By @HolocronJosh and @HolocronGeorge for @FilmCodex
Movie studios will be truly happy looking at the box office for the first time in over a year. After 12 months of closures and a lack of new releases (that resulted in a rise in streaming), along with the delaying of many highly anticipated titles, the domestic box office is finally showing signs of life akin to pre-pandemic numbers.
A Quiet Place Part II, which was originally set to come out last March (just when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S.), opened this with an excellent $48 million from 3,726 theaters. The film is expected to add another $10 million on top of that on Monday’s Memorial Day. What makes this performance even more impressive is how close it is to the first film, which opened to $50 million. The capacity restrictions and many still not feeling comfortable to visit a movie theater just yet makes this weekend’s total for the Paramount Pictures feature even more impressive.
One of the many reasons why so many went out to watch this film, beyond the great reception that the 2018 movie received, is the genuine quality of the sequel. As we wrote in our review,:
“A Quiet Place Part II is easily among the best horror sequels of all time. While the novelty of the premise and world have certainly worn off, Krasinski’s minimalist script and tight directing culminate, yet again, in a suspenseful, emotional thrill ride that will undoubtedly please fans of the first film.”
Movie goers clearly loved the first film in this new franchise and are seemingly having a similar reaction to the second.
Elsewhere, Cruella also launched this weekend, with a hybrid release in theaters and on Disney+. Although it’s available for $30 on the streamer, Cruella brought in $21.3 million from 3,892 theaters, and is expected to add another $5 million on Memorial Day. Overseas, the film has grossed $16.1 million so far, taking its current post weekend total to $42.6 million.
The Emma Stone led film is certainly worth watching, as we wrote in our review:
“Cruella is perhaps the most stylish of the recent slew of Disney live-action adaptations. Although at times it feels chaotic and uneven, the film fully embraces its era, setting, and opportunities for darker storytelling in spectacular fashion. Driven by two superb performances from Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, Cruella largely overcomes its inconsistent script and overuse of music in delivering a Joker-esque origin story of an iconic Disney villain.”
Spiral, Wrath of Man, Raya and the Last Dragon rounded out the top 5 on this groundbreaking box office weekend.
Stay tuned to Film Codex for next week’s box office numbers, reviews, news, and more!
Disney’s track record with live-action adaptations of animated classics is mixed to say the least. While films like Aladdin were pleasant surprises, others like Mulan fell flat. So, going into Cruella, it was difficult to expect anything more than a decent, if not somewhat uninspired, live-action adaptation. Thankfully, however, Cruella is anything but that. Director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, Lars and the Real Girl) creates a stylish and unexpectedly mature and dark origin story of Cruella de Vil anchored by two stellar performances.
Cruella is set during the punk rock movement of the 1970s and focuses on a young woman named Estella (played by Emma Stone), whose aspirations of becoming a fashion designer lead her down a notorious and criminal path as she becomes Cruella de Vil. Right off the bat, the question on my mind when approaching a film like this is: why is it necessary? Why do we need a Cruella de Vil origin story? Gillespie and screenwriters Dana Fox and Tony McNamara answer this question in ways that eerily evoke Todd Phillips’ Joker. There’s some intangible, almost indescribable quality of Cruella that is captivating from the start. We are firmly beside Estella as she endures trials and tribulations and becomes the notorious villain we all know. Emma Stone really makes the role her own, dispelling any suggestion that the role was made for Glenn Close. Her change in character throughout the film, growing in confidence and also danger, is is successful largely due to Stone’s performance as the script is somewhat inconsistent in tone and pacing.
Although the movie clocks in at a lengthy 134 minutes, Cruella feels like it never takes a step back to let the characters (and the audience) breathe a little. The script probably needed some trimming in order to afford this sort of much needed space in the movie. Driving the somewhat frenetic pacing is the film’s soundtrack, which will surely be a topic of discussion as more people see the film. Cruella is packed to the brim with classic songs of the era. It’s not long after hearing a song by Nina Simone than you’re thrown into iconic songs by Queen, Blondie, The Clash, and more. The music is a mixed bag to say the least – at its best, it adds a sense of grandiosity and gravity to the film, but, at its worst, at times feels like a music video. Perhaps a more apt comparison is that Cruella doesn’t utilize music with the deft hand employed by James Gunn in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but it’s a notable improvement over the jarring shifts from track to track seen in 2016’s Suicide Squad.
Perhaps the most surprising element of Cruella was its inclusion of rather dark themes and plot points. Cruella is rated PG-13 and firmly warrants that rating. The world Gillespie creates isn’t the innocent and bright landscape we’re used to seeing in many Disney films. 1970s London really comes alive in the film, with all of it’s glamor and grit. The production design is incredible and the film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis. Gillespie crafts a film that fully embraces its setting and era in ways beyond music inclusion (not to mention the jaw dropping costume design). Emma Thompson’s villain Baroness von Hellman also pushes the film into unexpectedly dark territory in wonderful ways. Thompson rivals Stone’s character every step of the way and, at times, it’s difficult to tell who is delivering the more impressive performance. Thompson really chews up the scenery and goes all out with her villainous portrayal – emphasis on villainous, because she nor the script cut back in making her a particularly empathic character.
Cruella is perhaps the most stylish of the recent slew of Disney live-action adaptations. Although at times it feels chaotic and uneven, the film fully embraces its era, setting, and opportunities for darker storytelling in spectacular fashion. Driven by two superb performances from Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, Cruella largely overcomes its inconsistent script and overuse of music in delivering a Joker-esque origin story of an iconic Disney villain.
WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Episode 5: Rampage
The Bad Batch and Omega? Ord Mantell? Zygerrians? Bib Fortuna?? An adolescent Rancor?!? The newest Star Wars series on Disney+ more than delivered once again this week with tense and unexpected delight of an episode. Rampage sees Clone Force 99 seek an old contact of the Jedi in order to discover who placed the bounty on Omega.
The Bad Batch certainly kept up the momentum from last week’s stellar episode with Rampage. The series continues with the adventure-of-the-week style seen in the last few episodes and, more broadly, in Star Wars television. This approach can yield mixed results, with more uneventful and flat episodes like episode 3 of The Bad Batch, but, fortunately, this isn’t the case with episode 5.
Rampage is anchored by a great, very straightforward premise – retrieve a child from Zygerrian slavers in exchange for information on the deadly bounty hunter on their tracks. The set-up feels distinctly Star Wars, showcasing a beautiful planet and different species interacting in a cantina-setting within its opening moments. Both during and after this set-up, Omega continues to be a highlight of the series. At this point, she’s most certainly a member of Clone Force 99. Her growing relationships with the different members of the team continues to be really endearing, as are moments like high-fiving Wrecker and playing with her new com link. It’s interesting that Omega has somewhat taken the role of Crosshair in this crew (whose reemergence in the series we’re eagerly awaiting). The Bad Batch don’t overtly mourn the loss of Crosshair to the Empire, but his absence is felt and continues to be powerful.
Cid (voiced by the wonderful Rhea Perlman) provided a unique character for the Bad Batch to interact with. She definitely evoked Amy Sedaris’ Peli Motto in a show that continues to draw upon The Mandalorian in more ways than one. The Zygerrian slavers provided formidable threats to the Bad Batch. Seeing their endorsement of slavery and the horrors they committed in The Clone Wars made them feel more imposing than the typical villain of the week. Merely the threat of Omega being captured by them is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the episode.
The real takeaways, though, will surely center around Muchi, the MacGuffin of the episode. Muchi being an adolescent Rancor was a really unexpected twist and led to a string of exciting action sequences. Who would’ve thought a Rancor could be so…cute? And, where Rancors are concerned, Jabba also comes to mind, which was confirmed with the surprising appearance of Bib Fortuna. This inclusion opens several interesting doors for the Bad Batch, especially as the crew continues to hide from the Empire and delve deeper into the underworld.
Rampage ends on an intriguing note with Cid and Hunter’s conversation. Fennec may be new to the field, but she’s dangerous and mysterious. Who is hiring her and why? Is it the Kaminoans wanting Omega? This seems like the obvious answer, so let’s hope the twist ends up being more unpredictable than that. But either way, there’s a mystery in The Bad Batch that we’re eager to see unfold.
The Bad Batch continues it’s impressive first season with an unpredictable and action-packed installment. Omega’s relationship with her new friends continues to develop in intimate, if not nuanced, ways in Rampage. And surprises including a Rancor, Bib Fortuna, and a mystery surrounding Fennec were particular highlights.
John Krasinski’s feature directorial debut took audiences by storm, so much so it made many hesitant regarding whether a follow-up could ever live up to the first. Thankfully, A Quiet Place Part II does not disappoint whatsoever and is among the best horror sequels of all time.
A Quiet Place Part II picks up immediately after the events of the first film, following the Abbott family as they navigate the aftermath of the destruction of their home and the death of their father/husband. At a brisk 97 minutes, the film replicates the nail-biting tension and pace of its predecessor in superb fashion. Every scene is masterfully crafted by director Krasinski – rarely does a moment last too long or end too abruptly. This is partly a testament to the brilliant simplicity of the plot in A Quiet Place Part II. Like the best horror films, the characters don’t get bogged down in a convoluted plot. Rather, A Quiet Place Part II excels in its execution of a classic horror film premise.
One of the most unique elements of A Quiet Place Part II was Krasinski’s decision to set the film immediately after the events of its predecessor. Immediately, horror fans are sure to draw comparisons with Halloween II that continued right where John Carpenter’s original film left off. And, like Halloween II, A Quiet Place Part II feels like it naturally flows from the first film, never once feeling disjointed or too separate.
Part II continues the tradition of the series now in being anchored by an incredible cast. The film, as one would expect, is largely absent of dialogue, leaving the actors to rely on nonverbal cues and gestures to convey complex emotions throughout the film. The entire cast take this acting challenge in their stride scene after scene. Millicent Simmonds once again is a scene stealer as Regan. And the always brilliant Cillian Murphy plays an unexpectedly significant role in the film.
A Quiet Place Part II, however, inevitably suffers simply from it being a simple. The sheer novelty that accompanied the first film is largely absent here and, while the scenes are tense and the characters interestingly developed, Part II plays out much as how one would expect. There aren’t many game-changing risks, which isn’t necessarily a criticism given the brilliance of the first film’s formula and the concerns associated with straying too far away from this formula.
A Quiet Place Part II is easily among the best horror sequels of all time. While the novelty of the premise and world have certainly worn off, Krasinski’s minimalist script and tight directing culminate, yet again, in a suspenseful, emotional thrill ride that will undoubtedly please fans of the first film.
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of one of the most iconic films of all time, Titan Comics will soon release a deluxe special edition book dedicated to the making of The Empire Strikes Back! The deluxe special edition offers an insightful deep dive into how George Lucas and colleagues crafted the fan-favorite Star Wars film. Filled to the brim with cool trivia facts, rare behind the scenes photos and production stills, interesting comments from the cast and crew, and more, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Special 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition will be a welcomed addition to the collections of every Star Wars fan.
In anticipation of its release this June, we’re thrilled to publish an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming book highlighting the Han-Luke-Leia love triangle and the iconic “I know” scene from The Empire Strikes Back.
Right before Han, Leia, C-3PO, and Chewbacca arrive on Cloud City to have the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive repaired, the Imperials reach the mining colony with a demand. To protect the independence of his facility, and his life, Lando Calrissian has no choice but to give in. Betrayed by his old friend, whom he actually never trusted in the first place, Solo is therefore tortured in order to lure Luke Skywalker into a trap and later frozen in carbonite as a test—because Darth Vader wants to be sure that when it’s Luke’s turn, he won’t be killed. It’s the darkest moment for the rebels, but for Leia and Han it’s also the most emotional, the culmination of their love story.
THE ORIGIN –
As he stated in a 1977 story conference, George Lucas was planning to develop the romantic connection between Leia, Han, and Luke in the sequel to Star Wars: “Han would state his position, sulks off. It should be very mature in the way it works. It’s not until later that we realize that Leia doesn’t love Luke. It has got to be a real triangle with real emotions; at the same time, it has to end up with good will. Luke has gone off to learn the Force and the ongoing story continues with Leia and Han. The Empire continues to chase them. We keep them in a constant danger situation.” Looking for a traditional and effective way to set up the relationship between his heroes, Lucas thought about Gone with the Wind (1939) and initially visualized Han as Rhett Butler, Leia as Scarlett O’Hara, and Luke as Ashley Wilkes. Taking inspiration from the well-known characters played by Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, all the drafts focused on the tension between the princess and the smuggler, creating an equally iconic couple. In the second draft, for example, when the two argue about Solo leaving because of his debt with Jabba the Hutt, he tells her: “They say I kiss very well. But don’t worry, I’m not going to kiss you here—you see, I’m quite selfish about my pleasures and it wouldn’t be much fun for me now.” The scene remained in the following drafts, but the line was changed to: “Afraid I was going to leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?” To which Leia replies: “I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee.” In another scene featured in the second draft, Leia and Han exchange their first kiss aboard the Millennium Falcon. This scene as well made it to the final script and was shot, but not exactly as planned, due to the director’s improvisation on set: in the script, Leia moves away from Solo; in the film, it’s C-3PO who interrupts them. “I think he’s rather disconcerted throughout the film that he’s not human,” said actor Anthony Daniels (C-3PO). “He doesn’t quite understand what kissing is because if there’s one thing a robot isn’t into it’s kissing.” It’s only on Cloud City that the two really express their feelings for each other, but, once again, it was the set that established how this would happen.
THE SET –
On June, 18, 1979, Irvin Kershner, the cast, and the rest of the crew were shooting the carbon freezing chamber scene. It wasn’t the easiest set to work on. Built inside Stage 4 at the Elstree Studios, England, 12 feet above the ground, it was completely filled with steam, “which made it photographically very impressive, but physically very uncomfortable” as director of photography Peter Suschitzky described it. Besides, dozens of arc lights raised the temperature. Story-wise it was also a tense moment for Princess Leia and Chewbacca who had to watch Han being frozen in carbonite before their eyes. In Kasdan’s final draft, after one last kiss, Leia was supposed to say to Han: “I love you. I couldn’t tell you before, but it’s true.” And he was supposed to reply: “Just remember that, ’cause I’ll be back.” Kershner, though, was not sure about the dialogue and discussed it in detail with Harrison Ford (Han Solo). Helping the director explore Han’s personality, Ford came up with a different line: “Yeah, I know. Don’t worry, I’ll be back.” Then, as the conversation went on, the actor realized what his character should’ve said. As we know from a live recording of that day, Ford’s exact words were: “If she says, ‘I love you,’ and I say, ‘I know,’ it’s beautiful and it’s acceptable and it’s funny.” The change worked. As actress Carrie Fisher recalled later, the cast and crew laughed for about 15 minutes watching the dailies. “It works because they actually can make the transition from that laugh into the fact that it is something very sad.”
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Special 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition releases this June and can be pre-ordered here.
The High Republic era propels forward with Daniel José Older’s exhilarating junior novel Race to Crashpoint Tower. The novel follows Jedi Padawan Ram Jomaram as he investigates and faces a surprise attack from the Nihil at the awe-inspiring Republic Fair.
Older has been one of the flagship authors building out this era in Star Wars lore and his efforts so far have excelled. His work on The High Republic Adventures comic for IDW Publishing strikes a delicate balance between a breakneck paced array of action and more intimate, grounded character moments. And, thankfully, Race to Crashpoint Tower does just the same. Regarding the former point, Race to Crashpoint Tower is a non-stop thrill ride. The book is a quick read and affords little time to linger between its moments of intensity, which are frequent. For the most part, this approach really worked, especially for the formatting of a junior novel, and provided an interesting juxtaposition to other High Republic projects like Light of the Jedi in regards to pacing. That being said, the novel could have done with a little more breathing room on the front end to flesh out the Republic Fair before the intervention of the Nihil.
Race to Crashpoint Tower continues what is, arguably, the most appealing element of The High Republic releases so far in its really intricate depiction of different Jedi. Each Jedi in this era, including Ram in Older’s novel, feel like distinct characters with idiosyncratic interests, personalities, and connections to the Force. Race to Crashpoint Tower does not feature cookie-cutter portrayals of Jedi, but, instead, takes advantage of its medium as a novel by carefully examining and developing each character. Ram is very likable from the get-go, as is fellow Padawan Lula Talisola. They both have their own insecurities they must tackle throughout the novel and Older does a great job depicting what it’s like for these two burgeoning Jedi to face such a threat. Ram’s banter with his humorous droid V-18 is a highlight throughout the novel, and readers will surely grow to love the bond these characters share.
Older also succeeds in some terrific worldbuilding in his novel, as emphasized the interconnectivity Race to Crashpoint Tower has with other High Republic projects. The worldbuilding that the first wave of High Republic releases accomplished is greatly expanded upon here. While those initial releases introduced us to this new era and the threats that exist, Race to Crashpoint Tower and the other wave 2 releases put their foot on the pedal and don’t look back. While this approach may make it somewhat difficult for readers to hop into Race to Crashpoint Tower without prior exposure to other High Republic projects, it feels really rewarding to see plot lines, characters, and locations introduced in other works explored here. For instance, Lula features in Older’s High Republic Adventures and Venestra Rwoh from Justina Ireland’s A Test of Courage play prominent roles in this novel and, amongst other things, add a sense of interconnectivity that Star Wars, overall, explores so brilliantly.
Daniel José Older’s Race to Crashpoint Tower follows other junior novels in Star Wars like Justina Ireland’s A Test of Courage in providing a brilliant tale that will appeal to younger and older readers alike. The humor and intimacy we’ve grown to love in Older’s writing is once again on display here, in a novel that interestingly intersects with various elements from other High Republic projects. While the breakneck pace leaves little room for downtime, Race to Crashpoint Tower triumphs in its portrayal of diverse, vulnerable characters and tension-filled narrative.
STAR WARS: THE HIGH REPUBLIC: RACE TO CRASHPOINT TOWER is on sale 6/29/21
Justina Ireland follows the superb A Test of Courage with her YA novel Out of the Shadows, a uniquely told and largely character-driven tale. Out of the Shadows follows the events of other High Republic phase 2 novels in detailing the aftermath of the Nihil’s attack on the Republic Fair. The story follows Sylvestri Yarrow, a young woman whose trip to Coruscant is disrupted by a political conflict. Syl’s journey intersects with those of Vernestra Rwoh, Cohmac Vitus, and Reath Silas, who are asked to assist with a mysterious property dispute.
Out of the Shadows stands out from The Rising Storm largely due to the heavily character-centric story told by author Justina Ireland. While The Rising Storm is populated with a whole host of protagonists to keep track of, Out of the Shadows narrows its focus significantly, allowing for a more intimate and introspective tale. Syl is one of the most compelling leads in The High Republic publishing initiative yet. Her backstory is deeply tied to the horrors inflicted upon the galaxy by the Nihil, making her character a unique product of the era in which this story is set in. Ireland’s knack for clever dialogue is best exemplified with Syl as she navigates relationships with her ex and the familial political struggle she finds herself in the middle of. And it’s great to see greater representation of sexual orientations with Syl’s character.
It’s also great to see some of the returning characters as well. Reath’s bookworm charm and the journey his character went on were highlights of Claudia Gray’s Into the Dark, and he’s a welcomed addition to Ireland’s novel. Ireland develops Reath in a really natural way as we see him grow more confident, assured, and angry. Vernestra Rwoh also makes her return after featuring in Light of the Jedi, A Test of Courage, and Marvel Comics’ The High Republic. Rwoh feels like a staple to the High Republic era at this point and her inclusion in the novel is earned and adds a sense of interconnectivity between these novels.
With its smaller cast of heroes and more intimate focus, Out of the Shadows certainly prioritizes characters over plot. While the overarching narrative is intriguing throughout and features many cool connections to elements in Star Wars canon, the plot never quite hits the heights of the characters that navigate this plot.
Out of the Shadows proves to be another win for author Justina Ireland. Ireland expertly navigates relevant themes and emotional journeys in her YA novel that will resonate with readers across the age spectrum. Her characters are given such careful attention that it’s easy to become deeply invested in their arcs as a plot full of intrigue commences.
STAR WARS: THE HIGH REPUBLIC: OUT OF THE SHADOWS is on sale 7/27/21
The flagship novel in the second wave of The High Republic projects brilliantly follows Charles Soule’s Light of the Jedi in delivering a novel with unique worldbuilding, intriguing twists and turns, and, perhaps most of all, an array of compelling protagonists to root for. Author Cavan Scott’s The Rising Storm sees Chancellor Lina Soh’s grand plans for the Republic Fair disrupted by the insidious Nihil and their leader Marchion Ro. In response, Jedi Stellan Gios, Bell Zettifar, Elzar Mann, and more set out to preserve the symbol of unity that is the Republic Fair and offset the damage fostered by the Nihil’s carnage.
While the first phase of High Republic novels were all centered around the events of the Great Hyperspace Disaster, this second phase adopts a similar approach in focusing on the Republic Fair. Broadly speaking, grounding these different tales around a common event allows for plenty of the worldbuilding and interconnectivity we all love about Star Wars. Offering different looks at the same event across projects adds a sense of purpose and stakes to the events in The Rising Storm that is gripping from beginning to end.
Now that the first phase of novels have plummeted viewers into this new era in Star Wars lore, Scott takes full advantage of this opportunity. The Rising Storm is very much a sequel to Light of the Jedi, making it difficult, if not impossible, to leap into this novel without at least some exposure to the events and characters in Soule’s novel. This level of interconnectivity may be off-putting or daunting for some, but The Rising Storm excels as a story unto itself. Yes, reading other phase two novels like Out of the Shadows or Race to Crashpoint Tower will further your appreciation of the events that unfold in The Rising Storm. But, ultimately, enjoyment of Scott’s novel isn’t reliant upon the works of others.
The Rising Storm largely adopts a similar narrative structure to that of its predecessor Light of the Jedi. There’s a fair bit of jumping from character to character initially as different Jedi are introduced and the Republic Fair begins, before the threats emerge and all-out action ensues. At times, this array of introductions feels a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t take long to settle into the story and welcome the frequent shifts in focus throughout. This ‘calm before the storm’ approach to storytelling benefited Light of the Jedi and definitely benefits The Rising Storm here. Especially with a novel full of so many different characters to keep track of, it’s approachable for a reader to progress through a story that spends ample time setting up the threats.
The threats I refer to here are the Nihil, who once again are an ominous and mysterious presence throughout the novel. Light of the Jedi spent a lot of time constructing the mythology of the Nihil, depicting their organizational hierarchy, rules, brutality, and more. Scott takes full advantage of Soule’s work on these antagonists by expanding on them in unique and unexpected ways. A concern heading into the High Republic era, overall, was that this is meant to be a period of peace in the galaxy, making us question what sort of formidable threat could our heroes face in these novels. Scott, once again, disspells any of these initial concerns by delicately navigating the era in which his book is set in. It’s really interesting to see what the galaxy is like under the rule of an ambitious and well-intentioned, yet somewhat naive and over-confident Republic.
It was a difficult task to follow the excellent Light of the Jedi, but author Cavan Scott triumphs here. Fans of Soule’s novel will enjoy its follow-up and its similar approach to tension-building and character development. The Jedi all feel like unique, fleshed out individuals, the Nihil continue to be an interesting and formidable threat, and the novel leaves us with a painfully menacing cliffhanger that will have us counting our days to the next adventure in the High Republic.
STAR WARS: THE HIGH REPUBLIC: THE RISING STORM is on sale 6/29/21
WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Episode 4: Cornered
Star Wars: The Bad Batch continues to exceed expectations as the action-packed and emotional series heads into its fourth episode. Cornered follows Clone Force 99 as they continue to avoid the grip of the newly formed Empire. The team heads to Pantora, where their attempts to blend in and fix their ship are thwarted by a dangerous bounty hunter.
While last week’s detour was relatively flat and uneventful, the same criticisms can’t be lodged at episode 4. At a brisk 25 minutes, not a second is wasted in Cornered. The episode is expertly paced, striking a healthy balance between methodical build-up and high octane action. Cornered doesn’t propel the overarching narrative of The Bad Batch forward in any groundbreaking ways, but it doesn’t need to. We continue to see what it’s like for a galaxy transitioning into Imperial rule, and the experiences of Clone Force 99 as they navigate this tumultuous period. There’s a palpable sense of tension reverberating throughout Cornered as the team is desperate, on the run, and out of supplies. The entire episode adds gravity to the decisions made by Hunter and his team in the series’ pilot to disobey their orders despite the hefty consequences that accompany this decision.
The series’ lead protagonist, Crosshair, takes a backseat in Cornered and Ming-Na Wen’s Fennec Shand assumes this position with tremendous effect. Fennec’s appearance in The Bad Batch was revealed in promotional footage for the series, but it’s still really cool to see the character come to life in this new medium. It also adds a sense of interconnectivity to events in the Star Wars saga as we get a little insight into what Fennec was up to prior to working with Boba Fett in The Mandalorian. And, as she does in The Mandalorian, Ming-Na Wen conveys the calculated and lethal nature of her character to perfection in The Bad Batch. Fennec is a formidable foe for the Bad Batch and her attempts to ingratiate herself with Omega highlighted just how dangerous she can really be.
Hunter’s paternal instincts kicking in to protect Omega continue to flesh out their father-daughter bond in touching ways. As we’ve stated in previous reviews, it’s clear that the emotional crux of the series will be Omega’s relationships with the members of Clone Force 99, in particular Hunter. And, on this front, the series continues to succeed. Little moments exchanged between Wrecker and Omega, for instance, are endearing – it’s clear that this gang of misfits truly care for the well-being of Omega and that she is most certainly one of the Bad Batch now.
I would be remiss if I didn’t, once again, comment on the stunning animation on display in this week’s episode. Pantora is easily one of the most beautiful locations seen in Star Wars animation to date. The landscapes are breathtaking, the architecture brilliantly draws upon features of the real world, and, perhaps most striking of all, the planet feels really alive. Streets are bustling, people are talking, vehicles travel in a manner reminiscent of Coruscant in Attack of the Clones. The activity on the planet evokes what it’s like to behold Mos Eisley in A New Hope – every character in the background has a story, there’s always something interesting visually, and the location just feels really lived in. To such an extent, in fact, that Pantora feels like a character unto itself in Cornered and most certainly a location we hope to revisit soon.
The Bad Batch continues to impress with a visually stunning and tension-filled fourth episode. Ming-Na Wen’s appearance as Fennec Shand is a highlight in an episode that doesn’t advance the overarching narrative significantly, but continues to flesh out these characters and their relationships in superb fashion nonetheless.
Zack Snyder and Netflix team up for one of 2021’s most anticipated films in a zombie action thrill ride perfect for the summer movie season. Marking Snyder’s first non-DC film in a decade, Army of the Dead sees a group of mercenaries venture into the middle of a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas to pull off a daring heist with deadly consequences.
Army of the Dead excels from the get-go in that its premise is brilliant. Since George A. Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead released over 50 years ago, the zombie genre of horror films has seen a number of unique variations from 28 Days Later to The Walking Dead to Shaun of the Dead and more. It’s a testament to Snyder’s story, therefore, that Army of the Dead still feels like an original and fresh take on this long-standing genre.
And the credit for this achievement ultimately goes to Snyder himself. This is his project top to bottom. Not only does he direct the film, but he came up with the story, co-wrote the screenplay, produced, and even served as his own cinematographer. In a year that’s also featured the long awaited Snyder Cut of Justice League, it’s great to see a director of Snyder’s caliber enjoying total freedom to craft whatever film he likes. In this sense, Army of the Dead will do little to convert viewers who haven’t resonated with Snyder’s previous films. Nonetheless, Snyder’s fingerprints all over this film are really what makes it worth seeing. The film is gorgeously shot – the usage of slow motion and out-of-focus frames add a cinematic quality that demands viewing on the biggest screen possible. The action sequences, as is true of all of Snyder’s films, are thrilling from start to finish. The editing is crisp and there’s plenty of blood and gore to satisfy fans of the zombie genre.
On the down side, however, the film runs far too long. At 148 minutes, Army of the Dead suffers from a bloated runtime that probably could’ve done with at least 20 minutes of edits. The excessive runtime is particularly felt in the latter third of the film, something that may simply be attributable to the fact that this is a zombie film and it’s unusual to see such films last so long. It’s not that Army of the Dead will bore viewers. It just would’ve benefited from a little tightening up and removal of some of the more unnecessary scenes. Without delving into spoiler territory, Army of the Dead’s ending fell somewhat flat for me. This is in part due to character decisions throughout the film and the lengthy runtime.
Army of the Dead is driven by a diverse, ensemble cast that all add an interesting layer to the film. Dave Bautista assumes the leading role as the founder of a mercenary group called Las Vengeance. Bautista’s character’s relationship with his daughter (played by Ella Purnell) is the emotional anchor of the film, an arc that, for the most part, pays off well. The remaining characters vary from witty and investing to annoying and humorless. Of particular note is Tig Notaro, who replaced Chris D’Elia following accusations of sexual misconduct. Snyder seamlessly weaves Notaro into the film, so much so that an unassuming viewer would have no idea the behind-the-scenes trickery required to insert the actor in this role.
Zack Snyder triumphs with his return to the zombie genre. Despite its bloated runtime and somewhat flat ending, Army of the Dead is a worthy and unique installment in the zombie genre of horror films. Brilliantly crafted action sequences, gorgeous cinematography, and interesting character dynamics are abound in a film that perfectly kicks off the summer movie season.