Friday, May 22, 2020

Scoob! (2020) review

Scoob! (2020)

There aren’t many franchises that have maintained a consistent spot in the annals of pop culture like Scooby-Doo has. It has now been more than half a century since Scooby-Doo, Where Are You first made its debut on CBS’ Saturday Morning cartoon block on September 13th, 1969. The show immediately proved to be a hit for its studio, the legendary Hanna-Barbera Productions, and proceeded to evolve over the next several decades with new incarnations of the show. And while these newer shows did occasionally make a few story changes here and there (whether it’s by having a series with the gang as kids or by having the monsters they encounter be real instead of fake), they almost always stayed true to the franchise’s classic formula. As of this year, there have been 14 TV series starring the Mystery Inc gang and more than 40 feature-length films. Most of these films, however, have been direct-to-video releases, although the franchise did make its way to the big screen in 2002 with the live-action Scooby-Doo film, which was then followed by Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed in 2004. While neither film was a hit with critics, they both did solidly at the box-office, although the second film wasn’t as successful as its predecessor, resulting in a potential third film being canned. Thus, it wouldn’t have been until this year when the series would finally make its return to the big screen with a new animated feature titled Scoob!... that is, until the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing theaters across the country to be shut down until further notice. And in Scoob’s case, this immediately proved to be a problem since it was originally set to come out on May 15th, which was now impossible. Thus, Warner Bros. ultimately decided to follow in the footsteps of DreamWorks’ Trolls: World Tour by forgoing its theatrical release in favor of it debuting via on-demand on the day it was slated to hit theaters. Not only that, but this new film is set to be the first in a new ‘Cinematic Universe’ that would be based around the classic characters of Hanna-Barbera, a prospect that I find quite exciting and solidly initiated through this entertaining new take on the Mystery Inc gang.

On an average summer day, a young, lonely boy named Norville ‘Shaggy’ Rogers (voiced by Iain Armitage as a kid and Will Forte as an adult) comes across a stray talking dog (voiced by Frank Welker). The two instantly begin to bond, resulting in Shaggy adopting him and giving him the name Scooby-Doo. Soon afterward, the two end up finding even more friends when they meet Fred Jones (voiced by Pierce Gagnon as a kid and Zac Efron as an adult), Daphne Blake (voiced by Mckenna Grace as a kid and Amanda Seyfried as an adult), and Velma Dinkley (voiced by Ariana Greenblatt as a kid and Gina Rodriguez as an adult). Together, they decide to tackle mysteries as the Mystery Inc gang, which they proceed to do for the next several years. And yet, despite their success, Shaggy and Scooby soon start to feel that they are the least valuable members of the group given their generally lax and cowardly nature. However, the two then find themselves summoned by their favorite superhero, the Blue Falcon… or rather, the Blue Falcon’s son Brian (voiced by Mark Wahlberg) who has taken up his father’s mantle in the wake of his retirement. After also meeting the Blue Falcon’s companions, tech-savvy Dee Dee Sykes (voiced by Kiersey Clemons) and the robotic dog Dynomutt (voiced by Ken Jeong), Shaggy and Scooby learn that Scooby is being pursued by the notorious Dick Dastardly (voiced by Jason Isaacs). Specifically, Dastardly plans to use Scooby to open the gates to the Underworld (since Scooby is revealed to be a descendant of Alexander the Great’s canine companion Peritas), potentially unleashing the three-headed dog monster Cerberus upon the world. Thus, both the Mystery Inc gang and the crew of the Blue Falcon’s ship, the Falcon Fury, find themselves in a race against time to prevent Dastardly from unleashing the Apocalypse as Shaggy and Scooby look to prove themselves worthy of being properly seen as heroes.  

Scoob is very much your traditional Scooby-Doo adventure albeit with a larger focus on other characters from the world of Hanna-Barbera. As such, I should probably start by noting that while this is very much a Scooby-Doo film, it isn’t as centered on the Mystery Inc gang when compared to the other films and shows that make up its massive franchise. In fact, given the nature of the plot, Shaggy and Scooby end up separated from Fred, Daphne, and Velma for a good chunk of the runtime. At the very least, the film does still allow for each member of the gang to have their own standout moment in the story, and if there is a major upside to all this, it’s that I believe that this film serves as a great gateway for new audiences to be introduced to some of the lesser-known characters from the Hanna-Barbera universe. I mean, if Marvel could do it for the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, then Warner Bros and Hanna-Barbera can do it for the likes of the Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, and Captain Caveman (voiced by Tracy Morgan). And although the plot itself is rather basic (to the point where it somewhat rehashes the subplot of Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed where Shaggy and Scooby look to prove themselves as valuable members of the gang), it still delivers solid emotional depth through its excellent handling of Shaggy and Scooby’s relationship. Plus, the film also does a great job of maintaining the overall spirit of the franchise even as a modernized adaptation of it. So yes, there are quite a lot of modern references here and there to things like Netflix and Harry Potter, but the film is also full of Hanna-Barbera trademarks from the delightfully cheesy sound effects to an impressive recreation of Where Are You’s title sequence (not to mention all the fun Easter eggs). And it all comes together thanks to some solid animation that reminds me a lot of 2015’s The Peanuts Movie in how it excellently manages to maintain the Scooby-Doo franchise’s traditionally 2-D animated roots even though it is a computer-animated feature.

There has been a bit of controversy, however, surrounding this film’s voice cast. Instead of utilizing the current ensemble that has been voicing the Mystery Inc gang on TV and film, this film goes for an all-star cast, with the legendary Frank Welker being the only one of the core crew reprising any of his roles (in this instance, Scooby-Doo, who he’s voiced since 2002). As you may have guessed, this didn’t go over well with some of the franchise’s current voice cast, namely Matthew Lillard, who took over the role of Shaggy from Casey Kasem after playing the character in the live-action films, and Grey Delisle, the current voice actress for Daphne. And while I completely understand where they’re coming from, especially since they’ve stated that they weren’t informed of this change, the cast for this film does end up doing a solid job. To be clear, I’m not saying that this new cast should completely replace the current voice cast (not in the slightest) but at the very least, Will Forte, Zac Efron, Gina Rodriguez, and Amanda Seyfried manage to be natural fits in their respective roles. But like I just said, not everyone has been onboard with this decision and have often argued that the ‘celebrity’ voices should’ve been reserved for the supporting characters like Mark Wahlberg as the Blue Falcon. On that note, Wahlberg is certainly a fun standout of the cast and a lot of this is thanks to how the film handles Brian’s role in the story since it primarily revolves around his struggles to live up to the legacy of his father. Because of this, he often avoids partaking in any superhero action (but still takes all the credit at the end of the day) while the far more competent duo of Dee Dee and Dynomutt do all the work, resulting in plenty of the film’s best comedic moments. Finally, Jason Isaacs is clearly having a lot of fun as the utterly diabolical Dick Dastardly, but perhaps the most fascinating part of this whole film is how even someone as villainous as Dick gets to partake in some of its emotional beats when the reason behind his plan to open up the Underworld is revealed. I won’t reveal it here for obvious reasons, but if you’re familiar with the character, then I don’t even need to say anything more because I’m sure you know exactly what I’m referring to.

All in all, Scoob is a delightful new spin on one of the most classic animated franchises of all-time. It may not be the best thing that has ever come out of the Scooby-Doo franchise, but it still delivers on a lot of what longtime fans have come to expect from it. Yes, it’s very much a modernized take on the property, but at the same time, it still does just enough to pay homage to the classic style of Hanna-Barbera. And while I fully understand why this film has been a notable source of controversy due to its revamped voice cast, I also feel that this will only become a genuine problem if this cast ends up replacing the current cast from the shows, which I strongly doubt it will. In short, I’m well-aware that quite a few people most likely groaned at the prospect of this being another film that’s meant to kick-start a new cinematic universe a la Marvel since, to be perfectly blunt, most of the attempts to follow the MCU’s winning formula have been underwhelming, to say the least. However, this is one of those cases where a potential cinematic universe would be highly appropriate since crossovers between Hanna-Barbera properties were quite common back in the studio’s heyday. Just look at the time that the Jetsons met the Flintstones or when the Mystery Inc gang cameoed in an episode of Johnny Bravo. And as someone whose experience with Hanna-Barbera is admittedly limited to The Flintstones, The Jetsons, the various Cartoon Network shows from the ’90s like Johnny Bravo and Dexter’s Laboratory, and of course, Scooby-Doo, I’m all for a Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe. As such, I do hope that this film’s fate as a direct-to-streaming release won’t end up affecting its potential franchise’s chances in the long run. Believe me, if it wasn’t for this crazy pandemic that we’re currently in right now, this was very much a film that I was planning to see in theaters.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Scooby-Doo: A Televised and Cinematic Retrospective

Nicole Jaffe, Casey Kasem, Don Messick, Heather North, and Frank Welker in Scooby Doo, Where Are You! (1969)

Today’s retrospective is going to be a fun one, folks, because we’re about to delve into one of the most iconic franchises in pop culture history. It’s a franchise whose legacy is so strong that it has managed to endure for half a century and still shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Yes, folks, today we’re talking about the adventures of that lovable talking dog, Scooby-Doo. It all began in 1969 when writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears developed the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! series for Hanna-Barbera, officially introducing audiences to the Mystery Inc. gang; Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and their talking dog, Scooby-Doo. Since then, this original incarnation of the show has gone on to produce numerous follow-up series that have taken the franchise in unique new directions and several films. While most of these films have gone direct-to-video, a few of them did see a theatrical release, and this weekend sees the video-on-demand release (which was originally meant to be a theatrical one until the Coronavirus pandemic stepped in) of the newest Scooby-Doo film, simply titled Scoob. And in honor of its release, today we’re looking back at some of the Scooby-Doo films that have come out over the years, and I do mean some since… well, there’s like forty of them and I’d be here all day if I discussed them all. With that in mind, I decided to primarily focus on six films; four of them animated and two of them live-action. When it comes to the animated Scooby-Doo films, there are four films that I feel are the ones that my generation is the most familiar with, so those will be the ones that I’ll be focusing on even though there were a few from the early 2000s that I remember watching when I was younger. But, of course, Scoob isn’t the character’s first foray into theatrically-released films (you know, back when it was meant to be theatrical), so I’ll also be covering the two live-action Scooby-Doo films that came out in the early 2000s. And so, with all that in mind, it’s time to split up and search for clues (and don’t forget about the Scooby snacks) as we look at some of the most notable feature-length films that star the one and only Scooby-Doo.

But first, let’s delve a little into the history behind this franchise’s run on the small screen…

PART 1 – A History of Scooby-Doo TV Shows

Scooby Doo, Where Are You! (1969)
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-1970)
It all began, of course, with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You, which premiered on CBS on September 13th, 1969 as part of the network’s Saturday morning lineup. The show was primarily created to counter growing protests from parent-run advocacy groups over the increasing amount of violence seen in Saturday-morning cartoons. And as it turns out, Hanna-Barbera was responsible for a lot of the shows that these groups were against, including Space Ghost and The Herculoids, which had all been canceled that same year because of all this. To both appease the watch groups and to revitalize the network’s Saturday-morning lineup, CBS’s daytime programming executive at the time, Fred Silverman, approached William Hanna and Joseph Barbera to develop a show that was like the network’s hit series, The Archie Show. Since that show was about the characters of the famous Archie comic series performing in a band, Silverman tasked the duo with creating a show about a teenage rock band who solved mysteries between gigs. Hanna and Barbera then proceeded to put two of their writers, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, and artist Iwao Takamoto in charge of the project, and while the idea of the main characters being in a rock band was ultimately scrapped after a while, it would eventually result in the show that we know and love today. And so, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You was born, introducing audiences to the teenaged mystery-solving gang known as Mystery Inc, consisting of their confident leader Fred Jones, fashion-lover Daphne Blake, bespectacled genius Velma Dinkley, cowardly slacker Shaggy Rogers, and their talking Great Dane, Scooby-Doo.

The original show promptly established the series’ long-running formula. Each episode revolved around the Mystery Inc gang as they travel to a location that’s currently dealing with a supernatural monster. Once they agree to investigate, the gang splits up to search for clues. Fred and Velma head off to find clues, Daphne usually ends up kidnapped, and Shaggy and Scooby search for food before they inadvertently come across the monster. After coming across enough clues to deduce that the monster isn’t real, Fred comes up with an elaborate trap to catch it. And while the trap usually goes awry due to cartoon hi-jinx, the monster is ultimately captured and is promptly unmasked to reveal the culprit, who is usually someone that the gang had met earlier. The culprit then proceeds to boast that they “would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids and their dog” before being taken to jail. The show proved to be a massive hit for both CBS and Hanna-Barbera, and after a 17-episode first season, it was renewed for a second season that premiered on September 12th, 1970 and consisted of 8 episodes. This second season incorporated more slapstick humor into the show and upbeat ‘chase scene’ songs that were reminiscent of those featured in The Archie Show. It was also notable for being the season where Heather North officially took over the role of Daphne from Stefanianna Christopherson. And while there would technically be a third season of the show (more on that later), Scooby-Doo, Where Are You officially ended its original run on October 31st, 1970 after 25 episodes.

Don Adams in The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972)
The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972-1973)
Two years later, the show was reborn as The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which premiered on September 9th, 1972. While it thoroughly maintained the premise of its predecessor, it was also expanded from half-hour episodes to hour-long episodes (hence the ‘Movies’ subtitle) and each episode featured a notable guest star who helped the gang solve mysteries. Some of the series’ most notable guests included Don Knotts, Dick Van Dyke, and while technically voiced by other actors, the Three Stooges. This version of the show lasted two seasons and ran for 24 episodes, with its last episode airing on October 27th, 1973. After that, reruns of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You were shown until 1976 when the franchise’s run on CBS had finally come to an end. It proceeded to move to ABC around the same time that Fred Silverman moved to the network and started its run there by packaging new episodes of the show with another Hanna-Barbera show, Dynomutt, Dog Wonder, to create the Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour. First debuting on September 11th, 1976, the Scooby-Doo segments came from the series’ third incarnation, The Scooby-Doo Show, although this title technically wouldn’t be used until 1980 when the episodes hit syndication. This series introduced a new character in Scooby’s dim-witted cousin Scooby-Dum… who only appeared in this series (that should give you an idea of how the character was received). 16 episodes of this crossover were produced, concluding on December 18th, 1976, but The Scooby-Doo Show would live on in subsequent programming blocks. 8 new episodes were made for a block titled Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics, which ran from September 10th, 1977 to October 28th, 1978 and consisted of it, Dynomutt (now known as The Blue Falcon and Dynomutt), Laff-A-Lympics, Captain Cavemen and the Teen Angels, and Where Are You re-runs.

The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour (1976)
The Scooby-Doo Show (1976-1978)
The second run of this block was retitled Scooby’s All-Stars and it ran from September 9th, 1978 to October 28th of that same year. Whereas Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics was a two-hour block, Scooby’s All-Stars was condensed down to an hour and a half one with the removal of The Blue Falcon and Dynomutt and the re-runs of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You. With that said, though, 9 of the 16 The Scooby-Doo Show episodes that were produced that year were designated as Where Are You episodes. And while the following 7 episodes were run under the Scooby’s All-Stars moniker, all 16 episodes were officially repurposed under the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You name when they were released on DVD in 2007. Yes, folks, this is where the mythical third season of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You that I mentioned earlier comes into play. As such, the original series that started it all officially concluded on December 23rd, 1978 on ABC with a total of 41 episodes over 3 seasons. At this time, however, the series was beginning to face a serious dilemma as Hanna-Barbera had begun to feel that its formula had officially run its course. This was especially evident in the 1979 primetime special Scooby-Doo Goes Hollywood, which was a parody of said formula in which Shaggy and Scooby attempt to move on to other shows when the former gets tired of their same old routine. Meanwhile, in the real world, ABC had begun looking into the show’s potential cancellation due to declining ratings. It also didn’t help that the show’s original backer, Fred Silverman, was now working for NBC. Thus, the show was massively retooled for the 1979-80 season, namely by introducing a brand-new character in Scooby-Doo’s nephew, Scrappy-Doo, and renaming the show Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo.

Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo (1979)
Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo (1979-1980 (Half-Hour Incarnation))
Through this new show, the focus shifted from the original Mystery Inc. gang to the trio of Scooby, Scrappy, and Shaggy. Fred, Daphne, and Velma, meanwhile, were reduced to minor supporting roles. Nowadays, Scrappy is generally considered to be one of the most reviled characters to come out of the franchise due to many finding him to be a massively annoying sidekick; not even Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, the franchise’s creators, were fans of him. But back in 1979, this new addition was exactly what the show needed to stay on the air. The first incarnation of this version of the show ran for one season, debuting on September 22nd, 1979 and concluding on January 5th, 1980 after 16 episodes. It was then followed by a different version of Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo, which ran for 33 episodes for 3 seasons, beginning on November 8th, 1980 and concluding on December 18th, 1982. Instead of traditional 30-minute episodes, this new version of the show consisted of three 7-minute shorts per episode. These episodes removed Fred, Daphne, and Velma entirely and deviated from the franchise’s formula by having the monsters that the trio come across be actual monsters instead of costumed criminals. The first 20 episodes were packaged with another Hanna-Barbera show, Richie Rich, to form The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Show. As for the final 13 episodes, they were packaged with The Puppy’s New Adventures in The Scooby and Scrappy-Doo/Puppy Hour. And to close out this ‘trilogy’ of shows featuring Scrappy-Doo, there was The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show, which debuted on September 10th, 1983. It was later renamed The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries in 1984 and ended on December 1st after 2 seasons and 26 episodes. Through this show, the series returned to the traditional half-hour long format and notably brought back Daphne to the main ensemble while Fred and Velma returned for some episodes in Season 2.

The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (1985)
The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (1985)
The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show was also notably the first entry of the series to be primarily developed by writer Tom Ruegger, who would later go on to create other classic shows such as Tiny Toon Adventures and the seminal staple that is Animaniacs. He would also oversee the development of the next installment of the franchise, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, which debuted on September 7th, 1985. In this show, Scooby and Shaggy accidentally open an ancient chest that unleashes the 13 most terrifying ghosts in the world, resulting in them, Scrappy, and Daphne having to travel the world to recapture them. Along the way, they are joined by a con artist named Flim Flam and his warlock friend Vincent Van Ghoul who, as the name suggests, was voiced by the legendary Vincent Price. Despite all this, the show only lasted a single season that, ironically, consisted of 13 episodes and concluded on December 7th of that year. Because of this, however, the show ended before the gang had captured the final ghost. Thus, this whole storyline was left unfinished until 2019 when, in an arguably unexpected turn of events, the direct-to-video feature Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost was released to give this iteration of the franchise its proper conclusion. The film also featured Fred and Velma, who were both absent in the original series. As for the show itself, it ended up being the last main entry of the series to feature Scrappy-Doo, who would then go on to make some appearances in three of the franchise’s made-for-television features (Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers (1987), Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School, and Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf (both in 1988)). He ultimately wouldn’t return to the franchise until the 2002 live-action film, where he was turned into the main antagonist to poke fun at the character’s controversial reputation.

A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (1988)
A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (1988-1991)
While 13 Ghosts may have been a bit of a dud for the franchise, Tom Ruegger ended up having much more success with the next installment of the series, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, which debuted on September 10th, 1988. Ruegger would end up leaving the show after its first season, however, which resulted in directorial duties going to Don Lusk, a veteran animator who notably worked for Disney on some of their earliest features such as Pinocchio and Bambi. As for this new show, the title says it all as it focuses on the members of the Mystery Inc gang when they were kids. The show was meant to return the franchise to its roots by revitalizing the classic formula of the gang investigating mysteries that involved criminals dressed up as monsters. But if there was one notable difference compared to previous incarnations of the show, it’s that this show was done in a much more comedic manner that was reminiscent of the classic cartoons made by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett. This style of humor was what Ruegger had wanted to do with The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo but wasn’t quite able to accomplish with that show. Suffice it to say, it worked a lot better the second time around as A Pup Named Scooby-Doo proved to be a solid hit. While its episode count may seem lackluster compared to other incarnations of the show with only 27 episodes produced during its run, it did last for 4 seasons before it concluded on August 17th, 1991. On a more somber note, this was the last instance where Scooby-Doo was voiced by his original voice actor, Don Messick, before his passing in 1997. After this show, the character was voiced by Hadley Kay for a pair of Johnny Bravo crossover episodes in 1997 before Scott Innes took over the role for the first few direct-to-video features of the era.

Frank Welker in What's New, Scooby-Doo? (2002)
What's New, Scooby-Doo? (2002-2006)
Surprisingly, though, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo was the last major Scooby-Doo series for more than a decade. For the next few years, the franchise transitioned into direct-to-video features that primarily came into play thanks to its various shows benefitting greatly from syndication and re-runs. The last of these initial films, 2001’s Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase, was the last Hanna-Barbera production that both William Hanna and Joseph Barbera produced before the former’s death on March 22nd, 2001. After that, the studio was fully absorbed into the Warner Bros. Animation department, who proceeded to take control of the development of new Scooby-Doo shows. Thus, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo was the last installment of the franchise to primarily air on ABC as the next two shows premiered on the Kids’ WB block. The first of these was What’s New, Scooby-Doo, which debuted on September 14th, 2002, exactly three months after the release of the first live-action Scooby-Doo film. What’s New, Scooby-Doo promptly revived the franchise’s original format from Where Are You but made appropriate updates to reflect its modern setting. It was the first series where veteran voice actor Frank Welker officially took on the role of Scooby-Doo, having already been the voice of Fred since the original Where Are You series. It was also the first time since 1997 that Shaggy’s original voice actor, Casey Kasem, returned to voice the character after the production crew agreed to honor his request to make Shaggy a vegetarian just like him. At the same time, though, this would also end up being the last series where he voiced the character before his death in 2014, although he did reprise the role for the franchise’s various direct-to-video features and would then make a few cameo appearances in subsequent shows before he retired from voice acting in 2009. The show ran for 42 episodes for three seasons, and while its initial run on Kids’ WB abruptly ended in 2005, its final episode, ‘E-Scream’, aired on Cartoon Network on July 21st, 2006.

Scott Menville and Frank Welker in Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (2006)
Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (2006-2008)
Two months later, the next iteration of the series made its debut on Kids’ WB (which, at this point, was now part of the network’s rebranding from The WB to The CW) on September 23rd, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue. The show saw the characters undergo a notable redesign (the second major instance of this in the franchise’s history after A Pup Named Scooby-Doo) that was heavily based on their live-action counterparts from the recent films. And while Casey Kasem was still involved with the franchise as the voice of Shaggy’s uncle, Shaggy himself was voiced by Scott Menville, best known for his role as Robin on Teen Titans. This may explain why this new show did away with the character’s vegetarian update from What’s New, Scooby-Doo. In the show, Shaggy ends up inheriting the fortune of his uncle, Dr. Albert Shaggleford, after he mysteriously disappears. This then leads to him and Scooby discovering that his uncle was an inventor and them having to deal with his uncle’s greatest adversary, mad scientist Dr. Phineas Phibes, who seeks to steal Shaggleford’s latest invention, nano-tech. Like the Scooby and Scrappy-Doo shows, this series focused more on Shaggy and Scooby while Fred, Daphne, and Velma were reduced to cameo appearances. Thus, the two were instead accompanied by Robi, a robotic butler that was built by Shaggy’s uncle. Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue ran for 2 seasons, officially concluding on March 15th, 2008. A few months later, the Kids’ WB block was officially discontinued on May 17th. Thus, the next few Scooby-Doo shows made their debut on Cartoon Network, which had been airing re-runs of the franchise since the ’90s.

Matthew Lillard, Mindy Cohn, Grey Griffin, and Frank Welker in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated (2010)
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated (2010-2013)
The first of these new shows was Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated, which premiered on April 5th, 2010, and after Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue admittedly fared poorly with fans of the franchise, this new show went back to the traditional premise of the Mystery Inc. gang solving mysteries. However, to keep things fresh, Mystery Incorporated went for a tongue-in-cheek approach that parodied both the franchise itself and classic horror films. It was also the first Scooby-Doo series to utilize a serial-based story arc and was generally more serious in tone compared to other incarnations of the franchise. For this show, the role of Shaggy was taken over by Matthew Lillard who, of course, played the character in the first two live-action films. The show even featured Linda Cardellini, who played Velma in the live-action films, in a supporting role as Velma’s rival Marcie Fleach AKA Hot Dog Water. The show ran for 2 seasons consisting of 52 episodes and concluded exactly three years after it premiered on April 5th, 2013. It was then followed by Be Cool, Scooby-Doo, which premiered on October 5th, 2015. It was the third entry of the series to attempt a new art style, which many have often compared to the long-running animated sitcom Family Guy, and it went for a more comedic tone compared to its immediate predecessor. It was the first series where Velma was voiced by Garfunkel and Oates’ Kate Micucci, who took over the role from Mindy Cohn, who had been voicing the character since What’s New, Scooby-Doo. However, the show had a rather interesting release schedule. While the first 20 episodes aired on Cartoon Network, the remaining 6 episodes of the first season aired on Boomerang. After that, the show moved to Boomerang for its second season; however, only its final 11 episodes aired on TV while the first 15 were released via Boomerang’s on-demand service. The show officially concluded on March 18th, 2018 after 52 episodes.

Matthew Lillard and Frank Welker in Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! (2015)
Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! (2015-2018)
This brings us to the most recent incarnation of the franchise, Scooby-Doo and Guess Who. It first premiered on Boomerang’s streaming service app on June 27th, 2019, although it would also be shown on Cartoon Network on July 9th. The show follows the same format as The New Scooby-Doo Movies by having the Mystery Inc gang join forces with a special celebrity guest star to solve mysteries. At the time of this post’s publication, some of its most notable guests have included Weird Al Yankovic, Penn and Teller, and even a few fictional characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Steve Urkel from the classic 90’s sitcom Family Matters. Unlike its spiritual predecessor, however, this show’s episodes are only a half-hour long instead of a full hour. The first season of 13 episodes concluded on September 19th, 2019, and a second season of 13 episodes has been confirmed for a currently undetermined release date, although the first of these new episodes (which guest-starred Whoopi Goldberg) did premiere on September 24th via Boomerang’s Italian network. And so, ladies and gentlemen, that concludes this little retrospective covering the Scooby-Doo franchise’s extensive run on television. Since 1969, there have been 13 major animated series based around the Mystery Inc gang. And while these beloved characters have undergone quite a few changes over the decades in the franchise’s efforts to freshen up its formula, whether by showing them as kids or by introducing new characters to the cast, the core elements of the franchise have always been consistent throughout. Because of this, it is quite arguably one of the greatest examples of a franchise that can successfully appeal to any generation; there aren’t many franchises out there who can lay claim to the prospect of maintaining a relevant role in the pop-cultural zeitgeist like Scooby-Doo has.

Matthew Lillard, Grey Griffin, Penn Jillette, Fred Tatasciore, Teller, Frank Welker, and Kate Micucci in The Cursed Cabinet of Professor Madds Markson! (2019)
Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? (2019-present)
PART 2 – Scooby-Doo Animated Features

Like I said in the intro, I won’t be able to cover every single animated feature that has come from the Scooby-Doo franchise simply because it would take too long to go through them all. And while there were a few that I watched when I was younger thanks to them repeatedly airing on Cartoon Network, like 2003’s Scooby-Doo and the Legend of the Vampire and 2004’s Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster, I decided to limit it to the four that are arguably the most well-known of the 33 direct-to-video films that have been made since 1998.


Mary Kay Bergman, Scott Innes, B.J. Ward, Frank Welker, and Billy West in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998)

We start things off, of course, with what is arguably the most popular installment of the Scooby-Doo films, 1998’s Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, in which the gang heads to a mysterious island on the bayou that’s haunted by the ghost of an old pirate and his zombified crew. Thanks to the franchise’s resurgence in the 90’s thanks to syndicated re-runs, this became the first in a long line of direct-to-video feature-length Scooby-Doo films that still runs to this very day. Like I said, this film was that big of a hit for the franchise, and while I’ll admit that my recent viewing of it was the first time that I ever watched it in full, I can clearly see why it has always been so fondly remembered. For one thing, the film boasts some excellent animation, which I know is saying something considering how Hanna-Barbera productions have always been rather infamous for some of their cost-cutting techniques (e.g. reused backgrounds, limited animation, etc.). By comparison, Zombie Island’s animation was outsourced to a Japanese studio, Mook Animation, and the crew was given more time than usual to work on it, resulting in some incredibly atmospheric animation that perfectly matches the film’s bayou setting. And thanks to how it sets up a new standard for the franchise by having a darker storyline where the monsters weren’t just costumed criminals, Zombie Island ends up being one of the best-written installments of the franchise. Plus, while the film did get quite a bit of flak at the time for being too scary for younger audiences, nowadays I’d argue that it’s quite tame despite its premise. Because of all this, I’d argue that Zombie Island is the franchise equivalent of the Batman franchise’s 1993 cult classic, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. In other words, Zombie Island is so well-made that it could’ve easily been upgraded to a full-on theatrical release, and even if it ended up being a commercial dud like Mask of the Phantasm admittedly was when it was first released, I bet that it probably would’ve spawned the same kind of dedicated cult following. And yet, Zombie Island clearly didn’t need a theatrical release to become a bona fide cult classic.

Rating: 4.5/5

Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island (2019)

(It’s also worth noting that this film ended up getting a sequel in 2019, Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island. However, to keep this retrospective from going on too long, we won’t be looking at it today… plus, based on what I’ve read, this one isn’t exactly popular amongst fans of the original for various reasons that range from a controversial retcon to a considerable tonal shift).


Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost (1999)

Thanks to the success of Zombie Island, a second direct-to-video feature was put into production to come out the following year, Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost. However, whereas the filmmakers were able to work on Zombie Island without any direct influence from the studio, it wasn’t the same case with Witch’s Ghost, namely through the hiring of different writers whose original ending saw the titular ‘Witch’s Ghost’ revealed to be a fake. And yet, despite both this and the decision to tone things down after the darker proceedings of Zombie Island, the core crew was able to work around this by having a real ghost at the end so that they could maintain the ‘realistic monsters’ approach of its predecessor. With all this in mind, Witch’s Ghost is another solid installment in the series and once again features some excellent animation. It may not necessarily be as well-polished or atmospheric as its immediate predecessor, but as a native New Englander, I do appreciate how the film perfectly captures the beauty of the region in the fall. This one also has some fun supporting players headlined by Tim Curry as a popular horror novelist who asks the Mystery Inc gang to accompany him to his hometown in Massachusetts, which is supposedly haunted by the ghost of his Wiccan ancestor. The film is also notable for the introduction of the Hex Girls, an eco-Goth band who would end up becoming major fan-favorites and recurring characters in the franchise with appearances in some future direct-to-video features and shows like What’s New Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated. And so, despite the setback of the original crew having to deal with new writers that weren’t as familiar with their methods, Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost is another delightfully dark and entertaining adventure with the gang. While it may not be ‘as good’ as its immediate predecessor, this one does just enough to maintain its more mature and atmospheric style.    

Rating: 4/5


Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders (2000)

The title for this one says it all as the Mystery Inc gang comes across a bunch of aliens while they’re stranded in New Mexico. And luckily for the crew that had been responsible for these initial direct-to-video features, the production of Alien Invaders was a lot more like Zombie Island rather than Witch’s Ghost in that they were able to work on it without any major demands from the studio. However, it is worth noting that, of the direct-to-video features we’ve discussed so far, Alien Invaders is perhaps the most light-hearted of the bunch. While the titular aliens are excellently designed and the film still does a decent job of maintaining the solid animation style of its predecessors, its overall proceedings feel much more in line with the traditional atmosphere of the franchise’s past incarnations. It’s also easily the most straight-forward of the bunch in terms of its script and doesn’t pull any major punches except for one major reveal near the end regarding two of its new characters. Overall, though, that doesn’t stop the film from being another entertaining adventure with the Mystery Inc gang since I do feel that its lighter and arguably more comedic tone matches the typical campy nature of classic sci-fi B-films. The film even sees Shaggy and Scooby get to have their own love interests when they meet a photographer named Crystal and her dog Amber. Granted, the two of them do turn out to be aliens at the end, but it’s rather nice to see Shaggy and Scooby get to partake in a romantic subplot since that’s not the kind of storyline that they usually get involved in when it comes to this franchise. And so, Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders ends up being quite a lot of fun. While those who prefer the truly atmospheric and haunting style of Zombie Island might be disappointed by how this film ends up going back to the traditional antics of a typical Scooby-Doo mystery, I’d argue that there’s nothing wrong with that classic Scooby-Doo vibe.

Rating: 4/5


Grey Griffin, Scott Innes, Gary Anthony Sturgis, B.J. Ward, and Frank Welker in Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase (2001)

I can safely say that the last of the direct-to-video Scooby-Doo features that we’ll be looking at today, Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase, is the one that I’ve watched the most out of these four. Simply put, the fact that this film revolved around the Mystery Inc gang getting transported into a video game instantly made it appealing to me when I was younger since I’m just as passionate about video games as I am with films. However, I should note that, for the crew that had been working on these direct-to-video features, this was, unfortunately, another case like Witch’s Ghost where they were severely hindered by studio interference. Just like that film, they had to deal with the studio bringing in a new writer who had no experience with the franchise and delivered a script that the crew was vastly underwhelmed by. And because of this, Cyber Chase was ultimately the final entry of the series that the core crew behind Zombie Island was personally responsible for; with that in mind, I can see why some may consider this to be the weakest of the first four direct-to-video features. Not only is the main villain, the Phantom Virus, an incredibly passive antagonist, but the plot itself is even more basic in its execution than Alien Invaders. This one also happens to have the weakest animation out of these four films. While I wouldn’t call it ‘terrible’, I also wouldn’t be surprised if some people thought that this was just an extended episode of What’s New, Scooby-Doo (ironically, though, this is the only entry of the four that’s been given a Blu-Ray release). At the very least, there are a few worthwhile moments here and there, especially towards the end when the gang meets up with their digital doppelgangers since the game that they’re in is based on their adventures. And so, because of this, I still find this to be an entertaining outing despite its various shortcomings. We may be far removed from the quality of Zombie Island at this point, but for those like me who grew up with this one, I’d say that it’s still a decent watch even if it isn’t quite as good as its predecessors.

Rating: 3/5

PART 3- Scooby-Doo Live-Action Films

Matthew Lillard and Neil Fanning in Scooby-Doo (2002)

Once again, I want to preface this next section of the retrospective by noting that I’ll only be covering the first two live-action Scooby-Doo films since they were the ones that were released in theaters (that and they’re the only ones of these that I’ve seen) while the others were direct-to-video releases. In 2009, there was a prequel, Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins, which was then followed by a sequel in 2010, Scooby-Doo: Curse of the Lake Monster. There was also a spin-off that was released in 2018, Daphne and Velma, which focused solely on the titular duo.


Matthew Lillard, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Linda Cardellini, and Freddie Prinze Jr. in Scooby-Doo (2002)

After being in the works since the mid-’90s, a live-action Scooby-Doo film finally came to fruition in the early 2000s under the direction of Raja Gosnell, a long-time editor in the industry who has worked on everything from the Home Alone films (he would end up directing the Macaulay Culkin-less third installment in 1997) to Mrs. Doubtfire. But perhaps the most interesting member of the film’s crew is one of its writers, James Gunn. Yes, more than a decade before he became known as the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Scooby-Doo served as one of Gunn’s first major outings as a screenwriter. Originally, the plan was to have the film be a dark parody of the franchise that would be based around many of the classic fan theories about the original show, such as Shaggy being a stoner and Velma being a closeted lesbian. In other words, this version of the film would’ve very much been in line with the kind of projects that Gunn would become known for. And yet, while Gunn has since gone on to state that an R-rated cut of the film does exist, it was ultimately toned down to a more family-friendly PG rating. That said, though, several of the intended adult jokes can still be found in the film, resulting in a fascinating hybrid that, while technically geared towards kids, still wants to have something there for the adults (e.g. Shaggy finds a new love interest (Isla Fisher), whose name is Mary Jane. His response? “Like, that is my favorite name!”). However, this didn’t stop the film from garnering a mixed-to-negative reaction from both critics and fans of the franchise; thus, nowadays many tend to view it as one of the prime examples of a lackluster live-action adaptation of a popular animated franchise along with the likes of Alvin and the Chipmunks and Yogi Bear. And yet, while I fully recognize that this may just be my nostalgia talking since I watched this one quite a lot when I was growing up, I’d argue that there are some genuinely good things in this film and a lot of it has to do with the main cast. Say what you will about the rest of the film, but I think most would agree that the casting of the Mystery Inc gang was quite perfect.

While the 2003 Looney Tunes film Back in Action poked fun at his performance by having his animated counterpart accuse him of making him sound “like a total space cadet”, Matthew Lillard nails the role of Shaggy to the point where, as noted earlier, it led to him officially taking on the role from Casey Kasem after his retirement. Meanwhile, Linda Cardellini is an equally pitch-perfect choice for Velma as is Freddie Prinze Jr. as Fred. And when it comes to casting Daphne, who gets a great character update here where she evolves from being more than just the damsel in distress, you honestly can’t go wrong with Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. Pair this with some solidly funny lines here and there and some delightfully quirky production design and you have a film that I’m not afraid to admit that I still enjoy even after all this time. Now don’t get me wrong, this is far from being a flawless flick. Is it incredibly cheesy in that early 2000’s family film kind of way? Yeah. Is it rather confused as to what kind of film it wants to be, potentially alienating both sides of its target audience in the process? Yeah, especially since it strays heavily from the franchise’s well-established formula by opening with the gang splitting up a la Zombie Island. And unlike that film, where the gang disbanded on completely amicable terms, this film’s split ends up being far more bitter by comparison. Ultimately, though, while I do understand why this film doesn’t exactly have the best reputation amongst longtime fans of the franchise, it still manages to be a lot of fun. All in all, it’s a perfectly undemanding popcorn flick that, thanks to its reasonably short run-time, never ends up overstaying its welcome. And as far as being one of those infamous live-action adaptations of a popular cartoon, I’d argue that it’s far from being one of the worst to come from that genre.   

Rating: 4/5


Matthew Lillard, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Linda Cardellini, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Neil Fanning in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004)

While the first live-action Scooby-Doo film wasn’t exactly a critical darling, it was still a sizable hit at the box-office, grossing over $275 million worldwide. Thus, a sequel was promptly put into production, reteaming the main leads with director Raja Gosnell and writer James Gunn. And instead of a plot that was fully intent on satirizing the franchise, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed features a far more traditional Scooby-Doo plot as the gang deals with a mysterious masked figure who’s been bringing all the monsters that they’ve caught in the past to life. It’s also worth noting that this sequel does away with a lot of the adult jokes that were left over from its predecessor’s R-rated origins, resulting in a more generally light-hearted adventure. However, this also means that a lot of the lowbrow humor that was in the first film is even more common here. And yet, this is another case where I’m fine with that, for the most part, because the film ends up being just as fun as its predecessor. Just like before, a lot of this has to do with the lead quartet of Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, and Linda Cardellini continuing to prove why they were perfectly cast in their respective roles. And because this one doesn’t revolve around the gang splitting up, their overall dynamic is even better than it was in the first film. Plus, the film also has a genuinely heartwarming subplot in which Shaggy and Scooby try to prove that they’re more than just a pair of screw-ups. And so, while I once again want to make it clear that this is by no means a ‘masterpiece’, Scooby-Doo 2 is just as much of a fun and easygoing popcorn flick as its predecessor. Those who were turned off by the first film’s major deviations from the franchise’s formula may find this one to be more enjoyable as a classic Scooby-Doo adventure thanks to its ‘back to basics’ approach. And really, one of the reasons why I can’t bring myself to rag on these films too much is because, in a lot of ways, they were largely responsible for making me a fan of the Scooby-Doo franchise and these characters.   

Rating: 4/5

And that concludes this big retrospective on the Scooby-Doo franchise when it comes to its extensive history on television and a selection of its most notable cinematic outings. As always, thanks for following along and be sure to sound off in the comments below with your own personal experiences with this historic franchise. And yes, you can expect a review of the franchise’s newest cinematic adventure, Scoob, sometime soon.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Cats (2019) review

Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Rebel Wilson, Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward in Cats (2019)

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you, folks… I’m about to review what has easily been the most infamous film of 2019, the film adaptation of the long-running musical, Cats. The musical made its London debut in 1981, five years before composer Andrew Lloyd Webber unleashed his biggest smash hit on the world, The Phantom of the Opera, and was inspired by the 1939 collection of poems titled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats written by T.S. Eliot. A year later, it would make its Broadway debut, and both versions of the show ended up being massive financial hits. To date, Cats is the fourth highest-grossing musical of all-time with a worldwide gross of over $2.8 billion, and it is widely regarded as the first ‘mega-musical’ AKA the theater equivalent of a cinematic blockbuster. Over the years, however, the overall reception towards the show has varied due to its many bizarre aspects, and sure enough, this mindset carried over to the announcement that a film adaptation was in the works as practically every major aspect of its production became a prime source of internet mockery. Sure, it was set to be directed by Tom Hooper, who had previously directed 2010’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech and the 2012 adaptation of another legendary musical, Les Misérables, but the overall mixed reception towards the latter and the growing criticism of Hooper’s directorial trademarks didn’t help. And once the first trailer for the film was released, the internet recoiled at the sight of the bizarre project that was set to hit theaters which, when it ultimately did, was widely panned by critics and immediately regarded as one of the most disastrous films in recent memory. Thus, today we’ll be going over all the reasons why Cats is the utterly fascinating mess that it ends up being.

One night, a young white kitten named Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is abandoned by her owner on the streets of London. Immediately, she is approached by a group of alley cats who refer to themselves as ‘Jellicle’ cats. Through them, Victoria learns that tonight happens to be the biggest night of the year for the Jellicles, the Jellicle Ball. Every year, the Jellicles’ wise leader, Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), selects one member of their tribe who will ascend to the mythical place known as the Heaviside Layer and be reborn. And so, Victoria and the rest of the Jellicles begin to witness some of the most prominent members of the tribe compete for this honor, which includes everyone from the bourgeois Bustopher Jones (James Corden) to the elderly theater performer Gus (Ian McKellen). At the same time, however, the Jellicles must also deal with the actions of the sinister Macavity (Idris Elba), who will stop at nothing to ensure that he’s the one who gets chosen. And really, folks… that’s about it for the plot. As I’m sure those in the theater community will agree, Cats sports the very definition of a bare-bones plot that’s basically just a series of vignettes in which new characters are introduced and they have their big solo numbers. And while I can’t say much about how this translates to the stage since I’ve admittedly haven’t seen Cats in its original musical form, I have the feeling that it works a lot better there than it does on film. Here, that kind of plot makes the whole thing quite repetitive and it also doesn’t help that the film speeds through the story at a surprisingly rapid pace, which means that there’s never a point where it slows down to let us properly fathom any of its utterly bizarre moments.

But, of course, the one thing that will forever define this film’s reputation is how it brings the story’s feline characters to life. Ever since its debut, the musical has always relied on elaborate costuming and makeup to accomplish this. But as for the film, it opted to go the CGI route and utilize motion-capture to turn its cast into cats. And as you might have guessed, this was the main reason why the film’s initial trailer ended up becoming so notorious as many felt that its CGI designs were one of the most blatant examples of imagery that falls into the uncanny valley. And while I personally never found these designs ‘scary’ like the rest of the internet regards them as (in a year which also saw that same description apply to the sight of Will Smith’s Genie in his traditional blue form and the initial cinematic design of Sonic the Hedgehog), even I can agree that this wasn’t the right way to go when it came to bringing Cats to the big screen. Simply put, practically all the big stars in the film get some incredibly unflattering CGI makeovers. And despite all the behind-the-scenes videos that emphasized how the production utilized some genuinely impressive larger-than-life sets, this is a very CGI-dominated film in general, which means that the weaker effects don’t just apply to the characters. However, given the various reports that came out after the film’s release, this is ultimately something that you can’t really fault the VFX artists for since it’s now been well-established that this film was beyond rushed and they had an incredibly tense relationship with director Tom Hooper. In fact, it was so rushed that the studio had to send out a new version of the film to theaters (during its opening weekend, no less) to fix some glaring visual effects errors, namely the appearance of Judi Dench’s wedding ring on her hand in certain shots. However, from what I’ve read (and based off the version of the film that I watched on VUDU), this ‘updated’ cut didn’t make any noticeable changes, which means that, yes, you can still see Judi Dench’s wedding ring on numerous occasions.

And yet, arguably the most ironic aspect of this film is that, despite all its visual shortcomings and its strict adherence to maintaining the overall weirdness of its source material, much of its star-studded cast is still fully committed to the bizarre antics that they end up partaking in. Going back to this film’s behind-the-scenes videos for a second, the overall vibe that you get from the cast in their various testimonials is that they genuinely wanted to be there, and as crazy as it may sound, this enthusiasm can be seen in a lot of their performances. Legends like Judi Dench and Ian McKellen give it their all and while she may have arguably been a bit young for the role of the withered glamour cat Grizabella, Jennifer Hudson still gives the musical’s most iconic number, ‘Memory’, the emotional powerhouse of a performance it deserves. In fact, Dench’s casting as a gender-swapped Old Deuteronomy is quite significant since she was originally cast as Grizabella in the original London production of the musical but had to drop out at the last minute when she tore her Achilles tendon during rehearsals. But remember what I said earlier about how this is basically just a series of vignettes that jump from character to character? Well, because of that, most of the characters in this film are basically relegated to minor cameos which, in this instance, ends up applying to the most prominent members of the ensemble such as McKellen, James Corden, and Taylor Swift as the flirtatious Bombalurina, just to name a few. Instead, the film tends to focus more on the story’s supporting players, namely the trio of Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild), Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), and Victoria, whose traditionally silent role in the musical is expanded upon to make her the main protagonist. However, the methods in which the film handles this change are rather mediocre and, at best, she just ends up being a generally passive audience surrogate. Thus, while I’m well aware that many have harped on Francesca Hayward’s performance in the role, this is ultimately another case like the VFX artists where you can’t really blame it on her since, to be perfectly frank, she didn’t have much to work with here.

So, yeah… as you might have guessed, there’s not a lot of positive things that I can say about this film. Now, granted, I’m not as repulsed by this film as the rest of the internet is, but it goes without saying that Cats is one of the strangest films to come out in recent years. Of course, a lot of this has to do with its questionable method of bringing the titular cats to life via CGI, especially since it’s now been made clear that the rushed production schedule that this film ended up having resulted in its effects feeling quite unfinished. At the same time, though, there’s also the matter of how this film ended up taking the musical that it's based on and doing almost nothing to try and work around its most bizarre aspects. Because of this, anybody who isn’t familiar with the musical going in will most likely be left completely and utterly dumbfounded by its strange and simplistic story. And yet, while this may seem like a case where it’d be more accessible to those who are fans of the musical, it seems like even that’s impossible (based on what I’ve heard) because of the radical changes that this film makes to both its plot and several of its musical numbers. It’s worth noting that the original plans for this film adaptation were to have it be an animated feature done by Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Entertainment’s animation division, Amblimation. And while this iteration of the project ultimately went nowhere when the division was shut down in 1997, it’s safe to say that this film probably would’ve worked a hell of a lot better had it been animated as originally intended.

Rating: 1.5/5

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A Goofy Movie Duology Retrospective

A Goofy Movie (1995)

Seeing how an incredibly popular film celebrated a major anniversary this month, I figured that it would be the perfect time to honor an overlooked classic when it comes to Disney’s animated films. In the ’90s, Disney Animation was largely defined by the Disney Renaissance, an era that saw the release of some of the studio’s most critically-acclaimed films such as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. However, this resurgence wasn’t just limited to Disney’s feature film department as the decade also became heavily defined by the iconic bit of programming that was known as The Disney Afternoon. Every weekday from 3PM to 5PM, this syndicated programming block featured some of Disney’s most popular cartoons at the time, including Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. And from 1992 to 1993, one of the shows featured on The Disney Afternoon was Goof Troop, which followed the various misadventures of the one and only Goofy and his son Max. Its initial run on The Disney Afternoon lasted 65 episodes and was then followed by a 13-episode run that premiered on ABC’s Saturday Morning block and a Christmas special. But perhaps its most notable achievement was how it ended up spawning two feature films. The first of these films has since gone on to become one of the most beloved cult classics of the ’90s and it just so happened to celebrate its 25th anniversary recently, and while the other was only a direct-to-video release instead of a theatrical release, it celebrated its own anniversary (its 20th) back in February. And so, without further ado, it’s time to start jamming out to those classic Powerline tunes as we look at the duology that is 1995’s A Goofy Movie and 2000’s An Extremely Goofy Movie.

Now before I begin, I just want to note that this little retrospective will not be covering Goof Troop even though it is the show that these films were spawned from. Simply put, the only reason why is because I wanted to get this post out at a time that reasonably correlated to A Goofy Movie’s official 25th anniversary, which had happened on April 7th. However, I also want to note that I did watch a few episodes of the show beforehand thanks to Disney+ and I do recall watching reruns of it on TV when I was younger.


A Goofy Movie (1995)

We begin, of course, with A Goofy Movie, which notably served as the directorial debut of longtime animator Kevin Lima, who would then go on to co-direct 1999’s Tarzan with Chris Buck (he also directed the 2007 live-action/animation hybrid Enchanted). As for Goofy Movie, however, it had a bit of a rough run when it was first released. It did okay financially, but at the same time, it wasn’t exactly a runaway hit and it also attracted a generally mixed response from critics. And as far as its reputation within the company was concerned, apparently it was widely considered as a ‘lesser production’ that was directly tied to the studio’s former chairman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who had just recently left the company due to conflicts with CEO Michael Eisner. However, once the film hit the home video market, it soon began to attract a dedicated cult following that has endured to this very day. And because of this, Disney has now fully embraced it as a staple of their 90’s catalog, and while I’ll openly admit that I didn’t end up seeing it until the mid-2000s (I’ll expand upon that a little later…), I can clearly see why it’s such a beloved flick. What may seem like a straight-forward road trip comedy on the surface ends up being an incredibly heartfelt story in which Goofy tries to rekindle his relationship with his son Max as he takes him on a cross-country road trip. The only problem, though, is that Max would rather spend time with his crush Roxanne, thus resulting in him attempting to lead them in the direction of Los Angeles so he can end up on stage at a Powerline concert to fulfill a false promise that he made to her. And because of this, there are some highly effective emotional moments in this film (e.g. ‘Hi Dad’ soup), which I’m sure is something that not many people would’ve expected from a character like Goofy who’s known more for the wacky shenanigans that he ends up in.

The film also happens to sport an incredibly catchy soundtrack, and when it comes to its most popular tracks, many fans tend to focus on the two songs from Powerline (who was played by Tevin Campbell), ‘I 2 I’ and ‘Stand Out’. And while those two songs are genuinely great, the same can also be said for the other three songs in the film. ‘After Today’ is a fun opening number as Max and his classmates head to school eager for the start of summer vacation and ‘Nobody Else But You’ is a heartwarming little duet between Goofy and Max as the two float down a river after their big fight. But if you want to talk about my personal favorite song from the soundtrack, that would be ‘On the Open Road’, which Goofy and a bunch of other drivers start singing during the initial stretch of the road trip. This is mainly because the song was featured on one of those classic Disney Sing-Along VHS tapes that I watched all the time growing up (1998’s Honor to Us All, if you want to be specific), which means that this song was how I was first introduced to A Goofy Movie. And so, while it admittedly took me a while to finally jump on this film’s hype train, it goes without saying that I immediately understood why it has continued to maintain its prolific reputation. Even as a film that’s arguably one of the most definitive examples of a ‘90’s film’, it fully succeeds at being both a delightful comedy headlined by our favorite comedic Disney icon and a genuinely sweet tale of the bond between father and son. And really, it’s quite impressive how a film that was largely developed by Disney’s television division ended up being just as well-made as many of the films that Walt Disney Animation was making at the time that fully defined the Disney Renaissance.

Rating: 5/5!


An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000)

So… remember how I mentioned earlier that it took me a while before I ended up seeing A Goofy Movie for the first time? Well, because of that, I’m technically more familiar with its direct-to-video sequel, An Extremely Goofy Movie, since I ended up seeing it first. I still remember renting it from Blockbuster back in the day (either that or I just owned it on VHS… either option would be plausible) and I also remember it airing on Disney Channel a few times. Anyway, An Extremely Goofy Movie sees most of the main characters returning from the first film… except for Roxanne, for some reason (although she would later appear in an episode of House of Mouse and was seen in a photo alongside Max in a recent episode of the Ducktales reboot series). The film sees Max and his friends heading off to college, which ends up leaving Goofy with a severe case of empty nest syndrome. And when it ends up getting him fired from his job, he learns that he’ll have to go back to college to get his degree so that he can find another job, which results in him enrolling at Max’s college to Max’s outright horror. With that in mind, the first thing to note about this film is how it does kind of go back on everything that Max and Goofy went through in the previous film. Instead of maintaining their shared character growth in which they learned to accept each other for who they are, this film reverts back to the dilemma of Max being embarrassed by his dad, and because of this, they’re arguably at odds a lot more here than they were in the previous film. However, at the very least, there are still a decent number of instances where Max and Goofy get to have those emotionally poignant father-son moments, and the film also sports some equally terrific emotional beats through its handling of how Goofy grapples with Max leaving for college. Plus, given how Goofy has frequently been portrayed as a single father with no given explanation of what happened to his wife, it’s quite nice that this film ends up giving him a romantic interest, which he finds in Sylvia, the college’s librarian.

As for the rest of the film, it’s basically what you’d expect from a direct-to-video release. It certainly isn’t as well-polished as its theatrically released predecessor and like A Goofy Movie, it’s also very much a product of the times. Whereas the first film was a pure representation of 90’s culture, this one focuses heavily on the extreme sports craze of the late ’90s and early 2000s. Much of the film’s plot revolves around Max and his friends competing against a snooty fraternity at the College X-Games hosted by ESPN (which, in case some of you don’t recall, is owned by Disney). Ultimately, though, I will say that An Extremely Goofy Movie is still a decent watch. No, I’m not saying that it’s better than A Goofy Movie, but aside from the rehashing of the first film’s father-son conflict and the questionable exclusion of Roxanne (who, sure, didn’t have much to do in the first film, to begin with, but at the very least, she did have some genuinely nice chemistry with Max), there are still some good things about it. Namely, at the end of the day, we’re still following the same likable group of characters from the first film, and because of this, it maintains a lot of the first film’s strong emotional poignancy, thus continuing to prove that even comedic characters like Goofy can pull at the heartstrings when given the right material. In conclusion, while I fully recognize that this may just be my nostalgic memories doing the talking here since I’ve well-aware of the notorious reputations of the direct-to-video Disney sequels of the 2000s, I would argue that this was one of the best of those films. And yes, I know that for many folks, that won’t be saying much given the other films in that category, but in this instance, this does manage to be a decent follow-up to arguably the biggest cult classic of my generation.

Rating: 3.5/5

And that concludes this little retrospective on the duology that is A Goofy Movie and An Extremely Goofy Movie. While I’ll admit that I don’t have as much of a connection to the first film compared to other folks of my generation given how long it took for me to watch it for the first time, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most beloved films of the ’90s… simply put, it truly is that great. And so, with that in mind, be sure to sound off in the comments below with your own memories of these films. Ah-hyuck!

Thursday, April 16, 2020


Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s annual End-of-the-Year list in which I’m counting down my Top 12 Favorite Films of 2019. And today, folks, we’ve finally reached the peak as I’m about to name my Top 3 favorite films from this past year. However, I won’t lie, we will also be delving into some controversial territory here, so please bear with me because… well, I’ve got quite a few things to say about certain responses to some of these films. And because of this, today’s post may just be the lengthiest that has ever been posted on this site. Anyway, for those who’ve missed the last three parts of this list, just head to the links provided below to check out my Honorable Mentions and Films #12-4. Let’s do this!

And with that, folks, we start things off with what will easily be the most controversial film on this list. The last time that a film of this nature was covered on these lists was with my #3 favorite of 2017… which just so happens to be the immediate predecessor of this year’s #3. Yes, I’m sure many of you know exactly what film I’m talking about… and to some of you, I’m going to sound like a complete madman for even remotely implying that I liked it. Hopefully, this gives you an idea of the chaos that I’m about to step into…

I have a legitimate question for you all… when was the last time that it was honestly fun to like Star Wars? The way I see it, that was back in 1997 before the release of the Special Editions because, as I’m sure most of you know, that was when the overall discourse behind Star Wars was forever changed. Luckily for me, I was able to avoid all that growing up since I didn’t really start exploring the internet until the mid-2000s. At that point, I had watched each installment of the original trilogy several times, which included at least one instance where I was able to watch them in their unaltered state thanks to the VHS set that I owned. My family would later get these films on DVD, and while this was at a point where the controversial updates from George Lucas were now fully in play, it honestly wasn’t something that I thought about all too often. That said, though, nowadays I do occasionally yearn for the days when this was all that the internet complained about when it came to Star Wars. As for the prequels, I never saw any of them in theaters during their initial run, and no, it wasn’t because someone advised me not to. I was only about four when The Phantom Menace came out, so I was a bit too young to see it. I was at a more reasonable age when Attack of the Clones came out and I still recall seeing ads for it everywhere… but I never got around to seeing it. Finally, for Revenge of the Sith, it was the first PG-13 rated entry in the series, and while it should be noted that I did see the PG-13 rated Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that exact same year, that was only because Harry Potter was my favorite franchise at the time and my folks felt that I was mature enough to see it. Thus, I didn’t see Sith in theaters even though, once again, I do still remember all the marketing for it.

Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill in Star Wars (1977)

I would end up watching the prequels for the first time when my family bought The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones on DVD around 2004 or 2005. Specifically, it was a time before the release of Revenge of the Sith, which I ultimately saw for the first time when it made its official debut on cable in 2008. A few years later, I officially started my journey as an online film critic, and as you might have guessed, this is when I finally learned how the internet truly felt about the prequels. Thus, for the next few years, I was relentlessly inundated with various videos and articles that argued why the prequels were some of the worst things in the history of pop culture. This continued to be the case in 2012 when The Phantom Menace was re-released in theaters as part of George Lucas’ plan to have both trilogies re-released in 3-D. And while this plan was ultimately canned when Lucasfilm was bought by Disney that same year, I did go see Phantom Menace in 3-D, which effectively makes it the first Star Wars film that I saw in theaters. No matter how much the internet tried to sway me (and I will admit that there were a few times where they nearly succeeded), I was part of the crowd that did like these films. But alas, the internet’s views on them were unwavering, especially once it was announced that plans were in motion for a new trilogy of films, with the first of these, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, set for a December 2015 release. The Force Awakens was easily one of the most anticipated films in recent memory, but at the same time, I can safely say that this was mostly because many were just hoping that it’d be better than the prequels. That was the pressure that writer/director J.J. Abrams was under, and thankfully, it didn’t completely overwhelm him. Upon its release, The Force Awakens was a massive critical/commercial hit and regarded as a full-blown success.

John Boyega and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)

And yet, there was one nagging criticism about it that has endured to this day, and while a lot of people like to say that the current chaotic nature of the Star Wars fandom was initiated by the next film in the trilogy, I’d argue that this was where our story began. While the general hope for Force Awakens was that it’d be more in line with the original trilogy in terms of its story and atmosphere, some felt that it was a bit ‘too much’ like the original trilogy. Some even accused it of being a ‘remake’ of Episode IV: A New Hope even though, if I may be perfectly blunt here, I’m pretty sure that mirroring certain aspects of that film was kind of the point. Nevertheless, that arguably became the one thing that people talked about the most when it came to The Force Awakens. This, in turn, strongly influenced the narrative behind the hype for the next installment of the trilogy, The Last Jedi, which was being written and directed by Rian Johnson. One of the most prominent aspects of the film’s marketing campaign was about how everyone was excited over the fact that Johnson was delivering a fresh, new spin on the franchise. And folks, I seriously can’t stress enough how people were genuinely excited to see this film because of that reason. But then The Last Jedi came out… and we all know what happened there. While it was legitimately a massive hit with critics and secured some of the best reviews that a Star Wars film has ever gotten, audiences were far more mixed about it. While many loved it for how Johnson managed to subvert expectations on where the story would go, others felt that he went a bit too far with all that. Now, if you’re one of those people who found it to be rather disappointing, then that’s perfectly fine. As I’ve said plenty of times over the years, film is a subjective medium and nothing will ever be a perfect masterpiece. However, the reaction to this film ended up creating a massively obnoxious problem that has since left a permanent stain on the film fan community.

Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)

You see, there are some out there who looked at The Last Jedi and found it utterly offensive. How dare it not conform to their incredibly specific set of expectations? And how dare it try to give prominent roles to female characters and characters of different ethnicities instead of white, heterosexual males? Thus, in the wake of its release, those racist/sexist morons used their anger to start an all-out war against Rian Johnson, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, and Disney for ‘ruining’ their beloved franchise. Their efforts to do so have included everything from bullying Last Jedi star Kelly Marie Tran off social media to producing an edit of the film that removed all women… yes, seriously. And unfortunately, this toxic behavior has spread far beyond Star Wars. Captain Marvel’s Brie Larson suggested that there should be greater diversity amongst film critics and reporters? Well then, she must be a total b**** who’s hated by all her co-stars. Birds of Prey is placing a lot of emphasis on how it’s a female-led superhero film that takes a sledgehammer to toxic masculinity? Pfft, looks like someone’s trying to be super woke. Even Rian Johnson’s next film, Knives Out, attracted this kind of BS simply because he was the one directing it. This, folks, is the kind of crap that I’ve been dealing with for the past few years and I’m utterly sick of it. I’m sick of going onto YouTube and seeing countless videos that spew out all this hateful propaganda from these clowns, and to make matters worse, the current YouTube algorithm directly pairs them with the actual videos related to these films. Seriously, just go onto YouTube and type ‘Rise of Skywalker’ in the search engine and I guarantee you that some of the first videos you’ll see apart from trailers and interviews will be some alt-right nonsense. The same applies to any other film or celebrity that this crowd views as ‘dangerous’.

Anthony Daniels, J.J. Abrams, Lynn Robertson Bruce, Oscar Isaac, Brian Herring, Dave Chapman, John Boyega, Robin Guiver, Daisy Ridley, and Joonas Suotamo in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

And so, with all that in mind, I fully sympathize with J.J. Abrams when it comes to all the crap that he must’ve had to endure while making Rise of Skywalker. I mean, at least with The Force Awakens, arguably the worst thing that he had to deal with was simply the pressure of delivering a good Star Wars film. But as for Rise of Skywalker, he went into it having to deal with what is quite possibly the most aggressive expectations that any film in recent memory has had to endure. For starters, there was the fact that every single aspect of the production was going to be unfairly judged by the crowd that hated Last Jedi who, believe me, are practically impossible to convince otherwise. But then you must also factor in the crowd that did love Last Jedi, specifically because of how Rian Johnson approached the material. As such, when J.J. was announced as this film’s director, the primary response from this part of the crowd wasn’t “Awesome! The guy who directed Force Awakens is coming back!”. Instead, it was “Really? The guy who remade A New Hope is coming back?” because, like I said before, that whole ‘it’s just a rehash of A New Hope’ argument is one that refuses to go away. With all this in mind, part of me is honestly not surprised that the reception towards the film was the way that it was because of all the immense pressure that was cracking down on it from both sides, and in this instance, it was sadly too much for it to handle this time around. Sure, Rise of Skywalker may have done $1 billion worldwide, but when it comes to critical reception, it was arguably even more polarizing than The Last Jedi. Granted, it wasn’t an outright dud with critics, but it was also widely considered to be an utter disappointment as the finale to the Skywalker Saga.

So why is it at the Number 3 spot on this list, then? Well, as you can probably guess, I’m part of the crowd that did love it. Personally, I thought that it was a generally satisfying finale to what is now known as the Skywalker Saga. Even though he decided to take a break and not do the middle chapter of this trilogy, J.J. Abrams once again proves why he’s one of the best in the business when it comes to directing Star Wars. This film boasts everything that you’d expect in a great Star Wars film, whether it’s the exciting action sequences or strong dynamic between its characters that often results in hilarious banter. The same applies to the film’s visuals, which I mainly bring up since it can very well be argued that The Last Jedi sported some of the most gorgeous visuals that have ever come from a Star Wars film. And yet, both Force Awakens and Rise of Skywalker show that J.J., his go-to cinematographer Dan Mindel, and his visual effects team led by Roger Guyett are certainly no slouches when it comes to producing visuals that I’d argue are on par with those from The Last Jedi. But most of all, J.J. fully succeeds in making Rise of Skywalker one of the most emotionally poignant installments of the entire franchise. I’ve always cited that as one of J.J.’s greatest strengths as a director, and sure enough, this film is yet another prime example of this. I mean, to be fair, this is the grand finale to the Skywalker Saga so it goes without saying that this film runs the full emotional gamut when it comes to how it concludes the adventures of our heroes (which I’ll be delving into properly in just a bit…).

Ian McDiarmid in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

But what is it that got critics and audiences so worked up about this film? Well, aside from the returning argument of ‘it’s basically a remake of a previous film’ that has influenced much of the discussion, there have quite a few major aspects of Rise of Skywalker that have been its biggest sources of controversy. And it all begins with the unexpected return of the man who once infamously referred to himself as ‘the Senate’, Emperor Palpatine. From a canonical standpoint, the notorious Sith Lord had seemingly met his end at the end of Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader threw him down the Death Star II’s reactor. However, as the opening crawl to this film reveals, he has somehow managed to return from the dead and has now assembled a fleet of powerful Star Destroyers that can destroy planets a la the Death Star and Starkiller Base. And while not directly established in the film itself, author Rae Carson’s novelization reveals that Palpatine had managed to transfer his essence into a clone body. Despite all this, Palpatine’s return has attracted a mixed response that, as you might have guessed, is entirely because of the debate over how much these new films should rely on elements from the previous trilogies. Folks who are against it especially like to reference The Last Jedi and how much it didn’t rely on previous films to the point where Kylo Ren repeatedly emphasized the importance of “letting the past die”. However, I didn’t mind Palpatine’s return too much because I was fine with the decision to have him be the overarching villain of the Skywalker Saga as evident from him revealing to Kylo Ren that he masterminded the rise of the First Order and Kylo’s old mentor, Snoke. Plus, Ian McDiarmid is once again excellent in the role and I do like that he opted for the more reserved Palpatine of the original trilogy rather than the over-the-top Palpatine from the prequels. Granted, that’s not to say that there was anything wrong with Palpatine’s portrayal in the prequels since it was arguably the best aspect of those films, but I do think that McDiarmid manages to find a good mix of those two versions of the character for his appearance here.

But then this paves the way for the film’s biggest reveal that Palpatine fathered a son (disclaimer: the novelization reveals this ‘son’ was a failed clone of him) who had a daughter, and her name… was Rey. Yes, after the previous two films gradually built up the mystery surrounding Rey’s potential heritage, Rise of Skywalker finally reveals that she is the granddaughter of the most dangerous Sith Lord in the history of the galaxy. Once again, this hasn’t exactly gone over well with everybody, especially those who feel that it would’ve been cooler if Rey didn’t have to be connected to another character from the Star Wars universe. And yet, even if this does admittedly mirror the classic reveal from the original trilogy that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father Anakin, it’s not like it’s a direct copy of that connection. In the original trilogy, this reveal then led to Luke attempting to save his father from the Dark Side, which Anakin ultimately managed to do by the end of the trilogy even if it resulted in his death. In the case of Rise of Skywalker, however, it’s quite clear that there’s no way that old Grandpa Palpatine is going to be swayed to the Light Side. Thus, the reveal that he’s Rey’s grandfather instead sets up the idea of Rey having to grapple with the fear of how the notoriety of her heritage could potentially end up leading her to the Dark Side. More importantly, it also sheds light on something that Rey had been led to believe as to why her parents left her on Jakku all those years ago. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren claimed that her parents were nothing more than “filthy junk traders who sold [her] off for drinking money”, thus adding to her belief that she truly was a ‘nobody’. But in Rise of Skywalker, she realizes that her parents left her on Jakku to save her from Palpatine, albeit at the cost of their own lives, proving that they did love her.  

Ian McDiarmid and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

And as for that fear of her heritage turning her to the Dark Side, this ultimately comes to a head when she returns to Ahch-To fully intent on staying there just like Luke did at the beginning of the trilogy… that is, until she’s approached by Luke, who’s now become one with the Force after his heroic stand at the end of Last Jedi. When she reveals her plan to him, he tells her that he now recognizes that it was wrong for him to go into his self-imposed exile because he let his fears cloud his judgment and that Rey shouldn’t make that same mistake. He also happens to reveal that he knew Rey was Palpatine’s granddaughter… and so did Leia. Rey then asks why Leia never told her and, more importantly, was still willing to train her in the ways of the Jedi despite all this, to which Luke responds by saying that Leia could sense Rey’s spirit and heart, two things that her grandfather never had. And if you ask me, that says a lot about the integrity of both Luke and Leia who, let’s not forget, were the offspring of the man who ended up becoming Darth Vader. Luke then proceeds to give Rey the lightsaber that Leia had possessed during her own Jedi training but then relinquished when she sensed the death of her son, thus allowing her newest protégé to finish what she started. All of this then culminates in the film’s powerful final scene in which Rey visits the Lars family’s moisture farm where we first met Luke back in Episode IV and promptly buries both Luke and Leia’s lightsabers before igniting her new lightsaber with a yellow blade. She’s then approached by a local who asks for her name, to which she responds “Rey Skywalker” as the spirits of both Luke and Leia look on approvingly from afar. And while I’m well aware that some people found this questionable given that she isn’t directly linked to the Skywalker lineage, I instead view it as her proudly showing that she isn’t just ‘the granddaughter of Palpatine’ by nobly maintaining the legacy of her greatest teachers.

Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

But now let’s go back and address the new Force-based power that’s featured prominently in this film, Force Healing. Before the film’s release, the filmmakers noted that there was a good chance that fans weren’t going to respond too well to this, and wouldn’t you know… they were totally right. This new ability that both Rey and Kylo Ren end up demonstrating throughout the film received quite a bit of flak because it was one of those cases of something that hadn’t been used in previous films but would’ve been totally useful if it had… and yet, it’s not like this hasn’t been built up in previous films. Remember the scene in Revenge of the Sith when Palpatine tells Anakin the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise AKA what many have often cited as one of the best sequences from the prequels, including Rise of Skywalker’s writer/director J.J. Abrams? Well then, that’s basically the answer to your question right there. Plus, it also helps to explain how Palpatine managed to come back since it’s been established that Darth Plagueis was his master and it would make sense that he’d know some of his master’s secrets. Thus, it’s only natural, then, that someone from his lineage like Rey could potentially possess those same powers, and while Kylo Ren isn’t connected to the Palpatine family, it is quite satisfying to see him use those powers to save Rey even if it does come at the cost of his own life. Also, if you’ll allow me to call out some potentially hypocritical fandom arguments for a moment, around the time that Rise of Skywalker came out, the franchise’s first live-action TV series The Mandalorian debuted the penultimate episode of its first season. In that episode, the character known as ‘The Child’ (AKA Baby Yoda for those internet folks who haven’t seen the show yet) uses the Force to heal another character’s wounds… and yet no one made a big deal about it being used there.  

Anyway, now let’s delve into the fate of the sequel trilogy’s most prominent antagonist, Kylo Ren AKA Ben Solo. As alluded to earlier, this film sees the newly appointed Supreme Leader of the First Order finally redeem himself to help Rey defeat Palpatine. His road to redemption primarily comes to fruition during the scene where he and Rey clash on the planet Kef Bir, surrounded by the wreckage of the second Death Star. During this fight, Rey manages to gain the upper hand when Kylo’s momentarily distracted by Leia reaching out to him with the Force and impales him, but instead of just leaving him there to die, she heals him with the Force. Heck, she even heals the scars on his face that came from their fight on Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens. And in response to him offering her his hand back in The Last Jedi so that they can rule the galaxy together, she tells him that she was willing to take his hand… Ben’s hand. After she leaves, Kylo is then confronted by a memory of his father, Han Solo, and the conversation that they have directly parallels the scene between them in The Force Awakens where Kylo ultimately killed Han. This time, however, the result is Kylo finally rejecting his current moniker to become Ben Solo once more, tossing his lightsaber away and, for the first time in the trilogy, calling his father “Dad”, to which Han naturally replies “I know…” In other words, this is easily one of the best moments in the entire film, especially thanks to the crucial uncredited cameo by Harrison Ford. And as for Ben’s final sacrifice, I believe that it was an appropriate conclusion for his character. Because despite everything that he did as the sinister Kylo Ren, he managed to overcome his fate of being swayed to the Dark Side (a process that was completely out of his control) and successfully utilize the abilities of Darth Plagueis to bring someone that he cared about back to life. In other words, Ben may have died, but at least he died a hero.

Adam Driver in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

However, this now forces me to address an unfortunate development in the Star Wars fandom, and that is the toxic behavior that has spawned from a part of the faction of the fandom known as ‘Reylos’. Given the fact that the connection between Rey and Ben has been one of the most prominent aspects of the sequel trilogy, this has naturally led to some fans shipping them as a couple. Now, this wasn’t really an issue when The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi came out, but then we cut to Rise of Skywalker which, of course, ends with Ben’s death and now Reylos are suddenly quite furious about all this. And before I continue, let me be clear; if you were sad about Ben’s fate, then that’s totally fine. However, some Reylos responded to this in a way that utterly confuses me and began to lobby intensely vitriolic personal attacks against J.J. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio for this decision. I can’t even begin to describe some of the lengths that these people have gone to when it comes to the things that they’ve said about two guys who were just doing their jobs as filmmakers. They also got incredibly mad at John Boyega when he called out the toxic nature of a potential romance between Ben and Rey which, to be perfectly blunt here, he’s not entirely wrong about. I mean, sure, Ben’s redemption is nice and all… but he did still kill a lot of people when he was Kylo Ren. And again, let me be clear, I recognize that not all Reylos are like the ones that I’ve been talking about here. However, that still doesn’t excuse all that awful behavior from those who’ve been acting out just because Rise of Skywalker killed off half of their ideal pairing. I’m not joking when I say that I feel that this is on par with the crap that we’ve seen from the Last Jedi haters albeit without the actual racism/sexism.

(And sadly, folks, I’m not done talking about stuff like this since this has also had a major impact on my #1 pick… more on that later…)

Kelly Marie Tran and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

I’m also rather disturbed about how this has also led to some people trying to spin a false narrative against J.J. Abrams just because of certain story decisions that he made, and a lot of this has to do with the unfortunately reduced role of Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico. Yes, despite making a promising debut in The Last Jedi despite what certain parts of the internet may tell you, Rose doesn’t factor too much into the plot of Rise of Skywalker. She spends most of her screen-time at the Resistance’s hidden base, and while she does partake in the final battle on Exegol, it’s still a very limited bit of involvement. And so, with all that in mind… yes, it’s genuinely disappointing that Rose doesn’t have a larger role in this film, especially in the wake of all the horrible crap that Kelly Marie Tran had to endure from racist idiots online following the release of The Last Jedi. At the same time, though, I refuse to subscribe to the notion that J.J. Abrams, a man who once gave Jessica Henwick the supporting role of X-Wing pilot Jess Pava in The Force Awakens when she was passed over for the role of Rey, and Chris Terrio intentionally did this to appease those racist morons. If that really was the case, then I bet that Rose wouldn’t have been in the film at all. But this also brings us to the last major thing that people have been endlessly debating when it comes to this film; was J.J. trying to reverse some of the controversial story decisions that Rian Johnson had made in The Last Jedi? However, as popular as it may be to say that he did, I personally don’t think that this is the case…at least, not entirely, anyway…

The whole thing with Rose? Yeah, it’s unfortunate that it turned out the way that it did, but if you ask me, it could’ve been a lot worse. Then there’s the reveal of Rey being connected to Palpatine despite the previous film implicating that she wasn’t going to be tied to a pre-existing family in the Star Wars universe. And while, again, I recognize how that probably would’ve been a stronger route to go with the character, I also think that it still fits nicely with the idea of Rey overcoming her initial belief that she’s a nobody. One could also look at the scene where Luke’s Force Ghost first appears to catch his old lightsaber and proclaim that “A Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect” and describe it as a dig against the scene near the beginning of The Last Jedi where Rey hands him that lightsaber… and he promptly tosses it away. However, at the same time, Luke’s appearance in this film serves as a fitting conclusion to his arc from the previous film (you know, the one that the Last Jedi haters were super mad about even though it was totally appropriate for the character?) where he overcame his guilt of failing Ben. Honestly, the only major plot-thread that I can think of from The Last Jedi that wasn’t properly addressed was that little coda before the end credits where a young stable boy from Canto Bight is shown to be one with the Force. I’m sure I’m not the only one who figured that this would probably factor into Rise of Skywalker somehow, but alas, it did not. Still, it does continue to reinforce the idea of how the Resistance has managed to inspire others across the galaxy to fight the First Order. And as for the growing argument that this trilogy lacked any sort of cohesive narrative plan, you could argue the same thing for some of the other Star Wars films. After all, I think it’s safe to say that the decision to make Luke and Leia siblings came after their kissing scene in Empire.

Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Joonas Suotamo in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

But now this brings us to another point that’s being brought up now that the sequel trilogy is over… what the heck was it even about? Well, a few years ago when I listed The Last Jedi as my #3 favorite of 2017, I noted that a lot of that film’s plot was about how making mistakes are a natural part of life and how people can learn from them, which naturally applied to the trilogy’s lead trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe. And while that idea still stands when it comes to The Last Jedi, Rise of Skywalker promptly confirms what the sequel trilogy is mainly about, and that is the idea of finding one’s place in the world and discovering that, no matter who you are, you are not alone…and yes, this does apply to all three of the sequel trilogy’s leads. When we first meet Rey, she’s a nobody from a desolate desert planet who’s desperately awaiting the return of her parents. But throughout the next three films, she discovers her full potential as the next great Jedi and uses them to thoroughly reject her familial connection to the notorious Emperor Palpatine. When we first meet Finn, he’s simply one of many who was taken away from a family “he’ll never know” and drafted by the First Order before he makes the bold decision to abandon them. And while Rise of Skywalker admittedly sees Finn get the short end of the stick in terms of additional character development (apart from an implication that he’s Force-sensitive that isn’t addressed beyond that), it still ends with the guy who was initially just intent on running away becoming one of the Resistance’s top generals. Finally, Poe Dameron is initially established as the Resistance’s best pilot, but as the films have gone on, Poe has had to learn how to become a better leader, especially in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s like Leia said in The Last Jedi; there’s more to it than just getting into an X-Wing and blowing something up.

Speaking of Leia, one of the most impressive aspects of this film is how it managed to keep her involved in the story despite the circumstances. Originally, the plan was to give Leia a prominent role in the same vein of Han’s role in The Force Awakens and Luke’s role in The Last Jedi. Sadly, though, that all changed when Carrie Fisher tragically passed away in 2016. Thankfully, she had already finished her work on The Last Jedi, but of course, this then meant that she wouldn’t be around to film Rise of Skywalker, and after all the controversy surrounding the use of digital likenesses for both her and Peter Cushing in Rogue One, Lucasfilm made it clear that they weren’t going to do that again. And yet, instead of just giving Leia a truly unceremonious off-screen death, J.J. Abrams and his team managed to find a unique way to work around this. Thus, Leia’s role in The Rise of Skywalker is almost entirely made up of unused footage from The Force Awakens, and I seriously can’t stress enough how truly impressive it was that they were able to effectively repurpose all this footage. Looking through some of the behind-the-scenes footage for this film, it’s clear that there was a lot that went into this, from changing the people that she interacted with in those original scenes to digitally changing both her hair and costuming. And as for the flashback where we see a younger Luke and Leia training together, Fisher’s own daughter Billie Lourd (who, of course, also reprises her role as the Resistance’s Lt. Connix) stood in for her mother for this pivotal scene. Because of all this, Leia’s allowed to have a proper role in this story even if it wasn’t the kind of role that was originally intended for her, and while this still ends in Leia’s death, the moment when it happens is treated with the utmost respect that it fully deserves. The Last Jedi may still hold the distinction of featuring what is arguably Carrie Fisher’s best performance as Leia, but The Rise of Skywalker fully succeeds in being a heartfelt tribute to both her and the most iconic heroine in the Star Wars universe.

Carrie Fisher and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

On that note, Leia’s death is one of the many moments that make Rise of Skywalker one of the most emotional installments of the franchise (don’t even get me started on what happens when Chewbacca learns about it). Aside from that, there’s also the previously mentioned moment where Ben talks to a vision of his father and calls him ‘Dad’ for the first time, effectively kickstarting his redemption story. But then there are also some great emotional moments that aren’t of the ‘tearjerker’ variety. Going back to Chewie for a second, how does this film end? With Chewie getting his damn medal! Sure, it’s implied to be the one that Han got at the end of A New Hope, but the point still stands that Chewie finally got the medal that he didn’t get in that film. Then there’s the moment during the final battle on Exegol where, at a time where all seems lost for the Resistance, Lando chimes in over the comms to assure Poe that “there are more of us” as we then see a massive collection of ships led by Lando and Chewie in the Falcon ready to take on the First Order. And if you want to talk about one of the most cathartic moments in the entire franchise, just look at the scene where Luke lifts his X-Wing for Rey out of the Ahch-To ocean in a perfect mirroring of the scene from The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda lifts it out of the Dagobah swamp. The same goes for the scene where Rey is finally able to connect with the voices of the Jedi who have come before her (resulting in a whole bunch of vocal cameos from the likes of Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Anakin, Ahsoka, etc.) as they unite to boost her spirits in the fight against Palpatine. In other words, while I’ve been spending the past several paragraphs going over practically every controversial aspect of this film, moments like the ones that I’ve just listed shows that there’s much more to this film than its current reputation suggests.

Ultimately, though, the real tragedy of Rise of Skywalker is that it was royally screwed over by the atmosphere in which it was released. For starters, while the ‘it’s too much like A New Hope’ argument didn’t impact Force Awakens’ reception too hard, the same couldn’t be said for Rise of Skywalker when it got accused of being a remake of Return of the Jedi in a time where sequels, reboots, and remakes have faced far more scrutiny than ever before. Need I remind you of the ‘it’s not as fresh as the original’ argument that has been driving me crazy these past few years? But most importantly, it came out during a time where the Star Wars fandom was at its most unstable. It’s basically well-known at this point that the Star Wars fandom has never been able to decide what it truly wants from a Star Wars film, hence why I’ve found that these films tend to get nitpicked more than any other film. When The Force Awakens was coming out, the fandom hoped that it would be more like the original trilogy than the prequel trilogy. And when The Force Awakens did just that… it got criticized for being ‘too much’ like the original trilogy. So then comes The Last Jedi, which made a big deal about how it wasn’t just going to be a rehash of what came before (even though, if I may be controversial here, it too can potentially be seen as a ‘remake’ of its original trilogy counterpart, The Empire Strikes Back). But when it came out, some rejected it for going too far from the norm, and even worse, many of those that did were of the racist/sexist variety. Thus, to reference the other sci-fi franchise that starts with Star that J.J. Abrams has been involved with, he ultimately found himself in a Kobayashi Maru with Rise of Skywalker. Either he continues to maintain the subversive style of Rian Johnson and piss off the Last Jedi haters even further or revert back to how he handled The Force Awakens and get ragged on for being too formulaic and even accused of attempting to appeal to the racist morons.

But to me, the worst part about this whole Rise of Skywalker fallout has to do with those who have grown up with the sequel trilogy. There’s going to be a whole generation of kids who were raised on these films that will now be forced to spend the foreseeable future being mercilessly bullied by older people online who’ll tell them that they’re morons for even remotely liking these films. And if that wasn’t enough, this isn’t even the first time that this has happened with Star Wars films. Just look back at all the years that the internet endlessly mocked the prequel trilogy and the generation that grew up with it (which I can legitimately attest to seeing how I am indeed part of the generation that grew up with Episodes I-III). It has truly been an endless cycle with this franchise. But in conclusion (and yes, folks, we’re finally at the end of what is basically my damn thesis on this film), the one thing about Rise of Skywalker’s overall reception that baffles me the most is the notion that it is a ‘terrible’ film. Folks, I’ve been doing this for at least a decade now, and believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of horrible films. I’ve sat through the likes of multiple Seltzerberg ‘parodies’, Sucker Punch, Mother, Fan4stic, you name it, and I can assure you that Rise of Skywalker isn’t even close to being on the same level of quality as those films. Does that mean that I think the film is perfect? No, not at all. Is it my favorite installment of the trilogy? No, that honor would go to The Force Awakens, partially because it makes me nostalgic for a time when the Star Wars fandom wasn’t engaged in a literal war. But at the end of the day, I still stand by my belief that all this debating over the current state of the franchise had nothing to do with the films themselves. Instead, it’s solely because of a fandom that has sadly become defined by some very obnoxious gatekeepers who think that they know better.

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Phew… that was one heck of a long discussion, wasn’t it? Anyway, at Number 2, we have the highly anticipated follow-up to one of my favorite films of the past few years that continued to highlight everything that has made its franchise the global phenomenon that it is.

As I’m sure I’ve stated plenty of times by now, Walt Disney Animation’s 2013 release Frozen is one of my favorite films from the studio’s extensive collection of animated classics. In fact, it’s in my Top 5 when it comes to Disney animated films, which I do think is saying something given how I’m part of the crowd that was raised primarily on the Disney Renaissance but was still able to watch many of the classics that were before my time thanks to VHS. But like any film that ends up becoming one of your personal favorites, this is all due to the strong personal connection that I have to it. For starters, this was the last Walt Disney Animation film that I saw with my dad before he passed away in 2014. Granted, this first showing had to be in 3-D at a time when that format was becoming an afterthought because our intended 2-D showing was sold out (should I also mention that this was on Black Friday, of all days?), but that didn’t stop the whole family from loving it. And yes, if you end up looking back at my original review of it back in 2013, you’ll probably notice that I only gave it a 4/5; simply put, we can regard that as a prime example of a very outdated review. Cut to a few months later after Dad’s passing and me, my mom, and my older brother were invited by our relatives to join them on their trip to Disney World. It goes without saying that this was something that we all sorely needed, and the trip also helped to strengthen my love of Disney World that would later pave the way for me working there in 2018. Anyway, since this was still during the film’s impressive run at the box-office, Anna and Elsa had recently made their debuts as meet-and-greet characters at Epcot, and as you might have guessed, the wait times to meet them were incredibly long. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop my family from waiting in that line just so that our relatives’ kids could meet them.

But, of course, as is the case with anything that becomes massively popular, Frozen has also amassed its fair share of critics, and in this instance, a lot of that is due to the extensive mark that it left on the pop-cultural zeitgeist. It was the studio’s first feature to gross over $1 billion worldwide, it earned two Oscars at that year’s Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song, and it still stands as the best-selling Blu-Ray to date with over 7.6 million copies sold. In other words, Frozen was (and quite arguably still is) one of the most talked-about films of the past few years so, naturally, there were some people out there that got utterly sick of hearing about it after a while. And yet, while I will admit that there was a point in time where I did feel that ‘Frozen mania’ got a little out of hand in some instances, nowadays I’m personally glad that it became the cultural sensation that it did. I still remember one of the trailers for the film that boasted that it was the ‘greatest Disney animated event since The Lion King’, and while that is admittedly a bold statement to make, it was also technically true since it was the studio’s biggest financial hit since the original Lion King. And really, when you have a film as great as this one that boasts lovable characters, heartfelt themes, and catchy songs, it’s quite frankly the kind of film that truly deserves to be one of the biggest films of all-time. As such, I’m also one of those people who will thoroughly defend the two Frozen shorts that were made before the release of Frozen II that inexplicably attracted some incredibly hostile reactions. 2015’s Frozen Fever was a delightful little short that, for some reason, was regarded by the internet as nothing more than a ‘cynical cash-grab’. And as for 2017’s Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, I still stand by my belief that it seriously wasn’t that big of a deal that it was placed in front of Pixar’s Coco. Many have argued that it tried to steal Coco’s thunder, but to be perfectly frank, I seriously doubt that given that Coco managed to gross over $800 million worldwide, won the same two Oscars that Frozen did, and is generally considered to be another one of Pixar’s modern masterpieces.  

Anyway, now we’ve finally come to Frozen II, and right off the bat, one of the best things that I can say about this film is that writers/directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee successfully crafted a story that feels like a truly natural follow-up to the first film. Before Frozen II’s release, there was quite a lot of speculation regarding its potential plot developments. For example, given the reveal that Evan Rachel Wood was taking over the role of Anna and Elsa’s mother, Queen Iduna (who only had one line in the first film that was provided by Jennifer Lee), perhaps either one or both of their parents were still alive? And, of course, the most common theory that circulated amongst fans was the potential for a reveal that Anna possessed powers of her own (most likely ones that were fire-based to contrast Elsa’s ice powers). But while those ideas admittedly could’ve yielded some interesting results, the narrative routes that the film does take arguably feel more appropriate for these characters. The bulk of the plot revolves around Anna, Elsa, and their friends traveling to an enchanted forest that’s been affected by a mysterious elemental curse that also begins to threaten Arendelle. Along the way, they also start to uncover the secrets behind Elsa’s powers, with Anna and Elsa discovering that the intent of the trip that their parents had gone on that ultimately resulted in their deaths was to find the mythical river known as Ahtohallan that would hopefully provide the answers for Elsa’s powers. But as a silver lining to all this, they learn that their mom had been a member of the forest’s native folk, the Northuldra, and had saved their father, King Agnarr, during the war that broke out between their people which, as it turns out, was entirely orchestrated by Agnarr’s father Runeard. Thus, the spirits rewarded Iduna for her courage by blessing her with a child born with magical powers, Elsa.

It goes without saying that the relationship between Anna and Elsa has always been the heart of Frozen’s story, and this is once again emphasized to great effect in Frozen II. With that in mind, another one of this film’s best aspects is how it perfectly balances their roles in this story, especially when it comes to Elsa. Now, before I continue, I just want to note that I think that Anna and Elsa are both equally great heroines. However, if you were to ask me who my favorite was of the two, that would have to be Anna. While I fully recognize why Elsa’s easily been the most popular character to come from this franchise, the first film is quite arguably centered more on Anna since she’s the one who embarks on the journey to climb the North Mountain, mend the broken relationship that she has with Elsa, and save Arendelle from an eternal winter. Frozen II, on the other hand, is very much Elsa’s story. She’s the one who initiates the journey to the Enchanted Forest and is directly responsible for taming 3 of the 4 Elemental Spirits as represented by a gust of wind that they name Gale, a little fire-breathing salamander named Bruni, and the mythical water spirit known as the Nøkk. And, of course, as noted earlier, she ends up learning that her powers were the result of the elemental spirits honoring her mother for her noble actions in a time of conflict. If that wasn’t enough, Elsa also learns that she is the rumored fifth spirit that is destined to unite people and nature, and after saving Arendelle from being flooded, she decides to stay in the Enchanted Forest to become its protector. Because of all this, I can safely say that Frozen II has given me an even greater appreciation for Elsa as a character, and it goes without saying that Idina Menzel continues to kill it in the role.

However, this doesn’t mean that Anna isn’t as important this time around because she still plays a vital role in the plot. When Elsa heads off to the Enchanted Forest, Anna tags along to ensure her sister’s safety, and while Elsa tries to dissuade her from coming, Anna promptly reminds her that she “climbed the North Mountain, survived a frozen heart, and saved her from her ex-boyfriend” and did all that without any powers. But while their initial journey through the Enchanted Forest does see the two sisters sticking together through thick and thin, there does come a point where Elsa’s forced to send both Anna and Olaf away and head off to Ahtohallan on her own, which understandably angers them even if it was done with the noblest intentions. And sure enough, as Anna had consistently warned her about the whole time, Elsa’s journey into Ahtohallan does result in her going too far into it and she ends up frozen solid just like what happened to Anna at the end of the first film. Luckily, though, Elsa manages to send out a message to Anna before it’s too late that relays the information that their grandfather orchestrated the war between Arendelle and the Northuldra and that the dam that he had supposedly built as a peace offering was really a way to control them. But unfortunately, because of Elsa’s ‘death’, this also causes Olaf to fade away since her magic was the direct source of his existence. Thus, Anna now finds herself completely alone at the worst possible time, which is a far contrast to her situation at the beginning of the film where life in Arendelle was practically perfect and, most importantly, after all the years that she spent isolated from both her sister and the people of Arendelle, she was now fully surrounded by all her friends and family.

Thankfully, our beloved heroine is able to overcome what is quite arguably the lowest of low points and ‘do the next right thing’ which, in this instance, is by destroying the dam even if it means that the subsequent flooding of the fjord would destroy Arendelle. Thus, she lures a group of Earth Giants (AKA the Earth Spirits) over to the dam so they can destroy it and she also convinces the Arendellian soldiers who had been trapped in the woods for years to help her despite their dedication to protecting the kingdom. With the dam’s destruction, Elsa is freed from her frozen fate and she manages to save Arendelle just in time before the incoming tidal wave can reach it. When the two sisters finally reunite, Elsa assures Anna that she saved her once again and that the other spirits have agreed that Arendelle deserves to stand with her as its queen… and so the film ends with Anna taking her sister’s place as the new queen of Arendelle having very much proven herself as a dedicated leader. And while this does mean that the sisters end up separated again after everything that they’ve been through, it’s not a complete separation this time since it’s established that Elsa can travel between Arendelle and the Enchanted Forest any time she pleases. With that in mind, I also want to highlight a deleted scene in which Elsa shows Anna a memory from Ahtohallan of their parents in which Iduna tells Agnarr that she feels it’s time to tell Anna (who, of course, had her memories of Elsa’s powers erased when she was accidentally struck on the head by them) the truth about Elsa. Despite Agnarr’s hesitation about putting them together again, Iduna assures him that Anna would probably be the only one who can help Elsa control her powers. After all, “her love could hold up the world”. Simply put, it’s a lovely scene that lets Anna know how much their parents believed in her. However, at the same time, I don’t think that its removal from the final film ends up hurting it too much because, if anything, I feel that the franchise has always done a wonderful job of getting the message across about how Anna has never needed the kind of powers that Elsa has to be great.

Now, of course, given that this is Frozen we’re talking about, Frozen II sports yet another excellent soundtrack courtesy of Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. It all begins with ‘All is Found’, the Ahtohallan lullaby that Iduna sings to her daughters during the opening flashback. With its soothing melody and a wonderful vocal performance by Evan Rachel Wood, it very much serves its purpose as a sweet lullaby… just ignore the dark implications of the ‘dive down deep into her sound, but not too far or you’ll be drowned’ lyric that is directly lampshaded later in the film. Believe me, it wouldn’t be the first time that a situation like this has occurred with a famous lullaby. After that, there’s the film’s big ensemble piece, ‘Some Things Never Change’. Simply put, it’s just a delightfully upbeat song that perfectly highlights how truly great life has been in Arendelle now that Anna and Elsa are together again. In other words, it’s the idyllic calm before the storm that is the catalyst behind this film’s plot. Then, of course, there’s the film’s most talked-about song, ‘Into the Unknown’, as Elsa finally answers the call of the mysterious voice that she’s been hearing. This was widely touted as this film’s ‘Let it Go’, and to be fair, it’s easy to see why. It’s Idina Menzel’s big solo (although she is backed by the vocals of Aurora, who serves as ‘The Voice’), and just like the first film’s definitive anthem, it’s a perfect highlight of her vocal prowess. However, at the risk of being a bit controversial, it’s admittedly not my favorite song from this soundtrack. To be clear, it is a great song, but this is just one of those cases where I prefer some of the other songs on the soundtrack. Basically, this is a lot like what happened with 2016’s La La Land. While that film’s signature Oscar-winning song was ‘City of Stars’, my personal favorite was Emma Stone’s big solo, ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’.

Anyway, once the group enters the Enchanted Forest, everyone’s favorite snowman Olaf gets a fun little ditty, ‘When I Am Older’, where he assures himself that all the crazy things that have been happening to them will make sense when he’s older… all while a non-stop array of chaos and destruction rages around him. As you might have guessed, hilarity ensues. But then we come to what may possibly be my favorite song from this soundtrack (although I will admit that it’s somewhat of a toss-up between this and the next song), ‘Lost in the Woods’, which is Kristoff’s big solo. It’s also notably the first big solo number that Jonathan Groff has gotten to partake in when it comes to this franchise since his other ‘solo’ outings have been little ditties that are less than a minute long; ‘Reindeer are Better than People’ (which does get a short reprise here) from the first film and ‘The Ballad of Flemmingrad’ from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Aside from that, he’s usually just a part of the ensemble musical numbers, but now he’s finally been given the chance to showcase his musical talents as the rugged but well-meaning Kristoff gets to express his romantic feelings toward Anna. On its own accord, this is a genuinely sweet love song that, as many of those involved in the production have pointed out, is a rare case of a male protagonist getting the opportunity to address their romantic feelings. But in the context of the actual film, it results in one of its most entertaining sequences as the 80’s rock ballad aesthetic that the song is inspired by is utilized to its fullest effect. There’s a moment where Kristoff sings into a pinecone like it’s a microphone, Sven and a bunch of other reindeer serve as his back-up singers, and there’s even a moment where the reindeer pay homage to Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

The other standout number from this film is ‘Show Yourself’, which is the second song in the soundtrack that’s primarily headlined by Idina Menzel. It occurs when Elsa has finally reached Ahtohallan and discovers the secrets that she’s been searching for her whole life. Not only is she the mythical Fifth Spirit who’s meant to unite people and nature, but she also discovers that the voice that has been calling to her this whole time was a memory of her mom when she was younger. Thus, Evan Rachel Wood joins in at the end for a touching duet between mother and daughter. It’s a perfect culmination for what is easily the film’s most emotionally cathartic moment, so much so that I’d argue that this is Frozen II’s ‘Let It Go’. To contrast all that, we then conclude with the most devastating number in the film, ‘The Next Right Thing’, which is Kristen Bell’s big solo as Anna. At this point in the film, Anna is at the lowest point that she could possibly be at. Olaf has just faded away, which also means that Elsa is gone as well, and because the trio had rushed out to get to Ahtohallan, Kristoff was left behind with the Northuldra tribe. But at a time where everything seems lost, Anna bravely soldiers on to finish what her sister started and destroy the dam that their grandfather had built to save both the Enchanted Forest and Arendelle. Even after everything that I just mentioned in regards to how powerful of a sequence ‘Show Yourself’ was, ‘The Next Right Thing’ is arguably the most emotional moment in the entire film, and a lot of this is thanks to Kristen Bell being just as outstanding as she’s always been as Anna. Plus, I won’t lie, this whole sequence did result in a solid 3-5-minute cry session on my end. Trust me when I say that it truly is an utterly heartbreaking moment.

But to end all this on a positive note, it goes without saying that I loved Frozen II just as much as I did the original. Now with that in mind, I’m not going to partake in the conversation of ‘Is this better than the first film?’ since I’m not really a fan of doing those kinds of comparisons. But if there is one advantage that I think this film has over the first Frozen, it’d be that Frozen II arguably hits harder with its emotional moments. Now don’t get me wrong, the first film certainly had its fair share of highly effective emotional scenes, like the finale of ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ after Anna and Elsa’s parents are lost at sea. Ultimately, though, I do think that there a lot more moments like this in Frozen II. Regardless, Frozen II is very much on par with its predecessor in practically every conceivable aspect. Its songs are undeniably catchy and the animation is downright gorgeous. Most importantly, though, Frozen II fully succeeds at having a truly heartfelt narrative that continues to do a wonderful job when it comes to developing the lead duo of Anna and Elsa. It reinforces why Anna’s strength has never needed to come from her having powers like her sister and it gives Elsa some well-deserved attention after the first film admittedly focused more on Anna and her journey. And while I know that some people were kind of iffy on the ending for how it separates the two even though the whole point of the first film was getting them back together again, it’s executed in a way that still lets them be closely connected to each other while also putting them exactly where they need to be. Anna perfectly sums the whole situation up at the very end when Arendelle unveils a statue of young Agnarr and Iduna; simply put, thanks to the dedicated efforts of our beloved heroines, their two lands and their people are now fully connected by love. And with a heartwarming conclusion like that, hopefully, most of you will now understand why I’m perfectly fine with a franchise like Frozen becoming a permanent staple of our current pop cultural landscape.

Frozen II (2019)

And now, at long last, we’ve finally come to my favorite film of 2019. But just like last year, folks, I’m going to be completely upfront with you all when I say that I’m not even going to try to build up the suspense of this reveal. Let’s face it, folks… you know EXACTLY what this film is. Like last year’s #1, Avengers: Infinity War, it was a guaranteed lock-in at the top spot the exact moment I left that theater. It is a film that’ll forever define my life as a film fan the same way that its franchise has defined it for the past decade.

For the past decade, we’ve had the honor of witnessing one of the greatest runs that any film franchise has ever had courtesy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that it’s been that long since Tony Stark proudly proclaimed that he was Iron Man, thus setting the stage for a massive cinematic universe that had never really been done before… at least, not to the extent that Marvel Studios was aiming for. And, of course, let’s not forget that back then, Marvel wasn’t able to use some of their most iconic characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men since they didn’t own the film rights to them, which meant that they had to rely more on some of their lesser-known characters to get things started. Yes, as crazy as it may seem nowadays, Iron Man wasn’t always one of the biggest stars of the Marvel universe. However, that didn’t hinder Marvel Studios’ plans in the slightest, and in 2012, the first big payoff of this plan was unleashed via writer/director Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. Backed by Marvel’s concerted efforts to properly set up the world and its characters before putting them all together, The Avengers promptly became one of the biggest films of all-time and officially cemented the MCU as one of the premier film franchises of recent years. This has continued to be the case ever since, as Marvel Studios has consistently delivered top-notch superhero films on a regular basis. And while I’m well aware that a lot of people like to rag on some of their lesser-received films such as Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, I still very much stand by what I’ve been saying all these years in that Marvel Studios has yet to make a film on the same level of quality as the genre’s most infamous outings such as 2015’s Fan4stic or 2004’s Catwoman. Sure, there have legitimately been some weaker entries over the years, but at their worst, they’re just ‘okay’.

A lot of the MCU’s success has been thanks to the terrific group of directors that Marvel has hired over the years to bring this universe to life. This includes the duo of brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who made their franchise debut in 2014 with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Despite being known more for their work in comedies at the time, the Russos managed to craft one of the franchise’s most exciting installments to date. In fact, one could even argue that Winter Soldier was exactly the kind of hit that Marvel Studios needed after an admittedly rocky 2013 that was defined by the polarizing reaction to Iron Man 3 and the generally ‘meh’ response to Thor: The Dark World. Because of this, the Russos returned to helm the third Captain America film, 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and while they did manage to deliver another fantastic film headlined by the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan, Civil War also proved that they could handle ensemble pieces just as much as they could handle solo outings. After all, given that Civil War involved almost every other member of the Avengers in its efforts to adapt the controversial storyline of the same name from the comics, some have argued that the film was basically Avengers 2.5. As such, the Russos were then brought back again to take Joss Whedon’s place as the directors of the next two Avengers films that would be shot back-to-back, starting with 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. And after several years of build-up, Infinity War was fully primed to serve as the official showcase for the MCU’s biggest villain to date, Josh Brolin’s Thanos the Mad Titan. However, this also meant that there was quite a lot of pressure on everyone involved to make this work since A.) the MCU has often gotten flak for having ‘subpar’ villains and B.) before Infinity War, Thanos’ role in the MCU was mostly defined by a whole bunch of jokes about how he mainly sat around on a throne and did almost nothing.

Josh Brolin in Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

But all that skepticism was properly negated when Infinity War came out and promptly established Thanos as the MCU’s greatest villain to date. Heck, it managed to pull all that off in just the first ten minutes by having Thanos eradicate half of Asgard’s surviving population, kill off some of the franchise’s most prominent characters, and deliver an utter beatdown on the Hulk. More importantly, though, the key factor behind Thanos’ strong characterization is that Infinity War was very much his story. Sure, he was the main antagonist for the Avengers to face, but the whole crux of the plot was his quest to collect the six Infinity Stones, which he does manage to do despite the Avengers’ best efforts to stop him. And because of this, Infinity War concluded with one of the best finales in recent cinematic history by showing the full and utterly terrifying extent of Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the universe. Yes, because of that infamous snap of his fingers while using the Infinity Gauntlet, several key members of the Avengers found themselves dusted away into nothing while their friends and family were powerless to stop it. But while this was a moment that was lifted directly from the comics, I’m going to bet that most audiences weren’t expecting something like this to happen in the global powerhouse of a franchise that is the MCU. And yet, that’s exactly what Infinity War did, and in doing so, the Russos certainly challenged a longstanding criticism that claimed that the MCU films have often been lacking in terms of stakes. But while this certainly set the stage for the finale that was Avengers: Endgame, it also set up that film’s own set of unique expectations because, to be perfectly blunt, as shocking as Infinity War’s ending was, most audiences already figured that its outcome would be reversed in Endgame. Thus, the biggest challenge of Avengers: Endgame was to deliver a grand finale that could still work despite the inevitable predictability of its plot.

Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

And yet, that was exactly what the Russos managed to pull off with Endgame. For starters, the first twenty minutes of the film properly establishes the fact that as clear as it is that the Avengers will overcome their loss against Thanos and bring their friends back, this won’t be an easy task. The first 20 minutes of Endgame could potentially be described as the proper epilogue to the events of Infinity War. It starts off by establishing where Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye has been since he didn’t appear in the previous film by having him forced to witness the rest of his family succumbing to the snap. After that, we see Tony Stark and Nebula attempting to return to Earth after being the only survivors of the fight against Thanos on the planet Titan. When all seems lost and their ship runs out of fuel, Tony delivers what may be the final message he’ll ever send to the love of his life, Pepper Potts. Luckily for the two of them, however, they’re rescued by Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel who, of course, had just made her franchise debut in her own solo film a few months prior (even though Brie Larson technically filmed her scenes for Endgame first). She promptly returns them to Earth, and because of Nebula’s connection to Thanos as his adopted daughter, the Avengers discover where he’s hiding out and that he recently used the stones again. Thus, the group heads out to confront him (albeit without Tony, who promptly faints after a heated argument with Cap due to his weakened state). When they get there, however, they discover that Thanos’ second use of the stones was to destroy them so that no one could reverse his actions. This then results in Thor doing exactly what he should’ve done at the end of Infinity War by ‘going for the head’ and swiftly decapitating Thanos. But while this may have been Thor’s attempt at atoning for the mistake that he made the last time that he faced Thanos, the kicker to all this is that… ultimately, it meant nothing. Sure, Thanos may have been taken care of, but half of the universe is still dead and their only means of fixing that is no more.

Chris Evans in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

And so, we then cut to five years later to the year 2023 and begin to discover exactly how the world has tried to move on in the wake of Thanos’ actions. While the surviving citizens of Asgard have established a new home off the coast of Norway, Thor’s guilt over his various mistakes has led to him becoming an overweight, depressed drunk. Tony Stark, meanwhile, has retired from the superhero life, is now married to Pepper, and they have a daughter named Morgan after this was hinted at during Tony and Pepper’s scene together in Infinity War when he suggested naming their first kid after her uncle of the same name. And as for the Avengers, Cap and Black Widow have been leading the surviving members of the group while also struggling to move on from all that they’ve been through despite Cap consistently telling others the exact opposite. But then things start to change when Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man returns from the Quantum Realm after being stuck there at the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp when Hank Pym, Janet Van Dyne and Hope Van Dyne were snapped out of existence. After an utterly devastating reunion with his daughter Cassie, who obviously grew up in the five years he was gone, Scott heads to the Avengers’ compound where he informs Cap and Natasha that while he may have been in the Quantum Realm for five years, it only felt like a few hours to him. Thus, Scott proposes a theory that they utilize the unique physics of the Quantum Realm to travel through time and collect the six Infinity Stones before Thanos can. And while their initial attempts at recruiting Tony to their mission are unsuccessful because of the peaceful life that he’s made for himself, he eventually changes his mind after reflecting upon the loss of his protégé Peter Parker and, to his complete surprise, managing to figure out a plausible method of time-travel.

"TIME TRAVEL! What? I see this as an absolute win!"
Now before I continue, I should probably address the elephant in the room that is the fact that, as I’m sure many of you know, the concept of time travel can often be a complicated aspect of science-fiction narratives. Simply put, just the decision to use it can often lead to much debate amongst critics and audiences over all the potential complications that can occur from it, namely the dangers of causing a time paradox. This can especially be a problem if the film is part of a larger franchise and ends up making certain plot decisions that don’t sync up with the events of previous installments. With all that in mind, though, I’d argue that Avengers: Endgame deserves quite a bit of credit for how it decides to handle time travel. Namely, it does so by not making a big deal about the semantics behind it. It efficiently sets up the idea behind the MCU’s method of time travel (i.e. the Quantum Realm) and it doesn’t worry too much about causing any potential paradoxes since it rejects the common notion that changing something in the past will directly alter the future. However, it still acknowledges the impact that these actions can have on future events by establishing that the Avengers will have to return the Infinity Stones to the past once they’re done using them so that the universe that they were taken out of doesn’t fall into disarray. Plus, it could also be argued that the intent of all this is to set the stage for the incorporation of a multiverse in the MCU. Sure, Quentin Beck may have been lying in Spider-Man: Far From Home when he said that he was from another dimension, but at the same time, the next Doctor Strange film is subtitled In the Multiverse of Madness, which means that Marvel Studios is most likely beginning to work the idea of the multiverse into future installments of the franchise. Ultimately, though, the biggest selling point of this film’s time-travel plot is that the Avengers split up into teams and find themselves traveling back in time to key moments in the MCU’s history, thus paving the way for plenty of great callbacks and a lot of genuinely unexpected cameos.

First up, we have Tony, Cap, Scott, and Bruce Banner (who’s revealed to have merged his two personalities and can now maintain his intelligence while in Hulk form) traveling back to the climactic Battle of New York from the first Avengers. Bruce heads over to the Sanctum Sanctorum to try and collect the Time Stone from the Ancient One. And while she initially refuses to do so given the negative universal impact of an Infinity Stone’s disappearance from the timeline, Bruce ultimately convinces her otherwise when he reveals that Dr. Strange willingly gave it to Thanos during the events of Infinity War. Meanwhile, Tony, Cap, and Scott work to collect the other two stones that are in the area at the time, the Tesseract’s Space Stone and the Mind Stone within Loki’s scepter. While the Mind Stone is initially taken by Brock Rumlow and his STRIKE squad from Winter Soldier, Cap manages to get it from them by acting like he’s also secretly working with HYDRA. And, of course, it’s worth mentioning that this moment ends up being a brilliant jab at the infamous Secret Empire storyline from the comics where Cap is turned into a HYDRA agent. This also paves the way for an awesome clash between Cap and his 2012 self when the latter thinks that the former is Loki in disguise, which is the first of two specific instances in this film where a character crosses paths with their younger self. The attempt by Tony and Scott to collect the Space Stone (which primarily involves giving 2012 Tony a heart-attack by temporarily disabling his arc reactor) isn’t as successful, however, since it gets knocked out of their possession by 2012 Hulk, who had to take the stairs to the ground floor of Stark Tower instead of the elevator. Thus, it ends up getting picked up by 2012 Loki, who promptly escapes with it in a moment that confirms that a version of Loki is alive (even if the one that we had become the most attached to was killed by Thanos in Infinity War) and sets the stage for the impending Loki TV series that’s set to debut on Disney+ next year.

Robert Downey Jr. and John Slattery in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

But, of course, this then creates a new problem for Cap, Tony, and Scott since they only have enough of the Pym Particles that they have been using to travel through time to get back to the present. Luckily for them, Tony ends up figuring out a new plan that would allow them to not only collect the Tesseract but also acquire more Pym Particles. And so, he and Cap travel back to 1970 to Camp Lehigh in New Jersey, where Cap had trained with the U.S. Army before his transformation via Dr. Erskine’s super-soldier serum, where they collect the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s underground base and collect the Pym Particles from Hank Pym’s lab. At the same time, though, this little detour also ends up taking our two heroes down some highly emotional routes. When Steve is forced to hide from security, he ends up in Peggy Carter’s office, and while she’s arguing with another agent in the adjacent room, Steve sees the love of his life for the first time since she passed away during the events of Captain America: Civil War. As for Tony, he ends up crossing paths with his father Howard, and as the two exit the base, they strike up a conversation when Howard mentions that he and his wife Maria are about to have a kid (that kid, of course, being Tony). Howard reveals to Tony the nerves that he’s feeling surrounding the impending arrival of his kid, who he fears will end up inheriting his worst traits. As he puts it, “the greater good has rarely outweighed my own self-interests”. Tony manages to help ease this concern by relaying his own experiences as a father to Morgan and mentions that as much as he felt his dad was tough on him, he admits that he now primarily remembers the good times. His dad then proceeds to note that “the kid’s not even here yet and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him”. Thus, after several years of the MCU clearly establishing that Tony and Howard had a complicated relationship when the latter was alive, Tony is finally able to have a moment of reconciliation with the dad that he never truly got the chance to properly connect with by realizing that, at the end of the day, his dad was human just like everyone else.

Next up, we have Thor and Rocket traveling to Asgard in 2013 during the events of Thor: The Dark World… and yes, they managed to make a worthwhile moment out of what is widely considered to be the weakest installment of the MCU. Like I said before, folks, even Marvel Studios’ weakest is still better than most other films in the genre. Anyway, while Rocket works to extract the Aether (AKA the Reality Stone) from Jane Foster, Thor ends up coming across his mother Frigga, who was tragically killed by the Dark Elves in The Dark World. And as much as Thor tries to trick her into thinking that he’s the Thor from that time, Frigga immediately deduces that he’s from the future. The ensuing conversation between mother and son proves to be exactly what Thor needed after everything that he’s been through in the past few years and is quite arguably the catalyst behind him beginning to overcome his depressed state. When Thor reflects on all the recent mistakes that he’s made (namely, the unnecessary killing of Thanos), Frigga assures him that those failures are what makes him just like everyone else and that everyone fails when it comes to being who they’re meant to be. And when Thor tries to warn his mom about her impending death, she refuses to hear him out, implying that she’s perhaps content with her fate. All in all, this is an utterly heartwarming sequence and it’s nice to see Rene Russo get to have a definitive moment as Frigga after most of her scenes in the first Thor were cut and her expanded role in the sequel ultimately ended with her death. And as a perfect coda to all this, Thor summons the Mjolnir of 2013 before leaving and delightfully realizes he’s “still worthy”.

Finally, we have Natasha, Clint, Rhodey, and Nebula traveling back to 2014 to the planet Morag. Rhodey and Nebula stick around to wait for Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord to arrive and lead them to the location of the Power Stone. Thus, we get to witness a reprisal of the classic opening title sequence from Guardians of the Galaxy as Peter dances around the area to Redbone’s ‘Come and Get Your Love’. However, Endgame then proceeds to deliver a funny new take on this sequence by showing that, from the perspective of a potential onlooker, Peter’s just singing to himself since they can’t hear the music from his Walkman. Rhodey then promptly deduces that he’s “an idiot”, which I feel is a fun and non-mean-spirited way of poking fun at Quill in the wake of his little ‘incident’ from Infinity War that the rest of the internet grossly over-reacted to, and knocks him unconsciousness. Nebula then proceeds to collect the Power Stone by using her cybernetic arm to withstand the power of the force field surrounding it. But while Rhodey ends up returning to the present with the Stone without issue, the same can’t be said for Nebula, who previously noted that she and Rhodey weren’t the only ones in 2014 looking for the Stones. And sure enough, elsewhere in the galaxy, Nebula’s 2014 self is suddenly inundated with her current self’s memories since the two of them share the same neural network. This prompts the Thanos of 2014 to go through them and discover exactly what the Avengers have been planning, even witnessing the death of his future self in the process. Using this newfound information to his advantage, 2014 Thanos kidnaps the present-day Nebula and has the 2014 Nebula take her place.

Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, and Ross Marquand in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Meanwhile, Natasha and Clint head to Vormir to collect the Soul Stone, and after they are approached by the Stone’s guardian, the Red Skull, they soon discover the unfortunate catch-22 behind the process of collecting it. In other words, one of them must make the ultimate sacrifice so that the other can get the Stone (“A soul for a soul”). This then leads to the two longtime friends debating over which one of them will take the fall, which Clint unabashedly volunteers to do given his recent actions. When we first reunite with Hawkeye in 2023, it’s revealed that, in the wake of his family’s demise, he has become a bitter, violent vigilante known as Ronin who is hellbent on wiping out any criminals who survived the Snap. It legitimately gets to a point where, during an earlier conversation between Nat and Rhodey when the latter has been tasked with monitoring Barton’s whereabouts, he suggests that Barton has arguably reached a point where he can’t be redeemed. However, when Nat finally confronts him after he wipes out a group of Yakuza members in Tokyo, it is her assurance that they have a chance to reverse Thanos’ actions that ultimately convinces Clint to partake in their mission. And because of this, back on Vormir, Nat reminds him that he has a family to return to when this is all over. Nevertheless, the two then proceed to get into a minor skirmish as they each try to jump off the cliff, ultimately concluding with them both hanging off it. Natasha then assures Clint that it’ll be alright and purposefully falls to her death so that he can properly obtain the Soul Stone.

Scarlett Johansson in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

This has admittedly been one of the more controversial aspects of Endgame, namely due to how Black Widow’s overall portrayal in the MCU has often faced tons of criticism for some of the ways in which the films have written her character. Back in 2015 when Avengers: Age of Ultron came out, there was a lot of scrutiny over the decision to romantically pair her up with Bruce Banner even though it wasn’t quite as ‘out-of-nowhere’ of a storyline as several people like to claim it is and the films proceeded to make it clear that it wasn’t meant to last. In that same film, however, she also referred to herself as a ‘monster’ when she mentions that she was sterilized during her training in the Black Widow program, which really didn’t sit well with certain audiences. And when it comes to her death in Endgame, this can potentially be viewed as a case of ‘fridging’, which is a term used to describe moments in comics where female characters are killed, injured, etc. to further a male character’s story arc. In this instance, Natasha’s the one who is killed so that Hawkeye can go home to his family. This whole ‘fridging’ argument can also apply to the similarly structured sequence in Infinity War where Thanos threw Gamora off the cliff so that he can collect the Soul Stone. However, while I very much recognize how Black Widow’s death can be regarded as a case of this notorious comic trope, it can also be argued that it’s one of its least extreme examples since this isn’t a case where the event was done against the subject’s will as it clearly was with Gamora’s death in Infinity War. In Natasha’s case, she willingly decides to make this sacrifice so that the Avengers’ mission will be a success. This is evident from her quietly repeating a phrase that Cap said before they all traveled back in time, “Whatever it takes”, and how she specifically responds to being referred to by the Red Skull as “Natasha, daughter of Ivan” since she never knew who her real father was.

Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Plus, while Thanos was practically emotionless when he obtained the Soul Stone in Infinity War (despite him repeatedly stating that Gamora was his favorite daughter), Clint openly begins to cry when he collects it, and when the Avengers return to 2023, their initial reverie at collecting all the stones quickly goes away once they realize why Natasha isn’t there. That said, though, there’s also been a lot of controversy over the fact that Natasha’s death doesn’t get as much attention as the other main character death in this film (which, of course, we’ll get to later). However, the scene where the Avengers mourn her death at the compound’s dock is arguably quite notable because of how the actions of each of the remaining members of the original Avengers crew represent the five stages of the Kübler-Ross model for grief. Thor straight-up rejects the idea that she’s dead and says that they can just use the Stones to bring her back (Denial). Hawkeye assures Thor that his idea won’t work and gets choked up when he notes that he should’ve been the one to take the fall (Bargaining). Bruce, meanwhile, tosses a bench across the lake (Anger). Steve is the most despondent over her loss and doesn’t say much during this scene (Depression) while Tony immediately asks if Nat had any family (Acceptance, which is also conveyed by Bruce when he states that she isn’t coming back), to which Steve responds that she did… they were her family. It all perfectly ties back to the conversation between Steve and Nat earlier in the film where she admits that before she joined the Avengers, she “used to have nothing” but that “this job… this family” ended up making her a better person. And so, with all that in mind, while Natasha’s death is understandably a very bittersweet moment given both the highs and lows of her appearances in these films, it does, indeed, leave a considerable impact on the rest of the team. Not only that, but let’s not forget that, at the time of this post’s publication, the next installment of the MCU will be her long-awaited solo film, which means that while she may have died in Avengers: Endgame, it’s also clear that this will not be the end of her story.

Mark Ruffalo in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Fully determined to finish the mission in the wake of Natasha’s death, the Avengers proceed to craft their own version of Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet from Tony’s nano-technology. However, this then leads to the most pivotal question of them all… who’s going to be the one to snap their fingers and bring everyone back? Thor volunteers to do so on the grounds that he’s the “strongest Avenger”, and in one of the film’s most subtly powerful emotional moments, Tony rejects the idea despite Thor’s pleas to let him do “something good, something right” because he clearly recognizes that Thor is in no condition to do it. Thus, Bruce decides to do it instead, pointing out that the radiation stemming from the stones is gamma-based and that “it’s like I was made for this”. And, folks, in a film that’s chock-full of terrific pay-offs to some of the franchise’s longest-running arcs, this is arguably one of the best of them all since it ties back to a pivotal scene way back in the first Avengers film where Tony and Bruce discuss the incident that turned the latter into the Hulk. In that scene, Tony remarks that the amount of gamma radiation that Bruce was exposed to should’ve killed him, with Bruce then suggesting that Tony’s implication is that “the other guy” saved his life for something important… this is that moment. And while the action of snapping his fingers to ensure that “everybody comes home” proves to take quite a toll on Bruce to the point where the power of the stones severely burns his arm, he is ultimately successful. Clint then proceeds to get a phone call from his wife Laura and Scott walks off into another room to see a bunch of birds flying around outside. Thus, in this moment of pure serenity, our heroes realize that things are finally back to normal… before 2014 Thanos utterly decimates the Avengers compound after traveling through time with the help of 2014 Nebula.

Josh Brolin in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

With that in mind, let’s finally talk about Thanos and how he factors into this film. While Endgame doesn’t focus on him as much as Infinity War did, the Russos and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely still do a wonderful job when it comes to developing his role in this story. It all begins with the bold decision to kill off the Thanos that we were familiar with from Infinity War at the beginning of the film. Like I said before, Infinity War was quite arguably Thanos’ film, and by the end of it, he had properly reached the conclusion of his character arc. He had collected all 6 Infinity Stones, snapped his fingers with the Infinity Gauntlet and wiped out half of the universe while utterly trouncing the Avengers’ efforts to stop him. Thus, that film concluded with him doing exactly what he said he was going to do when he was talking to Doctor Strange on Titan; “I finally rest and watch the sunrise on a grateful universe”. And when we return to him in Endgame, the reveal that he used the Stones once more to destroy them properly ensures his victory even if it severely disfigured him in the process. As such, when Thor inevitably “goes for the head” and kills him, one could argue that Thanos was perfectly content with this fate because, at this moment (since it’s safe to say that he probably didn’t know what was going on with Ant-Man), he knew that the Avengers could do nothing to reverse his actions. However, with that said, I also recognize that, because of this, the Thanos from 2014 that the Avengers end up facing in this film’s finale doesn’t even remotely have the same personal connection to them that his ‘modern’ counterpart had. This is especially evident in the scene where he’s confronted by Scarlet Witch, who was one of the Avengers most affected by him in Infinity War since he killed Vision to collect the Mind Stone. When Wanda proclaims that he “took everything from her”, Thanos simply responds, “I don’t even know who you are.”

Chris Evans in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Despite this, however, the film doesn’t shy away from the fact that Thanos is still the most dangerous villain that the Avengers have ever faced, and that is very much apparent in Endgame’s finale, which effectively takes up the last third of this three-hour epic. It all begins with a terrific three-on-one battle between Thanos and the trio of Tony, Cap, and Thor, resulting in one last utterly satisfying hurrah for the MCU’s Trinity. This also paves the way for another one of Endgame’s most satisfying payoffs to past events when Thor finds himself in a troubling situation as Thanos attempts to kill him with his own weapon, Stormbreaker. We then see Mjolnir being lifted off the ground as it’s launched through the air to hit Thanos… before promptly returning to Cap’s hands, confirming what we all knew the moment we saw that scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron where the Avengers tried to lift Thor’s hammer and Cap was the closest to doing so. Steve Rogers is very much worthy, a fact that Thor delightfully reacts to (“I knew it!!!”). However, even this isn’t enough to stop Thanos, who promptly knocks out all three heroes (while also breaking off a sizable chunk of Cap’s shield) before proclaiming that he’s going to take pleasure in enacting his new plan to wipe out the entire universe. And so, his vast army made up of everything from the Outriders to the Black Order (disclaimer: their 2014 incarnations, obviously, since they were killed off in Infinity War) arrive on the scene ready to fulfill their master’s plan. At this moment, however, Captain America, the man who always stood up to bullies no matter the odds, nobly rises, practically ready to take on both Thanos and his entire army by himself. That is… until Sam Wilson’s voice comes over the comms and, in a brilliant callback to their first scene together in Winter Soldier, tells Cap, “On your left…”  

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

I mean… what more can be said about the legendary sequence that follows? As Cap turns around, he sees a portal materializing behind him to reveal the trio of T’Challa AKA Black Panther, Okoye, and Shuri. Falcon then proceeds to fly out of it as well, thus paving the way for other portals emerging to reveal the rest of the Avengers’ once-fallen comrades. Almost everyone who was dusted away at the end of Infinity War (and Ant-Man and the Wasp) is there; Dr. Strange, the Guardians, Spider-Man, Bucky, Scarlet Witch, the Wasp, etc. And they’re not the only ones who’ve come to join the fight. There’s Valkyrie leading Asgard’s army (plus Korg and Miek), the Wakandan army, the Masters of the Mystic Arts, the Ravagers (including Howard the Duck, of all people), and even Pepper joins in wearing the ‘Rescue’ suit that Tony had made for her. Ant-Man then emerges from the rubble in his giant form, having saved the trio of Bruce, Rhodey, and Rocket from the compound’s destruction. And to top it all off, Cap leads our heroes into battle by proclaiming the two words that we’ve been dying to hear him say for years, “AVENGERS… assemble!” Simply put, this whole portal sequence is pure perfection. Whether it’s the amazing music from Alan Silvestri or the emotional catharsis of seeing all the fallen heroes return at this pivotal moment, this is truly the pinnacle of everything that we’ve seen so far from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Literally the only thing that could’ve possibly made this whole sequence better is if all those legal complications surrounding the film rights to Marvel’s characters weren’t a thing so that the X-Men and Fantastic Four could be there as well.

Nevertheless, the ensuing battle between the Avengers and Thanos’ forces is one for the ages as the Avengers try to get the Infinity Stones away from Thanos via the Quantum Tunnel in Scott’s van. There are, of course, plenty of epic action moments that come from this, like Scarlet Witch’s previously mentioned beatdown of Thanos and the moment where Spider-Man finally utilizes his suit’s ‘Instant Kill’ feature. At the same time, though, you also get some great personal moments in there, like when Cap and Thor casually switch weapons during a moment where Cap’s the one holding Stormbreaker and Thor’s holding Mjolnir (“No, no, give me that. You have the little one”). And if you want to talk about utterly satisfying emotional beats, look no further than the scene where Tony finally reunites with Peter Parker. While Peter starts to go on a tangent about everything that happened to them on Titan and how he “must have passed out” when he “got all dusty”, Tony simply says nothing and gives the boy a hug. Remember the moment in Spider-Man: Homecoming when it looked like he was about to hug Peter, but he was just opening the car door and proclaimed that they weren’t “there yet”? Well, folks, there’s another terrific franchise-long payoff for you right there, and suffice it to say, every time that I saw this film in theaters, this was one of the big ‘applause-worthy’ moments. However, Thanos continues to be a formidable foe to the point where, during his fight with Scarlet Witch, he commands Corvus Glaive to have his warship “reign fire” on the battlefield even if it comes at the cost of their own troops. And while the initial bombardment proves to be an issue for the Avengers (e.g. a nearby dam is destroyed, resulting in Doctor Strange having to deal with the subsequent flooding), the ship is then suddenly destroyed by none other than Captain Marvel.

Brie Larson in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Some of you may be surprised to discover that Captain Marvel doesn’t factor into this film as much as you may think given all the build-up regarding her imminent arrival during Infinity War’s post-credits scene. After the whole sequence where the Avengers go to confront Infinity War Thanos and the film then cuts to 2023, Carol announces that she’s going away for a while to deal with conflicts in other galaxies and doesn’t show up again until the final battle. And no, a very certain section of the internet, this is not a case where Marvel was trying to do some course-correction after her solo film attracted tons of controversy from misogynistic fanboys just because Brie Larson dared to promote greater diversity in the entertainment industry. Like I said before, Captain Marvel’s scenes in Endgame were filmed before her own solo film. With that in mind, I believe that this was because Marvel wanted Carol’s big character-defining moments to be reserved for her own adventure so that this film could directly focus on the original Avengers crew from the first Avengers. Nevertheless, when Carol does factor into the story, she still very much gets her time to shine. Take, for example, the scene where she’s directly fighting Thanos and ends up mirroring a moment from Infinity War where Cap was preventing Thanos from closing the Infinity Gauntlet and utilizing its powers. In Infinity War, that sequence concluded with Thanos knocking Cap out. Thanos attempts to do this again with Carol in Endgame… and when he does so, she doesn’t even flinch. Literally the only way that Thanos manages to gain the upper hand is by taking the Power Stone out of the Gauntlet and using it directly against her.     

Gwyneth Paltrow, Brie Larson, Elizabeth Olsen, Tessa Thompson, Pom Klementieff, and Letitia Wright in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Another key sequence that involves Captain Marvel is when she crosses paths with Peter Parker when the latter is the one who’s currently in possession of both the Infinity Stones and the Nano Gauntlet. After a cute little moment where the two introduce themselves, they then notice a sizable part of Thanos’ army heading their way. When Peter remarks that he doesn’t know how she’d be able to get through all that, all the other female Avengers proceed to come to her aid and take on this incoming onslaught together while Carol heads for the Quantum Tunnel. Awesome, right? Well, to some parts of the internet… apparently not. In fact, those people have argued that this scene was the very definition of ‘forced’, with the common argument being that many of the other female Avengers (namely, the ones who had just come back from being dusted) don’t have much of a personal connection to Captain Marvel. And to that, I say… who the hell cares? Heck, I don’t recall seeing that kind of response towards the big female-oriented scene in Infinity War where Black Widow and Okoye came to Scarlet Witch’s aid against Proxima Midnight. Now, would it have been nicer to let Black Widow be a part of this scene as well? Absolutely! Nevertheless, this is an epic moment that’s reserved solely for the amazing heroines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Plus, I’m sure that I’m not the only one who feels that this whole sequence is a perfect showcase of the potential for a future MCU team-up film centered solely on the franchise’s female leads. Brie Larson has gone on record saying that many of them have been pushing for such a film and it goes without saying that I’m all for it.

Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

However, as noted earlier, Thanos continues to give the Avengers a run for their money throughout this entire finale. This even applies to Captain Marvel who, in the months leading up to both this and her solo film’s release, was continuously implied to be the most powerful character in the whole franchise who could quite arguably defeat him singlehandedly. Ultimately, though, it all comes down to a single clash between the Mad Titan and Iron Man. Going back to Infinity War for a moment, one of its most pivotal sequences was when Doctor Strange looked ahead in time to witness the possible outcomes of their impending fight against Thanos. When Iron Man proceeded to ask if they were successful in any of them, Strange notes that of the 14,000,605 outcomes that he saw, only one of them resulted in their victory. Thus, when everyone returns in Endgame, the first thing that Tony asks Strange when they reunite is if this is that one outcome, to which Strange responds by saying that he can’t tell him what’s about to happen because it won’t otherwise. And after the big clash between Thanos and Captain Marvel, Strange silently signals to Tony that this is the moment that will determine the fate of the universe. Thus, Tony attempts to grab onto the Nano Gauntlet before Thanos promptly knocks him away. Thanos then proceeds to repeat the phrase that his modern self said before his death, “I am inevitable”, before snapping his fingers once again… except for this time, nothing happens because the stones aren’t in the Gauntlet. Instead, they are shown to have bonded to Tony’s suit, and right before he snaps his fingers, Tony responds to Thanos’ proclamation with one of his own, which just so happens to be the one quote that started this whole franchise in the first place, “and I… am… Iron Man!” And so, with the snap of Tony’s fingers, Thanos’ entire army is dusted away, with the Mad Titan himself quietly accepting his fate before he too fades away.

Sadly, though, this moment of triumph ultimately ends with tragedy since the power of the stones proves to be too much for Tony to handle. He’s first approached by Rhodey, who doesn’t say anything but quickly realizes what’s about to happen to his best friend. After that, Peter Parker then comes to his mentor’s side, trying to get his attention to tell him that “they won” before he begins to break down in tears (“I’m sorry, Tony…”). Finally, Pepper steps in to share one last moment with her husband. At this moment, Tony squeaks out his last words directed solely to her (“Hey, Pep…”) as Pepper is informed by Tony’s A.I. system F.R.I.D.A.Y., “life functions, critical”. Pepper then proceeds to get Tony’s attention, assuring him that she and Morgan will be okay and that he “can rest now”, a line that ties back to their conversation earlier in the film when Tony told her that he had figured out the process of time-travel but was hesitant about losing the life that he had built for Morgan and the two of them. Pepper responds to this by telling him that, as lucky as they were to survive the Snap, she also knows he’d never rest if he didn’t try to save those who were lost… not to mention the fact that “trying to get [him] to stop” was never her strongest suit. And so, as the light in his arc reactor fades out… Tony Stark dies, having put his life on the line when it mattered the most. In a deleted scene, the other Avengers take a knee to honor their fallen comrade. It’s a beautiful moment, for sure, but at the same time, the sequence that immediately follows all this does get the same point across just as powerfully.

And so, life in the MCU starts to go back to normal. Hawkeye finally reunites with his family, T’Challa, Shuri and their mother Ramonda happily look on as Wakanda celebrates, Scott gets to have a peaceful moment with Hope and his daughter Cassie back in San Francisco and Peter Parker returns to high school, where he promptly reunites with his best friend Ned. While all this is going on, we get some narration from Tony where he remarks that while “everyone wants a happy ending”, “it doesn’t always roll that way”. However, at the same time, he also hopes that it will be different this time while also reflecting on how much bigger the world has become over the past decade and how everything that’s happened in that time and the consequences that have stemmed from it all have now crafted the reality that Morgan will grow up in. We then cut to Tony and Pepper’s lakeside home, where it’s revealed that this narration is from a video message that he recorded before he left to partake in the time-travel mission that’s being viewed by Pepper, Morgan, Happy Hogan, Rhodey, and the rest of the OG Avengers. Tony remarks that he’s nervous about the whole time-traveling mission and the chances that they’ll have to survive it before he also admits that he’s well-aware that this is “the hero gig” and that “part of the journey is the end”. He then proceeds to proclaim that “everything is going to work out exactly the way it’s supposed to” before he concludes the recording by saying one last goodbye to Morgan. The four words that he says to her are the exact same words that she said to him when he tucked her in for bed the night before he left, and sure enough, these words have now become a definitive part of the eternal legacy that Tony Stark has left on the MCU, “I love you 3000”.

We then proceed to witness Tony’s funeral, as Pepper and Morgan set a memorial wreath adrift on the lake. Nestled inside the wreath is the very first Arc Reactor that Tony created to escape from his captivity during the events of the first Iron Man. That same arc reactor was then repurposed into a gift for Tony from Pepper that would forever serve as “Proof that Tony Stark has a Heart”. After that, we get a truly impressive tracking shot that goes through everyone in attendance and serves as a perfect showcase of just how far the MCU has come since its humble beginnings. Literally every one of the MCU’s major sub-franchises are represented here, from the Guardians and Black Panther to Ant-Man and Spider-Man. There are some characters like Hank Pym and Bucky who, despite their complicated histories with the Stark family, are still willing to pay their respects to the man who saved the world. Heck, even Harley Keener, the young kid that Tony befriended in Iron Man 3, shows up even if I’m sure most people watching this film probably didn’t realize this upon first viewing. Just like the portal scene, the whole sequence revolving around Tony’s funeral is pitch-perfect, especially thanks to the powerful score from Alan Silvestri. Simply put, it gives the MCU’s most iconic hero the send-off that he truly deserved. And after this tracking shot, we get some nice personal moments involving some of the other characters. The first is with Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch who, of course, have been frequently partnered together since the latter’s debut in Age of Ultron. Hawkeye remarks that he wishes he could tell Nat that they won, to which Wanda responds by saying that “she knows… they both do” which, of course, is also in reference to Vision given his death at the hands of Thanos in Infinity War. The other moment involves Morgan and Happy, as the latter responds to her request for cheeseburgers by pointing out that they were her dad’s favorite food.

However, this isn’t the end of the film as it then proceeds to tie up some additional loose ends. After the funeral, Thor returns to New Asgard, where he informs Valkyrie that he’ll be going away for a while to figure out his true purpose in life. And while Valkyrie points out that the people of New Asgard will still need a king, Thor effectively appoints her as their kingdom’s newest ruler before heading off to join with the Guardians of the Galaxy on their next adventure which, from the looks of it, will revolve around them searching for Gamora. You see, folks, one thing that I’ve admittedly haven’t mentioned yet in this write-up is that, given the whole subplot of 2014 Nebula being inundated with her present self’s memories, the Gamora of 2014 ends up getting involved as well. And while that does mean that this Gamora is not the one that we’ve come to know and love from previous films since this is before the events of Guardians of the Galaxy (e.g. when she’s ‘reunited’ with Star-Lord during the final battle, all she does is knock him out), she still decides to help the current Nebula stop Thanos. Nebula even kills her 2014 self during the final battle to prevent her from getting the Infinity Stones. As for 2014 Gamora, she ends up leaving after the battle even though this is only established in the previously mentioned deleted scene where the heroes take a knee to mourn Tony’s death. And right before Thor gets on the Guardians’ ship, we see Star-Lord looking at her profile on a monitor. With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how this search for Gamora will factor into the next Guardians film; if you ask me, it’d certainly help give it the strong emotional depth that we’ve come to expect from this franchise. Then, of course, there’s also the whole thing about Thor tagging along with the group. While there hasn’t been any confirmation that he’s going to be in the next Guardians film (if at all, since James Gunn has stated that it’ll take place after the fourth Thor film, Thor: Love and Thunder), there have been reports suggesting that the Guardians of the Galaxy will be making an appearance in Love and Thunder. But, of course, given that this is the super-secretive Marvel Studios we’re talking about, it’ll be a while before we know what’s what.

Finally, there’s the whole matter of returning the Infinity Stones and Mjolnir back to their original timeline, which Cap volunteers to do so as Hulk, Bucky, and Falcon look on. To their surprise, however, Cap doesn’t return despite Hulk’s claim that he’d be back in just five seconds. Bucky then diverts Falcon’s attention to the lake, where an elderly Steve Rogers now sits. When Falcon proceeds to ask him about what just happened, Steve notes that after returning the Stones, he decided to experience the kind of “beautiful” life that Tony had always insisted he should get. And while Falcon remarks that he’s happy that Steve got to have that, he also admits that he’s bummed about the prospect of living in a world without Captain America. Steve then proceeds to pull out a bag that contains an unbroken version of his shield, which both he and Bucky encourage Falcon to pick up. And so, Sam Wilson, the man who selflessly followed Steve Rogers into battle no matter the cost, picks up the shield, and while his response to Steve asking him how it feels holding it is that it feels “like someone else’s”, Steve promptly assures him that it isn’t. Sam then proceeds to inquire about the “her” in his new life, to which Steve responds, “No… no, I don’t think I will”. Thus, the film finally ends by showing us exactly what Steve’s new life entails as we cut back to the year 1949, where we see him finally getting to have that dance that he and Peggy Carter had planned on having all the way back in Captain America: The First Avenger before he ended up frozen in the ice. And really, I think it’s rather neat that this is where Avengers: Endgame decides to end. Instead of going for some epic group shot to tease future films, it simply ends on a peaceful moment where Captain America, the man out of time who thought that he’d never have a normal life, gets to have the happy ending that he deserved.

And yet, despite all the good feelings that stem from this ending, I’m now forced to address something that I’ve been dying to comment on for the past few months. I had briefly gone over some of this stuff earlier when I was talking about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and how Reylos have been acting in response to the death of Ben Solo, but now it’s time for me to fully lay out all the problems that I have with one of the worst growing trends in current film fandom. Yes, folks, the time has finally come for me to talk about… stan culture. What is stan culture, you ask? Well, by definition, the term ‘stan’ (as popularized by the Eminem song of the same name) refers to a fan who shows a particularly committed devotion to the thing that they’re a fan of. This can apply to practically any major form of media, but from what I can tell, it mostly applies to musicians like Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato. However, what I’m mainly going to be focusing on are the negative aspects of the utter devotion that stans have towards, in their own words, “what they stan”. You see, these stans are so committed to their favorite things that whenever someone else comes in and dares to say something negative about them, they then proceed to defend their ‘faves’ in a truly intense fashion that, from what I’ve seen, often utilizes some intensely vehement insults. And in the case of films, incidents like this are usually based around the characters that appear in them. In other words, if something happens to a beloved character that their fans don’t like, the ones who get attacked are the filmmakers. Thus, even though they are collectively responsible for four of the greatest MCU films of all-time, the Russo brothers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have somehow found themselves in that situation thanks to the dedicated efforts of MCU stans to prove that Endgame is overrated.

Now I first noticed this whole ‘MCU stans’ situation a little while after Avengers: Infinity War came out. Back then, though, they weren’t as pervasive as they are now. Sure, you had some people who kept saying that the ending of Infinity War was the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to them, but to be fair, that film’s ending was a legitimately emotional moment. At the time, there were only about two major moments from that film that MCU stans kept harping on. First, there was the collection of Loki stans who got upset over his death at the beginning of the film since Loki has undoubtedly been one of the MCU’s most popular characters. In fact, I bet that they’re still mad about it even though Endgame revealed that the Loki from 2012 escaped from his captivity, thus paving the way for the character’s upcoming TV series on Disney+. And then there was the whole thing about Star-Lord punching Thanos at the wrong time that was further compounded by the internet joining in on the process of apparently forgetting that the big, purple alien who looked like a mix between Grimace and Homer Simpson was the actual villain of the film. In the wake of Avengers: Endgame, however, that’s when MCU stans REALLY started to make their presence known online, and unlike Infinity War, their gripes with the film aren’t just limited to one or two moments from it since practically every potentially controversial aspect of this production has spawned its own, unique band of ferociously critical MCU stans.

"Is he asleep?" "No, no... I'm pretty sure he's dead..."
You’ve got MCU stans who were quite upset about Black Widow’s death, which was fueled in considerable part by their intense hatred of Hawkeye. This promptly became an even bigger debacle when Jeremy Renner found himself in a particularly scandalous incident with his ex-wife, the details of which I won’t be getting into here since that’s a whole bag of worms that I don’t want to get into on this site. You’ve got MCU stans who were mad about the decision to turn Thor into a fat, depressed drunk which, to be fair, was a very risky move for the filmmakers to take, especially when it comes to developing some of the MCU’s trademark humor around it since humor and depression are the very definition of polar opposites. However, I’d also argue that this whole aspect of Thor’s character arc was handled as well as it could’ve been and that the film does give him plenty of much-deserved opportunities to find ways to overcome this, whether it’s the reunion with his mom or his commitment to stopping Thanos once and for all. And, of course, you can’t forget about the MCU stans who utterly despise some of the father figures of the MCU for their supposed ‘mental abuse’ of their offspring. For many years, this was often the case with Thor and Loki’s father Odin given the fandom’s immense love of the latter, even though their last scene together in Thor: Ragnarök showed that Odin’s feelings towards his adopted son had softened immensely since the events of Thor: The Dark World. Their biggest target, however, has been Howard Stark, which means that they weren’t too pleased with the genuinely emotional scene where Tony got to have that truly cathartic moment of reconciliation with him when the two crossed paths in 1970. Instead, they’ve just continued to bring up the tense relationship that they had when Howard was alive even though it’s well-established at this point that Tony had managed to find several ways to come to peace with that (e.g. when he came across the video message that Howard recorded for him in Iron Man 2). Plus, let’s not forget that this was all before Tony Stark had gone through everything that he’s been through in this franchise that turned him into the selfless hero that he ultimately became.

But when it comes to the most vocal MCU stans, that distinction goes to those who stan Captain America’s best friend, Bucky Barnes. Remember what I was saying earlier about the ending in which Cap decides to go back in time to live out the rest of his life with Peggy and how sweet it was? Well, Bucky stans hate this whole sequence with a burning passion. To them, it completely ruined Cap’s character arc, which they always argue by citing the ending of Avengers: Age of Ultron where Cap notes that the version of himself that yearned for a normal life had gone away when he went into the ice. And as for Peggy, they argue that she clearly moved on from Cap at the end of the first season of Agent Carter when she threw away the vial containing his blood into the ocean. However, I don’t think that these stans understand that ‘moving on’ isn’t the same as ‘entirely forgetting the past’. If it was, then Peggy wouldn’t have had that picture of pre-serum Steve in her S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ office in 1970 and she wouldn’t have gotten emotional when talking about Steve during the interview that was shown at his Smithsonian exhibit in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But then there’s also the fact that Bucky stans were mad that Cap’s decision led to him ‘abandoning’ Bucky, who now takes up the mantle of ‘man out of time’ even though he’s set to headline his own show alongside Sam, who he clearly has terrific camaraderie with as evident from the scenes that they shared in Captain America: Civil War. In their eyes, this completely went against their promise to be together “till the end of the line” even though I’m sure that ‘being willing to let your best friend have the happy ending he deserves’ can still be seen as an action that applies to this ideal. Ultimately, though, I feel that this sums up the most fascinating aspect of MCU stans since they always talk about how they want the best for their favorite characters. And yet, when you have a situation like this where Cap and Peggy get to have that happy ending, apparently this isn’t what they meant by that. Plus, as much as I’ve seen them mention how much they love Peggy, I’ve also seen some refer to her as ‘Dusty Cooch’.

I mean, to be perfectly blunt, folks… I just don’t get it. Really, I don’t. Like I’ve said countless times over the years, if you ever find certain aspects of a film to be underwhelming, then that’s fine. I’m not trying to change anyone’s views on subjects like this. But you see, the thing that I’m not getting here is why these people feel that the best way to express their feelings on the situation is by attacking those who worked on the film. I mean, this is seriously up there with everything that I just talked about with Star Wars as some of the most egregious examples of gatekeeping that I’ve ever seen in my time as a film critic. And because of this, I honestly have no idea why decisions like letting Cap go back in time to live his life with Peggy or letting Tony have some much-needed closure with his father have suddenly turned the Russo brothers, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely into social pariahs amongst certain internet types. To me, this whole bizarre situation can be best summed up by an utterly messed up picture that I came across a few months back on social media. I won’t be providing any links to it because I don’t want to promote what it’s saying, but simply put, this image stems from a sequence that was in the trailers for Endgame but didn’t end up in the actual film. The sequence in question revolved around Black Widow as she’s practicing at a firing range, but instead of traditional targets, this photo photoshopped Joe and Anthony Russo’s faces onto the targets that she’s specifically firing at. You know… a lot has been said over the years about the fact that, even though geek culture has become a defining part of modern pop culture after years of being widely considered ‘uncool’, we’re now living in an age where those who would’ve been bullied for liking geeky stuff have ironically become the most prominent bullies of the digital age. I mean, when you see something like this coming from the racist/misogynistic crowd… that’s just something you’d expect from folks like that. As such, I strongly believe that all this nonsense that I’ve been seeing from stan culture is worse than all the crap we’ve seen from the racist/sexist morons in the world because it comes from a crowd who should seriously know better.

And unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that has attempted to hinder my enjoyment of Avengers: Endgame. Around the time of its initial release, an old classmate of mine from college began to post some intensely vitriolic rants against it on social media. Simply put, this person felt that anyone who enjoyed a film where superheroes punch each other for 2-3 hours is a ‘puerile sheep’, and he even started calling other people that online in the comment sections of posts published by the film’s official social media pages. And if that wasn’t enough, Endgame wasn’t the only film that he mocked people for wanting to see. A few weeks later, he said the same kind of crap when Pokémon: Detective Pikachu came out, and while this finally prompted me to unfriend him on social media since it’s great to cleanse yourself of that toxicity, I can only imagine how he feels about films like Rise of Skywalker or the Disney live-action remakes. If I haven’t mentioned it in the past, folks, I’m not a fan of film snobs and suffice it to say, this was one of the most egregious examples of film-related snobbery. And finally, folks, there’s the one recent incident that I’m sure many of you were expecting me to bring up here given the subject matter, and that is how the one and only Martin Scorsese has responded to superhero films. This occurred in October around the time that Joker came out since many pointed out that it was a comic-book film done in the style of a Martin Scorsese film (in fact, he was even attached to produce it at one point). Anyway, during the press tour for his latest film, The Irishman, Scorsese noted that he felt that superhero films “weren’t cinema” and were more like theme park rides.

Now, for the record, what I’m about to say is not intended to be an attack against the man in response to his comments. For one thing… this is Martin frigging Scorsese we’re talking about. This man has worked in the industry longer than most people have been alive and knows far more about film than I’ll ever know. As such, if he isn’t too fond of superhero films, then there’s literally nothing wrong with that. However, I do respectfully disagree with his take on the genre since films like Avengers: Endgame are more than enough proof that superhero films are, indeed, cinema. Just look at everything that revolves around the death of Tony Stark AKA Iron Man. While some of those obnoxious DCEU fanboys that I’ve often talked about tried to belittle the film by saying that Tony’s death ripped off Superman’s death in Batman v Superman, the one thing that they forgot about is the greater impact that the former sequence had compared to the latter. In the case of Superman’s death, you had a superfluous attempt at an emotional moment for a character who was severely lacking when it came to him having any substantial character development. As for Tony Stark, this is a character that audiences have known for the past decade, so when it was his time to go, it undeniably hit harder because of how pivotal he was to the franchise’s success. Then there’s the famous “I Love You 3000” quote… which wasn’t even in the script. Instead, it was an improvisation sourced directly from Robert Downey Jr.’s own family. Or how about the scene where Morgan tells Happy she wants cheeseburgers? On the one hand, this is another classic callback to the first Iron Man where Tony proclaimed that the first thing he wanted to do upon returning to America after his imprisonment was to get a cheeseburger. But then one must also factor in the deeper meaning behind this moment since one fateful burger was what led to RDJ overcoming his long battle with drugs in the early 2000s. Thus, the way I see it, superhero films do count as ‘cinema’, especially when it comes to the 24 films that make up a franchise that’s literally called the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And because of this, I can safely say that Avengers: Endgame has easily become one of my favorite films of all-time. It was the first film that I ever saw three times in theaters. I saw it twice during its initial run (which, of course, included one viewing in IMAX) and I then went to see it again when it was re-released near the end of June and boasted some extra clips after the credits. And while the internet may have proceeded to mercilessly roast this re-release for the debatable quality of its extra content (which consisted of a tribute to Stan Lee, an unfinished deleted scene with the Hulk, and the first two minutes of Spider-Man: Far From Home), that didn’t affect me in the slightest. Instead, I was just more than happy to see Endgame again because I knew that it was the kind of film that was worthy enough for me to break my usual limit of only going to see a film twice in theaters. Any way you look at it, Avengers: Endgame is an unmistakable masterpiece of the superhero genre… and yes, I know that I said the exact same thing last year when I put Avengers: Infinity War at the #1 spot on that year’s list, but that’s because it’s a statement that thoroughly applies to both films. Thanks to the incredible direction from the Russo brothers and the always-amazing efforts of the MCU’s legendary ensemble cast, the duology of Infinity War and Endgame fully succeeds at its goal of being a grand and emotionally cathartic finale to the Infinity Saga. And while the latter is admittedly a daunting film to get through given its massive 3-hour runtime, it more than proves itself of being worthy of its length. Thus, the only thing left that I have to say about this cinematic epic is this… Thank You Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige and his team, the Russo brothers and all the other great filmmakers who’ve worked on these films, and the amazing ensemble headlined by the legend that is Robert Downey Jr. for giving us such an utterly rewarding cinematic experience.

Don Cheadle, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Vin Diesel, Taika Waititi, Bradley Cooper, Chris Evans, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Pratt, Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Wong, Anthony Mackie, Chris Hemsworth, Dave Bautista, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Chadwick Boseman, Sebastian Stan, Tessa Thompson, Pom Klementieff, Letitia Wright, Tom Holland, and Winston Duke in Avengers: Endgame (2019)

At long last, this concludes Rhode Island Movie Corner’s Top 12 Favorite Films of 2019. With that in mind, I’d like to thank you all for sticking it out with me throughout what has easily been the biggest project that I’ve ever done for this site. I’m well-aware that, for the second year in a row, it took me WAY longer than it should’ve to finish these posts. And this time around, I can’t attribute this to the fact that I had to finish my ‘Top 10 Worst of the Year’ list first or the time-consuming process of finishing my tenure with the Disney College Program. To be perfectly frank, January was an incredibly rough month as far as being a film fan is concerned thanks in large part to the considerable fallout of the volatile reaction towards Rise of Skywalker. As such, I attribute both this and the pressing matter of the growing problem of stan culture that has continued to hurt the film fan community as the main reasons behind the prolonged delay of this list’s publication. Ultimately, though, none of that crap will stop me from doing what I love and continuing to give you, the readers, more of the same, great reviews, editorials, and retrospectives that you’ve come to expect from this site for the past 8 years. And while this current worldwide pandemic that we’re all struggling to overcome has meant that it’s been quite a few weeks since any of us have been to the theaters, I’ll do my best to deliver some new content over the next few weeks as we all eagerly await the opportunity to return to the cinema and witness the next great cinematic masterpiece. Thus, as I’ve done for the past few years now, I’d like to conclude this series by quoting the man who has always been my primary influence as a film critic. In the words of Roger Ebert, “I’ll see you at the movies”.