry not helmed by Honda Ishirō! Something that really jumped out at Sonic was that he added some much more sinister undertones to his cheerful military march that’s always playing whenever the toy tanks come out. It’s a really nice touch. And I really appreciate how much of his original work he brings in and reworks. There’s some really interesting uses of his original Godzilla theme throughout the film. Ifukube will go on to score the remainder of the films of the Heisei era, save for Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, so it’ll be cool to keep an eye on how the music in the rest of them stacks up!
Maybe Ifukube’s music plays a large part in why this one feels like such a return to the glory days of the Honda Ishirō-helmed monster mashes, but I like to think that Honda himself was damn proud of the titular slobberknocker between Godzilla, King of the Monsters and false King Ghidorah. (I said what I said. Wanna make something of it, Ghidorah stans?) It’s unfair to compare this fight to Honda’s given the inherent advantages the technology available to this movie had (… and to be honest I was never really in love with any of their Shōwa era confrontations), but this has got to be one of the best fights between these two ever. Ghidorah gets in some great offense, at one point literally stomping on Godzilla and later wrapping his necks around Godzilla and choking him out.
… yesOKAYfine, I have some less than pure reasons for enjoying all that, but please trust me when I say that it was a legitimately good fight? And after Godzilla manages to fight out of the chokehold he decides that he’s just capital-D Done with Ghidorah’s bullshit and beats him the fuck down before savaging him with his atomic breath, leaving him less one head and plus one massive hole in his wing.
I don’t necessarily mind the development that Godzilla then goes and stomps the fuck out of Sapporo en route to Tokyo. Especially given that it’s one of the better city destruction sequences in a series chock full of good (and occasionally but rarely bad) city destruction sequences.
The sequence of Shindō waiting for Godzilla in his office at the top of a skyscraper in the city he helped rebuild is… something else. There’s a moment of recognition between the two, I think one of the first times in the series that Godzilla acknowledges an individual human? And Shindō just nods meaningfully to Godzilla before Godzilla destroys him (and the building he’s in) with an atomic breath ray.
… okay this isn’t usually how the wrestling stuff is incorporated (it’s usually just kaiju-to-kaiju interactions that fall into these patterns) but that is so wrestling? I’ve seen that shit in so many retirement matches. And not even just retirement matches. I feel like something similar happened in the Triple H/Undertaker Hell in a Cell match at Wrestlemania 28, and more recently in AEW when Hangman Page was about to beat Kenny Omega for the AEW World Championship in front of the Young Bucks he hesitated before delivering the final Buckshot Lariat before receiving a nod of acknowledgement from Matt Jackson who was in a position to interfere in the match but chose not to.
I’M SORRY THESE MOVIES ARE MORE THAN WRESTLING BUT THEY ARE ALSO JUST NOT NOT WRESTLING. I AM NOT FORCING THIS OR MAKING THIS UP, THEY’RE JUST… THEY’RE JUST SO WRESTLING, AND I LOVE IT!
And then Emmy swoops in from the future and saves the day by piloting Mecha-King Ghidorah like a godsdamned Zord and I hate it conceptually but damned if it isn’t kinda great in execution?
I’ve barely talked about any of the human characters in this but honestly sending them off on a time-traveling adventure is a great move because the human stuff is usually at its best when it’s more about the kaiju-related Stuff they’re given To Do rather than trying to make them intrinsically interesting. The humans in a kaiju movie are basically never gonna be intrinsically interesting. I’m sorry. They have to compete with KAIJU.
Perfect example, actually. Miki returns for her second of six movies and she… well, she… uh… she sure is there!
But, yeah. Like I said, the human characters are deployed exactly the way I’d ideally like them to be. There’s certainly other directions you can go occasionally that work, but I think this is a pretty good default position. The only approach I like even better is when the human characters are marginalized even more and doing basically nothing but reacting to what the kaiju are doing and the kaiju are onscreen for a majority of the movie.
Anyway, yeah! Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Right now it’s just inside of my top ten. It’s unlikely to stay there given some of the movies that are coming up later in this gradual marathon, but it’s still a lot more memorable than I remember it being. Yes, I phrased it that way on purpose.
What’s that? You want me to talk about this movie’s kinda awkward politics? Yeah, that makes sense given my usual approach. So, yeah. As an American, I think the thing I can say about that is
Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
Godzilla SWAM THROUGH MAGMA AND CLIMBED UP THE INSIDE OF A VOLCANO in this one, just in case you were harboring the illusion that there ever has been or ever will be a bigger badass than him.
This definitely treads over a lot of the same ground as the Shōwa era Mothra appearances, but that honestly kinda rules? It’s great seeing a lot of the sillier and more fantastical elements come back into the series but with the Heisei era’s elevated production values. The plot is kinda the central thrusts of Mothra and Mothra vs. Godzilla smushed together, with a lot of the extraneous human stuff removed, and… yeah! That’ll work!
I still don’t like Godzilla as a baddie, especially since I believe this is the only time in the Heisei era he shares the screen with his Queen. (She’s tangentially involved in Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla, but if memory serves she doesn’t actually get to fight alongside him?)
At least this is one fight I don’t mind the King of the Monsters losing. If anything Mothra is a bit underpowered in this one as it takes both her and a redeemed Battra to defeat Godzilla. I generally prefer when she’s at least a match for Godzilla, if not smacking him around like he’s her bratty sub (because he is).
On balance I definitely do slightly prefer Mothra and Mothra vs. Godzilla, but this is still pretty up there! By which I mean it’s currently sitting inside my top 5, but we’ll see if that lasts! Lots of great ones are still coming up in this gradual marathon.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
Okay wow I’ve been sleeping on this one.
This has some of the best fights in the series, and I’m not just saying that because I’m hella gay for the first fight where Godzilla literally chokes and stomps on Rodan??? But like… it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Hmm? Sorry, got distracted.
Speaking of me being gay for kaiju, this version of Mechagodzilla is a drastic improvement over the Shōwa era one. He might be the best version of Mechagodzilla? I’ll have to see when I rewatch Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. But regardless, he’s much curvier and sexier than his predecessor. I’m a fan.
Cementing it as one of my favorite Heisei era Godzilla films, this is when Godzilla’s face turn happens in this continuity, and what I love about it is… Godzilla doesn’t really change? It’s really just the human characters’ perceptions of him that change? And that’s so rewarding to see.
Oh, and, as much as I’ve been complaining about her being basically a noncharacter in the previous films despite being the only real recurring human character in the series, Miki kicks ass in this one!! And she has a partner in crime in the form of Azusa, baby Godzilla’s human caretaker. Both of them object strongly to G-Force’s plan to paralyze Godzilla, and to use baby Godzilla as bait to do so. They essentially end up getting bullied into going along with it, but they both keep doing their best to throw themselves between these kaiju and their superiors.
Speaking of baby Godzilla, wow? This is blatantly the best version of him? Like, he’s genuinely an asset to the movie? 0% cringe, 10/10, would baby Godzilla again.
Yeah… I think this is my favorite Heisei era Godzilla movie!
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla
I was really, really hoping revisiting this would improve my opinion of it, but sadly no. This is just too slow and uneventful, and has by far the worst version of Godzilla Jr. in the Heisei era. At least he spends most of the movie in gay baby jail.
This is just so disappointing after the way Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II knocked everything out of the park.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah
I managed not to cry as much this time. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
There are a lot of big picture things I like better about the Shōwa era, principally the painting of Godzilla with a more unambiguously heroic brush after his face turn. Godzilla does have something of a face turn in the Heisei era continuity in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, but even in this film which definitively closes the book on the Heisei era there are quite a lot of characters haven’t gotten the memo that he’s the good guy.
All of which is to say… despite some of my preferences lining up rather decisively in favor of the Shōwa era, on average it really does seem like I prefer the actual films of the Heisei era by a pretty wide margin. Aside from SpaceGodzilla which is a awful (but not as bad as the worst Shōwa era films), the Heisei era movies are just so damn consistently awesome that it’s really hard not to look at them as a whole and think, “okay, damn, this is better.”
When I said this movie definitively closes the book on the Heisei era of Godzilla films, I mean it slams that book closed. Godzilla is glowing with angry-red nuclear radiation from his first appearance. There’s genuine concern that he’s going to explode with a force greater than all the nuclear weapons on earth, which eventually gets downgraded to where he’s “merely” going to suffer a meltdown so severe that it could trigger the terrifying hypothetical that’s popularly known as “China syndrome,” whose effects might be functionally identical.
Godzilla is clearly fighting through pain through the whole movie, and the incomparable Ifukube Akira expresses this with a much darker, weightier score that works to express his grim determination throughout the film.
Godzilla’s own end is not the only ending here. Miki and another psychic talk about the fact that their powers are fading, and the movie doesn’t provide a clear explanation for why that is, but it fits with everything else going on in the movie. We’re also told that Godzilla’s own doom was brought about by some kind of disaster that destroyed Infant Island, the home of the Goddess to his God(zilla), Mothra.
If the studio was unwilling to go to the expense of including Mothra in this concluding chapter–and I have to imagine that’s the only explanation for her absence–having Godzilla’s fate linked to hers is at least something of a consolation. I do think that Mothra deserves more than to have her island (and possibly herself) wiped off the face of the map offscreen before the movie started, but if you take this as read, Godzilla’s final hours take on a quality even more evocative of a funeral dirge. Every punch he throws, every supercharged atomic breath that bursts uncontrollably from him, has the strength of his grief and rage behind it.
And who should be Godzilla’s opponent for this final, fateful chapter in this version of his story? Destoroyah, the son of the oxygen destroyer. The dreadful weapon that killed the first Godzilla in the original 1954 film. Yeah, okay, the oxygen destroyer has always been a pretty silly concept, but marrying the weapon that ended the first movie on a somber note to Godzilla’s final opponent is just such an inspired choice, and this movie really does make the most of it. Footage from and dialogue references to the first movie are plentiful, and the whole thing acts to give some much-needed gravitas to Godzilla’s last battle.
And what are they fighting over? The fate of the world? Well, yeah, kinda. But instead of leaving it so abstract, the fate of Godzilla’s world is given concrete shape in the form of his son, Godzilla Jr. And this is, by the way, the absolute best version of Godzilla’s offspring in any movie ever. No question.
We see what kind of monster–in every sense of the word–Destoroyah is through his wanton cruelty towards Godzilla Jr. He doesn’t just kill him, he plays with his food. He enjoys it. Godzilla’s answering grief and righteous anger pushes his internal atomic meltdown over the edge. He blasts Destoroyah with his most powerful heat ray yet, and though the clearly-beaten Destoroyah tries to slink away, the fucking humans finally do something right by finishing him off.
And then everyone can only watch helplessly as Godzilla distintegrates before their very eyes, and I have to say, I am still stunned by how good this looks and how emotionally evocative it is when combined with the soundtrack. It’s one of the most powerful moments of the entire series, and it’s just absolutely gutting to the audience and characters alike.
No one can save Godzilla, but the humans do desperately unload all the cryo-weapons they have onto him to try to contain the meltdown as much as they can. They successfully avert the “China syndrome” event, but the radiation that’s released is enough to render Tokyo uninhabitable.
But we’re not done. Because while Mothra might not be in this movie, she clearly taught her boy her most important trick. The cycle of resurrection. The radiation suddenly plummets. Everyone is shocked by this impossible miracle, and as the smoke clears we see the resurrected Godzilla Jr roaring triumphantly.
The second (so far) era of the DC Universe Original Movies was introduced by Flashpoint Paradox, a pretty faithful adaptation of Flashpoint. This led to a continuity known as the DC Animated Movie Universe, which was basically a series of fairly faithful adaptations of the New 52 line of comics. I actually like most of these, but it was admittedly a little disappointing to see these direct-to-video animated features go from kind of all over the board to frequently being very predictable.
There were a few movies that didn’t follow the DCAMU continuity here and there, but the bulk of the team’s resources was clearly devoted to this new continuity. It’s not difficult to understand why. From a business standpoint, it’s probably easier to get people to come back over and over when they more or less know what they’re getting, and also harder for them to skip individual entries that might not otherwise capture their interest if it’s all part of a series. I mean, that’s basically the MCU’s entire business model, right?
What was pretty frustrating for me as a fan, and probably a big part of why I got disenchanted back when I was watching these as they came out, is that this was also when they decided that almost every movie needed to be either a Batman or Justice League movie. There was even a non-Batman movie that had “Batman” cynically slapped on the title just because he appeared in that movie for like… probably a grand total of five minutes if you add all his scenes up.
You probably got used to hearing me say this in my review of the first batch of DC Universe Original Movies, so it’s only fitting that I start my first review by offering for context that I saw the movie long before I read the comic it’s based on. I’m pretty impressed, as I often am by these, by how closely this actually follows the comic it’s based on.
The story in both versions goes to some pretty grimdark places I’m not wild about but am a lot more forgiving about given that it’s an alternate future a la X-Men’s Days of Future Past. And the action was pretty great and it was a very satisfyingly pulpy storyline.
The movie followed the basic storyline of the comic, but it streamlined a few things, eliminated some minor characters, and expanded on the core scenes it kept. In the end I think the movie is, for the most part, actually noticeably better than the comic.
Also it… uh… well, there’s no way around this: there’s a lot of stuff in the movie I was extremely horny for. So. Uh. Yeah. Like. Yo-Yo almost murdering Batman with her thighs and choking him with one of her eponymous yo-yos. Or Wonder Woman choking and/or lassoing so many bitches with her lasso. And stepping on people. And so many people getting stepped on in general. And I think at one point Wonder Woman literally demanded, “Submit!” like that was the actual word she used and just… heccccccc.
(Comic: B-Rank, Movie: A-Rank)
Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (comic, 2011-12) & Justice League: War (movie, 2014)
Another one where I saw the movie before I read the comic, though I was more or less generally aware of what was going on with the New 52 since that was when I was following the nerd press. The comic is again virtually identical to the movie, with the exception that the movie switches in Captain Marvel for Aquaman. I don’t mind Captain Marvel, but I like Aquaman a lot better in general, and his part in the comic was pretty important.
The fight with Darkseid is definitely trying to take itself way too seriously and this is around when I started feeling like the movies were getting too monotone back when I was watching them as they came out. I think my feelings are a bit more forgiving now, but yeah, I see where past-me was coming from.
This is kind of way better if you just don’t take Darkseid seriously at all and don’t buy into the narrative’s attempt to tell you This Is Really Serious And Intense, Guys. But yeah. It’s kinda fine if that’s how you approach it.
A lot of my favorite parts of this story actually happen towards the beginning, when they’re setting everything up, moreso than in the actual main action. The bit with Wonder Woman trying ice cream for the first time is precious, and we get lots of flirting between the boys–Bats & GL, Bats & Supes, GL & Flash. And all of it culminates in Bats getting captured on purpose to save his future boyfriend! And he’s so extra about it, throwing on his disguise in the middle of explaining his plan, and then holding out his arms and whistling for one of Darkseid’s minions to scoop him up.
Big-picture wise when it comes to the movies, I do still kind of wish the looser, more lighthearted continuity from before Flashpoint Paradox had continued, but this thoroughly doesn’t suck. And when it comes to the comics, I really have enjoyed what I’ve read of the New 52 so far.
Son of Batman (movie, 2014)
(CW: Frank discussion of sexual assault and child abuse)
This is another one where I watched the movie first, which is a familiar refrain for these reviews. But what is much less familiar is that the comic and movie are actually drastically different. So different that I actually don’t think a combined review makes much sense in this case! We’ll arbitrarily start with the movie since it’s what I saw first!
So, I’m gonna say upfront that this one is actually extremely good, like maybe one of my favorites of the series. It also badly mishandles one of the two extremely sensitive issues it depicts. That might be disqualifying for you, and it’s totally fair if that’s the case.
So. First off, the “Son of Batman” in the film’s title is not in any way metaphorical. He’s Damian Wayne, Bruce’s biological son with his on-again/off-again enemy/lover Talia al Ghul. Bruce is surprised to learn of his existence, so Talia fills him in:
“If I remember correctly, I put a little something in your drink.” “Same way I remember it.” “It made you romantic.” “It made me do what you wanted.”
So. We have a word for that kind of thing. It’s rape. That’s a rape they’re talking about there. But then it actually gets worse, because Talia asks, “Was it all bad, beloved?” And Bruce responds, “No. It wasn’t all bad.”
Put me down for a YIKES.
Like, look. I’m not innocent of any number of fantasies including rape fantasies, but this is a mainstream superhero movie. The standards for what you want your characters to communicate to large audiences are much, much different than the standards for what’s okay between consenting adults in private. Especially given the fact that male survivors of sexual assault are still not taken seriously by a lot of people, the least you should do in a mainstream story like this to be any kind of responsible is have Bruce at least say “it doesn’t matter if I enjoyed it, it wasn’t okay.”
Then there’s the child abuse.
This one actually sees Bruce pretty firmly on the right side. When Damian says his grandfather and mother “taught him how to fight,” he snaps back, “And I take it not much else.” And later, relating their childhood experiences to each other, he tells him, “I had my traumas, but I also had people around me to help. Alfred, Dick, others. I had friends. As far as I can tell, all you’ve had are trainers. There’s a difference, Damian.” I actually really like how this was handled!
As for why I love this movie so much, well. Part of it is just that it’s really tight and clean, and the action is very character-driven. And I love all the stuff Damian shakes loose just by going around being a snotty little brat. He brings out Alfred’s maximum amount of sass, he has a wonderfully antagonistic relationship with Dick that I think borrows heavily from Dick’s relationship with Jason Todd, and for all he’s fighting to rein him in, Bruce is just so damn proud of him and it’s so adorable.
And, y’know, there’s also some superficial reasons. I’m a notorious Nightwing simp, so seeing him so involved is always nice. And there’s a ton of bondage in this!! And I love all Damian’s cracks about how effeminate the Robin costume is (it is, that’s why I like it damn it).
And above all… I just love Robin-centric stories! Batman has never been my favorite thing about Batman. It’s always been Robin. And even though Robins like Dick Grayson or Tim Drake are more my speed, I still love anything that builds more Robin lore. So, yeah. This is really well-done, and it’s just completely up my alley.
Batman and Son (comic, 2006)
The one thing this comic has in common with the movie is Talia being very blasé about her sexual assault of Bruce Wayne. Several lines of the movie’s version of that conversation are just lifted directly from the comic. There are things that are worse in the movie, and things that are worse in the comic, but in both cases just, y’know, ew.
Damian isn’t nearly as likable in the comic as he was in the movie, which I imagine is largely attributable to subsequent comics figuring out how to make him work, and the movie having the benefit of those experiments. It could also be because this story was originally in the pre-New 52 continuity and it’s being adapted into a continuity that is based on New 52, I honestly haven’t read enough of Damian in non-New 52 stories to know if there’s a significant difference in characterization. Though I guess that would arguably amount to the same thing?
Whereas the movie has a fight between Nightwing and Damian that’s somewhat reminiscent of one that Nightwing had with Jason Todd in the Nightwing: Year One comic, the comic has Damian feel threatened by Tim Drake (who doesn’t even appear in the movie) and beat the everloving shit out of him because he thinks he needs to beat up Batman’s surrogate son to claim his rightful place as his real son or whatever. And while Damian pretends he doesn’t want to be Robin in the movie, he tries to claim the role by force in the comic and Bruce never makes it official.
I liked the overall story in the movie better than the comic, clearly, but that isn’t to say there weren’t things about the comic that I liked. For one thing I, as usual, really enjoyed Morrison’s dialogue and narration. The stuff where Bruce is trying and failing to take a vacation before Talia shows up with Damian was also pretty cute. The stuff at the beginning with the Joker was super weird, though? Not really sure what was going on there.
Batman: Assault on Arkham (movie, 2014)
You know what? I liked this one a lot better this time around than the first time I saw it! It’s not amazing or anything, but it’s fine!
Yeah, it’s still annoying that they made a Suicide Squad movie but slapped “Batman” on it even though he’s in like three scenes to make it more marketable. Yeah, I have no idea why this has to be set in the Arkham games’ universe, or why you wouldn’t just do a more straightforward adaptation if you really wanted to do a movie in that universe, but whatever!
Honestly, the only point where I got truly annoyed with this is when all the Suicide Squad members just started betraying each other to get to the helicopter like it was some kind of race only one of them could win. Y’all coulda just gone together, folks! Plenty of room on those things, generally.
I also didn’t really love King Shark’s design or the fact that he died, but I realize that’s a me problem. And I did admittedly love the part where Killer Frost rode him like a horse. That is a crackship I can get behind!! What’d you go and kill them both off for???
But yeah. What I was mostly struck by upon revisiting this was that I was just thoroughly wrong about it being monotone and personalityless. It’s actually got all kinds of personality! It still isn’t my favorite version of any of these characters by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s fine! It’s fun. It’s fine.
Justice League, Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (comic, 2012-13) & Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (movie, 2015)
Much like Batman and Son, the DCAMU’s adaptation of Throne of Atlantis actually diverts quite a bit from the comic it’s based on, despite this one actually being a New 52 title. It does follow the broad strokes of the narrative, but the way it gets there is a lot different.
Both versions are certainly not my favorite version of Aquaman or his world, but given how little love he gets I’m pretty much always onboard for Aquaman-centric stuff even when it isn’t exactly my speed. And I did enjoy both versions moment-to-moment regardless of them not quite fitting my preferred Aquaman flavor. Speaking of not liking broad strokes, I hate Clark and Diana together but it’s done a bit better in the movie imo. They’re actually kinda adorable there.
The movie also has a lot of neat little stuff like a sloppily drunk Arthur saving a lobster from a tank and ending up in a barfight over it, and a John Henry Irons cameo!
I do wish these movies had eventually gotten back to the new Legion of Doom the post-credits scene seemed to be hinting at, but oh well.
Batman vs. Robin (movie, 2015)
(CW: Child abuse)
Once again this movie has only a little in common with the storyline it was based on, and once again I will be reviewing the movie first because I saw it long before I read the comic. What the movie basically does is takes some of the broad strokes of the fan-favorite Night of the Owls storyline and uses them as a vehicle to continue the storyline with Damian that started in Son of Batman. It’s honestly not a bad direction to go!
If you find yourself siding with Bruce over Damian in this one, which a lot of people I’ve seen comment on this movie have, I genuinely do not think you should ever be left unsupervised with a child. You’re scary. Damian is an annoying little brat, but he’s doing his best, and Bruce is the worst father in this until he isn’t.
So, let’s get the bad shit out of the way first. The Dollmaker stuff at the beginning was just so unnecessarily grimdark. I’ve seen extremely creepy versions of this character where he’s victimizing adults instead of children, and this depiction added nothing to the movie other than “oooh look how edgy we are!” And giving him a line of throwaway dialogue indicating he himself had been victimized as a child did nothing. You weren’t trying to make this character three dimensional, it’s not like you were keeping him around long enough for that. So why the fuck even go there? This whole intro is just gross. And, for what it’s worth, is not featured in the comic in any way, shape or form.
I mostly like the rest of the movie? I’ve mentioned before that I’m always an easy mark for stuff involving Batman, Robin, and Nightwing. It’s understandable that they didn’t do a straight-up adaptation of the Court of Owls storyline, but I do like this simplified version and I’m really glad they brought it onto the screen in some fashion.
One thing that the movie adapted pretty straightforwardly was the flashbacks where Bruce was searching for the Court of Owls as a child. I was initially making fun of them for how heavy-handed they were but I actually ended up really liking where they went? They showed him actually learning how to be a detective, failing, and more importantly it set the Court of Owls up as a massively ominous big, bad threat when they turned out to be real. All of this ruled, honestly.
And I even liked Bruce and Damian’s story! … to a point. I appreciated that the point of it was that Bruce was in the wrong. I enjoyed Damian’s continued antagonism with Nightwing, and banter with Alfred. And I especially appreciated Alfred and Nightwing trying (and failing) several times to be the voice of reason. This entire conflict could’ve been avoided if Bruce had listened.
I hated how Bruce was interacting with Damian for 90% of the story, and when Damian and him came to blows I was rooting for Damian to beat the shit out of him, but that ended up being the point. And Bruce realized he was wrong. I would’ve appreciated a heartfelt onscreen apology between them instead of Bruce realizing he was wrong and apologizing to a hallucinatory avatar of Damian and never actually apologizing to the real him onscreen, but it’s reasonable to assume that that might have happened offscreen. I’m nitpicking here.
But what really saves this for me is that Damian had to save Bruce, not the other way around. Because for all its missteps, this movie is smart enough to realize that Damian is the hero of this story, not Bruce. Bruce fucked up. Bruce majorly fucked up. And he doesn’t get to be the hero. Not this time.
But at least he admitted he was wrong. A lot of fathers like him never do.
Batman: The Court of Owls (comic, 2012) & Batman: The City of Owls (comic, 2012) & Batman: The Night of the Owls (comic, 2012)
I’ve heard that this storyline was incredible since all the way back when it was first coming out, so I was pretty excited to finally read it! And it honestly didn’t disappoint.
Regardless of whether Lincoln March was really Thomas Wayne Jr or not, his claim gave his confrontation with Bruce so much extra sizzle. And the battle for Gotham was already plenty epic even before that.
The biggest difference between the movie and the comics is that Damian’s role in the comics was super deemphasized. In fact, he mostly only appeared in a solo story in volume 3. The basic format of the volumes was that volume 1 set up the scenario as a whole, who the Court of Owls were and Bruce’s investigations into them. Volume 2 is the night the Owls tried to take Gotham, and some additional stuff which we’ll circle back to later. Volume 3 is all the tie-in stuff like Nightwing, Batwing, Batgirl, Robin, etc.
What made Volume 2 so special is not just that it was the epic confrontation between Batman and the Court (and possibly his long-lost brother). It also had two side stories, one that showed that the New 52 version of Mr. Freeze is kind of a unique twist on the character, but I’m actually way more interested in the last issue of the volume. This issue featured a pair of super gay siblings named Harper and Cullen Row. Harper will eventually become the hero Bluebird, but for now we just see her civilian life and how she first comes into contact with Batman. And honestly, just seeing these two low-income queer siblings existing and being extremely relatable was such a joy.
This whole storyline was aces, but The City of Owls is pretty easily one of my favorite Batman graphic novels ever now. It legitimately might be my favorite.
(Court: A-Rank; City: S-Rank; Night: B-Rank)
Justice League: Gods and Monsters (movie, 2015)
This coulda been much worse, but at the end of the day I’m just not that interested in the core concept so it just didn’t do much for me.
Batman: Bad Blood (movie, 2016)
This ruled before it had nunjas, and then it had nunjas.
Ok, but let’s get my big complaint out of the way first. Talia is just uncomplicatedly, one-dimensionally evil in this one, so that’s… not great. It kinda ruins her entire dynamic with Bruce and with Damian. Not that I was a fan of either in the first place, but it feels like there’s so much connective tissue missing from where they left things to where they are in this movie. Even some kind of frank acknowledgement after the fact of like “look, she was a sexual predator and an abuser, it sucks but of course this is where she ended up” would’ve helped a lot.
Like, you kind of fucked up by not framing it this way all along? I know these movies aren’t typically willing to go into that kind of depth on these kinds of serious issues, which is fine. You get to decide what the scope of your story is. But if you’re not willing to really deal with this kind of stuff you can’t just halfway go there in order to be edgier or grittier or whatever. You either have to be willing to deal with it or you need to leave it out. What we end up with instead rushes to the mostly correct conclusion but doesn’t show your work at all, so it just ends up falling completely flat and not really saying anything, and that’s just kind of depressing.
Oh, petty complaints department: Batman telling Batwoman “using a gun makes you just like them” when she was trying to save a dude from being tortured demonstrably does not??? But that’s not even where I’m going with this. No, my issue is that in this continuity Batman has repeatedly used vehicle-mounted (likely high-caliber) guns and fucking missile launchers, so he can get all the way off his fucking high horse thank you ever so much.
So, yeah. I actually liked this movie? But my review might end up a bit lopsided in favor of the one or two things I really, really didn’t like. And that’s largely because by the very nature of what the movie wanted to be and what I wanted out of it, the things I liked about it were pretty superficial.
The Heretic was a pretty interesting villain and figuring out his whole deal over the course of the movie only to have him carelessly tossed aside was actually a pretty effective way of establishing where Talia was at these days. And while I still have all my abovementioned issues with it in terms of what it’s saying thematically, it’s been a minute since we had a good “Talia is controlling everything from the shadows” story, so for pure entertainment value it really didn’t suck.
I’m a sucker for Bat Family stuff, as I’ve thoroughly demonstrated in these reviews. I’m less a fan of Bruce being as much of a dumbass as he often has to be in these Serious, Gritty ones, but at least he has to explicitly to outgrow it in this one! Getting to that final shot of the drastically expanded Bat Family gathering under the Bat-Signal ruled.
As for the members of said Bat Family, the guy calling the shots for a lot of this movie while Bruce was missing was Nightwing, and as the world’s foremost Robin I/Nightwing simp, hell yes I loved this. It’s always interesting when Dick has to temporarily take up the mantle of Batman, whether it’s in a more traditional portrayal where he really respects Bruce so filling his shoes weighs heavily on him for that reason, or in something like this where their relationship is more strained and Dick wants out of his shadow but gets pulled back in. There’s just always a lot of great character work. Add to that the fact that Nightwing is way better at playing with others, and I honestly just love this portrayal. They crushed it. I cannot say enough about how much I like him in this one. It’s probably the single biggest thing that elevates this movie for me.
I don’t have as much to say about Damian this time? He’s a nasty little brat, as usual. And it’s charming, as usual. And he’s doing his best, and he goes through a lot, and I’m so upset that a lot of people are so annoyed by him. Protecc the goblin sidekick!
Batwoman rules. I have no notes here. And her gayness is portrayed very frankly and just treated like as much a baked in part of her character as anyone else’s straightness. I fucking love her in this movie and we’d all be better off if her and Dick were in charge instead of Bruce.
Batwing is… fine. I got a good laugh out of how blatantly he’s just… he’s just Bat-Iron Man, guys. He has a suit-up scene that’s just straight out of Iron Man 1. He’s just… Bat-Iron Man. It’s hilarious.
Anyway, uh, yeah! A lot of this movie hinges on Dick deciding to trust people and Bruce being angy about it and Dick being right, so, yeah. It rules. Except the parts that don’t. But mostly it rules.
Justice League vs. Teen Titans (movie, 2016)
Yeah they knocked this one out of the fucking park. Just absolutely crushed it. I was actually a little sad to discover that this one wasn’t based on a comic, because I was really looking forward to reading whatever it was.
If one of these were going to get five stars, it would be this one. I still think the not-quite-movie length of these doesn’t give it quite enough time to breathe to really do everything it needs to do to get to that point (yes I am taking my stupid ratings that no one else cares about way too seriously I’m a nerd it’s kind of what we do and this movie would love me for it), but damn it does just kind of everything right.
Damian gets some sense knocked into him and stops being such a selfish little twerp without stopping being Damian, and it is such a joy to see because I am so protective of him and I am so over people just constantly hating on him. Hate on, haters! And I love how earned his developing relationships with the team feel.
Raven is the fucking best, and I need her civilian outfit omg. The choice to tie her story and trauma into the central villain/conflict of the movie is an inspired one and having that kind of character-driven conflict in a movie where you’re building a team dynamic from scratch is just such a huge asset, like usually this is the movie where you kind of throw an uninteresting villain in there because you need all the narrative space for the team but this movie is smart enough to understand that having the villain be actually meaningful to the characters helps create that space and I just wish storytellers would realize this rather obvious thing more often. And then tying Damian‘s relationship with his grandfather and personal growth back into it too to make it a double-whammy is just so inspired.
I love how lived-in the relationships between the already-established Titans feel. Jaime and Garfield channeling their gayness for each other into constantly trying to one-up each other obviously highlights, but the whole team really does feel like a family. I love how earned the relationships Damian forms with them feel. I love that he can actually play well with others now. I love, love, love Cyborg being unwilling to leave the Justice League but also just Boom Tubing in because it’s pizza night.
Dick checking in on Starfire because he’s the Daddy of the Titans and she’s the Mommy is the best thing and I’m kind of willing to concede at this point that my Dick/Barbara shipping has probably been too inflexible in the past, because these two are really good together.
Honestly, I kind of just want more of these movies forever. I know they rebooted the whole damn universe AGAIN after I stopped watching these, but please can you just give me like twelve of THESE? BEAST BOY KICKS A BAD GUY AS A KANGAROO AND LANDS ON HIM AS AN ELEPHANT, ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T WANT TO MAKE MORE OF THESE?
THIS MOVIE HAS A DDR FIGHT BETWEEN ROBIN AND BEAST BOY THAT IS PLAYED COMPLETELY STRAIGHT, I NEED THIS TO HAVE HAD MORE THAN THE ONE SEQUEL IT GOT. PLEASE, I ASK FOR SO LITTLE.
Batman: The Killing Joke (comic, 1988) & Batman: The Killing Joke (movie, 2016)
Was it morally reprehensible? Yes. But was it bad? Also yes.
So, obviously I have my problems with the graphic novel. And obviously a lot of those problems are going to be baked into any adaptation of it. I’ll grant you that. But to recognize that one of the biggest complaints about the source material is that it treats Barbara like a prop rather than a character, and to say “don’t worry, we got this” and add an extended prologue where Batman and Batgirl are fucking and think you fixed it is … yeah. That’s… a thing you can do, I guess?
You guys understand that the reason we have a problem with fridging is that it sacrifices female characters for the sake of male characters’ angst, right? And giving Batman an additional reason to be upset about the attack on Barbara … is not an improvement in that regard … right…? Right…??? Guys…????
Justice League Dark (film, 2017)
More like Justice League DORK amirite?
Batman recruiting spooky bois!!!! (And Zatanna.)
Lots of magic!!! I don’t always agree with how it’s depicted but I’m a slut for magic, and the imagery in this one at the very least is often cool and a nice change of pace at the very least. And Zatanna one-shots Supes AND Wonder Woman, which I’m HERE FOR, but I’m gonna need them to follow up on this by having her be canonically stronger than them or at least this being addressed in some form DO IT YOU COWARDS.
Swamp Thing is a good boy!!!
The Not So Good:
The beginning is ROUGH. Like, I’m pretty sure you coulda established the same stakes without showing a lady about to murder her baby or a dude about to murder his family etc. Seriously these movies go way edgier than they need to sometimes for the stories they’re telling.
Constantine is a HUGE dick which I don’t entirely mind because I have no particular attachment to the character, but the movie lets him get away with a few things I wish it hadn’t, especially mansplaining to Zantanna way, way more than anyone ever should.
Anyway, I mostly like it! Just feels like it wouldn’t take much to be one of the best in the catalog instead of just Another One.
The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (comic, 1984) & Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (movie, 2017)
(CW: Abuse, suicide.)
Another one where I saw the movie before I read the comic. When I finally read the comic it ended up feeling like a more bare-bones version of the comic with cornier dialogue. It was cool to see Dick’s debut as Nightwing, but that was actually kinda infuriatingly-written? Like, he decides he needs to sort out his whole superhero identity shit before he can go rescue his friends who are in mortal danger? Just… what the heck, Dick???
I liked the movie version a lot better, honestly. Mostly down to there being a lot more “there” there when it comes to characterization. The plot also feels quite a bit more coherent while still hitting a lot of the same landmarks. I also liked the team composition a lot more in the movie, which is basically just a continuation of the team and relationships from Justice League vs. Teen Titans. Having Damian there in particular really added a lot.
There’s also just… a lot in Terra’s characterization that I didn’t like in the comic, especially towards the end. Although it has its issues (which we’ll come back to shortly), having the general idea be that Slade was grooming her makes a lot more sense than going out of your way to say that she was evil the whole time and deserves no sympathy. People can do bad things and still be victims. You don’t need to be an angle to deserve the safety of not being preyed upon by gross older men.
I really could’ve done without the entire “pressure makes diamonds” bullshit in the movie, though. You are a movie that LITERALLY shows someone having PTSD flashbacks and having everyone else immediately get it because THEY’VE had PTSD flashbacks. Trauma doesn’t make people great. Trauma reveals the greatness that was already there, and which would have flourished in a nurturing, loving environment. And there are plenty of people who ARE destroyed by trauma, and that doesn’t mean they were weak or not special enough or whatever the fuck. It’s all circumstance. And there’s nothing good about it. I get that it’s tempting to see a silver lining in things that suck, but this kind of thinking can EASILY slide into abuse apologism, “I just wanted you to be the best you could be” etc and I think it’s really important to challenge it whenever it appears.
Showing Slade to be a grooming piece of shit is not necessarily automatically the wrong thing to do, but like a lot of these movies that get into edgier territory the movie just didn’t punish him enough if that’s where they were gonna go. His bullshit quip about there “not being a lot of grey” in Terra’s betrayal of the Titans applies pretty directly to him. Grooming is a kind of evil you just fucking don’t come back from. Taking someone vulnerable and knowingly manipulating and victimizing them… when you’re willing to do that kind of shit, you are the fucking worst kind of evil, and you need to be unambiguously ended, not buried in rubble and shuffled offscreen so you can probably come back in a few movies.
Having Terra kill herself after all that is just the icing on this Bad Idea cake. I fucking hate all of this.
… so here’s why I like the movie anyway.
Nightwing and Robin’s relationship has fucking ruled in all of these movies, but this movie takes it to a new level. Robin congratulating Nightwing on moving in with Starfire in a stiff, overly formal way was just so godsdamned precious. He’s trying so hard, he’s such a good boy! At this point I think I’m just the president of the Damian Wayne fanclub, at least in these movies.
Speaking of Damian being The Best, him bratting at Slade absolutely ruled.
Speaking of bratting, the movie basically confirmed multiple times that Nightwing is a bottom, and especially in the context of his relationship with Starfire. Like, she got him all flustered several times, and to top it all off at one point she literally tackled him onto a couch and called him a brat. Dick Grayson continues to be the most intensely relatable character for me.
I know she was basically the centerpiece of the last movie but the movie version didn’t have nearly enough Raven for my tastes? It did somewhat make up for that by having her deliver the final blow to Blood, but yeah. At least there was plenty of Beast Boy and Blue Beetle. They’re such good boys!
And, yeah, the fight scenes mostly ruled, especially Dick versus Slade. Which was lifted more or less directly from the comic in terms of scenario, but expanded upon and executed so well it was honestly one of the best fights of the entire movie series.
So like… as much as there are a few big picture things to complain about, I enjoyed probably 90% of the movie’s runtime? It’s just that the things I didn’t like were extremely deep tissue so it’s kind of always a little hard to figure out what to do with that.
(Comic: C-Rank; Movie: B-Rank)
Batman and Harley Quinn (movie, 2017)
Actually, I quite liked this one this time!
Actually, I quite liked this one this time!
Like, I still agree with a lot of the problems I had with it. It still woulda been better if it had been a Harley & Ivy movie. I still hate that Harley wanted Ivy to turn herself in. Her argument shoulda been “this plan sucks, let’s ditch these dumb boys, live to fight another day and come up with a better one.” And I still hate that it doesn’t acknowledge Harley and Ivy’s EXTREMELY OBVIOUS gayness for each other.
I also still really wish it had marginalized Bats and Nightwing more (and I’m still not convinced it needed Bats at all, but Nightwing can definitely stay), but it was basically a Harley movie honestly. They probably just didn’t have the guts to let it fully be a Harley movie because they’re still convinced they need Bats’ name on it to put butts in seats.
I reeeeally didn’t like the way Usually Good Boy Nightwing approached Harley for help, he gets put in his place pretty thoroughly at least. And wow every version of this guy is just the bottomiest bottom ever, huh? I guess I was still a little defensive from what they did to Barbara in the prologue of A Killing Joke last time I saw this, which is understandable, but yeah. The sex scene rly didn’t bother me this time.
So, yeah! Idk. I was a lot more grumpy about this on the whole last time. This time, while there were still a few things that really rubbed me the wrong way, I felt like it was a pretty terrific movie on the whole. One of my favorites of this series, even.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (comic, 1989) & Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (movie, 2018)
I saw the movie before I read the comic. It was way better than I expected it to be!! The entire idea of placing Batman in a different setting is a lot of fun, and “Batman vs. Jack the Ripper” is definitely an awesomely bananas direction to go with that.
The way most of the characters in the movie were integrated into the Victorian setting really added to the fun. Dick, Tim, and Jason as an orphan gang under the thumb of a criminal until Batman liberates and adopts them, Catwoman as a stage actress who moonlights as a masked avenger of women. I also love Ivy as a sex worker, but don’t love her being unceremoniously offed. I get that that’s kind of the entire thing with Jack the Ripper, but it feels like there are plenty of ways around that.
The comic, on the other hand, didn’t really have nearly as much going for it. I know the movie owes its overall idea to the movie, and it’s kind of the two stories from the comic smushed together into one story with more characters added, but I really liked how the movie fleshed things out. The comic just felt really lacking by comparison, and didn’t capture my interest in nearly the same way.
(Comic: C-Rank; Movie: B-Rank)
Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (movie, 2018)
This was pretty good moment-to-moment, but also not really super memorable. Like, it kept me entertained while I was watching it, but I kind of don’t have anything to say about it? It was just kinda there.
Reverse Flash using the Speed Force to continue balling despite literally having a gaping hole in his head was badass, though. And Scandal Savage and Blockbuster are explicitly gay and are basically lesbian bullies and I kind of want them to lesbian bully me!!
Superman: The Death of Superman (comic, 1992-93) & Superman: Funeral for a Friend (comic, 1993) & Superman: Reign of the Supermen (comic, 1993) & Superman: The Return of Superman (comic, 1993) & The Death of Superman (movie, 2018) & Reign of the Superman (movie, 2019)
It was basically impossible to be a kid who liked superheroes in the 90s and not know about at least two storylines: Bane breaking Batman’s back, and Doomsday killing Superman. I was a much bigger Batman fan, so I read basically all of Knightfall and Knightsend, and bits and pieces of Knightquest. The Death and Return of Superman, though, I only really read the issue where Superman actually dies and a few issues of Reign of the Supermen. I also had a like… junior novelization of the whole arc? It glossed over a lot and streamlined the whole thing, but I got a general idea of the story as a whole from it.
So I finally read it, and… yeah, wow, it was rough at times. The actual fight between Supes and Doomsday is the only really good thing about The Death of Superman, and it was pretty good. Funeral for a Friend was just… kind of genuinely awful? Like, I frequently found myself bored and tempted to just skim through the issues just to get through them faster. Things got way better with Reign of the Supermen and The Return of Superman. Those were genuinely compelling, though I still found the Lex/Supergirl stuff extremely missable. I loved Superboy and Steel, though. I kind of want to go out of my way to read more stories about them in the future.
I still hadn’t read the comics when I sat down to watch the two newer adaptations for the first time, but I definitely enjoyed them. They were a much more faithful adaptation of this arc than Superman: Doomsday, though they still had their departures. I especially didn’t really like that they changed the fight between Superman and Doomsday to start in Metropolis rather than being an epic battle across America with Superman getting increasingly desperate to stop him the closer they got to his city.
Still, it was nice to see Superboy, Steel, Eradicator, and Cyborg, and a lot of other elements that were entirely absent in Superman: Doomsday. And I think they did a really good job of adapting the broad strokes of the story into a movie. I even like some of the changes they made, like replacing that weird Lex clone or whatever the heck was going on there with just the normal Lex, and kind of mushing Supergirl and Superboy’s stories into one story minus the sexual overtones.
I was a bit caught off guard by how bad the comics were considering how consistently great Knightfall and Knightsend were, but they had their moments. And I really did like the movies quite a bit. Even though I did miss some of the details from the comics that were left out, I’d go so far as to say the movies are probably the best way to experience this story.
(Death of Superman: C-Rank; Funeral for a Friend: D-Rank; Reign of the Supermen: B-Rank; Return of Superman: B-Rank; Movies: B-Rank)
Justice League vs. The Fatal Five (movie, 2019)
I haven’t seen much of the Justice League cartoon series from back in the day, just the multi-part origin episode and a few other scattered episodes here and there. So this didn’t mean as much to me as any of the Batman: The Animated Series revivals they’ve done for a few of these. Heck, even if I had seen more of the series, I doubt it could’ve meant as much, but you know what I mean.
On that note, I do think the dream/memory sequence in this goes… way too edgy to be believably part of the same DCAU as the aforementioned series? If you’re going to do a revival of those, it just doesn’t make much sense to me to go so hard against the tone of the source material. And the movie had already done a perfectly fine job of establishing that Jessica was going through some shit. For as good as this movie is at times at showing characters struggling with mental health problems, it sure did fall into the trap that so often happens when shows/movies try to depict a character dealing with trauma. We don’t need to see the event that caused the trauma!
Still, I liked this a lot better than I thought I was going to! And I especially loved the characterization of the aforementioned Jessica Cruz/Green Lantern! It had a kind of depth I just don’t generally expect in stories like this. And while it is a bit surprising to see a DC animated movie like this do a good job of depicting a hero with PTSD, it was even more astounding to see it do a good job of depicting one with schizophrenia! I love Star Boy! And that is just… not a bridge I really usually expect these kinds of movies to be willing to cross? Even a lot of people who are very vocally supportive of neurodiverse people will often draw the line at “scarier”-sounding diagnoses like schizophrenia due to misunderstandings and the prevailing stigma surrounding them.
Before I get too carried away, I should say that I do hate that Star Boy had to sacrifice himself to save the day. It didn’t undo everything good about how his character was depicted or anything, but it sure did feel unnecessary.
But, yeah! I had basically 0 expectations for this one, and it’s probably one of my favorite Justice League movies! So that’s pretty cool.
I’ve been a Batman/Catwoman shipper since before I knew that shipping was a thing, so obviously I loved this. The movie makes a few departures from the comic to fit it in with the DCAMU continuity, but I think it does a pretty great job of adapting the spirit of the comic. The only change I disagreed with pretty strongly was using Bane instead of Killer Croc, but it didn’t ruin the movie or anything. It just felt like a pretty unnecessary change.
Ivy being blatantly femdommy, and bisexual at that, was extremely, extremely, extremely my jam. Yes please. More of that, please.
Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (movie, 2019)
Omg a Wonder Woman movie about her, y’know, just being Wonder Woman and stuff! We do get an abbreviated origin story crammed in there because of course we do, but it’s used to establish the purple healing ray and her relationship with Vanessa, so I’ll allow it.
This one sees Diana take on quite a few members of her rogues gallery, I think a total of six unless I’m forgetting anyone? But it nevertheless has plenty of time for some awesome characterization for Diana and a lot of the other characters. So that’s awesome.
I mostly like this version of Etta. I was so excited that she was thirsty for Amazons and ended up hooking up with at least two of them from the look of things! Her characterization did veer a little closer to Sassy Black Friend than I think is strictly advisable, but it honestly gels pretty well with how she’s often characterizated lately even when she’s white? And fuck, man, I’m not gonna complain too hard about having confident black lesbians in something this mainstream.
Seriously, though, this was awesome. This is basically the Wonder Woman movie I’ve been begging for for years.
Superman: Red Son (comic, 2003) & Superman: Red Son (movie, 2020)
I mean, you knew I’d have stuff to say about this one. Let’s not kid ourselves.
To dispense with the obvious, no this isn’t a fair portrayal of the Soviet Union. Not that that’s necessarily ever going to be the point of a superhero story, but look at how your average Superman comic treats the United States. Clark’s entire deal is “truth, justice and the American way.” You don’t get a lot of pages devoted to imperialist aggression or mass incarceration. Also like, yeah I’m not about to pretend the Soviet Union was perfect, but the version of “history” on display here is like Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation-level propagandizing.
The movie inherits a lot of the same problems as the comic, and even at times portrays some of the more problematic distortions of history in even more vivid detail… but in a lot of ways it’s actually drastically better until it isn’t???
For one thing, Superman’s dedication to actual communist principles is demonstrated much more effectively through changes both small and massive. Like, his public appearance early in the story is just some random demonstration in the comic, but in the movie it’s the unveiling of a new hydroelectric dam that Superman helped build. And when he’s given what he considers an undue amount of credit for the project’s success, he actively pushes the credit back on to everyone who was working with him. And throughout the film, we see him earnestly expressing actual communist ideals.
Quite a bit is also done to humanize Superman in the film. We see flashbacks to his childhood, which is completely absent in the comic. And we also get quite a bit more fleshing out in his relationship with Wonder Woman, which is way better than the comic… until it isn’t. But we’ll get back to that. Supes and Wonder Woman meet, immediately form a bond, Supes assumes Wondie wants him to bed her and she’s like whoa hi no when he goes to kiss her, and he’s actually relieved??? And she says “I come from an island of all women. Work it out for yourself,” which is just an incredible line, thank you for that! And the two agree to become friends and their relationship becomes even warmer from that point on.
Honestly, if you look at Superman as an actual expression of the highest ideals of communism struggling against some of the internal contradictions that–combined with Western interference–ultimately doomed the Soviet Union, this would be a good movie up until that point. Yeah, there were some pretty wild distortions of history to set up that conflict, but it’s not completely wrong? It’s… also not completely clear to me how he got from there to having dissidents turned into cyborg slaves. That jumped out less as weird in the comic because everything was weird and wrong, but it was kind of funny that early in the movie I basically said out loud “I wonder how they’re going to get from here to the whole cyborg slave thing” and they just… there wasn’t a “getting there.” It was just like, “oh, okay, we’re doing this now.” I guess the writers of both the comic and movie think it’s just a natural thing to put in your warped communism metaphor and there’s no reason whatsoever to explain it. I don’t know. It’s just kind of hilariously bad.
Even at this point, Superman isn’t entirely demonized by the movie? He refuses Brainiac’s urging to invade the U.S., and it isn’t until the U.S. attacks with their reverse-engineered Green Lanterns that he responds. And after defeating the Lanterns, he goes right to the White House, right to Lex. Right to the heart of the problem.
Oh, let’s talk about this movie’s incredibly strange brand of, uh, “feminism”? When Superman announces his intentions after rescuing Metropolis from the falling satellite, Lois demands “what about women?” And like, hey Lois? I think if we applied a fine-tooth comb we might find one or two or ten thousand ways in which the U.S. was far behind the Soviet Union in that department at the time? It’s a totally fair thing to fight for within the revolution, but an absolutely ludicrous thing to try to use to discredit it from the outside. And like… Wonder Woman, like Superman, devolves into a total caricature of herself late in the movie and fully like 90% of her lines become about how men are evil and it’s just… it’s just weird. And uncomfortable. And not earned by the narrative at all.
Honestly, even though parts of it are just ridiculously bad, even the latter portions of the movie could be read as a metaphor for how decisionmaking in the Soviet Union became increasingly centralized and the average person became disengaged with the revolution, until eventually they could only watch helplessly as the Soviet Union was dissolved, the revolution ended, with no recourse but to try to live in a world that suddenly had one fewer beacon of hope.
Superman was right when he and his comrades built that dam. We don’t need a single hero we can look up to to solve all our problems, we need to solve them together. And that’s why no matter what, we will keep fighting.
(Comic: C-Rank; Movie: B-Rank)
Final Crisis (comic, 2008-09) & Justice League: The Darkseid War (comic, 2015-16) & The New 52: Futures End (comic, 2014-15)
I read all of these in preparation for Apokolips War because according to Wikipedia it was based in part on all of them, and it ended up having basically nothing to do with any of them? Like, I genuinely have no idea on what grounds they consider it to have been based on these comics? It wouldn’t have even gotten a “suggested by” credit in my book.
Let’s start with Final Crisis. Y’all know I love me some Grant Morrison, but this was definitely not my favorite of his that I’ve read so far. There was stuff I liked about it, like especially some of the Green Lantern stuff and the stuff with all the main Justice League members becoming dark gods or whatever, but this is largely a case of me really enjoying the setup a whole lot more than the payoff. It just ultimately got a bit too esoteric for my tastes.
Darkseid War was awesome. It wasn’t on the same level as some of the earlier New 52 stuff I’ve read recently, but it’s easily my favorite of these three stories. And Grail just walking through the Justice League repeatedly is uncomfortably hot. She gave me several gay crises. I also really enjoyed seeing the Justice League just… doing a murder investigation towards the beginning. That was a really cool hook into the story, though I did appreciate them calling out the fact that normally they wouldn’t have the entire Justice League doing something that mundane. Again, I loved all the Green Lantern stuff, especially Jessica becoming a Lantern. Out of all of these, I’d say this one had the most “there” there.
While the first two were at least interesting and short enough to be digestible, Futures End was a 48-issue… they call it a miniseries, but I categorically refuse to call an event that long a “mini” anything. On top of that it is just a slog of repetitive storytelling that doles out information in a torturous slow drip and never really gives me a single good reason to care. It was published weekly, and it shows.
So, uh, yeah! Again, not really sure how Apokolips War was “based on” these. Like, they had Batman sitting in the Mobius Chair like in Final Crisis, but it didn’t turn him into the God of Knowledge, he was just kinda Darkseid’s right hand minion? Hell, Darkseid wasn’t even in Futures End. Shrug!
When I was a more serious superhero fan, I considered the MCU the gold standard for live-action superhero movies, and the DC Universe Original Movies the same for animated superhero movies. It’s not difficult to see why. And I don’t think it’s out of line to say that the storytelling of the DCAMU was heavily inspired by the MCU. (If I wanted to be out of line I would say the DCAMU is drastically better, which it is, but that’s not my point right at this exact moment and also these are not the kinds of arguments I care about anymore.) Moreover, I think Apokolips War in particular is pretty blatantly inspired by Infinity War and Endgame, which makes sense with the latter having come out just a year beforehand.
Given that the DCEU has never really managed to get its feet under it the way the MCU did, it makes sense that their less well-known animated films which have consistently impressed both fans and critics is where they got to have their Infinity War/Endgame. It’s a massive crossover with a dizzying number of characters having at least an extended cameo, it has impossibly high stakes, and every single hero needs to throw their everything into it. People die, people are depowered, relationships are consummated or sundered. It is, in every sense of the word, climactic.
Obviously some of the more grimdark elements of it are not precisely my cup of tea, nor do I particularly care for its apparent “it’s complicated” stance on abusive parents. But this is still drastically more interesting than any of the comics it’s based on? (Aside from its lack of Grail. How can you do a New 52 cataclysm and not give me the steppy queer-looking Amazon who steps on everyone???) And in spite of its aforementioned grimdark elements, it mostly maintains a hopeful tone? This is a story about people who are going to go down fighting no matter what.
Oh, and like. Damian Wayne is ultimately one of the biggest damn heroes of this entire continuity, suck it nerds. And I love, love, love his relationship with Raven omg. It was such a slow burn but seeing it culminate and seeing them be there for each other is just… yes!!
On a much more superficial note, it has That Scene with Constantine and King Shark, and King Shark is looking hot af. And the Suicide Squad is so much better off without Waller.
Seriously, this was awesome. I’m glad the DCAMU got a definitive ending, and while there are definitely movies in the series I like a whole lot more than this one, I really do appreciate a lot of the choices it made.
Full disclosure: My reviews of the first four movies are lightly-edited reposts of reviews I previously posted on Letterboxd a couple years ago. There’s a reason this one isn’t going up on Patreon first. Also, this review will contain unmarked spoilers for every movie in the series up to and including Jurassic World: Dominion.
Also, also: holy shit, Jurassic World: Dominion was actually kinda good??? There, that oughta keep you reading. (Or at least scrolling all the way down to that review to find out whether or not I fell and hit my head on something heavy.)
Jurassic Park (1993)
I remember my first viewing of Jurassic Park quite vividly. The theater was packed so we had to sit uncomfortably close to the screen, leading to the dreaded situation where you have to keep your neck craned for the entire movie. But I was a child at the time, so that didn’t bother me. We also seemed to be pretty close to the speakers, so the sound was nearly deafening at times, which honestly only added to the experience. At the time, to my young mind, this actually seemed like the ideal way to experience this film. My main reason for seeing it was, after all, “DINOSAURS ARE COOL!” and being physically overwhelmed by the sound and picture could only enhance that.
As such, the things that jumped out at me at the time were mostly the obvious iconic moments, the times when the sheer majesty (or terror, or awesomeness) of what was happening pretty much hit you over the head with all the subtlety of a baseball bat. It doesn’t matter if you’re fifteen or fifty, if it’s the first time you’re seeing the film or if you saw it in theaters and then proceeded to nearly wear out your VHS copy, it’s pretty difficult to suppress the instinctual “Whoa!” response during some of the film’s most famous moments. Dr. Grant seeing a live dinosaur for the first time and removing his sunglasses in disbelief, the elation of the t-rex coming seemingly out of nowhere to save our heroes at the last minute, or on the opposite side of the emotional spectrum the mounting dread of the famous water impact tremors followed by the incredible sequence of the t-rex attack.
But looking back on the film now with older, hopefully wiser eyes, what really jumps out at me are the little moments and details that build the foundation upon which these big moments can confidently rest their enormous weight. You could literally teach a class on the importance of setup/payoff in filmmaking using this film. Sometimes it’s as simple as Tim making fun of his sister for being a dorky “hacker” and her computer skills coming in handy much later in the film. Other times it’s much more involved.
For instance, did you notice that basically the entire beginning of the film takes great pains to convince you that velociraptors are really, really dangerous? The very first scene of the film is the delivery of a raptor going horribly wrong despite numerous precautions, resulting in the brutal death of a park worker. Shortly after we get Dr. Grant using his knowledge of raptors to scare the hell out of a little boy (which is simultaneously setting up Grant’s emotional arc, by the way, talk about story/character economy!) And lastly we get the terrified reaction of Dr. Grant upon learning there are raptors in Jurassic Park, and no-nonsense game warden Robert Muldoon’s personal observations of the beasts’ cunning and sincere belief that they are too dangerous to be kept alive. This might sound excessive when described this way, but you really don’t notice it when you’re watching the film. And consider how much of the film’s final act relies on the audience being sincerely convinced that raptors are the most dangerous thing on two feet.
Or there’s the emotional arc Alan goes through with respect to his feelings on children. The film establishes early on that Alan doesn’t like kids, and it doesn’t just tell us. It shows us via his aforementioned almost-cruel lecture to a young boy about how dangerous velociraptors were, leading into a conversation with Dr. Sattler that hammers home the point without overdoing it. And with this thoroughly established, we get Grant’s cold reaction to meeting Hammond’s grandchildren, followed by him warming to them after saving their lives and being forced to spend time with them.
This is all weaved in so seamlessly that you probably don’t even notice it happening if you aren’t consciously thinking about it. It’s little things here and there that just add up over the course of the film. On top of that, even the minor characters have little details that make them feel more like real people without eating up much screentime (Lex is a vegetarian, Muldoon is deadly-serious, Nedry is a slob, Arnold is an easily-frustrated chain-smoker, etc). You also get little moments like Alan pretending to be electrocuted by the inactive electric fence to help break the tension. The film is actually so infused with personality that even the dinosaurs themselves have enormous (no pun intended) screen presence and very distinct-feeling personalities. The way in which the t-rex is terrifying is much different than the way in which the raptors are terrifying, and its overall sense of imposing majesty carries over from when it’s terrorizing our heroes to when it’s saving them.
It’s also kind of jarring to realize how many of this movie’s best/most famous action scenes are in the second act, because the post-MCU blockbuster world has basically conditioned me to expect second act action scenes, if they happen at all, to be obligatory and underwhelming compared to the big third act setpiece (with obligatory giant blue beam of energy shooting into the sky).
… okay, you’re going to have to indulge me for a second, but I need to nitpick a few completely inconsequential details because I’m me. Velociraptors are babies. The “velociraptors” were actually deinonychuses (and not utahraptors, which is what I kept hearing and repeating in grade school when “um actually”ing). Also also, Lex makes a big deal about being a vegetarian early in the movie and even though I’ve seen this roughly 45,000,000 times I keep expecting them to bring up her vegetarianism when they reassure her about the brachiosaurus but they never do? I don’t know, just feels like a weird missed opportunity to me. And speaking of Lex’s vegetarianism, in the famous bit where her and Timmy are gorging themselves and then she freezes in terror because she sees a raptor shadow, she has Jello on her spoon because it adds a nice effect when it’s shaking and it’s kinda funny and scary at the same time, which is genius! Except Jello is NOT VEGETARIAN, so that’s kind of awkward.
… okay, sorry! Pivoting back to things that actually matter.
Aside from all the obvious and aforementioned, I think one of the most interesting things about this film is the seeming mismatch of Crichton’s worldview (cynical, reactionary, paranoid, technophobic) and Spielberg’s (optimistic, striving for at least the appearance of being apolitical, enthusiastic, humanistic), and how interesting it is that we got such a fantastic film out of it. And honestly, while the film is frequently saying things that are 100% Crichton, it’s saying them in a very Spielbergian way that frequently dilutes or shrugs off what Crichton is trying to say. I know Crichton has the scriptwriting credit here (along with David Koepp), but I see a lot more of Spielberg’s ideology in the film than Crichton’s, and I have to wonder how satisfied Crichton actually was with the final product.
But yeah, you can probably also just enjoy the whole “running away from dinosaurs before they eat you” thing. That’s probably okay, too.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Despite acknowledging without qualification that the first film is superior in every respect, I frequently find myself defending The Lost World in conversations. To this day I still think its only unforgivable crime is that if it had been more successful, perhaps it would’ve popularized its baffling “Sequel Title: Series Title” title format. We dodged a real bullet there.
But by far the loudest complaint I often hear about this one is that a lot of it was “designed to sell toys” which reminds me an awful lot of criticisms of other 90s blockbusters like Batman Forever and always makes me want to respond, “But… it did sell a lot of toys. I should know, I made my parents buy most of them.” I understand what the complaint is getting at, but I don’t think it’s a reason to write off a movie out of hand. (It is a great reason to overthrow capitalism, though, so like… let’s do that!)
If there is one common criticism I will wholeheartedly support, it’s that The Lost World is extremely one-dimensional, especially compared to its predecessor. The original Jurassic Park was full of peaks and valleys, ranging from light-hearted to suspenseful to majestic to terrifying and just about everything in between. The Lost World pretty much picks one tone (lighthearted action) and sticks with it. And it fills this niche more than adequately, but the ceiling here is much lower than the first film’s.
The film’s main saving grace is its humor, and to that end the return (and expanded screentime) of Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm is a godsend. Probably 90% of the dialogue in any scene he’s involved in is banter, and while that’s probably maddening for some people I honestly love it, especially with his delivery. The other characters on his team aren’t really fleshed out all that much, which is a bit of a shame, but they’re all more than adequate for the most part. Though, Sarah does frequently fall into the frustrating trope of “I’m a female badass character so I’m going to assert my qualifications and show how awesome I am in basically every line of dialogue” vs “my actual actions are going to make me out to be a bumbling idiot who constantly needs rescuing.”
There just isn’t that much to say about this film because there isn’t as much going on as there was in the previous film. It’s occasionally a bit on-the-nose (just look at the scene where the InGen team arrives on the island and everyone on Ian’s team gives us their absolute best “horrified and disgusted” faces), but that same lack of subtlety gives us moments like the great shot of Sarah taking down a t-rex with a tranquilizer dart as a helicopter strafes into frame with much more deadly intentions. So, you know.
Yeah okay fine I’m probably rating this way too high, but you know what? They’re my ratings, get your own!
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Yeah, maybe I enjoyed some of the character stuff in Jurassic Park III. And there were cute little moments like the group discovering a vending machine and one character searching his pockets and asking if anyone had change and another just running into frame and shattering the glass with a kick. But hey, remind me why I bought my ticket again?
Oh right. It was for cool dinosaur stuff. And… where was all of that, exactly? The only real exciting addition this film brought in that regard was the scene in the pteranodon cage, which I have to admit was pretty well done. This also leads directly into the film’s baffling ending which shows several pteranodons escaping the island while… hopeful music plays? I kind of want to see a fan edit that extends this scene to show the pteranodons swooping down on terrified schoolchildren with the same hopeful music playing.
The spinosaurus could’ve been a pretty interesting addition if it weren’t so lacking in personality. It just chases our heroes around generically, at one point taking down a t-rex so the audience can gasp and realize that the spinosaur is an even bigger, badder predator (or, as actually happened, yawn and realize this movie isn’t getting better anytime soon).
And then there was whatever was going on with the raptors, which the less we talk about the better. The short version is that one of the central thrusts of the movie was supposed to be about how raptors were even more dangerous than we thought they were, but if anything they felt toothless in this one. There’s a totally obligatory chase scene at one point where it never really felt like any of the characters were in any real peril. For a movie about dinosaurs, everything involving dinosaurs here just feels so perfunctory. There’s no suspense, no tension, no… anything.
Jurassic Park was a spectacular film that really doesn’t get enough credit for its storytelling. The Lost World was a goofy film that may have lacked its predecessor’s craft but at least had plenty of personality. Jurassic Park III is just lazy and predictable and totally devoid of identity. And no matter what mitigating factors there might’ve been, that’s just one of the worst things a movie can be.
Jurassic World (2015)
This movie isn’t completely awful (though it certainly has many of the elements needed for that), but I think the fact that I’m often pretty forgiving of most easily-accessible blockbusters has a whole lot to do with that opinion.
It’s easy enough to see how sexist this movie is (but of course, some people “just don’t see it”). Every single woman in this movie is the embodiment of some kind of stereotype. But what’s really frustrating is the way the movie approaches Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, its one female character that’s more multifaceted in any way. The way the movie treats her makes absolutely no sense. Her sister is angry at her for having a career and not wanting kids, and the movie’s narrative seems to bear that out. Her boss thinks she’s too worried about metrics and finances… which is literally her job? You know, the one you hired her for? If he wants her to do something other than her job, he should’ve hired her for a different job. And the movie constantly undermines her in order to play up how perfect and right Chris Pratt’s sweaty masculinity is.
Even when the movie gives her badass moments, it proceeds to completely ignore them. When she’s reunited with her nephews late in the film, the first thing they see her do is beat a pterodactyl off of a helpless Chris Pratt and then shoot it over and over with tranq darts like some kind of action movie badass. Next, Chris Pratt helps them escape by… driving a car backwards really fast? And after seeing these two things very nearly back to back, they’re convinced that he’s some kind of superhero. I’m sorry, what? In what fucking universe is being able to drive a car backwards more indicative of the ability to protect you from dinosaurs than literally saving you from being mauled to death by a dinosaur?
I know it’s been well-documented and even been the subject of entire articles, but I feel like I can’t get away with not mentioning that one awful torture porn-esque death was. The character in question was given the kind of leering, comeuppance-ladden orgy of violence death that you reserve for some despicable evil character to leave the audience happy, and it was for… what, exactly? Talking on the phone? Having two little shitheads she was in charge of intentionally run away for no apparent reason? (Seriously, why did they run away from the lady that could get them VIP access to the entire park? I never got this.)
But don’t worry! The movie doesn’t just make no sense in its approach to its female characters. It also doesn’t make any sense in its approach to Chris Pratt’s character. It’s just that its approach to him is that he is so cool, and right about everything, and so cool, and knows everything somehow even though there are supposed to be entire teams of people with more expertise than him in charge of those things, and he’s just so cool you guys. And like, okay, I won’t pretend seeing him ride around on a motorcycle with raptors wasn’t fucking awesome. (Again, there’s a reason I don’t entirely hate this movie.) But how we got there is he was learning how to train raptors to take orders for military dudes… but he’s… uh… really against raptors taking orders from military dudes. Maybe don’t take that job, then? And maybe don’t have your big picture argument with your boss, like, when they’re almost ready to implement the thing you’ve been working on for years? Maybe bring that up a bit earlier in your relationship? The thing is, the script isn’t approaching his character with any kind of logic, it’s approaching him as he’s the good guy, so he has to do cool shit like ride around on a motorcycle with his trained raptor buddies, but he also needs to be mad about the idea of riding around on a motorcycle with his raptor buddies, because the idea of training animals to serve military purposes is pretty damn unpalatable. This is just the most bloody obvious example of wanting to have your cake and eat it.
You also just have to shrug your shoulders at how much this movie doesn’t understand the function of a lot of the bits of the original movie it’s constantly aping. John Williams’ dramatic flourish, appropriate when the first movie uses it to reflect the wonder of someone seeing a dinosaur for the first time, is here used for the dramatic purpose of… a kid seeing a theme park from his hotel room balcony. This continues all the way to the ending, where we’re supposed to be satisfied by the sight of a t-rex roaring as it stands above the park. It would be a pretty fabulous image if I gave a damn? But I just can’t imagine being one iota as attached to any of the characters in this movie as I was to Drs. Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm, or John Hammond, or his grandchildren, or any of the numerous interesting side characters who wound up as dinosaur food one way or the other. I mean, I could actually see loving Bryce Dallas Howard’s character if the movie treated her with the respect she deserves, but that’s pretty much it.
The other biggest problem with this movie is that I just do not find the genetically engineered dinosaur antagonist remotely interesting. Like, there’s a whole hell of a lot you could’ve done with that if you decided that was the direction you wanted to go, but “t-rex but he’s got some raptor DNA and also he can camouflage or whatever the fuck” is just not doing it for me, and I get the sense that I’m really not the only one.
Again, it probably seems like I hate this a whole lot more than I do. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a perfectly watchable blockbuster that provides a few thrills, a few frustrations, and absolutely no urgency to ever see it again. I’d still rather watch it than something that’s just going to bore me to tears, but that’s just a matter of personal taste.
And like… I’ve kind of gotten super into theme parks as a result of going to Disney and Universal a bunch of times with some of my partners, so the fact that Jurassic World really does feel like a real theme park but with dinosaurs does wonders for wish fulfillment. I think that might be about my favorite thing about the movie.
(… okay, CW: vore, but I do also have to admit that, even though the indominus rex is still a stupid dinosaur with a stupid name, some of the maw shots and predatory behavior gave me very strong subby and prey feels. I’m not sorry.)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
The nicest thing I can say is that this movie very helpfully demarcates its halfway-decent part by setting it entirely on the island, while everything that happens after that is just the most boring shit in the entire series. Seriously, it’s actually that straightforwardly divided.
Like, this movie is actually technically better than its predecessor in a few concrete, quantifiable ways? The character writing was, for the most part, 900% better. Especially the female characters. Like, oh my fucking gods. The one exception to this is that the bad guy was just comically evil without any clear motivation, and did not seem nearly smart or patient enough to have been pulling the wool over his employers’ eyes for literally decades. Seriously, he’s just having Extremely Obviously Evil phone conversations at the slightest provocation.
Other improvements? Director: There appears to have been one. Tonal control: It had it. Coherence: It had it. There were one or two cute/clever dinosaur moments. The indoraptor, despite being literally a miniaturized version of it, was way more interesting than the indominus rex? And finally, the most noticeable heavy use of the original Jurassic Park theme was a woman who loved dinosaurs seeing a dinosaur for the first time and almost crying. Much better than a kid opening a fucking window in his fucking hotel room to see a fucking theme park.
So, like… yeah! All of that is progress, actually! But despite how much better it sounds on paper it’s still just an awful movie, and much less than the sum of its parts. Proving, as always, that you just can’t focus group your way to a good movie. There has to be something vital and real at its core. You have to care, and you have to make us care. And this movie just does not do that at all. If it were wiped from history, literally nothing would change except for how much money was in a few people’s pockets.
So, yeah, it’s not great.
Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)
… what the heck were you guys expecting out of this, exactly?
Seriously, everyone is just dumping nonstop on this movie, and it’s easily the best Jurassic World movie? And the only reason I don’t think it’s the second best Jurassic Park movie is because I like The Lost World way more than most people?
Seriously, I’m genuinely at a loss. I really need someone to explain to me the mountains of hate this thing is getting. I’m not saying it’s an amazing movie–it’s a Jurassic World movie, guys–but it’s just… it’s just not that bad! It’s actually shockingly good!
Jurassic World: Dominion does the legacyquel thing by bringing back all three main characters from the original movie, something that neither of its direct sequels did by the way. And I know we’ve got like a 50% success rate on movies like this not being exercises in empty nostalgia, but I thought Ellie and Alan absolutely carried this movie? And Ian’s part in it made perfect sense and added quite a bit.
Obviously Claire and Owen have never been my favorites, but I actually love them here? In the previous movie Claire took a baby step from corporate executive to director of a liberal “grassroots” dinosaur rights nonprofit. Which, you know. It’s better, clearly, but not to the degree that Rachel Maddow or whoever the fuck wants you to think it is. Here, she’s taken a giant leap from there to “fuck it, I’m gonna live in a cabin in the woods with my boyfriend and adopted daughter and do some eco-terrorism.” So, yeah! I’m into it. And I actually laughed out loud at Owen’s first appearance because of course he’s doing some ridiculous dinosaur cowboy bullshit.
The movie seemed interested in giving the new generation a trio of their own to match Ellie, Alan, and Ian. You could argue they were already there with Maisie, but she’s just a kid and spends a lot of the movie kidnapped. (Jealous! Or rather I would be if she hadn’t been kidnapped by basically the Apple corporation and just kinda left in a room.) So if they wanted any kind of symmetry there they were gonna need to add a new adult character, and yeah what they went with there worked pretty well for me. DeWanda Wise plays a hardened pilot with a heart of gold and a strong moral compass whether she wants it or not. Basically Han Solo but if he were a black lady with a haircut that made every lesbian and bi girl in the audience fan herself.
Speaking of the bad guys basically being the Apple corporation, okay yeah they didn’t really try to hide that at all. The compound is… I mean, I live near it, so I can confidently state that it looks an awful lot like the Apple campus. And the aesthetics everywhere and the way everyone talks… it’s just Apple, guys! The bad guy–also a legacyquel import from the first movie, and not one I was expecting!–is… is just Tim Cook. He’s a perfect bad guy because he’s immensely evil, and doing harm on a scale that is difficult to even think about… but he’s also just kind of a huge weenie? Like, he’s so cowardly and ineffective. And yeah, I’m sorry? This is kind of just the perfect setting for “wow, this is really cool and I hate all of it.” They even have a fucking hyperloop. This is so effectively hateable.
Apple’s probably getting a bit lonely in that bad guy seat, so how about we also let Monsanto have a turn? Because Biosyn’s evil plan to control the world’s food supply by breeding giant extinct locusts might be far-fetched, but genetically engineering them to spare only Biosyn’s patented crops… isn’t that far off from things Monsanto has been credibly accused of.
Literally my only substantive complaint (aside from things that are kind of unavoidable in a Jurassic World movie) is that the CIA are presented as good guys. Which, you know. That’s a pretty big problem, obviously. But at least that’s only relevant for like a scene or two.
Oh hey wow, you know what we didn’t talk about yet? The fucking dinosaurs! You know, the reason we’re here! So, the last movie did a terrible job of getting us here, but having dinosaurs just sort of out and roaming in the world fucking rules. It leads to stuff like Owen’s aforementioned dinosaur cowboy career path, and it’s just refreshing to see this franchise finally doing something different with its dinosaurs instead of “hey let’s try making the first Jurassic Park but not as good again.”
Maybe my favorite dinosaur moment in the movie is actually a very small one. Ellie pets a baby triceratops and it’s super cute and she says something like “you never get used to it.” I also actually love, love, love Owen and Blue’s relationship in this! Especially him promising to rescue Blue’s daughter and risking his neck to fulfill that promise, and Blue nonverbally acknowledging and thanking him at the end of the movie. It’s so good, you guys!!! Also also on top of all the obvious legacy dinosaur cameos, we get a freaking feathered raptor in this!! And the scene it was in with the breaking ice was just freaking awesome!!
… okay, I should, uh. Yeah. Okay. Fine. So. The new dinosaur big bad in this is the giganotosaurus. Which, thankfully, is just an actual dinosaur and genuinely does pose an interesting foil to the t-rex and other classic dinosaurs. So, uh. The thing about that is… (CW: Vore) … yeah, so, in a late action scene in the movie the heroes are almost eaten by the giganotosaurus several times… and there are some very nice maw shots and some roars and growls that made me squirm in my seat… and we saw it in IMAX… and, uh. Yeah. You guys are gonna be shocked, but I got very vore prey-horny. Seriously, I’m so glad we saw this in IMAX.
If this is the last Jurassic Park movie, it’s honestly a pretty great sendoff. If it’s not the last Jurassic Park movie, I only have one request. Do not do a reboot or whatever you want to call it and reset the status quo to make another “the first Jurassic Park, but worse.” Please. Even if you want to start over with new characters/etc, pleasepleaseplease either continue with the current status quo (dinosaurs and humans walking the earth together, or catching hyperloops I guess) or come up with a new one. That’s all I ask.