Escape Room is directed by Adam Robitel and stars Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, and Nik Dodani.
Escape Room is something of an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. Over the course of the film's 100 minutes, you can get a good idea of what kind of picture the movie is trying to create. The only trouble is: it's a picture that is still missing several parts by the time the end credits start to roll. The poster, consisting of Taylor Russell's jigsaw face with some pieces missing, is about as appropriate (albeit unintentional) of a visual as you can get. I didn't catch the film when it first hit theaters back at the very start of 2019, and now that I've seen it several months later, it doesn't appear that I missed all that much. Here we have the fourth directorial feature of Adam Robitel, the same director behind Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Insidious: The Last Key, so you were excused from going into Escape Room with anything resembling expectations. While Escape Room is easily the best of Robitel's three latest directorial outings, it doesn't mean the film is any sort of work of art.
The film takes place in Chicago and tells the story of a group of people who are each invited to the Minos Escape Room Facility for a chance to win $10,000. The people invited are genius college student Zoey (Taylor Russell), grocery store worker Ben (Logan Miller), Iraq veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), daytrader Jason (Jay Ellis), truck driver Mike (Tyler Labine), and escape room veteran Danny (Nik Dodani). The group gathers in the facility's waiting room, but quickly discovers they are trapped inside. This is no ordinary escape room: this escape room means death, unless the players are able to find all the clues and advance.
Not a very deep film by any means. Escape Room doesn't care one iota for giving its mashup of cliched characters some semblance of charm, except maybe for Amanda, whose backstory on fighting in Iraq and being traumatized by her war experiences is at least something to grab on to. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik is concocted with the mindset of showing us what sort of personalities would be fun to watch in an escape room setting, and not first showing us a person, and then developing the person in a way such that putting the character in an escape room makes sense. Take Zoey for example: the screenplay wastes no time in telling us that Zoey is super smart. All well and good, except the screenplay never bothers to do anything else with Zoey's supreme intelligence, other than let her be the genius that figures everything out, thereby diminishing the relevance of the other characters, as well as destroying anything resembling suspense. If Schut and Melnik had told us that Zoey was a genius, and then do something in addition to that such as flesh out the idea that Zoey is uncomfortable with being put on the spot and/or that she struggles under pressure, then the movie would have something interesting to work with. But no: to Robitel, Scut, and Melnik, it's all about what happens inside each escape room, and they couldn't care less how flimsy the characters they put into the escape rooms are.
- When it comes to the actual escape rooms, they are all pretty fun and show at least a few ounces of creativity. From opening doors to finding keys to avoiding untimely death, Escape Room always manages to keep each new room totally fresh, offering up various puzzles so that no two rooms play out exactly the same. Some of the escape rooms are also pretty impressive when it comes to visual and production design, my personal favorite being a black and white room in which two characters go into a psychedelic daze. Boring is definitely something the movie is not, and that's largely because the movie also strives to be kind of an interactive experience, in that you want to solve the puzzles yourself, and you can feel all smug by figuring out the puzzles before the characters in the movie do. I wouldn't say the puzzles are the most challenging ones you'll ever find, and the movie never makes it clear if it's ramping up the difficulty as the players move from one room to the next. All in all, there's fun to be had, and that's what mattered most to Sony and the filmmakers involved.
- So I already mentioned the wasted opportunities that Escape Room had when it came to its characters, but that's nowhere near as bad as the film's final twenty-ish minutes, where things really go downhill. The worst crime of all is how lackluster of a job the movie does in communicating its main ideas, which come almost smack-dab out of nowhere and not like anything the movie was building up to. The plot goes from escape room to escape room, but hardly without any subtle hints towards who's the main villain and what this whole predicament was about. When we finally learn what the perilous escape rooms were all about, the message comes in the form of a rushed monologue that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and instead of giving you time to process what you just learned, the movie bolts it way towards its ending, which is as on the nose about setting up a sequel as is Alita: Battle Angel's ending. Is this a new thing that started in late 2018 and early 2019: movies ending by screaming, "We are planning for a sequel!" straight to your face? I saw it in the 2018 Robin Hood, Alita: Battle Angel, and now in Escape Room. What other 2019 films are going to do this?
Sure enough, Escape Room has a sequel scheduled for release in August of 2020, and chances are pretty good I won't be there to see it. The movie is kind of fun with all its different, interesting escape rooms, but the screenplay by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik leaves so much more to be desired, mostly in its half-baked characters and in its lack of execution when it comes to main ideas. I'm a huge lover of puzzles, and I've done several escape rooms in my own life that I can speak for how fun they can be, so I was pretty intrigued when I first heard about a movie in which it takes escape rooms and adds the extra layer that, if you fail to escape, you die. Unfortunately, the movie settles for the safe PG-13 route, with little to no blood and gore. At least this movie could be something of a fun spin on the Saw franchise, but no, Sony loves their PG-13 rating for movies that clearly should be rated R (*cough cough* Venom *cough cough*). But anyway, Escape Room is still completely watchable, which is enough to keep me from knocking it down too hard. It may not be a very complex puzzle, but it's still a puzzle you can enjoy doing and not feel like you're wasting your time.
Recommend? Only as a good time-waster on a free weeknight or slow weekend.
Birds of a feather flock together
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is directed by Milos Forman and is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by author Ken Kesey. The film stars Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, William Redfield, Will Sampson, Sydney Lassick, Brad Dourif, and Christopher Lloyd. The film won all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best (Adapted) Screenplay.
Hollywood Golden Age actor Kirk Douglas came across Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest novel in 1961, instantly taking a liking to the novel and securing the film rights to the story. For the next decade however, Douglas failed to find a studio that was willing to make a film adaptation of the story with him, and so, Douglas sold off the rights to his son Michael (yes, that Michael Douglas), who ended up getting the production company Fantasy Films to agree to a film adaptation. Kirk Douglas was also hoping that, after playing the lead character in a 1963-64 Broadway version of Kesey's novel, he could play the lead character in the film version. However, Douglas was deemed too old for the lead role, and thus, the role eventually went to the younger Jack Nicholson.
It's kind of amazing sometimes to read into a certain film's production history and find out people whom you thought could not at all be attached, are actually quite vital to the film's production. In the case of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Kirk Douglas conceived the idea of a film adaptation, while Michael Douglas found a studio willing to make the adaptation. It wasn't the author Ken Kesey nor was it director Milos Forman who came forth about the possibility of the novel getting a film adaptation. No, it was Kirk Douglas and his son Michael: two people you probably would have never guessed were involved unless you paid close enough attention to the credits or have a vast knowledge of Kirk Douglas and/or Michael Douglas's careers.
But anyway, that's about all I'm going to say about the Douglas' and their involvement with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, because, oh man: any and all discussions about this film are most likely to be composed of Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Milos Forman, and the other wacky collection of characters on hand. When I do a review of a film that was adapted from a novel, I usually have to state that I did not read the novel- I always fail to find time out of my busy schedule to read a book- but this is a time where that is not true! I read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest way back in my junior year of high school, and I still to this day consider it one of the more engrossing reads of my academic years. My first time watching the film version some years back was also a highly engrossing experience, with a recent second viewing being no worse for wear. The 1970's was one of the best decades for Best Picture winners, mostly because the films that won did a magnificent job of capturing a full spectrum of human emotions, while also being grand representations of the decade's cynical attitude and culture strife. Gone were the days of lovey dovey romances, happy go lucky musicals, and biographical snooze fests that, nowadays, would offer nothing but thankless viewings. And while lovey dovey romances, happy go lucky musicals, and biographical snooze fests would eventually creep their way back into the Best Picture scene years later, it is extremely satisfying to come across a film like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, knowing you can watch it in the year 2019 and still feel a sense of elation.
The specifics of that sense of elation would mean massive spoilers, particularly in the way the film ends, so I am left with no choice but to leave that vagueness as is. The story of the film is basically the same as it is in the novel: longtime criminal Randall McMurphy (Nicholson) is sent to be evaluated at a mental institution in Oregon, following a short sentence at a prison farm for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. The mental institution is run by the controlling, passive-aggressive Nurse Ratched, who frequently holds meeting with other patients, in which she tries to make them feel intimidated and basically like they are the scum of the earth. Some of the patients include the stuttering Billy Bibbitt (Brad Dourif), childish Charlie Chaswick (Sydney Lassick), delusional Martini (Danny DeVito), paranoid Dale Harding (William Redfield), and the unruly Max Taber (Christopher Lloyd). McMurphy quickly strikes up a friendship with these patients, while taking a special liking to another patient: the giant Native American "Chief" Bromden, who is thought to be deaf and mute by everyone else in the institution. While McMurphy is not mentally ill by any means, his rebellious mindset earns him the approval of the other patients, and quickly puts him at odds with Nurse Ratched.
The beauty of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is that it's a fairly easy story to analyze, and an analysis of the way the novel/film goes about topics such as mental health, the corruption of bureaucracy, and what confines the human spirit are all worthwhile topics that can still make significant headway today. And while One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is not a straight-up message film on the importance of mental health, trying to say, "all people in mental institutions are human beings too", it's an uplifting encouragement about how people should not be prisoners of their own minds, and that, under the right circumstances, it's encouraged to break out of the status quo. This kind of approach is a very interesting one. On one hand, Milos Forman is allowing the film to soak in all the cynicism and rebellious attitudes that permeated throughout American culture in the 1970's, evident in the way that McMurphy earns the trust of the other patients and encourages them to stand up and oppose Nurse Ratched: voting to watch the World Series instead of having the nightly group meeting and questioning the medicine they're told to take every day, for example. On the other hand, Forman is encouraging positive messages about soul-searching and being human, primarily seen through the relationship between McMurphy and Chief. The film's cynical attitude and messages about humanity, you would think, should contradict one another, but they don't. The cynicism and positive messages actually complement one another, as if to say there is good to be had if you know where and when to be cynical and rebellious.
- None of the film's messages would feel worthwhile had it not been for some outstanding performances, primarily Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. McMurphy and Ratched are total opposites: McMurphy is the goofy, fun-loving rebel who tries to encourage everyone around him, while Nurse Ratched is the cold-hearted, all-business enforcer who strictly imposes the rule book on others. When Jack Nicholson is giving his all, he makes sure you know it. There is a not a dull moment to be had when Nicholson is on screen. McMurphy is either going to amuse you by doing/saying something funny, or he's going to explode with frustration and anger (and when he dies, the film takes a sharp dramatic turn). Either way, Nicholson does a great job of giving McMurphy an all-around charming and upbeat feel to him, despite the fact that we know McMurphy's a criminal who we don't want to invite over as the guest of honor to a fancy dinner party.
Fletcher, meanwhile, is magnificent in the way that she makes Nurse Ratched so captivating to watch, and likewise, so despicable when she succeeds. Ratched never smiles or laughs during the film, and in the few times she gets angry or stern, she's very controlled. In the hands of the wrong actress, Nurse Ratched would more likely resemble a robot that is learning how to express emotion, but with Louise Fletcher, she gives Ratched the iron hide she needs without losing that cutting, passive-aggressive edge that makes her performance more human and all the more convincing. Nicholson and Fletcher don't have to be in the frame together in order for their individual performances to thrive. Whether they are on screen together or not, Nicholson and Fletcher show they are fully immersed in their roles, taking the film to soaring heights.
- It's something of a minor spoiler to say that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is light on plot, but but I think, when you add in the fact that the film clocks in at 133 minutes, it speaks volumes of the screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. Good portions of the film are made up of the meetings involving McMurphy, Nurse Ratched, and the other patients, and not once do they ever get boring. That's the other part that makes the lack of plot and longer running time combination more impressive: it's never boring. The dialogue throughout the film gives us engaging and interesting dives into the lives of each patient that come to be in McMurphy's circle of friends, with each and every new meeting becoming more snappy and argumentative. None of the characters go on long monologues about what they've learned in life and what they hope to get out of being in the mental institution. All the conversations are very natural with grounded dialogue, and because of all the different personalities bouncing off one another, it never grows old. Who knows what the likes of Billy Bibbitt or Charlie Chaswick are going to say next? Just when you've think they've said the funniest or craziest thing yet, they might say something new that's even funnier, even crazier, or, hell, maybe both.
- Laughs: that's unfortunately something that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest doesn't end up having nearly enough of. I get why this movie is normally deemed a comedy-drama, but the problem is that the dramatic component overwhelms too much of the comedy component, so much that the movie struggles to balance a more lighthearted tone with a more serious one and thus, it's hard to tell sometimes when you think the movie is being dramatic, it's actually being funny, and vice versa. Nicholson is the film's main source of comedy, but knowing when and when not to laugh at the other patients feels rather dicey, because you run the risk of coming off as a sick human being who takes joy in others' misery. Then again, isn't all comedy rooted in misery? The point is: it's rather difficult to decipher what is supposed to be funny versus what is not funny from anyone that isn't Jack Nicholson. Maybe it's better if you just don't overthink it and, whatever you laugh it, you won't hate yourself later for it.
The other little bit of trivia I should mention as this review comes to a close is this: Ken Kesey hated the film, saying it "butchered" the story. That's a pretty stunning thing to hear from the author of the novel, who likely had optimistic feelings when Kirk and Michael Douglas worked on getting the film into production. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has developed a reputation over the years as being one of the greatest films ever made, on top of already being one of the greatest Best Picture winners of all time. Why should it not be? It's a marvelous feat of acting, directing, and screenwriting, taking the cynicism and rebellion that highlighted American culture in the 1960's and 1970's, and magically spinning it into an uplifting film that provides righteous commentary on how conforming to the status quo can make you a prisoner of your own mind. Nicholson and Fletcher are the obvious stand-outs from the cast, and the strong, natural-sounding dialogue from the screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman never let the film become boring. The only place the film struggles is balancing its drama with its comedy, but when the dramatic parts are as good as they are, it's hard to get too upset about not getting enough laugh-out-loud moments. It's everything a Best Picture winner should be, and the decades since the film's initial release have not harmed it one bit. This is one old bird that still knows how to fly.
Recommend? Yes. Highly recommended.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is directed by Michael Dougherty, and written by Dougherty, Zach Shields, and Max Borenstein. The film stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Thomas Middleditch, and Ken Watanabe, The film is dedicated to executive producer Yoshimitsu Banno and to the original Godzilla suit actor, Haruo Nakajima, both of whom died in 2017.
Being a fan of the now 65 year old Godzilla franchise is tricky business. Anyone with a working knowledge of Godzilla's film history knows of the various ups and downs that the world's most famous kaiju has experienced in the decades following his terrifying 1954 motion picture debut. The king of the monsters started off as a terrifying force of nature that represented the greed and destruction that corroded humanity, specifically the danger of nuclear weapons and their harmful effects on the planet. Then came the 1960s and 70s, which saw Godzilla transform into something of a giant monster superhero, saving Earth from the likes of King Ghidorah and various alien species that looked to wipe out humanity. During that time, Godzilla also acted in the roles of a parent and of an environmentalist. Following a ten year rest during the late 70's and early 80's, Godzilla returned to the big screen in 1984, and from there, he starred in a long lineup of new films that saw him battling several older, classic monsters, as well as a whole host of new monsters. America tried to throw their hat into the Godzilla ring in 1998, but if I only tell you that Roland Emmerich was the director of that 1998 film, you can easily guess how it turned out.
What I'm getting at, basically, is that addressing Godzilla's roller coaster film history is to be expected when it comes to expressing your pride as a Godzilla fan. Several of the older Godzilla films, particularly those from the late 60's and early 70's, are lousy displays of cut-rate special effects, horrendous dubbing, and stories that are often as nonsensical as they are hilarious. And while general improvement in production value did away with many of these issues in later, more recent Godzilla films, the fact remains that no Godzilla film in existence is something you'd want to watch in film school when it comes to learning what it takes to make truly great, compelling cinema. Maybe if that cinema was solely based on entertainment value, I would recommend that Godzilla films be shown in film schools, but let's not kid ourselves here, people: Godzilla is not the film franchise to be looking at if you're looking for Oscar-worthy acting and terrific screenwriting.
Okay, so what's I'm really getting at with all this talk about Godzilla's film history is that American film critics, based on their mixed to negative consensus towards Godzilla: King of the Monsters, are clearly not all super passionate Godzilla fans, and to most of them, King of the Monsters is just a summertime action blockbuster that fails in the story and writing departments. The thing is, it's very difficult to rate/grade a Godzilla film as you would any other film, because, well, all the characters present and writing decisions made have to revolve around the monsters in some way. What else are we here to see aside from giant monsters trampling buildings and fighting each other? Vastly developed characters and one of the greatest stories ever told? My friend, you've come to the wrong place if that's what you're looking for.
Giant monsters fighting each other turns out to be what's at the heart of King of the Monsters' story. The film opens by introducing us to the Russell family: Dr. Mark Russell (Chandler), his wife Emma (Farmiga), and their daughter Madison (Brown). Mark and Emma's son died in the San Francisco attack during the 2014 Godzilla, and the family has been separated ever since. Mark now spends his time researching wolves, while Emma and Madison live together. Emma works as a paleobiologist who researches giant monsters that she refers to as Titans. One day, after interacting with a newly hatched larva of the giant monster Mothra, a group of eco-terrorists, led by Alan Jonah (Dance), kidnap Emma and Madison, intent on using the device that Emma used to interact with the newly hatched Mothra: the Orca. The Orca is capable of giving off sounds that can basically control the mood of any Titan.
The organization known as Monarch, along with doctors Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Hawkins), find Mark and inform him of Emma and Madison's capture. Jonah and his men take Emma and Madison to Antarctica, where they free one of the Titans: the golden, three-headed dragon, Monster Zero (and later, Ghidorah). Ghidorah's emergence leads to the awakening of several other Titans, including the flying pteranodon Rodan. As the Titans begin to lay waste to Earth, one atomic-breathing monster must step up to fight Ghidorah and seize the title of King of the Monsters.
The Godzilla: King of the Monsters trailers do not deceive you with what specific monsters make their presence felt throughout the movie. Godzilla is present (duh), as are Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra. All other monsters in the film, aside from those four, are of little to no importance and are given only a few meager seconds of screen time. What you may not be able to figure out from the trailers is that King of the Monsters largely shapes up to be a Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah remake, except without aliens and time travel. Godzilla and Ghidorah square off several different times throughout the film, with the bulk of the screenplay dedicated towards doing whatever it takes to get Godzilla and Ghidorah in the same location. Now, that means there isn't a whole lot of variety when it comes to different monster vs. monster action throughout the film, but what it does assure us is that King of the Monsters doesn't at all have a problem with being bloated or like it's trying to cram too much plot within a 132 minute span.
- The bizarre thing about King of the Monsters is that, despite using the Godzilla theme song and making several callbacks to earlier films (Monster Zero? Oxygen Destroyer? Anyone?), it does something to distinguish itself quite a bit from other Godzilla films: breathing life into its human characters. Yes, you read that right. King of the Monsters makes a concerted effort towards giving its human characters more than one dimension. It's not the greatest character development you'll ever see, but the screenplay by Dougherty, Shields, and Borenstein does a decent enough job of making the Russell family reunion arc run steadily alongside the monster action, without making it seem out of place and like it doesn't matter at all. Giant monsters are what tore the Russell family apart in the first place, so giant monsters will be what brings the family back together several years later. Mark is the self-defeating father who lets his marriage fall apart. Emma tries to find hope and reason in a seemingly hopeless world filled with giant monsters (let's not waste time analyzing her motivations involving the Titans). Madison, meanwhile, is the unfortunate daughter caught in between, unable to decide who she really wants to be with. There's just enough meat to these characters that we can at least care about where they're going and where they'll be when all is said and done. For a Godzilla film, that's a pretty impressive accomplishment.
- We were promised more Godzilla in King of the Monsters after the 2014 Godzilla was criticized for not having enough of the Big G. My personal issue with the lack of Godzilla in the 2014 film was that the movie inexplicably decided to cut away right when the action was heating up, as if they either didn't have the budget to show multiple Godzilla fights or they were too lazy to make them. Godzilla definitely has a lot more screen time this time around, but what truly makes the monster action excel is that the movie has long enough breaks in between each monster throw down, such that each fight feels earned and brand new, and not wasting away with diminishing returns. Granted, just about every fight is Godzilla vs. Ghidorah, but there is no lame, cutting away from the action early, and there is plenty of memorable fight choreography that the action is just about everything you were hoping to see, as opposed to the monsters just running and clawing at each other like angry raccoons. No WWE wrestling. No over-the-top karate moves. A part of me was wishing to see Godzilla slide on his tail and do that special kick he did in Godzilla vs. Megalon, but that's asking for too much.
- I am not going to go through this review and act like there aren't any problems at all with the characters or the writing. King of the Monsters should probably not have been released right around the same time as Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, because midway through the film, Emma gives us a lengthy monologue about why all these monsters are appearing, and you'll quickly realize that Emma's motivations are almost identical to those of Thanos. Meanwhile, other characters outside of the Russell family barely pass the tolerant threshold. Poor Sally Hawkins, bless her heart, is given next to nothing to do in her role except give basic exposition. Charles Dance also is given next to nothing to do, other than just stand around and look villainous. Bradley Whitford quickly establishes himself as the movie's comic relief, with nearly all his dialogue dedicated towards delivering one liners (the movie ends before it lets him get too out of hand). In short, there's not a whole lot to love when it comes to the supporting characters. As for the plot, it's about as logical as you can make it for a Godzilla film that features multiple monsters. So does that mean it doesn't make any sense? Brother, you already know the answer to that.
It's probably a little brash for me to say that Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a film designed for the most die-hard Godzilla fans, and no one else. Die-hard fans though, will easily notice the nostalgic theme music, the tiny references to older Godzilla films (Monster Zero, Oxygen Destroyer), and the understanding that plot and character are going to take a backseat to the monsters sooner or later. For everyone else, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is probably nothing more than a dumb summer blockbuster that paves the way for 2020's Godzilla vs. Kong, and you're damn right that I'm gonna be there ASAP when that film hits theaters come March next year. I'm hoping that that film will do just as good, if not better than what Godzilla: King of the Monsters does when it comes to its monster action and its human component. The action is top-notch Godzilla entertainment in King of the Monsters, and the effort towards makings its human characters feel important is a lot more than I can say for many previous Godzilla films. The monster designs, for the most part, are suitable 21st century upgrades, and the CGI is as good as can be for a 2019 monster film. It all adds up to a highly entertaining Godzilla film, and the most successful entry in Legendary's MonsterVerse thus far. Will things get better or worse from here on out? Who knows, but for this Godzilla fan right here, he's just happy that all these beloved kaiju are a popular thing once again, and not completely stuck in the past.
Recommend? Yes. It's highly entertaining, even if you're not the most die-hard Godzilla fan.
A Song of Ice and Fire
Directed by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
And here we are, folks! The very end of Game of Thrones! Hard to believe that it was just seven months ago that I began my series of reviews of each and every episode, but what an experience it has been getting to watch this terrific show! I do not change my stance in saying that I have not at all been disappointed with season eight, although I certainly agree that the season would have benefited so much more from being given a full ten episodes, particularly so that the pacing could have a slower, more natural feel to it. Nevertheless, this is where we are, and now it's all about who takes the Throne, and how does the series wrap up so many long-running character arcs and stories. I think, no matter how long Game of Thrones had decided to run, the ending was going to be divisive: something that D&D and many of the actors warned us about well before the season premiered. And seeing all the divided responses from audiences and critics, D&D and the actors turned out to be exactly right. A lot of people were not going to be satisfied with the ending. Many were going to deem it disappointing and a finale that belonged on the list of worst TV series finales of all time .
You might have guessed by now, but I am not one of those people who was disappointed with the finale. In fact, I was very happy with the way that D&D brought this engaging, long-running story to an end, even if the road to getting us to this finale was pretty rocky at times. Before I start talking about the specifics of the episode, I do want to give one final statement on something that these final two seasons of Game of Thrones have taught me: here in 2019, we live in a time where bitterness and hatred are sky high, where social media plays a huge impact on not only our day to day lives, but also our right to freedom of speech and how we generally communicate with others. Why do I say this? Because nowadays, no matter where you go, whether it's Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or anywhere where pop culture is a huge thing, it is impossible to surf through videos, posts, etc. and not quickly find yourself in a sea of hatred. Just go on Youtube and type in "Game of Thrones finale". I guarantee that nine out of ten videos you will find are videos of people saying that "The Iron Throne" was one of, if not the worst, TV finale of all time, which I honestly have a hard time believing to be true. It's a world of extremes where either something is amazing or terrible. There is no middle ground. Honestly, I feel that a lot of the 1/10, 1-star ratings that people are putting on IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, and elsewhere are very lazy, immature reviews (as are a lot of critics' reviews too honestly- USA Today's Kelly Lawler and BGR's Chris Smith were especially bad with their reviews of the final few episodes-, but everyone is entitled to their opinion). Comment sections are even worse, and I'm not going to bother talking about why comment sections should be avoided at all costs. To many people, posting a hateful comment about why D&D are horrible writers and that they're going to ruin Star Wars next is their way of "getting revenge", despite the fact that D&D are never going to read said comment and said comment does absolutely nothing to stop the two from pursuing other projects. By the way, I forgot to mention in my review of "The Bells" that that petition to redo season eight is one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in a long time.
The way I see it, every comment that berates D&D as bad, incompetent writers is only reinforcing the idea that they are very talented writers. Berating them as bad writers obviously means people are angry, and being angry means that you care, that you feel something. If D&D aren't talented writers, how were they able to make you care in the first place? "But it wasn't their writing! It was George R.R. Martin's writing!" True, and D&D were able to mix their own writing ideas with those of Martin's and translate them in a way on-screen that became an international TV sensation. Game of Thrones has never followed the novels verbatim, just an FYI. Also, it's not like it's D&D's fault that Martin was not able to finish the final two novels in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and thus, left the two to approach the finale with just check marks and not a full-blown road map. This to me should always be part of the conversation if there is to be any debate about how Game of Thrones had seemingly declined in quality after season four, because D&D are not George R..R Martin. They did not create these characters, nor did they originally think up this story. Plus, you have to take into account other variables: D&D suffering burnout, the actors growing tired and wanting to leave to pursue other projects. None of this is to say that D&D made all the best choices imaginable with how Game of Thrones came to an end. I think, instead of calling them incompetent writers and saying nothing more of it, I'd say that, if you're going to criticize their writing, do so with a mindset that having to finish the story largely on their own was certainly not the way they envisioned bringing the series to an end.
With all that said, let's now get into the episode itself. Just a heads up: this will likely be another lengthy review, so buckle up. So King's Landing is now in ruins: buildings destroyed, corpses lying in the streets, ash (and snow?) falling from the sky. Daenerys addresses her troops with a speech about how, now that they've taken the Iron Throne, they will now liberate the entire world, which obviously doesn't sit well with Jon, Tyrion, and Arya. If we can universally agree on one thing in this finale, it would be the visuals and the cinematography. The charred remains of King's Landing are shot beautifully with a darker color palette, like it's the prettiest post-apocalypse site you've ever seen. There's also a really neat shot of Daenerys walking forward, with Drogon's wings flapping right behind her, as if to signify that Daenerys is a fallen angel. It's all so lovely to look at, that I think the less I say the better. Tyrion is given quite a lot to do in the early parts of the episode: finding the bodies of Jaime and Cersei, leading to him resigning as Hand of the Queen. As much as people have criticized that Tyrion has been relegated to useless side character these final few seasons, I think that criticism isn't as legitimate as many people think it is. For starters, Tyrion has been a part of nearly every important conversation that has taken place during seasons seven and eight, and it's pretty easy to point to the fact that he has had no shortage of dialogue in the time he has been serving under Daenerys. Everyone wants to think that Tyrion was a super smart and wildly successful politician during his time in King's Landing, coupling his astute political maneuvering with a series of wise-cracking remarks that only added to his gift of knowing how to use words.
When it came to governing, no one was better than Tyrion, and this is where a lot of people get confused. Governing is one thing, but when it comes to warfare, now that's a whole different ball game: a ball game that Tyrion was never very talented in. Despite the fact that Tyrion was able to rally his troops to defend King's Landing during "Blackwater", the battle ended with Tyrion nearly being killed, and Tywin Lannister coming to the rescue. From there, Tyrion spent his time in a cellar, alone, and forced to do things against his will: marrying Sansa, and going on trial for a murder he didn't commit. Tyrion's attempt to escape with trial by combat backfired: a failure as heart wrenching as his failed relationship with Shae. Tyrion's skills in war didn't improve at all while under Daenerys, and when the plot escalated such that the action took center stage, people were upset thinking Tyrion became "useless", when in reality, he has been making mistakes and failing for far longer than people realize.
In the end, Tyrion Lannister survives, and does so by being granted a position where his skills are best put to use: governing. Before that though, Tyrion has an engaging conversation with Jon that basically boils down to him saying Jon needs to make the choice to either kill Daenerys or let her tyrannical rule live on. Jon keeps insisting that he bent the knee and thus, he is loyal to her, but we can see it in Jon's face (kudos to Kit Harington's great acting): he knows it's stupid to think otherwise. There's only one choice to make, and he has to make it now. The dialogue that Jon and Tyrion exchange is essentially the conversation that everyone was having after "The Bells", about how Daenerys killed evil men during her rise to power, and how she chose to burn an entire city to the ground. Did people forget that characters have been asking very logical questions and making very logical remarks during the entire show, including through season eight? This should not be confused with plot points that seem to be at least slightly illogical.
From here, we get to the episode's climax, and this is the one part of the episode that I wish could have been done differently. Daenerys walks up to the now vacant Iron Throne, mirroring the way she walked up to the Throne during her vision in the House of the Undying back in season two. Jon confronts Daenerys, and after the two share a passionate kiss with Jon reaffirming to Daenerys that he is her Queen, Jon doesn't hesitate. He kills her: driving a knife into her heart. There's nothing graphic or prolonged about it. It's quick, simple, and straight to the point. We don't even get any time to breathe as Drogon emerges shortly afterwards and discovers that his Mom has been killed. When it looks like Jon is surely a goner, Drogon doesn't burn him. Drogon burns the Iron Throne and flies away, taking Daenerys' body with him.
The first inclination is to ask why the hell did Drogon not kill Jon? The symbolism of this moment isn't too difficult to decipher, and it honestly makes a lot more sense than if Drogon just incinerated Jon. Characters have previously told us about how dragons are magical creatures, which is sort of a fancy way of saying they're very smart. Drogon gets it: the Iron Throne and the desire to take it was what led Daenerys to her death. The Iron Throne has seated many tyrannical rulers during Westeros' history, and had Daenerys taken the Throne and started her quest to liberate the world, it would just be starting the cycle of chaos all over again. By burning the Iron Throne, Drogon is breaking the cycle that took his mother from him, permanently. In a way, Drogon is fulfilling Daenerys' claim to break the wheel. Jon Snow did the literal killing, but it was the Iron Throne that signaled Daenerys' true cause of death.
When we see what happens the rest of the way, "The Iron Throne" looks like two episodes crammed into one 80 minute marathon. The transition from Daenerys' death to the discussion of who should be the new King is pretty abrupt, mostly because the episode doesn't allow us enough time to digest what we saw moments before, nor do we get to see any major reactions from other characters. The emotional weight of such a significant death is not given the time nor the attention it deserves, and no, I am not trying to speak bad about the way Drogon nudges Daenerys' body after she's killed. No one was ready for that moment. Jon being the one to kill Daenerys was the right move, and the way he kills her shouldn't be anything to cause widespread debate. The problem however, is that with Daenerys being one of the series' most pivotal characters- having been present since the first episode- it's a bit frustrating that her death is treated as a bit of a, I hate to use this word, but...an afterthought. It's as if D&D wanted to get to the, "everything is coming to an end" parts of the episode as quick as possible, and they tried to figure out what was the best way they could wrap up Daenerys' story line, while giving it as little screen time as possible. The rushed pacing struck pretty hard at times during seasons seven and eight, and boy did it strike hard this time. I wholeheartedly believe that there was an entire episode's worth of material dedicated to just the aftermath of "The Bells", and the episode would end with Jon killing Daenerys. Then, we would have the final episode focused purely on picking a new King and seeing how every surviving character's story comes to an end. We would get the full emotional payoff of Daenerys' death, and we wouldn't have a slightly awkward jump from the death of the Mother of Dragons to deciding on a new King.
So, since I've said, "picking a new King" about five hundred times already in this review, it's time to talk about who does get to be ruler of Westeros at the end of the day. Drum roll, please. The winner of the game of thrones is.....
Wait, what? Bran Stark? Yep, that's right. Bran Stark is chosen to be ruler of the Seven, er, sorry, the Six Kingdoms. Sansa declares that the North will be an independent kingdom, and she will rule there as Queen. Tyrion makes an impassioned speech to everyone gathered at the Dragon Pit, believing that no one has a better story than Bran the Broken and that he is the right person to take Westeros and its people into the future. This is really what sold me over about the finale. I loved this decision, and thought it was the best choice. Many people, however, hated this decision, upset that Westeros would now be ruled by, "a cripple who creepily stares at everything" (yet another lazy and immature way of viewing things). Bran Stark has always been a puzzling character in terms of how well others have received him. Understandably, a lot of people found him to be a very boring character, especially after he became the Three-Eyed Raven and showed basically no emotion the rest of the way. If you want to take it a step farther, some have argued that Game of Thrones was never very interested in Bran as a character, pointing to evidence such as the series shelving him for an entire season (season five). By process of elimination though, Bran is the best choice among all possible candidates. Jon Snow? He's the rightful heir, but he killed the Queen and has stated numerous times that he doesn't want to rule. In addition, he has spent almost all his time in the series up North, so why would they want to entrust the Throne to a man who only knows one of the Kingdoms? Tyrion? He is excellent at governing, but there's more to being a King than governing. Sansa? Her place is in the North. Plus, King's Landing was a nightmare for her for several seasons, so she probably would prefer not to spend the rest of her life there. Arya? She knows next to nothing about ruling multiple Kingdoms. Who does that leave us with then? Actually, I think that's about it.
There are many things that irked people about Bran ending up as King: he's boring, he's never done anything to earn such a title, the question of if he has a better story than everyone else. I think all along though, Bran has been one of the series' most important characters, and this is truly what his Three-Eyed Raven arc has been building towards. The entire chain of events that is the game of thrones likely never would have started had Bran not been pushed out of the tower. Bran's fall was the catalyst that put everything into motion, and had it never happened, well, Game of Thrones might have never been a very interesting series to begin with. How would the Starks have escalated their conflict with the Lannisters, which in turn, escalated so many other conflicts across Westeros? If Bran was the one who opened the flood gates for Game of Thrones, well, it's only fitting that he be the one who closes them for good. Bran doesn't want to be King. He doesn't want to hold titles, lands, or a throne. He is incapable of wanting and having desires as the Three-Eyed Raven. As the Three-Eyed Raven, he sees all. He knows all of Westeros' history: all its memories, all its triumphs, all its travesties. He sees things, and he knows things. Nothing more, and nothing less. That is exactly why he is the perfect fit to rule the Six Kingdoms. Every ruler that came before him only served to continually spin the perpetual wheel of chaos, the wheel that plagued Westeros and turned it into a hateful, fearful country that prided itself on power and corruption. Perhaps the only thing that could break Westeros out of this seemingly endless cycle was a mythical power like that of the Three-Eyed Raven: a power that was completely immune to narcissism, jealousy, and anger.
So what does this mean in the context of Game of Thrones' overarching themes, and what then was the point of watching this story all along? Some felt that Bran ending up as King was a betrayal and a failure to the series' realistic take on the fantasy genre (which is ignorant, because saying this fantasy series is "realistic" is not accounting for the plethora of high fantasy elements the series has displayed since day one: dragons and White Walkers being the ultimate two examples). Others simply deemed it anticlimactic, especially because there was seemingly no build-up to Bran becoming King. Through all the tragedy, all the death, and all the violence, Game of Thrones has been a story about finding hope, honor, and goodness in a world full of nihilism and every other evil known to man. Bran becoming the Three-Eyed Raven and becoming King of Westeros assures that Westeros has finally found that hope, honor, and goodness that it has craved for so long. It's not a completely happy ending. It's absolutely the bittersweet one that George R.R. Martin promised all along. Westeros is finally in good hands, but all our loved ones (mostly the surviving members of House Stark) are forced to go their separate ways. In addition, it speaks significantly about the story arc of Daenerys Targaryen, and why it's wrong to think of her story as nothing but an ill-fated tragedy. Daenerys' efforts weren't for nothing in the end. She promised to break the wheel, and she did: by turning herself into the one person she swore to never become. By doing so, Daenerys put the final nail in the coffin of Westeros' endless cycle of chaos. She herself was the final nail. Her story was a bittersweet success, because she helped bring an end to Westeros' suffering, but it was her own tragic death that marked the official end.
What about everyone else who survived? Jon Snow is sent back to the Night's Watch to live out his days with Tormund, the wildlings, and Ghost (oh my gosh, Jon did get to pet him after all!). The biggest question I've seen get thrown around about Jon is what was the point of him being a Targaryen? More than anything, Jon being a Targaryen contributed significantly to Daenerys' downfall: her own allies turning against her, and also contributing mightily to Westeros finally figuring out how it could make peace. The problem is because the season felt so short, it didn't have enough time to fully gel. Jon got his bittersweet ending too. He may not be able to be with his remaining family, but he's back in an environment that he's very comfortable and perfectly happy to be in. Arya decides to see what's west of Westeros, cause there's basically nothing else for her to do at home now that all this craziness is over and done with, and she's grown used to travelling, so why not? Others like Tyrion, Brienne, Bronn, Ser Davos, and Samwell Tarly all now enjoy serving Bran and leading on the Small Council. Sansa is Queen of the North. After all this time, the Stark children can continue their father's legacy: one that has been so important and so vital to many of these characters. It finally worked out in the end. Westeros can finally begin a peaceful, happy future.
"The Iron Throne", in the end, is a quiet and meditative conclusion to Game of Thrones, and even if a lot of it seems to fall along the lines of, "happily ever after", it still manages to leave that bittersweet taste in your mouth to ensure that you won't be able to remember this story as, "a fairy tale for grown-ups". It seemed for so long that this story would end with The Living vanquishing the Dead, and yes, that did happen, but many were stunned by how much earlier it happened. The more I think about it though, the more I feel that killing the Night King and the White Walkers earlier was the right move. If season eight and Game of Thrones' ending were about nothing but the White Walkers, there would be no sufficient way that the series could bring closure to so many long-standing storylines. What would be more nihilistic than to have so many meaningful story arcs end in, "death by Walkers?" We shouldn't assume that all these characters have to die. Some of them have to live in the end, because Game of Thrones has always promised a better world, a better tomorrow, and it just wouldn't feel right if the series ended with a shallow story-line in which its characters turn into the fantasy equivalent of superheroes and spend a full season facing off against a supernatural entity, meanwhile checking off all the boxes of prophecies and theories that fans believed the series needed to fulfill. Believe it or not, but the White Walkers did serve a great purpose to the series in the end: they united so many divided factions of the world, and Westeros' future is all the better because of it
Alas, folks, but this is where it comes to an end with my Game of Thrones' reviews. Chances are pretty good that I will be watching the prequel series when they come out, although I don't envision doing reviews for another television series anytime soon. No matter how this final season rubbed off on you, don't let it diminish all the great experiences you had watching this terrific series. If you hated the ending, that doesn't mean you should never go back and watch all the other parts you enjoyed so much. Game of Thrones' ending was pretty much doomed from the start: the series became so popular, that its ending was always going to divide people and have many screaming that is ending worse than the endings of the likes of Dexter, Lost, and How I Met Your Mother. Frankly, I don't think Game of Thrones' ending belongs on any "Best of" or "Worst of: lists. It takes the safe route with its ending, and doesn't try to do anything too out of this world. Better to go out quietly than to leave your audience with something like a dumb, last-second twist. There were certainly things that could have been done better in "The Iron Throne", and part of me wishes that D&D would have just swallowed their pride and give these final two seasons the full ten episodes they deserved. But it's all in the history books now, and no stupid petition by a bunch of self-entitled brats is going to change that. Instead of making ridiculous complaints about how the ending ruined the entire show, be grateful. Be grateful that you live in a time period where Game of Thrones exists, and you get to watch it. Be grateful that this series ever got to be made in the first place, and be grateful that, no matter what issues these final episodes may have had, that you had so many great memories and conversations, watching how the series played out. Ignore any and every article you see telling you about shows that could, "be the next Game of Thrones." They're all bullshit. Game of Thrones is a one of a kind series that broke new ground for what television is capable of. We never saw anything like it before, and we'll never see anything like it ever again. Farewell to one of the greatest television series ever made. We don't know what we'll do without you!
Consequences of War
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is directed by Chad Stahelski and stars Keanu Reeves as the titular John Wick. Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, and Laurence Fishburne return to reprise their roles from the previous two films. Mark Dacascos, Halle Berry, Asia Kate Dillon, and Anjelica Huston also star.
If it wasn't official following the release of John Wick: Chapter 2, it should be official now: John Wick is now one of the all-time great action film series. I am hard-pressed to say if we're currently living in a golden age of action films; there's still a lot of shitty action films coming out nowadays that should have just settled for the DVD Bargain Bin at Walmart and not try a worldwide theatrical release. For all the action garbage that Hollywood keeps trying to spoon feed us though, it seems that the 2010s have also been home to some of the most insane, hard-hitting actions films to ever grace the cinema. I of course am talking about action films like Mad Max: Fury Road and last year's Mission Impossible: Fallout, and while it may be too soon to put John Wick 3 into that legendary group, there were periods during the film where I was certainly endorsing it.
Perhaps it's just a matter of personal taste, but I've always taken the most liking to action films that never stop moving: Speed and The Fugitive being my favorite two examples. It's not that said movies have little to no plot and are nothing but action set piece after action set piece, but that the concept of the movie, in and of itself, can only be executed by seemingly non-stop, wall-to-wall action. Speed can't slow down because the bomb on the bus will blow up if it slows down too much. Harrison Ford can't catch his breath during The Fugitive because he'll get caught if he does. John Wick, in his third big-screen appearance, can't stop because every assassin in New York is out to get him, and that means one crazy fight after another, with very little dialogue breaks in between. To me, these type of non-stop action films are the most faithful to what we mean when we say action: stop talking and get your ass moving.
I guess I should give a plot synopsis. Well, I'll try to anyway: shortly after the events of John Wick 2, John and his loyal dog are on the run through the streets of Manhattan, where John is now considered an "excommunicado". This basically means that John is now cut off from all his previous hitman resources. On top of that, John gets placed under a $14 million bounty, and he has to fight through assassin after assassin in hopes of finding a safe haven. A safe haven comes in the form of a woman known as The Director (Huston), who accepts a crucifix from John as his "ticket" to safety in Casablanca. In Casablanca, John meets Sofia (Berry), a past friend who assists John in his quest to locate "The Elder", a member of the The High Table who can help get John off the bounty. What is this High Table, you ask? Basically, it's the government system of this worldwide league of assassins, and they did not take well to John's actions at the end of the second film, so their justice is sent in the form of The Adjudicator (Kate Dillon), who sets out to find John, kill him, and punish those who helped him along the way.
- At this point, it's just being Captain Obvious when I say that the action in a John Wick film is nothing short of spectacular. But how can I not continue to say wonderful things about the terrific stunt work, the eye-popping cinematography, and the satisfying series of kills that all have that "pow!" factor? What makes the action in John Wick 3 seem different than the action from the previous two films is the stronger emphasis on martial arts based combat. I think John has more hand-to-hand fights in this film than he did in the first two films combined, which is cool, because it means we get to see more of the incredible "hands and feet" stunt work that make these fights so enjoyable to watch. There's still plenty of time dedicated to guns and bullets, with one action scene taking place in a neon green-lit room that I thought was absolute perfection. All the action scenes, guns or no guns, are also very delicate when it comes to space, having a strong awareness of all the surroundings and being very comprehensible of who is where. The attention to detail in John Wick 3 is exquisite, and something that all major action films should strive for (starting with you, Fast and Furious films...).
- The John Wick films have always striven to be as stylish as possible, and the third film is no exception, with a blast of striking colors and equally striking set design that transform the film's setting into something resembling a beautiful art gallery. The only thing is, that beautiful art gallery is playing host to frenetic action, and my oh my, do the two compliment each other so well. For some people, the visuals may look like something out of a comic book, and that means that John Wick represents a superhero, but if we had to choose between a shiny glass room with gorgeous color schemes or the dark streets of Manhattan that contained every grimy, disgusting color scheme known to man, I think we'd all take the former in a heartbeat. I think having much of the film's climax take place in a glass room was a completely deliberate choice: there would be nothing that Chad Stahelski or his crew could do to hide any glaring discrepancies in the action and the stunt work. They want us to see the stunt work in all its full blown glory, and it wouldn't be possible with any other type of visual design.
- Everything we could consider flaws in John Wick 3 mostly comes down to minor annoyances. For all the praise I just gave to the action and the stunt work, there are some head-scratching moments during several of the fights where someone facing John looks like they pause for a few seconds, so that they can let John get back into a fighting stance. The movie also continues the habit from the previous films of having someone run into John with their vehicle, and John goes flying up onto the front of the car, which, unless it's been disproved in a study somewhere, should break your legs or at least damage them enough so that walking becomes a near impossible task. John being a little too invincible was my main issue with the second film, but that invincibility is mostly done away with in this film. These annoyances, though, are minuscule details that have little to no bearings on the plot and likely are something you'll notice only if you're paying very close attention (which I happened to be doing).
In the end, John Wick 3 is easily the best installment in the John Wick franchise, which now is looking more and more similar to the Mission: Impossible franchise, in that it seems to get better and better with every new film. You don't need to bother looking anywhere else if you're trying to find the most stylish, hard-hitting action of 2019, because John Wick 3 owns all of it: a bloody, visual splendor that firmly etches the John Wick franchise into the hall of greatest action franchises of all time. Minor issues in the fight choreography and in John being able to survive hard crashes and falls keep the film from being utter perfection, but when so much else in the film is so perfectly executed, it comes pretty damn close to being perfect. For now, it's the best new wide release of 2019, and something that's going to be pretty damn tough to beat, assuming there will be a John Wick 4 in the future. Keep 'em coming, Mr. Wick. So many 21st century action films can't even hold a candle to your incredible talents.
Recommend? Hell yes. Be sure you've seen the first two films.
Alright then. Let it be fear.
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Emilia Clarke was not kidding when she told us that our TVs were going to explode during Game of Thrones' eighth and final season. If the intensity of "The Long Night" did not leave you enough mental fatigue, then the penultimate episode, "The Bells", might as well put you in intense psychotherapy. At this point, I am probably the only person left on planet Earth that thinks season eight has not at all been a disappointment, which is why I try (and have completely failed) to tune myself out from the harsh, unforgiving communities of Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. who I think are largely susceptible to being prisoners of the moment, and thus, if an episode is not absolute perfection upon the first viewing, they will all roll up into this unbridled rage and unleash their corrosive words on said episode, as well as on anyone and everyone who doesn't share the same viewpoints as them.
Again, I want to try and not sound like an extreme Game of Thrones apologist who thinks D&D have been perfect writers, and that critics and audiences of the world are wrong for hating season eight. I've seen plenty of analytical, very well thought-out articles (like this one from Forbes' Dani Di Placido) where the writer criticizes something that has happened during season eight, but at the same time, I've seen plenty of thoughtless, anger-induced rants that don't really contribute much of anything to the conversation (my personal favorites include this inexcusably shallow criticism of "The Bells" by USA Today's Kelly Lawler that relies entirely on nitpicking, and this incredibly laughable BGR article that dives way way way too deep into something from "The Last of the Starks" that no decent person would give two shits about). There have been plenty of bumps in the road with the direction, writing, action, etc. ever since season one, and season eight has been no exception to this. Seeing the kind of immense controversy that "The Bells" has generated in the short time span since its initial airing is enough to reinforce my own feelings towards this episode: an extremely powerful Game of Thrones episode that does exactly what it was set out to do: divide us and mess up all our emotions, for better or worse.
I will not try to cut off this review early, because there is a lot that needs discussed, and I'm not going to shirk on anything. "The Bells" features a plethora of character moments, many of which turn out to be the final moments for several of the series' long-running main characters. That being said, the vast majority of this review is going to be dedicated to discussing these character moments, although I'll be sure to say a few extra words for the fiery action that goes down, because HOLY CRAP: this is some of the most gorgeous-looking action that Game of Thrones has ever given us. The question for right now is which character's end do I want to talk about first? I suppose it makes the most sense to talk about the demise of Varys, simply because his death comes first and well before the action goes down at King's Landing.
The episode opens with Varys writing a note, and while we can't quite make out everything that's been written, we only need to see two words to get the point: true heir. Varys has continuously stated throughout the series that his true loyalties lie with the Realm; he serves the Realm and will do anything and everything to ensure its well-being. I think it is completely in line with Varys' character that, upon learning Jon's true heritage, he essentially gives up on supporting Daenerys' claim to the Throne. Varys fully trusts that Jon would be able to keep peace in the Realm and in all of Westeros period, despite the fact that Jon explicitly tells him that he not only doesn't want the Throne, he has pledged his loyalty to Daenerys. Unfortunately for Varys, he gets ratted out by Tyrion, and Daenerys has him executed by dragon fire. This is perhaps the best time for me to mention that nearly every main character death that occurs in "The Bells" has been criticized as rushed and/or completely illogical. It is a bit tough to accept that Varys, a character that has been around since season one, is killed in an episode that thinks his death is the least of its concerns. It reminds me a little of Renly Baratheon's poorly executed death back in "The Ghost of Harrenhal" in season two. At the same time though, I feel that Varys' death makes sense, thematic-wise, with his character: the spider who had a seemingly endless web of knowledge and whose true loyalties were never a given. Varys' death mirrors that of Petyr Baelish's in some ways: someone caught them in the act and executed them for it. I do really like one of Varys' final line: "I hope I deserve this." Varys has accepted his death. Now he is left to wonder if all his scheming and spying was worth it in the end. Did his efforts help the right person end up on the Iron Throne at the end of the day? Was it all for naught? Was he a good man that was willing to make evil choices for the sake of the Realm, or was he just another Petyr Baelish who wasn't as evil just because he didn't want to sit on the Iron Throne? There's certainly a lot of ways to interpret it, but that's what leaves at least a little satisfaction with the way Varys goes out.
At this point, it is a foregone conclusion that Daenerys and her forces are going to attack King's Landing. Tyrion, however, believes he can still stop her from taking thousands of innocent lives. In what is a very heartwarming scene, Tyrion frees Jaime from imprisonment, believing that Jaime can sneak into King's Landing and convince Cersei to surrender. You just know that this is a final goodbye for the two Lannister siblings, especially when Tyrion thanks Jaime for being basically the only one to show him any semblance of kindness and respect, when it seemed like everyone else in the world was out to get him. Even though Tywin's death permanently divided the Lannister family, Tyrion and Jaime have always shared a friendly relationship: one that has been about as trustworthy of a relationship as was the relationship between Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon. The two were able to rekindle their relationship during their time in Winterfell earlier in the season, and despite everything that they've been through over the course of the show's eight seasons, they end their relationship the same way it began: one based on love and respect.
So then, we now jump into the true heart of this episode, and that means we are jumping right into where "The Bells" went completely off the rails for many people. Daenerys and Drogon begin to lay waste to Cersei's army: burning the Iron Fleet, destroying all the scorpion weapons, and blasting a giant hole through the front gates so that Jon and everyone standing out front can charge in. Turns out the Golden Company proved to be of no help at all during this season: Grey Worm easily takes out Harry Strickland, and you're left to wonder why they even bothered to show up in the first place. I mean, Cersei figured she had to fight with more than just her own bannermen and Euron Greyjoy's fleet, but considering how easily Drogon takes everybody out, it does suggest that literally nothing would have changed had the Golden Compay never made an appearance. Not that it really matters. I don't think there was a feasible way for season eight to make The Golden Company play a significant role, even if the season was given a full ten episodes. So anyway, if the action of "The Long Night" was too murky and incomprehensible for you, Miguel Sapochnik is deserving of your forgiveness, because the cinematography and shot selection for scenes of Drogon breathing fire and Daenerys' army raiding King's Landing are some of the most striking visuals that Game of Thrones has ever given us. Every shot looks scrubbed and completely comprehensible, so I don't wanna hear one damn, "it's too dark" complaint.
I should mention that Jaime, Arya, and The Hound are all able to sneak into King's Landing before the siege begins, and we'll get to discussion of all three in good time. Just about everything in the episode appears to be going well up through when the Lannister soldiers throw down their swords, and the city bells begin to ring: signaling the surrender. If the episode ended right then and there, it would have been incredibly anticlimactic: Daenerys takes the city in the blink of an eye, and while no one would get too upset about the episode's chain of events, everyone would watch the end credits thinking, "That's it?" That's when we get the plot twist, and not just any plot twist: but the plot twist: the one that will forever be remembered by many fans and critics as the twist that marked the death of the series as we know it and the twist that, also for many, marked the annihilation of so many years of character development and motivations. Daenerys does not accept the surrender. She takes back to the skies with Drogon and begins to burn the entire city to the ground, taking many innocent lives in the process. This entices her army to continue their assault on the Lannister soliders, despite the fact that they have already surrendered. Daenerys' army even begins to take part in the butchering of the innocent King's Landing civilians.
For many fans and critics, this twist to turn Daenerys into a Mad Queen was the greatest crime of all. It's not the concept itself of Daenerys going mad that people seem of have a problem with. Heck, I think many people are fully on board with the concept. The issue for many people is that Game of Thrones did not take the time to show Daenerys' descent into madness, or at least do enough to imply that she was going mad. Thus, her decision to scorch King's Landing and kill innocent civilians is seen as incredibly abrupt and completely out of character. To a certain extent, I myself agree that Game of Thrones' accelerated pacing over the past two seasons has hindered the ability to effectively suggest that Daenerys was growing mentally unstable. I think everyone would have loved if there were a couple episodes that had scenes of Daenerys sitting by a fire side, talking about how everything has seemingly fallen apart for her, and how this was not what she envisioned when she first came to Westeros. Here was a thought that came to me recently: one thing I think that would have really boosted season seven is if Daenerys sent people out through Westeros to represent her, to have them speak to the common people and try to convince them to pledge themselves to Daenerys. Some of the common people would respond by rejecting such an offer, stating how they fear Targaryens and don't want to relive the nightmare that was The Mad King. While this wouldn't make or break Daenerys going mad, I think it would have contributed significantly to the cause.
I would argue though, that Daenerys's actions in "The Bells" are not as abrupt as a lot of people are making them out to be, again, going back to that whole "prisoner of the moment" reaction thing I mentioned earlier. There's no doubt that Game of Thrones has done plenty of foreshadowing for Daenerys' assault on King's Landing: her vision of a destroyed Throne Room in the House of the Undying in season two, Maggie the Frog telling a young Cersei that someone younger and more beautiful would cast her down, and Bran having a brief vision of a dragon flying over King's Landing. All of that foreshadowing comes to fruition in this episode.
But Alan! Foreshadowing is not character development! And you're right, it's not. But in my mind, Daenerys' descent into madness began the moment she set foot in Westeros, although there were definitely strong signs during season five, such as publicly executing one of Meereen's slaves and feeding one of the Meereen family leaders to her dragons. Daenerys spent all her time in Essos learning what it took to be a worthy Queen. She promised to end slavery (i.e be the breaker of chains), to eliminate those who hurt and abuse others (burn and crucify slave masters, for example), and how to be receptive to the concerns of those she was serving (all the requests she took from the citizens of Meereen in seasons four and five). For Daenerys, she modeled herself on being kind, merciful, and someone who was capable of performing great works and miracles. Granted, she also showed that she could be ruthless at times, but that's to be expected when she is also the Mother of Dragons. Believing that she was destined to take the Iron Throne, Daenerys sailed to Westeros, convinced that the ideals and strategies she used in Essos would work the same way in Westeros and help propel her to the Throne she so strongly felt she was destined to take.
They didn't work. Daenerys has never had any idea of the kind of cruel and unforgiving country that Westeros is, and so, she was unprepared to deal with what unfolded over the course of season seven and the early parts of season eight. She avoided launching a direct assault on King's Landing, because she figured she could win the Throne without having to resort to, shall we say, unethical means of war, aka, eradicating her enemies and pushing the Westeros civilians back into a life of fear. Her merciful war tactics were rewarded with death and tragic loss: losing the Greyjoy fleet, her allies from Dorne, the support of House Tyrell, and the trust of some of her closest advisors. At the same time, Jon Snow comes along and basically tells her that her quest for the Throne is a waste of time, because an Army of the Dead, something else she has never known about, is coming to kill everyone. After her merciful (not exactly merciful, but you know what I mean) plans to take the Iron Throne failed, she then strikes her enemies with the kind of fear she was always hesitant to give them: the fear of her dragons burning everything to the ground. She annihilates much of the Lannister and Tully army, and executes Randyll and Dickon Tarly when they refuse her last offer for mercy. Tyrion and Varys see it right away: this is not like the Queen they came to love and serve in Essos.
Shortly afterwards, Daenerys sees the Army of the Dead with her own eyes, but she loses one of her dragons in the process: the ultimate shot to the heart for the Mother of Dragons. The war against the Army of the Dead is a war Daenerys never thought she would have to fight, nor is it a war she wants to fight. But she has to, because her possible future as Queen depends on her defeating this ancient enemy. Even with Jon Snow's loyalty on her side, the Northern lords borderline reject Daenerys. An Army of the Dead being on their doorstep doesn't change the fact that, to all of them, Targaryens are untrustworthy. Something I alluded to in my review of "Winterfell" was that Daenerys started to be painted as a villain, and seeing what unfolded in "The Bells", I don't think that was a coincidence. Daenerys gets hit with loss after loss after loss after landing in Westeros. All that build-up, all those promises, all the hope and support she had while travelling and ruling in Essos, it's all ripped apart through endless attrition. Westeros did not embrace Daenerys Targaryen: Westeros hurt her, rejected her, and basically told her that she was never meant to claim the Throne and rule the way she did overseas. Westeros told Daenerys that her life purpose was, and always has been, a lie. After Rhaegal and Missandei are killed, Daenerys can't take it anymore: everything about her Westeros campaign has failed. All she has left is fear. She unleashes that fear, and when she does, Westeros begs for mercy. But it's too late for Westeros now. She tried offering mercy, and Westeros rejected it. To Daenerys, the innocent civilians are no different than Cersei or Euron. They all represent Westeros. How does Daenerys know the commoners are just like those she interacted with so much in Essos? She is done offering second, third, fourth chances. Westeros didn't accept Daenerys for the person she wanted to be, and it broke her. Permanently.
I'll wrap up my thoughts on Daenerys' turn at the very end, cause I still need to get to everything with Jaime, Cersei, Arya, and the Clegane brothers, and this is turning into my longest review ever. So Cleganebowl finally happened: perhaps the only fan "theory" that ended up coming true. It's a gritty and highly satisfying fight sequence. The Hound takes multiple shots at The Mountain, but The Mountain is like a Terminator: can take multiple hits but will still come after you. It's inaccurate to say that D&D have butchered every character arc still going on, because this was exactly the way they needed to bring closure for the Clegane brothers. The Hound knocks his brother and himself through a wall, and the two tumble down to their deaths into a gigantic sea of fire. If you ask me, I thought The Hound won the Cleganebowl and got the perfect revenge on his brother. If it was fire that separated the Clegane brothers and made them hate each other, then it should be fire that ends them both. So what if The Hound took himself out in the process? He had basically nothing else to live for anyway. This was the moment he waited his entire life for, and it ended just the way he wanted: his brother dead. Nothing else matters.
Arya had accompanied the Hound in hopes that she could kill Cersei and finally cross her name off her list, but The Hound easily convinces her that she shouldn't follow a path of revenge like him. Arya then spends the rest of the episode running and avoiding getting killed by dragon fire and falling debris. While it made sense for Arya to go down to King's Landing and try to kill Cersei, the unfortunate thing is that she kind of gets stuck in the crossfires, and ends up serving little to no purpose to the episode other than to run around and avoid getting killed by dragon fire and falling debris. Then again, how could Arya have prepared for Daenerys burning all of King's Landing? Criticisms of plot armor are unsuitable here: at the very least, Arya's presence gives us a horrifying perspective of all the King's Landing citizens, running and hiding while Drogon burns everything to the ground. The alternative choice, Arya getting killed by dragon fire or falling debris, would feel like a total throwaway death and be even worse than having plot armor, mainly because it would be a completely nonsensical way to have her journey come to an end.
Which leads me to the last major event of the episode: another that angered people about as much, if not more, than Daenerys' villain turn. Jaime, after fending off Euron Greyjoy in a fight that many deemed "pointless", finds a distraught Cersei, and the two make their way down to below the Red Keep, where all their escape passages are blocked. The two hold each other in a final embrace, and the Keep collapses on top of them. I can't remember if I stated this in one of my previous reviews, but there was no villain character I hated more in Game of Thrones than Cersei Lannister: the way she was almost always able to get away with scheming, plotting, and betraying others. I should've been irate that she didn't die in some fiery, bloody fashion. The first time I watched through Game of Thrones, her eventual death was one thing I was most wanting to see, but after re-watching the first seven seasons, leading up to season eight's premiere, I wasn't able to watch her with the same bitter hatred as I did the first time around, mostly because I felt I got a better understanding of her motivations, and also because I could now appreciate just how terrific of a job that Lena Headey had done of playing Cersei over the years. The "death by bricks" phrase that people on the Internet have taken up is an incredibly silly and immature way of viewing how Cersei dies, though it has inspired plenty of hilarious memes. When I watched "The Bells" for the first time, I was, admittedly, a bit stumped trying to understand why this was the final moment for Jaime and Cersei Lannister: the two wrapped in a tight embrace, as the world collapses around them. I wholeheartedly agree that D&D could have done a better job of executing the end of Jaime Lannister's story. It's very confusing to think about why Jaime went through such an uplifting redemption arc over several seasons, only to have it end by having him abandon Brienne and go back to die with Cersei, despite the fact that he abandoned Cersei at the end of season seven. But after thinking it over some more, it started to make more sense, though I would agree that season eight being a full ten episodes would have benefited the end of several character arcs even more.
It's incorrect to say that Jaime Lannister's story has been a "bad guy gone good" redemption story, though a lot of it certainly fits into that description. Ever since season one, Jaime has always been a morally complicated character: smug and a bit condescending, but also a man who wouldn't commit any heinous crime without feeling he had a good, legitimate reason for doing so. When that smugness eventually went too far and cost Jaime his sword hand, it forced him to reevaluate everything about himself, and it led to him growing more sympathetic in how he treated his friends and family, and more honorable in how he treated his enemies. Through it all though, there was one constant: his incestuous love for his sister. Even with his newfound honor and sympathy, Jaime stuck with Cersei and never let himself fall out of love with her, because he felt that the two were meant to spend their lives together: they entered the world together, and they should leave the world together. It wasn't until the end of season seven when he finally came to fully see his sister for the hateful, backstabbing woman that she is, and he wasn't going to let even her stop him from fulfilling the promise he made to fight for the living.
After The Night King and the Army of the Dead are defeated and having his promise fulfilled, it seemed as if Jaime would go on to live happily ever after, but anyone with half a brain watching Game of Thrones knows that happily ever after is not allowed. Jaime is all smiles during "The Last of the Starks", and upon hearing that Brienne is a virgin, he decides to sleep with her, figuring that the two have grown close enough over the years that he is the one who can give her that happy moment. But then Jaime hears the news about Cersei killing Rhaegal, and that the remaining forces from the North are marching down to King's Landing. Jaime feels he has to leave and return to Cersei. Not because he suddenly hates Brienne or because he wants to help Cersei prevail. Jaime knows that Cersei and her army won't survive. He returns to her because he knows he is permanently tied to Cersei. His whole life has been about being with her and stopping anyone who prevents them from being together. Jaime did say during season five that he wanted to die in the arms of the woman he loved.
Many people were convinced though, heading into season eight, that Jaime would end up being the one to kill Cersei, most likely by choking her to death and fulfilling the Valonqar Prophecy (something the show has never alluded to, by the way). To believe that Jaime's character arc could only be fulfilled by having him kill Cersei is overlooking one simple thing: his motivation. What would have suddenly convinced Jaime that he should kill his sister, the woman he's loved his entire life and the woman he's done so much for over his lifetime? Would he kill her just because she stabbed Jon and Daenerys, her sworn enemies, in the back? Last I checked, Jaime was fighting alongside Cersei for just about all of season seven. Jaime has seen that his sister is cruel and has committed unforgivable acts like blowing up the Sept of Baelor, but Jaime knows that he too has committed unforgivable acts, even if those acts were a long time ago and well before he started to redeem himself. To say that Jaime essentially gave up and decided that he could not be a better man I think is not diving deep enough into it: Jaime knows he is a better man. He acknowledged how much he has changed to Bran during "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms". No matter how much Jaime has changed and no matter how much he has redeemed himself, he can't break free of the one thing that has been part of him since the day he was born: his love for Cersei. Even if Jaime had decided to stay in the North and live a new life, there would be this empty hole in his heart that could never be filled. Is that the bittersweet ending we want for Jaime? Was his story always about him finding a way to finally break free of his sister? Was his lifelong love for Cersei just a disease that he needed to cure? I think George R.R. Martin had always envisioned that Jaime Lannister's story would end with Cersei Lannister's story. The way that Jaime and Cersei's story comes to an end is what we could call a bittersweet tragedy: Jaime ends his story the way it began, with the woman he loves, but he doesn't die thinking he lived a life of lies and hatred. He dies knowing that he transcended the smugness, the lies, and the hatred, even if it meant that the journey would lead him back to where it all started: with the hateful woman he's loved his entire life.
One episode of Game of Thrones remains, and "The Bells" leaves us with a flurry of questions, the biggest of all being how will this story come to an end? What was all this fighting for in the end? How will the characters that are still alive have their stories come to an end? The actions of Daenerys sparked so much outrage and prompted further questions about what Game of Thrones has been trying to tell us all along. Is Game of Thrones going to be remembered as a series of almost nothing but empty nihilism? Have David Benioff & D.B. Weiss truly strayed away from George R.R. Martin's original vision, or have they been delivering us a heartfelt message all along, and we simply are not looking hard enough at what this series has been all about? Is Game of Thrones a cynical outlook on the human soul, about how darkness and hatred has consumed humanity and defined so much of its history? Or is it an analysis of how humanity always finds a way to emerge from that darkness, because there always will be a better tomorrow?
Daenerys Targaryen's burning of King's Landing in "The Bells" was met with harsh criticism, as angry fans and critics remarked that the decision to kill thousands of innocent people went completely against her character and was completely unearned. Part of Daenerys' character was how she sympathized with the innocent and went out of her way to show them mercy and kindness. How does Daenerys know though, that the innocent people of Westeros are like the innocent people of Essos? How does she know the people of Westeros are innocent at all? Now, would season eight have benefited from more episodes and thus, more time to show Daenerys becoming like her father, the Mad King? Absolutely. Are these harsh criticisms of her villainous turn warranted? Of course they are. My goal here in this review though, is to not simply side along with all the criticism and come here and dismiss this episode as a total disaster, because I hope to offer a viewpoint that perhaps others may not have considered, as I think multiples viewpoints, not just hateful ones, can enhance our overall appreciation of watching Game of Thrones. Of course, my own opinion is no better or worse that someone else's, and if you've already dismissed this review as total nonsense, well, thanks for reading. Many criticisms of season eight are perfectly valid and very well-constructed, while others have been extremely petty and embarrassingly shallow (looking at you, USA Today's Kelly Lawler and BGR's Chris Smith).
I praise "The Bells" not solely because of its technical prowess nor its risky plot twist with a character that has been so beloved since the very beginning of the series. I hold "The Bells" in high regard for what it triggered, even if a lot of what it has triggered has been negative and hateful. The controversy surrounding this episode has stirred up so much commotion and conversation about where this final season is heading and what it means for Game of Thrones overall. Many considered "The Bells" to be a terrible episode that made many wrong decisions. Others praised it for making those same decisions. Either way, it's a type of power that Game of Thrones proved that it's capable of unleashing, something that so few other television shows of late have been able to do. All the pressure now is on the series finale to bring closure to this series and give us one final say on what we've been watching this whole time. If you're optimistic about the finale, super. If you're already convinced the finale will be a disappointment, well, I can't stop you. No matter how Game of Thrones' final episode will be remembered, we should never forget how much we loved the journey we went on along the way. No amount of dragon fire should ever, EVER change that.
I wanna be the very best, like no video game adaptation ever was
Pokemon Detective Pikachu is directed by Rob Letterman and is based on the Pokemon franchise and the 2016 video game Detective Pikachu. The movie stars Ryan Reynolds as the voice and facial motion capture of the titular Pikachu, with Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Ken Watanabe, and Bill Nighy in live-action roles.
The Pokemon franchise was an integral part of my childhood: hours upon hours of playing all the different Pokemon video games, collecting as many Pokemon trading cards as possible, and talking with other close friends who shared the same love and excitement for Pokemon as I did. Yes, indeed: Pokemon was, and still is to this day to some extent, one of the greatest joys my young life has had, so how in the world could I not be excited to see the first real, live-action take on the franchise that has been so world-renowned for almost 25 years? Well, to tell you the truth: I wasn't sure how to feel at first when I saw that Warner Bros. and The Pokemon Company were going to give us our first live-action Pokemon film in 2019. On one hand, I was thrilled that the Pokemon franchise would not settle for the incredibly insular approach that hampered basically all their anime Pokemon films. Y'know, the ones that are like, "Oh? You're not a fan of the show? Well too bad, 'cause we're not gonna take the time to explain what a Pokemon is or who any of these people are!" On the other hand, I was a tad worried because, for many years, I never thought that Pokemon was something that could be pulled off in live-action. Of course, since anything that was ever a popular thing must get a live-action movie nowadays (this November's Sonic the Hedgehog looking to be another momentous low in the history of cinema, and the history of humanity in general), it should have started creeping more into my mind that a live-action Pokemon film was inevitable.
After seeing the film, my exact feelings are...I still don't know. The film did not blow me away and strike my childhood nostalgia in a way that made me want to find an old GameBoy console and start playing Pokemon Red and Blue versions again. At the same time, I thought the film was a reasonable first step in what is likely to be a series of live-action Pokemon films (a sequel to Detective Pikachu is already in the works). One thing I think we can all be happy with though is that Pokemon Detective Pikachu has risen up as the Lord and Savior of the video game movie genre: maligned for years as a toxic, cinematic wasteland and home to some of the worst films to ever grace the silver screen. Finally, the curse has been broken: we have ourselves a good video game movie, and all it took apparently was strong box office results and a decent critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. And while Detective Pikachu can't just wave a magic wand and eliminate any future video game movie flops, it does the heart some good to finally see something succeed after watching it fall flat on its face time and time again.
So then, since Detective Pikachu is not at all like those narrow-minded anime Pokemon films, that must mean that the movie is going to take time to give you an elaborate explanation of what a Pokemon is and how they interact with people, right? Well, unfortunately, no, but you really don't need to have much knowledge of Pokemon to understand the basic plot: in the world of Pokemon, depressed 21-year old Tim Goodman (Smith) receives word that his father, Harry. has died in a car accident. Goodman travels to Ryme City, a bustling metropolis where people and Pokemon live in harmony, to learn the details of Harry's death and to collect the remaining valuables from Harry's Ryme City apartment. In the apartment, Goodman comes across a Pikachu (Reynolds) that is capable of speaking to humans. Actually, that's not quite true: Goodman is the only one who can understand the Pikachu, and thus, the two quickly develop a bond. The Pikachu reveals himself to be a detective who worked alongside Harry, and that the two were working on a case together, when Harry disappeared. Pikachu is also suffering from amnesia, but he is convinced that Harry is still alive, and that a secret plot is in the works: a plot that could threaten people and Pokemon alike. Tim and Pikachu later team up with Ryme City columnist intern Lucy Stevens (Newton) and her trusty Pokemon, Psyduck, as they begin to uncover more clues about where Harry could be and what this secret Ryme City plot is all about.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu largely ignores the Pokemon franchise's two most famous assets: catching Pokemon and using them to fight in battle. While many fans are reasonably upset that the movie is largely devoid of the two things that made people fall in love with Pokemon in the first place, I think the movie still works perfectly fine without either. For one, it saves screenwriters Dani Hernandez, Benji Samit, Letterman, and Derek Connolly a lot of time when it comes to explaining what Pokemon are and why all this catching and battling matters. By adjusting the plot in a way that more-so resembles a mystery in the style of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, audiences everywhere can accept Pokemon as cute, cuddly creatures that exist in the same world as humans, but also understand that they're there because they matter to the plot and its overarching message. The more I think about, the more I feel like Detective Pikachu mirrors a lot of Who Framed Roger Rabbit: something I'm not sure I should find completely charming or somewhat disappointing.
- We all knew Ryan Reynolds voicing Pikachu was going to be the best part of the movie well before its release, and that's exactly what turns out to be true. Reynolds only has to try a little in order to be charming and funny, but here, it is clear that he is all in with the role, seeking out every opportunity imaginable to turn Pikachu into a witty, hard-to-take-seriously Pokemon that never flirts with being annoying. It is completely fair to think of Reynolds' performance as, "He's Deadpool, except without any of the swearing", and what I've always loved about Reynolds' style of humor is not only his impeccable timing, but also that he gets when the joke has reached its maximum potential and doesn't need to go on any longer. Every joke and one-liner from Pikachu feels fresh, and is delivered with such enthusiastic aplomb from Reynolds that it prevents anything else in the movie from putting you in a bad mood.
- It was a struggle for me years ago to think about what Pokemon would look like in live-action, but what I can say now is that the CGI artists and whoever else was involved in the design of Pikachu absolutely nailed it. It is impossible to resist how adorable Pikachu looks: big, doe eyes that look like they could melt any ice-cold heart. Fluffy yellow fur that is smooth and fluid. The design goes so well with Reynolds' voice that the movie is almost worth seeing purely to watch Ryan Reynolds' voice coming out of the mouth of such an expertly crafted Pokemon design, and you sit there in amazement knowing how much it works.
- I wish I could say equally as nice of things to say about all the other Pokemon designs, but, alas, I cannot. While none of the other Pokemon are (thankfully) not scary-looking enough to be nightmare fuel, many are disappointing in that they look rather sloppily put together. Ludicolo, the duck-like Pokemon serving drinks in the bar that Tim and Pikachu go to, looks like an art student's haphazard attempt at creating a sculpture of Cousin It. Charizard, the fire-breathing Pokemon that Pikachu gets into a battle with, looks more like someone in a dirty rubber suit than a menacing lizard creature that can breathe fire. Some of the other Pokemon look perfectly fine, but it's disappointing to see some very recognizable Pokemon not get the same love of craft as Pikachu does. Then again, Pikachu has been the most famous Pokemon ever since the video game series and the TV anime began, so why should anyone be surprised?
- The plot is definitely something that is a bit tough to get your head around. Did I say that Detective Pikachu largely resembles Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Well, for the most part it does, but the plot also combines ingredients from Who Framed Roger Rabbit with ingredients from Zootopia, specifically in how Detective Pikachu borrows the "predatory nature of animals" bit that fueled so much of Zootopia's plot. That being said, the low point is that Detective Pikachu's plot feels largely unoriginal and without a whole lot of creativity, and that's a bummer because I think there is a lot of potential for creativity and thought-provoking story beats in a live-action world of people and Pokemon. How could there not be when there's over 800 (and counting) different kinds of Pokemon? Maybe the sequel(s) will find a way to tap into this creativity. If they can get the right group of CGI artists together, maybe they get the right group of screenwriters together.
I felt obligated to go and see Detective Pikachu right away, even though it is a children's film first and foremost. I've been playing Pokemon and following the franchise for so long that my childhood nostalgia would not let me have it any other way, and I'm glad I was able to leave the theater not at all feeling like I had been offended or betrayed. If Detective Pikachu was going to be yet another clunker in the hapless realm that is the video game movie genre, well, I'm not sure how I would have felt. Detective Pikachu is not a hapless film; it is the first video game movie ever to inspire, dare we say it, hope, for a genre that has never seen anything resembling hope. With Ryan Reynolds' terrific voice work and an equally terrific CGI design for its titular Pokemon, Detective Pikachu sparkles bright. The sparkles are not as bright, however, in some of the other Pokemon designs and in the plot, the latter of which doesn't fully tap into the creative potential to be had in a world of people and Pokemon. The world of Pokemon is so vast that it's next to near impossible to see it all in one movie. Future live-action Pokemon films are sure to follow though, so I'm sure there will be more to see whenever those films come out. For right now though, Pokemon superfans and the video game movie genre should be happy. For Pokemon superfans, Warner Bros. and The Pokemon Company found a way to successfully bring Pokemon to the world of live-action. For the video game genre, Detective Pikachu could mean that better days are ahead.
Recommend? Yes. I'd say this movie is a must-see of you love and adore Pokemon.
We may have defeated them, but we still have us to contend with.
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
It has been a sort of eye-opening kind of week for me, in between episodes three and four of Game of Thrones' eighth and final season. Unfortunately, it was not the kind of eye-opening experience I was hoping to have, nor was it one I thought I would end up feeling the urge to bring up in one of these episode reviews of mine. I touched upon it lightly in my review of "The Long Night" and in some other, past reviews, but now, it's just gotten out of control.
Four episodes into season eight, and the overly demanding and quick-to-complain people of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Youtube, etc. have already declared season eight a colossal disappointment and an utter catastrophe in terms of plot and writing. It's a fact of human nature that you cannot satisfy everyone, and D&D went into the production of season eight knowing full well that however they decided to end the show, there would be angry, unhappy people that would completely disagree with the way the series would come to an end. I can already picture it: after the final episode airs on May 19th, thousands upon thousands of angry people and critics will flock to social media and berate D&D for completely ruining Game of Thrones and giving the show such an unsatisfying, disappointing finale. I suppose it's too much to ask to simply enjoy the show for what it is now, no matter how much it's changed since the early days when Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon were talking about The Hand of the King. I suppose now we're automatically supposed to assume that all the character motivations are backwards, all the twists and turns are nonsensical, and everything that happens plot-wise is rushed and without one single good thing to be had.
It is a lazy form of criticism to nitpick everything at the cost of analyzing the big picture of what a movie or an episode of television is trying to say, and while I've done my fair share of nitpicking in several of my own movie reviews and reviews of earlier Game of Thrones' episodes, I try not to do so without weighing the nitpicks against whatever strengths that said movie or television episode may have. Where I'm going with this is that to dismiss "The Last of the Starks" as a bad episode purely based on the following details is, well, not seeing the big picture:
- Jon not petting Ghost and saying goodbye before leaving Winterfell.
- Bronn sneaking into Winterfell to confront Jaime and Tyrion.
- Euron Greyjoy and the Iron Fleet launching a successful surprise attack on Daenerys and her fleet.
- The secret of Jon's heritage spreading like wildfire after Jon tells it to Sansa and Arya.
- A Starbucks coffee cup being spotted on a table during the great feast in Winterfell.
The wild reactions I've seen from people regarding the coffee cup goof really amazes me. IT'S A FREAKING COFFEE CUP THAT HAS ABSOLUTELY NO BEARINGS ON THE PLOT! I'm fully on board with all the memes that the cup has inspired, but let's not act like Game of Thrones is the only television series to ever have goofs.
At this point, I have said basically nothing about the episode itself, so I should probably jump into the actual review part of the review: "The Last of the Starks" will most likely go on to be the worst episode of season eight, but that's not to say that the episode doesn't have several redeeming qualities, no matter how much it may seem like set-up for the grand finale. David Nutter and company do a fabulous job of ramping up the tension for the final two episodes, while at the same time, recapturing a lot of what made people fall in love with Game of Thrones in the first place: surprise character deaths and intriguing political discussions, to be specific. The plot armor critique ought to be dead and buried at this point, so let's not try to bring it up again. Where "The Last of the Starks" does fall a bit short though is in the department of pacing, particularly in how it takes a little while for the episode to really rev into motion.
Following a mournful funeral scene, Winterfell holds a fun-filled feast to celebrate the defeat of the Army of the Dead, with lots of cheering, laughing, and drinking. The happiness of this scene goes on a little longer than necessary: a lot of this feast is comprised of casual conversations that, for the most part, don't really seem to be moving the plot along in the right direction. The best conversation comes between The Hound and Sansa, with Sansa remarking how all the pain and suffering she endured over the years changed her from the "little bird" she once was. It's cool that The Hound is the one who gets to hear this: The Hound has always been a tough-as-nails character who has lasted this long partially because he's good at fighting and understands that Westeros is a dog eat dog world. While Sansa has not become a fierce fighter like Arya has, she has come to understand the way Westeros works, just like The Hound does, and that she is now capable of finding ways to deal with the remaining monsters of Westeros.
This conversation has sparked a ton of controversy, primarily because the dialogue has been perceived as D&D being sexist and using rape as a tool for female empowerment. It's true that Game of Thrones has struggled at times to treat women in a positive light, but to immediately brush off this scene as outrageous sexism is- here I go again- missing the big picture. To start with, who in their right mind honestly believes that D&D sat down to write the scripts, thinking to themselves, "We hate women and we're going to show everyone how so in episode four." Also, why is this controversy purely revolved around Sansa's rape at the hands of Ramsay Bolton, when earlier, she experienced plenty of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Joffrey? There is not one word in the dialogue from Sansa that implies she was ever happy to go through those experiences. More so, Sansa is implying that being with Littlefinger, Ramsay, and Joffrey simply changed her, in that she learned the hard way how things work in Westeros, and later learned how she could live with such monsters and find ways to fight back against them. Now that's she back home safe in Winterfell, Sansa wants to protect her family and those closest to her because she doesn't want them to ever go through the same kind of experiences she did. Of course being abused by Joffrey and Ramsay are scars of Sansa's that will never heal, and not anything that she should feel proud of. What D&D are really trying to get at is that the "little bird" Sansa from seasons past had no idea of the kinds of horrors that ruled over the Seven Kingdoms, but now seven/eight seasons later, she is fully aware of what terrors lurk outside of her home, and she has changed enough to know how to never let such terrors harm her again. It's really one single line of a three minute conversation that's getting blown out of proportion here (and honestly, it's getting blown up as a radical left-wing argument). Sansa is giving us a summarized viewpoint of her entire Game of Thrones' journey, and it's silly to think that she was never allowed to reflect on her traumatic experiences and think what she could do to get out of such a cycle of chaos.
So, moving on then: it certainly doesn't seem like there could be any tension or drama made out of this happy moment for so many characters, but David Nutter expertly finds ways to wring out several drops of uneasiness, most notably in the way Daenerys watches Jon get all the love from the wildlings and others. Daenerys is shot as if she is like someone lost in the background, with the likes of Jon, Tormund, and others at the forefront of the frame. It's an effective camera trick to reinforce the idea that Daenerys is not welcome in the North, and no matter how much she contributed to winning the Great War, she is still viewed as a dangerous outsider. Daenerys loses her grip on so much by the end of the episode, that all signs are pointing towards her going on a fiery rampage that would likely transform her into The Mad Queen. I am all for Game of Thrones going for this angle the rest of the way, because I think that would bring about a lot of rich (and, sadly, controversial) story telling. For the time being, Daenerys and her party agree that avoiding bloodshed is the right maneuver, and this leads us to another heavily scrutinized scene, one that has had entire articles dedicated to criticizing the scene as completely nonsensical. While riding with her dragons on the way to King's Landing, Euron Greyjoy's fleet launches a surprise attack. They kill Rhaegal (oh no!) and make swiss cheese out of Daenerys' fleet.
I have seen almost universally negative reception for this scene, with the majority of criticism revolving around Daenerys not spotting Euron's fleet right away and not ever trying to attack the fleet from behind. I love how this criticism largely ignores what we saw minutes earlier: Daenerys and her entourage agreeing that a direct attack on King's Landing is not the right move. It would have been a worse writing decision had Daenerys and everyone just said, "Screw it. Let's just go attack Cersei and her army without any sort of plan." Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister, Sansa Stark, and others have always tried to embody strong morals and a sense of honor. What sense would it make for all of them to suddenly go against their noble ideals and not at least try to pressure Cersei into surrendering, even if it meant Cersei would give them an emphatic no? Ever since season one, characters in Game of Thrones have suffered terrible consequences for making the wrong choice. Ned Stark tried to avoid bloodshed when he went to have Joffrey and Cersei arrested, and we all know how that turned out. The plan for Daenerys and her army trying to pressure Cersei into surrendering is their last hope in regards to resolving their matters with Cersei without resorting to widespread death and destruction. The consequences for making this decision is the death of Rhaegal and the capture and death of Missandei, and seeing the anger swell up in Daenerys' face by the end of the episode is enough to tell us that peaceful negotiations are over.
I try to be as much of a Game of Thrones' optimist as can be, but I clearly feel like I'm in the minority when I try to come out and make a case for there being some semblance of logic behind the Euron attack scene. One scene I will not try to make a similar case for is the bittersweet Jon and Ghost goodbye. Ghost must have been a fan favorite character all along, if Jon not petting him goodbye was enough to spark dozens of memes, articles, and videos about how outraged people were. I've always felt like Jon and Ghost have had an on and off relationship, so the farewell between the two really just seems like a footnote when it comes to everything that season eight entails. I do wish though that Jon would have at least verbally said goodbye to Ghost or even go up to pet him, because who doesn't love a happy moment between a boy and his dog/direwolf?
We should be wrapping things up by now, so the last thing I will get into is how the news of Jon's real heritage spreads like wildfire. Sansa doesn't even try to keep it a secret after Jon and Bran tell her and Arya who Jon really is. Sansa (offscreen) tells Tyrion, and Tyrion (offscreen) tells Varys. I do really like the conversations between Tyrion and Varys in this episode: they start to question their own loyalty to Daenerys and have intriguing back and forth talk about the possibility that Jon would be the better ruler. It's tough to see Tyrion struggle to find some reasoning for why he wants to stay by Daenerys' side; he knows that what Varys tells him is true, and that Daenerys' potentially unstable state of mind could mean the lives of so many innocent people. It's as if Tyrion is trying to save the sinking ship that is Daenerys' claim to the Iron Throne, but no matter what he says, Tyrion knows deep down that what Varys is telling him is right, and that he maybe should entertain the possibility of Jon being the one who should sit on the Throne. As for Sansa not keeping Jon's heritage a secret, I don't think we can blame her too much for not being able to keep it a secret. Westeros has been fighting non-stop for years: Sansa is desperate for peace and harmony. She wants to go to bed each night knowing that she doesn't need to worry about who is sitting on the throne down in King's Landing. At long last, there is someone who not only has a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne, they are someone who is very fit to rule, no matter how much they don't want to rule. For Sansa, getting Jon to sit on the Iron Throne is finally the way to a peaceful and honorable Westeros, even if it means breaking a promise she made to him.
I feel bad cutting off this review now, because there is definitely a lot more that I could get into, like Arya turning down Gendry's proposal (very much in character for Arya, I think), and Jaime and Brienne having sex with each other (another scene I give praise to). Intimate moments certainly play a big part in "The Last of the Starks", but they all add up to assure us that nearly all these surviving characters are going down a path full of sadness, anger, and regret. Plus, after everything that Cersei does to Daenerys by the end of the episode's 78 minutes, we can be sure that these final two episodes will be filled to the brim with fire, blood, and death.
It does sadden me a bit inside to all the angry, hateful responses that many people have for season eight. No one is wrong in saying they hate this season, nor is anyone wrong for having criticisms for things such as D&D's writing. My issue is in how so much hate has seemingly drowned out any and all compliments and praise that people like myself may have about season eight. I have highly enjoyed the way this season is turning out, and I for one am very excited to see what will transpire in these final two episodes. For this Game of Thrones fan here writing this review, it's about trying to see the possible good in all the choices that the show-runners make, no matter how much others perceive those choices as stupid or lazy. Screenwriting is hard. Writing, in general, is hard. David Benioff & D.B. Weiss fully understand that they cannot satisfy everyone, and that they will be criticized, no matter how they would have written this final season. I'm sure George R.R. Martin has not gone without receiving any criticism himself for the way he wrote his A Song if Ice and Fire novels. "The Last of the Starks" is not a perfect episode by any stretch of the imagination: the pacing is a bit problematic, and many of the scenes are susceptible to heated criticism. Despite this, the episode still features plenty of interesting political debate and heart-wrenching character moments, and what it does best of all is crank up the tension for what will happen next episode, which Emilia Clarke has teased as something you should see on the biggest TV you can find. I am fully confident that episode five will be can't-miss TV, and no amount of negative reviews or Starbucks coffee cup memes will convince me otherwise.
Did you do it? Yes. What did it cost? Everything.
Avengers: Endgame is directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo and is the 22nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It features an ensemble cast, many of which are returning to reprise their long-running roles in the MCU: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, and Josh Brolin.
The months of overwhelming hype and the early (and also overwhelming) box office results of Avengers: Endgame has shaped up this 22nd installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be a historic landmark in cinematic history. In the days of Christopher Reeves' Superman and Tim Burton's Batman, I don't think anyone could have imagined that superheroes would one day become box office titans with worldwide popularity and the capability of drawing the kind of crowds that no film honored with the most prestigious of Academy Awards could ever dream of. As of the date of this review, Avengers: Endgame has already crossed the billion dollar mark at the box office, and is looking like it has a real good chance at dethroning James Cameron's Avatar for highest grossing film of all time. This has been a moment that Marvel has spent more than ten years building up to, and while 2018's Infinity War delivered the excitement of finally seeing all of our beloved Marvel superheroes coming together to fight a common enemy, Endgame, by its very title, promises that this is something of a final chapter in the MCU's original run. No, it's not the end of the MCU, period. Why in the hell would Disney and Marvel shut down what has been one of the most profitable media franchises in history? What I'm saying is that Endgame marks the final time that we will get to see the Marvel superhero team we've been so familiar with: the Avengers team that a lot of younger fans have grown up with over the past ten, eleven years.
Giving away spoilers for Endgame is like breaking one of the Ten Commandments: thou shall not spoil Endgame or else thou will suffer the wrath of the Superhero God. Typically, demanding people to not give away spoilers is a dead giveaway that someone of significance is going to die, and/or that the movie has some wild plot twists. I myself will respect the wishes of Marvel and those closest to the movie to not give away crucial spoilers, but I've always made it something of an unofficial rule on this blog of mine to never ever give away major spoilers, because wouldn't that defeat much of the purpose of watching a good film in the first place? I suppose I find myself in the minority in saying that I was not blown away by Endgame, not because I found the movie to be bad: this movie is very very far from being bad. The main reason I was not blown away by Endgame was because, at the end of the day, it felt like another fully functional Marvel movie: one with plenty of colorful action, humor, and entertainment value. That formula has been working wonderfully for the MCU for more than a decade now, but for this movie, it needed to be something more than that. There needed to be that special perk, that special, stand-out quality that would make Endgame transcend into something more than just a superhero movie that happens to be three hours long. Yes, there is a lot more emotional weight than many of the MCU's previous installments. The problem is that extra emotional weight was to be expected, so you go through the whole movie worrying in the back of your mind who is going to make it out okay.
Only half of the universe made it out okay following the end of Infinity War: Thanos succeeded in acquiring all six Infinity Stones and used them to snap his fingers and wipe out half of all living creatures. The remaining Avengers- Tony Stark, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Rocket, and Nebula- are in shambles: all their friends and family are gone and they have no idea where Thanos is. Three weeks following Thanos' snap, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel finds Tony Stark and Nebula drifting through space, taking their ship back to Earth where Stark reunites with the other Avengers and Danvers formally introduces herself. Danvers helps the Avengers locate Thanos, but they discover that the Infinity Stones have been destroyed, and thus, there is no way to reverse the damage done.
Five years go by, but the Avengers are still struggling with their grief. However, hope arrives in the form of Scott Lang: Lang escapes from the quantum realm (see the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp) and goes to the Avengers' headquarters to discuss how they might be able to use the quantum realm to travel through time. With the help of Tony Stark's super-sized intelligence, the Avengers are able to formulate a plan to undo Thanos' actions: travel back in time and collect the Infinity Stones, then bring them to the present where they can be used to bring everyone back.
The post-credits scene of Infinity War teased the arrival of Captain Marvel, and, after all the hateful trolls of social media and the Internet declared that Captain Marvel would be a flop (it wasn't), the same hateful trolls went on to declare that Endgame would also be a disappointment (it wasn't) because of Captain Marvel's presence. For all those people worrying that Endgame would come down to a fight between Thanos and Captain Marvel, they will be genuinely surprised to find out that Captain Marvel is hardly in the movie at all. I think the Russo brothers have always intended Endgame to be the ultimate love letter to the MCU fanbase, and that's why the vast majority of the movie is dedicated to seeing all the original Avengers in action together: a swan song before this team-up of superheroes, that has been entertaining us for years, permanently separates. Captain Marvel is still very raw to the MCU, and the Russo's understand that it wouldn't feel right to have her be the ultimate savior against the enemy that brought all the MCU's other superheroes together.
- Endgame truly soars during its quieter, dialogue-driven scenes where the surviving Avengers contemplate what their lives are like now and how different things would be if all their friends and family were still around. The end of Infinity War put the Avengers at their lowest: a moment of crushing defeat that shook them to their core and seemingly deprived them of a life purpose. It's not too often that a Marvel movie dedicates this much time towards exploring the vulnerable, human side of at least one of its superheroes, and the great thing to see here is the similarities of what each Avenger has been fighting for: the safety and well-being of a family and/or loved one. Watching the Avengers go through their emotional crisis is a long, drawn-out process that makes the end of Infinity War feel all the more effective, and not like a temporary setback that can be resolved in a matter of minutes. Of course the action picks up considerably in the second half of the movie, but the Russos take their time in getting to the action, and every minute spent beforehand is well worth it.
- Time travel is one of the most fragile premises for a movie: one or two wrong decisions, and the entire movie stops making sense. Luckily, Endgame's story remains relatively stable throughout, despite all the time hopping that the characters do throughout the film. The movie is careful to not play the, "make bad decisions in the past that will have dire consequences in the present" angle too much, although a few plot holes of this nature do still exist by the end of the movie. Regardless, the movie is very self-aware of how the time travelling part of the story is very similar to that of Back to the Future II, so it's not all "serious business" even when the time travel and the action start to heat up. Considering how many characters and periods of time are involved, Endgame impressively handles everything.
- For a Marvel movie that is a farewell tribute to the original Avengers and a changing of the guard for the MCU as a whole, it is frustrating that Endgame is content with doing more of the same as many other MCU films, mostly when it comes to its action and humor. Again, my biggest frustration with many of Marvel's early MCU films was the style of humor they employed: the characters would pause the movie altogether so that they could tell jokes and other one-liners. Endgame has that same brand of humor, although not to as bad of an extent as say Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War. As for the action, well, the Russos throw everything they can at the screen when it comes time for the final showdown, but there just isn't the same level of emotional weight as there was in the early parts of the film. In other words, the Avengers lack the same type of vulnerability they showed before, and because of this, the battle feels relatively one-sided, without any moments that, even for all of a few seconds, make you think that Thanos will succeed again. The action is well-choreographed and perfectly coherent. The issue is that it all feels a tad hollow.
Putting it all together, Avengers: Endgame is at its best during its first part, when the survivors are an emotional wreck and spend time contemplating what sort of direction their lives have now. The second part though, sees the movie morph back into a more typical, formulaic MCU film that only feels different from other MCU films because of the way it ends. I am positive that Endgame is a dream come true for the most die-hard Marvel fans: an epic spectacle of entertainment and emotion that serves as a bittersweet goodbye to Marvel's run with the original Avengers. I do not consider myself a die-hard Marvel fan though, and I am sure it's incredibly unpopular for me to say that I like Infinity War more. Infinity War got so much mileage out of the sense of hopelessness that it instilled into its action and its overall story, that it really felt like something we had never seen before in the MCU. Endgame does a fabulous job of following up on the way Infinity War ends, but at the end of the day, Endgame is another MCU film that spends a lot of time in familiar territory, and thus, does not have the widespread grandeur to completely justify its three hour run time and the emotional weight of its ending.
There are now all sorts of questions of where the MCU goes from here, and honestly, I wonder if the MCU will ever be able to reach the level of success they are having with Endgame ever again. Will the Marvel superheroes continue to dominate the box office with each and every new release? Will the MCU ever again reach the kind of stakes that Infinity War and Endgame have? Should Disney and Marvel ever start to worry about superhero fatigue? I don't think 2019 will give us answers to any of these questions, but, long-term, I am curious to see what the state of the MCU will be. For now though, Marvel should be proud of what they've created with the MCU, and how their superheroes, who were at one point in time a borderline laughingstock, have now become a cultural phenomenon. The 21st century Superhero Renaissance truly took off with the release of the first Iron Man back in 2008, and now with Endgame in 2019, nothing will ever feel the same ever again for Marvel and the world of superheroes. All good things must come to an end, and while the MCU as a whole isn't ending anytime soon, there's no denying how tough it is to say farewell to the group of superheroes that many Marvel fans have spent a good portion of their lives growing up with.
Recommend? Yes. Be sure to have watched Infinity War first.
What do we say to the God of death? Not today.
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
It's the moment that Game of Thrones has been leading up to since day one: the great battle between the Living and the Dead. After seven full seasons of warnings that winter is coming and watching many of the living fight among each other, with no clue of the threat that intends to kill them all, everything comes together in Winterfell for this ultimate showdown. Although the series finale has always been the most anticipated episode of season eight, "The Long Night" -as we now know episode three to be called- had the anticipation of being considerably the longest action sequence ever put to film or television, spread out almost entirely over the course of 82 minutes. In the year and a half long break between seasons seven and eight, D&D and whoever else is in charge of keeping Game of Thrones' biggest story points a secret, took every measure imaginable to ensure that absolutely nothing about season eight would leak out. Something that did come out though were details of a grueling 55-night shooting schedule, with several of the actors remarking what an absolute hell it was: filming the battle in freezing temperatures, dealing with rain, snow, mud, sheep turds, you name it. D&D and everyone involved in season eight's production wanted to be sure that this battle would be something truly special, potentially something that could go down as a historic moment in television history, and they were willing to go whatever extra miles they needed to in order to accomplish that goal.
Before I dive in to all my own thoughts, let me first say that I have seen and read about all the criticisms that "The Long Night" has received: "It was too dark!" "There weren't enough main character deaths!" "The ending was so anticlimactic!" "D&D are horrible writers!" People are entitled to their own opinions and are allowed to believe whatever they want, so it does me no good whatsoever to try and spend this review posing counter-arguments to these complaints. When you've attracted the kind of popularity that Game of Thrones has received over the years, you're going to eventually draw massive crowds of people who prefer to spend their time complaining and whining that they don't get the results they want. But enough about complaints and whining: the mental fatigue that I was feeling over the course of the next 12-18 hours after watching "The Long Night" was enough proof for me to feel fully confident in saying that this episode was exactly everything I had hoped it to be: action that masterfully blended the genres of horror, fantasy, and suspense thriller, multiple character deaths, and a shock ending that is right up there with "Baelor", "The Rains of Castamere", and "The Door" in terms of how unexpected it is. I don't care how many plot armor accusations I read about; the way that "The Long Night" ended left me fully satisfied that Game of Thrones still continues to find new ways to defy expectations. Now with just three episodes remaining, it's a perfect time to remind yourself that no one is safe.
The action doesn't actually begin until around the 15-20 minute point of the episode. Miguel Sapochnik starts the episode with various tracking shots showing us how the Army of the Living is set up: like we're seeing the pieces of one side of the chess board before they all start to get knocked over. What I love here is how we get a more organized picture of who is all fighting in this battle, while further driving home the point of how all these different cultures of people, from all different parts of the world, have come together to fight on the same side. It has felt hopeless in all the previous encounters with the White Walkers, but for the first time, well, ever, the Living have a plan of attack against the Dead, and just for a little bit, Miguel Sapochnik gives us a shrivel of hope that the Living will make it out okay. This hope is slightly intensified when we get the episode's first surprise: the return of Melisandre. Unfortunately, Game of Thrones did not learn its lesson from "Blackwater", in which a spoiler is given by the opening credits. Carice van Houten's name shows up clear as day in the credits, which assures us Melisandre is coming back. Not that it matters too much: Melisandre shows up almost right away, and she sends the Dothraki into battle with swords and sickles ablaze.
At this point, things are feeling a tad more hopeful, because the Dothraki are easily the best fighters among the Living, and now with Melisandre's magic, they might be able to get an early advantage on the Dead and prevent them from advancing on Winterfell. They don't: the Dothraki are swallowed up, and all their flaming swords go out in almost an instant, as if the Living's tiny light of hope is put out. From here, the battle turns into a spectacle of chaotic horror: a stampede of wights overwhelms the Unsullied and others on the front line, and my gosh that first shot of when the wights reach everyone is a thing of horrific beauty: coming at the camera like a devastating tidal wave. This is the only time in the episode though where I would somewhat agree with all those "too dark" complaints, but I say just somewhat agree because those few moments where it's very hard to tell what's going on lasts all but a few seconds. Sapochnik frequently alternates between frantic close-up fighting and wider shots of the wights charging at everyone standing outside the gates, enough that it expertly maintains the pandemonium of the wight army coming at us full force, while maintaining a sense of space and geography for where everyone currently is.
The battle literally lights up moments later when Jon and Daenerys take their dragons and start breathing fire down on all the charging wights, along with Melisandre using her magic to light the trenches and create a ring of fire around Winterfell. Here's where the Night King finally makes an appearance, and yes, I absolutely love what Sapochnik and cinematographer Fabian Wagner do here too: taking us up through the night sky until we reach The Night King on the back of Viserion. The Night King raises his hand as if he's commanding his army down below of what to do, and everything except the Night King's raised hand is put out of focus. Why do I love this shot so much? Because it maintains the dark aura that has been surrounding the Night King ever since the season began: he is the one character we're scared to see, and Sapochnik doesn't want to take away that dark aura just yet.
The wights then start to breach the Winterfell walls, and unfortunately, it's impossible to resist comparisons to World War Z while watching the wights all pile up on each other. The carnage continues into Winterfell, but what's fascinating this time is that now the fighting, with the bright glow of fire in the background, looks like it's something straight out of hell. The characters are in the middle of the fight of their lives, and now they have to fight literally in the one place that's been the safest of havens since the end of season six. Fire, blood, and (literally) death: how can this not be something that spawned from hell? There's just so much to take in and so many emotions flying around, it's pretty overwhelming: The Hound cowering in fear from all the fire and fighting, Arya escaping into the castle where she has to sneak past another group of wights, Theon and company desperately trying to keep Bran safe from wights in the Godswood, and oh yeah, Jon and Daenerys engaging the Night King in a dragon dogfight.
No way in hell was everyone going to make it out of this battle alive. Our final body count includes Eddison Tollett, Beric Dondarrion, Lyanna Mormont, Jorah Mormont, and Theon Greyjoy. It's a disservice to these characters to dismiss their deaths like they mean nothing, especially when the likes of Jorah and Theon have been around since the very first episode. Eddison, Beric, and Lyanna all die noble deaths, but watching Jorah and Theon die is as disheartening as it is enlightening: their stories come to an end the way each hoped their stories would end: Jorah dying while protecting Daenerys from those who want her dead, and Theon getting to hear from Bran that he is a good man and will not have to die feeling he's lived a life of shame and regret. Game of Thrones' most heartbreaking deaths have never been for the pure sake of shock value; they've always served some sort of narrative purpose that becomes perfectly clear either right away or at some point later on. No matter how far the show has progressed past the books, D&D have never lost sight of what many of the characters have set out to do and how their individual stories should come to an end. No, it's not a complete surprise to see Jorah and Theon die the way they do, but there's no denying the payoff of witnessing these characters' journeys finally culminate in what they've been about this whole time. Not every death in Game of Thrones has to be Ned Stark's execution or The Red Wedding. Watching the progression of long-running arcs for characters like Jorah Mormont and Theon Greyjoy's is one of the many places where Game of Thrones finds its magic.
With so many death scenes to be had in "The Long Night", it makes all the sense in the world for D&D to just go for it: find a way to completely defy all audience expectations and leave everyone speechless by the battle's end. This is also a time where D&D are victims of their own success: Game of Thrones being so popular and generating so many theories, that at least one or two people would be able to guess correctly what will ultimately happen. What does end up happening is a move I think very few people saw coming: Arya ends up being the one who kills the Night King. Not Jon. Not Daenerys. Not even Tyrion. Arya Stark vanquishes the Army of the Dead and wins the Great War for the Living. Was I flabbergasted by this decision? Yes. Was I happy that D&D decided to take such a risk? Also yes.
It seemed for so long that Game of Thrones would end with the series fulfilling the Azor Ahai Prophecy: the promised one vanquishing the Darkness once and for all. It made all the sense in the world to think that Jon and Daenerys would unite and bring down the Night King, with presumably either Jon or Daenerys dying to ensure that the other would live and be able to save Westeros from the Long Night. The series finale would involve Jon or Daenerys slaying The Night King and fulfilling the union of ice and fire. Melisandre brought Jon Snow back from the dead in season six, and she spoke of The Prince Who Was Promised early in season seven. It all seemed to be leading to a showdown between Jon and The Night King with Daenerys likely being close by.
In one swift maneuver, D&D threw almost all that prophesying I just did out the window. There will be no Jon Snow and Daenerys uniting to kill the Night King. The closest Jon ever gets to the Night King in this episode is when Rhaegal and Viserion are ripping and clawing at each other in the air, and then again later when Jon starts running towards the Night King while he starts reviving the dead. Daenerys tries to burn The Night King with Drogon's fire, but little good does that end up doing her. When all seems hopeless and like The Night King is about to kill Bran and emerge victorious, Arya Stark emerges like the trained assassin she is and delivers the fatal blow.
It's understandable to feel as if D&D have completely betrayed Jon and Daenerys' coming together and have gone completely against what their respective story lines have been building up to. For Jon specifically, it's like a showdown with the Night King was the moment he had been building up to since the first time we ever saw him. At the same time, Jon killing the Night King would be Game of Thrones building towards what would be the cliched fantasy ending: the "chosen one" fighting and defeating the supernatural villain to save the world and fulfill his destiny. Seeing the angry reactions of critics and other people online, it's as if they all wanted to see the cliched fantasy ending, believing that season eight is not allowed to defy our expectations in any way we hadn't thought up before.
I spent large chunks of many of my own reviews building up the White Walkers as if the show would culminate in the way that almost everyone was expecting. I talked endlessly about how the White Walkers were the real threat and that all the political squabbling going on among the Living was little more than petty nonsense. All that talking I did seemed to have amounted to nothing. I should be frustrated out of my mind that the White Walker story line has come to a shocking end and now the rest of season eight will turn into a battle against Cersei for the Iron Throne. I should be pissed off, but the truth is that I'm not. In fact, I'm very happy. I'm happy to know that Game of Thrones will not end the same cliched way that many other fantasy movies and TV series usually end. I'm happy that Game of Thrones has now created all sorts of new suspense for what will happen over the course of its final three episodes. I'm happy that Game of Thrones' finale will not be a black and white confrontation between good and evil; it will be a showdown between characters of multiple shades of grey (put away that fifty shades joke you were thinking of just now). Game of Thrones will end with the the kind of spirit that George R.R. Martin' A Song of Ice and Fire novels have possessed since he first started writing them back in the early to mid 1990's. If D&D had known for at least a few years that Arya would be the one to ultimately kill The Night King, then I have no doubt they've known for a long time how they've wanted this great series to end, which is why I give them my full trust that they will deliver.
I just don't have it in my heart to downgrade "The Long Night" for anything. Miguel Sapochnik, the actors, and everyone else involved in the production worked so hard to make this epic battle happen, and it saddens me that people choose to completely ignore all that work and proceed to call the episode a disappointment because it was too dark in some places and because not enough characters died. Last I checked, there are still three more episodes, and we still need some characters around to continue telling a compelling story. The intense mental exhaustion I was feeling over the next day, day and a half after first watching "The Long Night" - yes, I watched it again the next night, because I loved it that much- was plenty for me to feel that this episode lived up to all the hype and was one of the most thrilling battle sequences I've ever seen in a film or television series. Action, horror, suspense, dragons, undead dragons, blood, death, and a completely unexpected twist: they were all here. It was the complete package for a Game of Thrones episode, and I was mesmerized by every second of it. I'm worn out now, but I'll be ready to go and be super glued to my TV when we find out what happens next. The Army of the Dead is gone, but it doesn't matter: no one is safe, because the great game is still on.
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