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Star Wars Holocron

REVIEW: The Book of Boba Fett – Chapter 1

By @HolocronJosh and @HolocronGeorge

Boba Fett has fascinated Star Wars fans for decades, ever since his first appearance in the animated portion of the famed Holiday Special in 1978. Since then, he’s appeared in Star Wars films including the latter two Original Trilogy films and Attack of the Clones as well as countless comics and novels. Still, Boba has always existed on the periphery, never the leading man and, instead, the cool looking, badass bounty hunter that we know very little about, bar his surface level origin story in the prequels. The latest Disney+ series, announced via a post-credits scene in The Mandalorian Season 2 finale, finally gives Fett an opportunity to be in the spotlight in the leading role for the first time in live action.

Warning: This review containers spoilers for the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett

One of the standout features of The Book of Boba Fett’s pilot is its structure, characterized by extensive use of flashbacks that mark a stark change from previous Star Wars content. The flashbacks of Chapter 1 begin with a quick montage of Boba’s origins on Kamino and his father’s death on Geonosis, visual callbacks that were arguably the highlight of the episode. After that, fans finally get to see how Boba survived the infamous Sarlacc Pit in a thrilling, albeit brief, sequence. The camera’s proximity to the lead character in this scene adds to the tense and claustrophobic feeling of the inside of a Sarlaac’s digestive system, something fans have never seen visualized on camera before. The structure of the episode certainly gives the flashbacks plenty of time to develop, with Chapter 1 beginning and ending with a look to the past.

The middle portion of the episode follows Boba as he navigates Tatooine shortly after claiming Bib Fortuna and Jabba the Hutt’s former throne. The structure of this episode, while certainly unique for live-action Star Wars content, leads to a stop-start feel to things that ultimately disrupts the pacing. The episode begins with flashbacks, something almost expected given the trailers and the promise to show how Boba escaped the Sarlacc Pit, which makes sense and works well. However, once we flash forward to the present day, it feels as if the story has decidedly shifted gears for the time being. The episode unexpectedly closes out with another extensive flashback sequence that brings the story of Boba and Fennec’s adventures on Tatooine to an abrupt halt. While it’s amazing to see Boba showcased in any point in his life, there were perhaps more efficient and approachable ways to distribute these flashback scenes throughout the episode.

Some may label the pilot as ‘filler’ or uneventful, which we don’t agree with. The episode doesn’t need a massive cameo or huge, galaxy shattering event in order to be labeled as effective or entertaining. While it would have most certainly benefited with some sort of tease of what’s to come in the present day as a way to show potential for the story’s direction in the season to come, it wasn’t exactly necessary. Rather, the episode leaves a little to be desired in regards to Boba’s characterization. Boba is in the limelight, but he’s largely kept at a distance in a way, as the audience doesn’t really get to have an emotional connection with the character in this first episode. For comparison, the pilot of The Mandalorian showed Din Djarin shooting IG-11 to protect the Child, who he was only just meeting at the time, and the two instinctively reaching out to each other, setting up the father son relationship and immediately establishing an emotional connection between the audience and the title character. Nonetheless, this is a harsh critique given that we have merely opened Chapter 1 of what will surely be a sprawling exploration of Boba’s character.

Ultimately, though, The Book of Boba Fett is an incredibly entertaining watch. There’s plenty of action to dig into, and just seeing the Star Wars galaxy again is a treat. Temuera Morrison’s performance deserves particular praise, as the New Zealand actor plays the role in a way only he can. In the past, some have discussed the possibility of casting a different actor in the role of Fett, perhaps for a solo movie, but Morrison puts all of that talk to rest here (if he hadn’t already). He shines through amidst a world full of eye-catching characters and actors, displaying Boba’s honor (if it can be described as that) extraordinarily well. It’s great to have Morrison back in Star Wars, and especially in a starring role. On a broader note, Robert Rodriguez directs this episode well, calling upon his action movie experience to add a level of class to the many fighting scenes in the episode. Rodriguez also directed Boba’s first full-fledged appearance in The Mandalorian Season 2, and captured the brutality and mastery in combat of the character we all clamored to see. This certainly carries over into the new series, and Rodriguez’ continued involvement with Fett is a welcomed one.

The same must be said for Ming-Na Wen, who first appeared in The Mandalorian Season One as the villainous bounty Hunter Fennec Shand. Chapter 1 already establishes that the relationship between Boba and Fennec will be central to the series’ plot and, continuing from their work in The Mandalorian, Morrison and Wen have great chemistry together. Also of note in this episode are the Tusken Raiders, depicted as Boba’s captors following his escape from the Sarlacc Pit. This is a different tribe of Tusken Raiders. They dress differently, act slightly differently, and capture your attention in the episode. This is emphasized by Chapter 1’s closing moment in which the leader of the camp shares water with Boba, a sign of respect and potential brotherhood to come.

Verdict: 7/10

The Book of Boba Fett kicks off in somewhat underwhelming fashion compared to its Disney+ predecessors. Chapter 1 is hindered by an unusual and slightly jarring structure, but makes up for this misstep with plenty of great moments, well-crafted action sequences, and terrific call-backs. Needless to say, we can’t wait to see what’s to come in future episodes of The Book of Boba Fett.

Images courtesy of Disney+ & Lucasfilm

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Film Codex

Top 10 Films of 2021

by @holocronGeorge, @holocronJosh, and @holocronJulie

In a rough year for many, 2021 has featured a number of films that provided more than just mere escapism. This year marked the return of the theatrical experience for many, saw a new dawn of streaming and home video, and, overall, offered up some incredible films. Here’s an overview of our top 10 films of 2021 in no order.

THE BETA TEST

If you don’t know the name Jim Cummings, you should. Within the last three years, Cummings has firmly cemented his place as one of the compelling filmmakers working today. Cummings is the total filmmaker – director, star, writer, editor, even composer at times. And, while his previous efforts such as Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow are perfect blends of off-kilter dark humor and emotional character journeys, The Beta Test marks his most refined and accomplished effort to date. It’s groundbreaking to see a director/writer tackle so many complex themes/motifs into a motion picture experience that feels so genuine. The Beta Test evokes the best elements of a Hitchockian thriller, while serving as a nuanced Hollywood satire and commentary on contemporary culture – not to mention the depths of psychological horror this film touches. The Beta Test is easily one of 2021’s best films and is more than deserving of a watch. You won’t be disappointed.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME

Spider-Man: No Way Home was easily 2021’s most anticipated film and, thankfully, it met and really exceeded any and all of its lofty expectations. No Way Home overcomes some gaps in its narrative to deliver one of the most ambitious and groundbreaking superhero movies to date. Anchored by characteristically excellent performances, the film navigates an interesting, multiversal plot that moves this iteration of Spider-Man somewhat away from its connections to the MCU and toward a Spider-Man more aligned with previous live action adaptations of the character. The action is superb, the emotional points hit hard, and there are moments of this film that will be rewatched for years to come.

VAL

Val is an interesting and somewhat overlooked documentary chronicling the life of actor Val Kilmer. Starting in a pre-internet, pre-YouTube era, Kilmer filmed much of his life, including family interactions and behind the scenes of his stage and film productions, in a raw and breathtaking fashion. Val manages to weave together the decades of this home footage into a film that breeds new appreciation for Kilmer as both a performer and a person. Val is a deeply intimate and genuine examination of Kilmer. His successes and tragedies are portrayed with startling honesty. Watching Val will reshape the way you see Kilmer in any of his prior films. This is a man dedicated to and in love with his craft, who is genuine and kind above all else. Val is a must watch.

ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE

Fans had pushed the #ReleasetheSnyderCut movement to the brink until Warner Bros. finally commissioned the release of Zack Snyder’s true vision of Justice League. And the film did not disappoint. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a gargantuan filmmaking effort. Free of previous constraints that married theatrical releases of other films, Snyder tells a story from the heart at his own pace. It’s epic and grand, as one would expect from a Snyder film, but also intimate and emotional. Justice League is a 4 hour odyssey that feels as if you’ve cracked open and dug yourself into a classic, dark comic book. Featuring a mind-blowing epilogue, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is easily the best DCEU movie and one of 2021’s best.

DUNE

Dune marks another mammoth effort from Warner Bros. in 2021. Dune and the entire world crafted by Frank Herbert have been notoriously difficult to adapt and capture in cinematic format, something Denis Villeneuve manages to do with his latest film. Although Dune ends rather abruptly, feels like only one half of a total story, and somewhat loses momentum as the film progresses, it is nonetheless an incredible filmmaking feat. Villeneuve deftly tackles dense world building, while never making the audience feel left behind. Dune is probably 2021’s most visually stunning film and also one of the year’s most ambitious.

DON’T LOOK UP

Adam McKay continues his journey into more polished and socially relevant filmmaking with Don’t Look Up. Don’t Look Up is most certainly a strange viewing experience. It’s infused from beginning to end with existential dread – make no mistake about it, this is a horror film. And yet, you find yourself laughing consistently throughout. McKay’s film operates at a heightened tone and story for its entire runtime, which may be a bit tiresome for some. However, we see Don’t Look Up as the modern day Dr. Strangelove. Like Kubrick’s classic film, McKay manages to detail the horrors of our world and the fragility of our existence with an unexpectedly outrageous tone. After the spitfire editing and witty jokes subside, you’re left with a feeling of discomfort and dread that, unfortunately, makes Don’t Look Up the year’s most relevant film.

TICK, TICK…BOOM!

Lin-Manuel Miranda hit the ground running with his feature length directorial debut. Anchored by one of the year’s best performances in Andrew Garfield as composer and playwright Jonathan Larson, Tick, Tick…Boom! spins a fascinating and heartfelt tale of the creative process. This is a film made by artists about an artist making art, and it excels at doing so. The musical seems difficult to adapt for a feature film, but Miranda does so stunningly. In large part, this is due to Garfield’s commanding and captivating lead performance. Not only does he land all of the film’s emotional moments, but his singing talent on display is impressive to say the least.

PIG

Nicolas Cage films have been hit or miss in recent years, but Pig is most certainly a hit. The premise of a truffle hunter returning to Portland to track who stole his beloved pig seems out there and likely rife for the sort of (intentional or unintentional) humor we come to expect from many of Cage’s recent efforts, but this is not the case. Nicolas Cage is stunning as the truffle forager Rob. His performance is so raw and so effective. This is not Cage swinging for the fences with his performance, but, rather, a much quieter and more subdued and nuanced portrayal. Pig has the potential to go into John Wick-revenge territory, but unexpectedly never does. This is a deeply emotional chronicle of loss and compassion that has a lot to say about ambition and obsessive focus on wealth. Pig triumphs on every cylinder.

THE LAST DUEL

Ridley Scott delivered, not one, but two terrific films in 2021 and The Last Duel makes our list of the best of the year. The Last Duel works less well as a historical drama and better as a complex tale of conflicting ‘truths.’ The influence of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is felt all over this film. Despite its historical setting, The Last Duel feels extremely timely. It’s a Rashomon-style story for the #MeToo era that tackles victim-blaming, sexual assault, and institutional sexism in a manner that transcends era. Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Nicole Holofcener create an intricately woven screenplay that could easily go awry in less capable hands. Jodie Comer and Adam Driver are particular highlights in the film, and further cement The Last Duel as one of 2021’s crowning achievements.

BELFAST

Last, but not least, is Belfast. The semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story written and directed by Kenneth Branagh is perhaps the accomplished filmmaker’s greatest effort to date. Belfast doesn’t break new ground with its narrative, but excels as a crowd pleasing and touching journey for the audience. Belfast is a difficult movie to dislike. It is vibrant, romantic, affectionate, and so much more. Branagh writes one of 2021’s sharpest screenplays here and a supporting performance from Ciarán Hinds proves to be one of the year’s best.

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Film Codex

REVIEW: The Matrix Resurrections

by @HolocronGeorge and @HolocronJosh

It’s been 22 years since the original The Matrix hit theaters and took the world by storm. From the infamous bullet time sequences to the lofty philosophical themes at play, the film was game-changing and revolutionary to say the least. But, what does a Matrix film look like in 2021? Rampant use of social media, an age of misinformation, a pandemic of an infectious disease – The Matrix has always been cutting-edge in regards to its approach to social commentary in the context of sci-fi action, but is this still the case? With The Matrix Resurrections, the fourth installment in the franchise, Lana Wachowski returns to craft a film that has the potential to be as groundbreaking as the original was in 1999. Indeed, The Matrix Resurrections proves to be an excellent, almost paradoxical, exercise in nostalgia and revision that plummets the world of The Matrix into the year 2021 with disturbing relevance, gorgeous visuals, and, of course, lots of Kung Fu.

The Matrix Resurrections follows Thomas Anderson (played once again the brilliant Keanu Reeves), who, once again, begins to doubt the reality of his ‘reality’ and is left to make a choice between insight and blissful unawareness. On the surface, that sounds an awful lot like the original film in the franchise and, in many ways, it is. But, don’t be mistaken, The Matrix Resurrections is (for the most part) an entirely different animal altogether. This is abundantly clear within the first moments of seeing Reeves’ returning character. And it’s with these first moments that comprise the film’s first act that The Matrix Resurrections really excels. Wachowski approaches the story in a unique and unexpectedly meta-aware way. The events of the original Matrix trilogy are acknowledged and respected, but are incorporated into the fourth film’s narrative in a fascinating way that will get you thinking, keep you on your toes, and stay with you after the film ends. It’s with The Matrix Resurrections’ first act that Wachowski’s film feels the most refreshing and relevant. The dialogue, infused with subtle humor and social commentary, is razor sharp. It’s a bold way to reintroduce viewers to The Matrix after 18 years, and could easily go awry with such evident self-awareness, but Wachowski deftly handles the complexities of the film and truly pulls it off.

The momentum of The Matrix Resurrections’ first act is somewhat lost in an exposition-heavy and somewhat meandering second act. Yes, every frame is carefully crafted and every line of dialogue is meticulously written. But, in contrast to the first act, The Matrix Resurrections feels more like a retread of familiar territory. That being said, Wachowski manages to find a way to make the stakes even higher in this fourth installment, without ever underwhelming our heroes’ accomplishments in The Matrix Revolutions, a difficult feat considering the nature of that film’s conclusion. And it’s with the film’s third act that The Matrix Resurrections picks up again and concludes in an epic, satisfying fashion.

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss lead the film with the company of an array of new faces to the franchise. Most prominent are Jessica Henwick and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who crash onto the screen from the get-go in characteristically badass fashion, but whose roles decline in importance and screen time as the film progresses. This is particularly evident for Abdul-Mateen II, who breathes exciting new life into the Morpheus character, while evoking Laurence Fishburne’s iconic performances from the original trilogy. This new iteration of Morpheus plays a prominent role in the film’s first half, but his involvement slowly declines to a point where it’s easy to forget about the character altogether. This is a shame, because Abdul-Mateen II is incredible in the film, as he has been in projects ranging from Watchmen to Candyman in recent years. The same can be said for Jessica Henwick, who is criminally underrated and underappreciated, something that is glaringly clear after watching The Matrix Resurrections. From her performance to her outfit to the action she partakes in, Henwick is the definition of badass in this film. But, like Abdul-Mateen II, it’s a shame her role seems to decline in the film’s latter half. Other new additions to the cast are similarly excellent. Jonathan Groff brings a new level of menace and charm to Smith, taking over the role helmed by Hugo Weaving in previous films. Neil Patrick Harris plays The Analyst, Thomas’ therapist who tries to maintain his patient’s sanity (or ignorance).

But, it wouldn’t be The Matrix without Reeves and Moss. Reeves is, as expected, calm, cool, collected, and deeply relatable. Reeves’ real life personality as a genuinely good person continues to seep into his performances and he makes Neo / Thomas extraordinarily easy to empathize with. Reeves is complemented by Moss, who returns to the franchise as Tiffany, unaware of the reality (or fiction) of her life as Trinity. Reeves and Moss have touching chemistry and it’s with their characters’ relationship that the film feels the most emotionally anchored. As much as The Matrix Resurrections is a high octane sci-film, it’s also a touching romance of two people going to incredible lengths to reunite.

Verdict: 7.5/10

After 18 years, The Matrix Resurrections is a return to form for the iconic sci-fi franchise. Lana Wachowski directs and co-writes an intricate, unexpectedly self-aware film that delivers the action and thrills we want from a Matrix film in the context of a deft and intelligent philosophical exploration of themes like choice vs. control, Messianism, and love. With returning and new cast members firing on all cylinders, The Matrix Resurrections particularly triumphs in a refreshing first act and, despite losing momentum in a slower and exposition-heavy second act, concludes in epic and satisfying fashion. The Matrix Resurrections proves to be another win for Wachowski and a very welcomed return to The Matrix.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Marvel Tesseract

Review and Analysis: Spider-Man: No Way Home

by @HolocronJosh

It’s here, at long last. Audiences can finally watch Spider-Man: No Way Home, arguably the most anticipated film since Avengers: Endgame, and one that has excited moviegoers to levels rarely seen in the last decade or longer. For those who have seen the film, this review is for you. If you haven’t seen it yet, head on over to our spoiler free review!

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME

There are two (🕷 🕷) elements of No Way Home that fans will talk about for years to come, and we’ll go deep into those surprises (if they can be called that, given the rampant leaks that plagued the film, but actually ended up creating more hype and excitement for the last installment in the Homecoming trilogy) later on. But for now, let’s start at the beginning.

Peter Parker’s life has been changed forever (or so he thinks). Everyone knows who he is, but not in an Iron Man way, where Tony Stark became even more of a celebrity and an icon. He’s being hunted, criminalized, and brought in for questioning. Things could have gotten much worse if it wasn’t for a certain New York City based lawyer, who happens to have multiple talents…

Enter Charlie Cox’s Daredevil. Long since rumored, and even leaked through an image from the scene around a month ago, finally making his debut in the MCU. It’s unclear if this is the same exact version as the one in the Netflix show, or just the same actor, but fans won’t mind as long as Cox is back. The English actor played Matt Murdock so brilliantly in the three season run that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the character now. Kevin Feige, always so good at knowing what the audience wants, understood the love for Cox’s portrayal and integrated him into this movie and the larger MCU. Although it’s only a brief scene, it shows off some of Murdock’s quick reflexes, and teases audiences that more is to come with this character, who is rumored to appear in Disney+ series like Echo and She-Hulk going forward, before getting his own series once again. A great scene, but it says something about the events of No Way Home that early reactions seem to almost forget Cox’s cameo, given what happens in the latter half of the movie.

Before that, though, Peter and his friends’ rejection from MIT is the final straw for Tom Holland’s Spidey. He goes to Doctor Strange to seek help, and the Sorcerer Supreme, who is no longer the actual Sorcerer Supreme (hello, Wong), casts a spell to make everyone forget who Spider-Man really is. Peter’s attempts to make some remember, like MJ and Aunt May and Ned, causes Strange to botch the spell, leading to the arrival of five very dangerous villains. The trailers already show this moment, but an important detail is saved for the actual movie: the villains who arrive on earth all know the identity of Spider-Man, which makes sense given that Strange’s spell was his attempt to make everyone forget Peter Parker’s alter ego. This saves the reason why the villains arrive from being extremely convenient, as the trailers make it out to be, to somewhat plausible.

On a broader note, this is where the film really branches away from most of the Peter Parker identity plot and movies into full blown multiverse madness. The writers clearly tried to link these two plots via the spell (there were more plausible explanations for the multiverse arrivals they could have used, after all), and this makes the film flow a lot more as one continuous stream, rather than a first act that addresses the Far From Home post credits before moving on to a completely different plot entirely. Still, it seems pretty obvious when watching the film that they weren’t exactly planning on a multiverse plot when making Far From Home, and this is backed up by Tom Holland’s recent comments detailing how the script for the new movie changed considerably as they weren’t sure who of the returning cast would return. This makes the spell, which is the link between the identity plot and the multiverse, a little unnatural to say the least. However, the film more than makes up for it as it nails the multiverse angle, particularly with the arrival of two familiar faces (again, more on that later).

After a bridge battle with Doc Ock, who gets transported to Strange’s prison, the mission changes to catching all the multiverse men and bringing them back to the Sanctorum so they can be sent to their own individual worlds once more. The bridge battle itself was impressive, and showed a cool fight between Ock and a new version of Spider-Man. Most of it was shown in the trailers, which was a bit of a shame as it was the only really action that Alfred Molina got to do in this film, but it was still a great moment. Many criticized the marketing campaign for the bridge scenes, not only for the amount they showed from the sequence but also the look of it. Some called it bland and stale, especially color wise, but it does look better in the actual film. The MCU often gets criticized for not prioritizing visuals or cinematography as much as other movies, which is certainly valid in many cases, but No Way Home actually stands up as the best looking of the three MCU Spider-Man films and one of the visually best of the franchise so far. That might not be saying much, but is still an improvement and an achievement.

Peter fights Electro, with Sandman’s help, before they’re both sent to the prison. Then, finally, Norman Osborn comes into it fully. His dark side takes over once more, and Willem Dafoe is able to remind audiences why his portrayal of the iconic villain was so beloved in the first place, especially with two stunningly acted scenes. The first, where Dafoe talks to himself in an alleyway before being turned fully evil once more, is a throwback to Norman on the floor of his apartment in Spider-Man 1, talking to the mask and shaking with fear. The second seed Norman talking to Aunt May, where Peter becomes convinced that this is a good person who’s been transported here. This scene serves as a nice foreshadow to the Goblin killing May, a moment that happens after Peter tries to cure all the villains (more on her death later).

The actual plot of curing the villains is a tad peculiar, but again, the film gets away with it due to their success with returning characters and epic moments. Curing the likes of the Lizard, Doc Ock, and Green Goblin seems fine, especially as all three have some sort of illness or tech (in Ock’s case) that is making them evil. The other two, however, never had that moment that turned them evil. Electro was mad at the world after he fell into a pool of eels, but it’s hard to say that the eels themselves did anything to turn him bad. Same thing for Sandman, as he was already a criminal before he got his powers, and was guilty of being mistrusting of others rather than anything else in this movie, as he only wanted to return home to his daughter. Still, it’s not implausible that Electro and Sandman could use some curing, so they get away with it, just about.

This, of course, goes wrong, and Peter notices this as he senses Norman’s evil. Chaos ensues as Norman lets Electro, Sandman, and Lizard all loose. This is a fight that shows Peter all alone against villains far more powerful than he has ever faced in his own solo movies in the MCU, marking a stark contrast from the likes of Vulture and Mysterio, who didn’t actually possess any powers or abilities. This gets the ball rolling on truly challenging Tom Holland’s Peter in a way he never really has been before, something that some fans were critical of before this film.

This is expanded upon even further when the Green Goblin kills Aunt May. Finally, Spider-Man suffers in a way that he never has before in the MCU. Yes, he lost Tony Stark, but that pales in comparison to Aunt May. Not only did he lose her, but she was killed by a man that Peter trusted and had the power at one time to stop and send back to his own world. This was a moment that was needed for the character in the MCU, as it forces him to evolve into the Spider-Man we all know and love. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield both suffered considerably, and this is a theme of the character in the comics and overall, and is a big part of what makes Spidey so relatable. So while it was fine that they did something different in the first few films (but arguably overdid it in Far From Home), No Way Home certainly amends any issues people have in that regard and serves as a true transition for the character, starting with the death of May. Beyond that, she was never really too important of a character in this version, and certainly is not as prominent as in the Raimi or Webb films. Her death therefore gives her a true point of uniqueness beyond just being younger than the other live action May’s, and a defining moment and overall purpose that she didn’t really have before. This is furthered by her “with great power comes great responsibility” line right before she dies, and again improves the character and gives her a true arc.

After her death, Peter goes missing for a brief time, hiding from the world after a devastating loss. As Ned and MJ attempt to summon him using Strange’s sling ring, they bring in the two characters that people have talked about continuously for well over a year: Peter Parker and…Peter Parker.

Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. It was fairly obvious they were going to appear, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing to see them both on screen once more. For both, they slipped right back into the roles as if it had only been a few weeks since their last outing, while still accurately portraying that time has passed and that, while they are the same character, they have changed in the years since. Garfield comes out first, fully in costume, the same one from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. His big, glowing white eyes are a dead giveaway of who is on the other end of the portal that Ned opens, and is a great way to introduce him as it truly builds tension. Tobey enters in normal clothes, and is as wholesome as his last shot in Spider-Man 3.

The decision to have Garfield in the suit and Maguire in regular clothes is an interesting one that provides fans with an insight into their individual mindsets. For Garfield, the death of Gwen Stacy led him to drift further into Spider-Man and slowly abandon the Peter Parker side of his life, as he talks about briefly while working on a cure for the villains. Maguire, meanwhile, seems to be semi-retired, or at the very least not quite as active, as he was in Spider-Man 3, hence his plain clothes look. It’s a relatively subtle detail, but one that will still be appreciated by fans.

The interactions between the three Spider-Men that ensue once the multiverse versions come into the film are arguably the highlight of the entire film. It’s a Spidey mega fan’s dream: talks about the different villains they’ve faced, the Avengers (or lack thereof in the Raimi and Webb universes), and even Maguire’s organic web shooters that come right out of his veins. It’s pure fan service and in the absolute best way possible. If they’re going to be in the movie, why not go all out with it? There’s even a subtle reference to the famed Spider-Man pointing meme that originated from the 1960’s cartoon. The three have great chemistry, and based on that alone it would seem plausible and almost natural if they made a whole Spider-Verse film with them three as the co-leads for the entire movie (please, Marvel/Sony).

Maguire and Garfield still absolutely serve a purpose beyond just fan service, though. Not only do they both get their own individual arcs that add to their overall character greatly, but they also help Tom Holland’s Peter grow as a person and as a hero. Maguire turns mentor as he utters the famous words that Uncle Ben said to him, and Aunt May said to the MCU Peter, a role that suits him so well that one can only wish and hope that he continues to return in some capacity to advise this new version of Peter. Garfield, meanwhile, saves MJ from falling in a scene eerily similar to the sequence where he lost Gwen, arguably the defining moment in the two films he starred in prior. This is a great full circle moment that adds to his character on such a deep level and gives some satisfactory of a conclusion for fans who wanted to see Garfield have some sort of redemption for not being able to save her back in the 2014 film.

Maguire’s mentor role in particular is complete when he stops Tom’s Peter from killing Green Goblin in a hand to hand combat sequence that resembles the amazing fight between Spider-Man and Osborn in Sam Raimi’s first film. This comes even more full circle as Maguire is stabbed with the Goblin’s glider (but not killed), a reverse of sorts of Osborn’s death in that movie. The initial fright aside (don’t scare us like that, Marvel!!) this was a great moment that is a culmination of Holland’s suffering in this movie. It was really needed for his character, and now he can turn into more of the Spider-Man we know and love.

Maguire and Garfield say their goodbyes, for now anyway, as it seems very likely that they’ll reappear at some point. Holland saves the world from imminent invasion of villains from other universes, but only by making everyone forget who he is, even MJ and Ned. To them, he no longer exists. He promises the two closest to him that he’ll come find them and make them remember, and goes on his way.

Once again, this presents another challenge for Peter. He goes to greet MJ and reintroduce himself, but decides against it in the moment. He sees that she and Ned are at peace, living simple lives that are very different from the chaos that ensued when Peter’s identity was revealed at the beginning of the film. And once again, this presents Peter with another hardship: needing to walk away from MJ and Ned in order to protect them, just as Maguire’s Spidey did in his first film. Heartbreaking, but exactly what this character needs to evolve.

The film ends with another moment of evolution, Peter moving into his own apartment and tracking police scanners. Completely disconnected from the world, even the Avengers, with no other heroes to help him. No guy in the chair, no support from anyone, just himself. He crafts his own suit, which seems to be a sleeker version of the Stark suit minus the black straps and light lines on the legs and torso. The suit, which was conveniently kept out of focus, probably to avoid showing it too much in case they decide to make changes before the next installment, seems to be Holland’s best out of the many that he’s worn. It’s also uniquely his own, having made it himself with no help or Stark tech at his disposal, marking the start of a true independent Spider-Man.

In a way, this ending, and the movie more broadly, serves as the end of Peter’s origins story in the MCU. From being recruited by Tony Stark, guided by him, dealing with that loss and having to be out on his own, to finally growing into the independent, almost tragic, Spider-Man from the comics and previous live action iterations.

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Film Codex

REVIEW: Nightmare Alley

by @holocronGeorge and @holocronJosh

Acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro follows up his Academy Award winning The Shape of Water with Nightmare Alley, a polished and menacing film that, unfortunately, falls short of greatness. Nightmare Alley is based on the book of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham, which was the basis for the 1947 film Nightmare Alley starring Tyrone Power. del Toro’s adaptation of the psychological thriller follows Stan Carlisle, played by Bradley Cooper, an up-and-coming carny, whose ambitions are as great as the darkness lurking within.

It goes without saying at this point, but Guillermo del Toro is truly a masterful filmmaker. Few directors are able to craft a tale that feels simultaneously, and often paradoxically, so contemporary yet classical. And, on this basis, del Toro succeeds with Nightmare Alley. From the sprawling narrative to intricate production design to heightened performances, the film feels like it’s from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

del Toro, however, also leans into the source material here – Nightmare Alley is a true neo-noir psychological thriller. The film methodologically takes its time; del Toro is never in a rush to propel his audience into the structure of a narrative. It’s with this storytelling (which largely dominates Nightmare Alley’s first half) that the film excels. Especially if one came into this movie having no prior exposure to trailers or source material, it would be very difficult to pin down what it’s actually about. Is this just a tale of a man running away from a dark past? Are there supernatural elements? Our lead character Stan (Cooper) is shrouded in mystery and, with the exception of a single ominous and mysterious flashback, we’re given no background on his character for much of the film. Interestingly, it even takes quite a while into the film until Cooper even utters a line of dialogue (which we’ll get to in a second). All of this culminates in an understated sense of tension for much of Nightmare Alley’s first half. It’s mostly uneventful, but captures your attention nevertheless.

Unfortunately, the pressure valve of tension in Nightmare Alley eventually releases in a rather flat and meandering second half. By the time it becomes clearer what the film is about, it’s hard not lose some interest in the narrative. And even the ‘what’ of the statement ‘what the film is about’ seems to be lacking. del Toro’s excellent directing, the gorgeous cinematography and production design, and solid performances from the entire cast can only carry the film so far. Nightmare Alley is crying out to be something more, but, ultimately, it lacks momentum and substance.

That being said, Nightmare Alley deftly explores a number of intriguing themes and features, perhaps, one of 2021’s best movie endings. The film balances quite a few lofty themes and motifs: alcohol use, the American dream, fractured paternalistic relationships, how we treat others. And, amidst a film that drags throughout, it triumphs in its exploration of these films. Nightmare Alley is a film that will stay with you, largely due to these themes and its excellent, poetic, disturbing ending. This may not be the scariest film del Toro has ever made, but its ending is certainly the most haunting.

Verdict: 6.5/10

Nightmare Alley is a beautifully made, polished exercise in cinematic delayed gratification that, unfortunately, doesn’t quite come together. The performances, production design, cinematography, and overall directing are some of the year’s best. The way in which the narrative unfolds, however, is a different story. Nonetheless, Nightmare Alley intelligently and impressively explores a number of moving themes, and concludes with a poignant ending that will stay with you.

Images courtesy of Fox Searchlight

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Marvel Tesseract

REVIEW: Spider-Man: No Way Home

By @HolocronGeorge and @HolocronJosh

There is certainly a lot riding on the newest Spider-Man film. No Way Home is easily the most anticipated film of the pandemic era. A slew of unfortunate leaks and intense fan speculation have dominated headlines for the last year. Trailers packed with returning villains and massive action set pieces have been analyzed with every fine detail under examination. Amidst such anticipation, thankfully, Spider-Man: No Way Home more than lives up to its lofty expectations. The newest MCU film triumphs as a celebration of three generations of cinema that concludes the Homecoming trilogy with emotion and stakes, despite an, at times, shaky narrative.

Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up directly after the events of the jaw-dropping post-credits scene in Far from Home. Spider-Man has been unmasked and Peter Parker is under scrutiny from the public, the media, and law enforcement. When Peter attempts to fix the messy situation, he and his friends find their hands full with a multiverse of villains.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a movie of fantastic moments (which is a compliment). The film is perfectly described as the Avengers: Endgame of the Spider-Man franchise. Like the milestone MCU film, so many sequences in No Way Home will have fans clapping and cheering in the theater.

It’s not long after one truly iconic moment in comic book history occurs that another swings (yes, we said swings) right around the corner. The term ‘fan-service’ is erroneously thrown around, and often wrongly branded with a derogatory connotation. But, No Way Home excels in delivering genuine and thoughtful ‘fan-service.’

Interestingly, No Way Home feels, in many ways, like a response to criticisms of the previous MCU Spider-Man films. Although generally well received, Homecoming and Far From Home were viewed by some as too tied to the broader mythology of the MCU, with particular criticism directed toward Spider-Man and Iron Man’s connection. We wholeheartedly standby Tom Holland/Jon Watts’ iterations of Spider-Man as the Raimi and Webb films had so brilliantly covered the fundamental tenets of the web-slinger’s journey and, as such, the MCU justifiably sought to cover ground with the character that wasn’t previously fleshed out (i.e. balancing being a kid in high school with superhero responsibilities; collaborating with other super-powered heroes). No Way Home moves slightly away from this pattern, however, and feels the most isolated of the Homecoming trilogy. References to the Blip and Captain America’s legacy are sprinkled throughout, but this is a film that tries (and succeeds) to hone in closer on Peter Parker without as much attention to a bigger cinematic universe.

In service of a series of fantastic moments, No Way Home’s plot, while solid overall, gets a little messy at times. Much of the first act deals with the aftermath of Far From Home, but this intriguing plot suddenly takes a back seat in favor of the multiversal escapades we’re all looking forward to. And, while the inclusion of classic villains returning like Alfred Molina as Doc Ock and Jamie Foxx as Electro is amazing, explanations for their return and motivations for some of the characters’ actions leave a little to be desired. Many of the explanations that would flesh out the story further are omitted entirely and require a bit too much inference from the audience. However, if you can get over some aspects of the narrative not being abundantly clear, you’ll have a much better time with No Way Home.

Despite some plotting and exposition missteps, No Way Home superbly executes its emotional points. Peter and MJ’s relationship continues to blossom, and Tom Holland and Zendaya excellently portray the new couple as they adjust to truly world-changing circumstances. There are moments of this movie that will hit hard and evoke a lot of emotion, something the Homecoming trilogy overall has excelled at. So much of our empathy, interest, and understanding toward the characters in No Way Home comes down to the performances on display. The chemistry between Tom Holland, Zendaya, and Jacob Batalon is palpable and anchors the film. Benedict Cumberbatch dons the cape of Doctor Strange again in a fun, yet unexpectedly brief, role. And the returning actors bring their iconic villains back to life like it was yesterday. Particular attention should go to Willem Dafoe, who is fantastic returning as Norman Osborn. Dafoe is firmly a scene stealer as he perfectly evokes the chilling performance he delivered in the 2002 film. The humor isn’t as sharp as some previous MCU films, including the previous Spider-Man films, but there are plenty of hilarious moments to be enjoyed, in particular a truly hysterical and poignant joke perfectly executed by Jamie Foxx.

Verdict: 8.5/10

No Way Home overcomes some gaps in its narrative to deliver one of the most ambitious and groundbreaking superhero movies to date. Anchored by characteristically excellent performances, the film navigates an interesting, multiversal plot that moves this iteration of Spider-Man somewhat away from its connections to the MCU and toward a Spider-Man more aligned with previous live action adaptations of the character. The action is superb, the emotional points hit hard, and there are moments of this film that will be rewatched for years to come. All in all, No Way Home is yet another success for Sony and Marvel Studios.

Images courtesy of Sony & Marvel Pictures

Categories
Star Wars Holocron

What’s New in Star Wars – December 2021

by @holocronGeorge for @sw_holocron

2021 ends with a bang as Star Wars fans can finally rejoice at the premiere of The Book of Boba Fett. In addition to the new Disney+ series though, the year closes out with the continuation of various thrilling Star Wars fans. Below includes a list and description of upcoming Star Wars projects in the month of December 2021. It is important to note all of these release dates are subject to change.

December 1 – Bounty Hunters 18

Following the dramatic events of War of the Bounty Hunters, Ethan Sacks’ Marvel Comics series continues this month with its 18th issue. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “THE GALAXY’S GREATEST! In the wake of the shocking events of WAR OF THE BOUNTY HUNTERS, the underworld has become more dangerous than ever. T’ONGA has assembled the greatest team of bounty hunters in the galaxy – including BOSSK, ZUCKUSS and TASU LEECH for a special mission! Can she keep them from killing each other long enough to become a real team while she grieves the loss of an old friend?”

December 1 – Darth Vader 18

Greg Pak’s Darth Vader series also continues this month with its upcoming 18th issue. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “RED REVENGE! Fearful whispers echo in every corner of the Empire – Darth Vader is on the hunt, searching for anyone with any connection to the criminal organization known as Crimson Dawn.”

December 1 – The High Republic Adventures 11

Follow the Jedi of the High Republic in the newest issue of Daniel Jose Older’s IDW Publishing comic run. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “The Masters and Padawans take a much needed break to participate in the Great Jedi Rumble Race! It’s the most important event in the galaxy (probably) and there’s only one rule… THERE ARE NO RULES! But Lula is too stuck in her own head to enjoy the raucous, no holds barred tussle to the finish line. Meanwhile, on Corellia, trouble brews…”

December 7 – Star Wars: The High Republic Vol. 2 – The Heart of Drengir

Those who have missed Cavan Scott’s excellent The High Republic series for Marvel can catch up with this new paperback collection.

December 7 – Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters Companion

There’s a lot to keep track of in the sprawling War of the Bounty Hunters series. Thankfully, some of the paperback compilations make it a little easier for fans who are catching up on the crossover event. This paperback compilation compiles all of the one shots in the series.

December 7 – Star Wars: Darth Vader by Charles Soule Omnibus

Charles Soule is one of the best storytellers in the Star Wars universe. So, what better way to celebrate his stories with a new hardcover Omnibus compiling the entirety of his Marvel Comics’ Darth Vader run. Yep, that’s right – this includes all 25 issues of the series AND Darth Vader Annual 2. Needless to say, Vader fans will be satisfied with this collection.

December 8 – Crimson Reign 1

Speaking of Charles Soule, the author follows up his War of the Bounty Hunters series with the second in his Q’ira trilogy – Crimson Reign. The publisher’s summary for the first issue is as follows: “AFTER THE DAWN… COMES THE REIGN! The story that began with WAR OF THE BOUNTY HUNTERS continues here, in the second installment of a trilogy that will reshape the history of the Star Wars Galaxy during the Age of Rebellion. Featuring the return of beloved characters, shocking twists, epic feats of the Force and a story that will reach from Star Wars’ darkest underworld all the way to the Imperial Palace on Coruscant, Crimson Reign is a Star Wars saga like no other!”

December 8 – Star Wars 19

More Charles Soule can never be a bad thing. The author continues his Star Wars mainline series on this day with its 19th issue. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “LUKE’S QUEST FOR ANSWERS TAKES A DANGEROUS TURN! As the REBELLION tries to pull itself together for a last-ditch effort to defeat the evil GALACTIC EMPIRE, LUKE SKYWALKER realizes it is time for his journey to become a JEDI to continue. After near-death at the hands of DARTH VADER, he knows he has much to learn if he will ever defeat the DARK LORD OF THE SITH. But the JEDI ORDER is gone, and his teachers have vanished… where can Luke turn to find the Jedi legacy he so desperately needs?”

December 14 – Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Vol. 3 — War of the Bounty Hunters

Alyssa Wong’s issues of Doctor Aphra that occur during the War of the Bounty Hunters crossover event are compiled in this trade paperback.

December 14 – Star Wars: Attack of the Clones Graphic Novel Adaptation

Relive the events of Episode II with IDW Publishing’s graphic novel adaptation this month.

December 15 – The High Republic 12

Sporting incredible cover art by Phil Noto, Cavan Scott’s thrilling The High Republic series moves forward this month. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “THE HUNT FOR LOURNA DEE CONTINUES! The NIHIL have unleashed a unknown terror against the Jedi. MARSHAL AVAR KRISS is more determined than ever to bring LOURNA DEE to justice, but does STELLAN GIOS and the JEDI COUNCIL agree? As KEEVE TRENNIS struggles with what she experienced on the Nihil base, the Jedi prepare for war. PLUS, the truth about SSKEER is finally revealed – but what does it mean for his future?”

December 15 – The High Republic Adventures Annual 2021

The first annual edition of the Star Wars: The High Republic adventures series debuts this month.

December 21 – Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 3 — War of the Bounty Hunters

Greg Pak’s issues of the Darth Vader series that occur during the War of the Bounty Hunters crossover event releases this month as a trade paperback compilation.

December 21 – Star Wars: Jedi Artifacts

Insight Editions delivers another worthy addition to any fans’ collection with this new reference book and merchandise box set.

December 21 – Star Wars Adventures: The Light and the Dark

Star Wars: Adventures Issues 1-6 are collected in this upcoming trade paperback compilation.

December 21 – Star Wars: Be More Boba Fett

Prep for The Book of Boba Fett with this new book by Joseph Jay Franco and DK. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “A fun, pocket-sized book packed with inspiration from the galaxy’s most (in)famous bounty hunter. Throw aside the 9-to-5 and discover the joys of going freelance! In a big wide galaxy you’ll find every personality type. There are those who want to work for a large, stable employer like the Imperial Navy, pushing buttons on a space cruiser. There are also those who are content living the simple (but dull) life of a merchant or moisture farmer. And then there are those special few who long for the freelance life. If you aren’t afraid of grueling (and sometimes frowned upon) work, traveling to exotic locations, and being your own boss, you may find guidance in the wise words of those who have been there. Be More Boba Fett will help guide you on your path to the independent life of a successful entrepreneur.”

December 22 – Darth Vader 19

Another issue of Greg Pak’s Darth Vader series hits comic stores this month. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “DARK ORDER! In the bowels of Bespin, DARTH VADER told his son he wanted to bring order to the galaxy. Now Vaders’ promise is put to the test as he leads an unlikely crew of heroes and assassins against the criminal organization known as CRIMSON DAWN. What does “order” mean to a DARK LORD OF THE SITH? How far will he go to fight for it as the depth of Crimson Dawns’ infiltration becomes clearer? And what fate awaits the heroes who follow him into battle?”

December 22 – The High Republic: Trail of Shadows 3

Daniel Jose Older’s mystery thriller series set during the High Republic era is easily one of the best comic runs this year. The publisher’s summary for the third issue is as follows: “COLD COMFORT! A mysterious attack brings EMERICK and SIAN together at the Starlight to investigate connections to their case. Meanwhile, ARATHAB tries to ambush a Nihil ship with deadly results. Can Jedi Master Emerick and private eye Sian Holt uncover the clues to solve this case, or are they about to face their deadly demise at the hands of Nihil?”

December 22 – Star Wars Adventures 13

George Mann and Danny Lore bring the 13th issue of IDW’s Star Wars Adventures series to life this month. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “First, from author George Mann (Doctor Who), the Millennium Falcon needs some serious repairs after sitting in disrepair on Jakku. So Rey, Chewie, Finn, and BB-8 have to make a pit stop. But it doesn’t quite go as planned (it never does), and the group quickly finds themselves at the wrong end of a bounty hunter’s blaster. Then, in a bone-chilling tale from author Danny Lore (Transformers: Shattered Glass, King in Black: Captain America), Darth Vader searches a temple for a hidden tome and nothing—nobody—will stop his wrath.”

December 28 – Star Wars Vol. 3: War of the Bounty Hunters

Also compiled this month are issues 13-18 of Charles Soule’s Star Wars series for Marvel Comics.

December 29 – Bounty Hunters 19

The 19th issue of Ethan Sacks’ Bounty Hunters series also debuts this month. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “CHAOS SPREADS THROUGH THE UNDERWORLD! As Crimson Reign has ignited the underworld in all-out war, T’ONGA’s team of bounty hunters – including BOSSK, ZUCKUSS and TASU LEECH – are running out of time to save the one young girl who can stop the conflict between syndicates! A mysterious bounty hunter is out to assassinate a high ranking Imperial officer in a daring hit on a heavily armed cruiser. But was the hunter given the right target?”

December 29 – The Book of Boba Fett – Episode 1

And last, but certainly not least – The Book of Boba Fett. After appearing in The Mandalorian Season 2, Temuera Morrison will reprise his role as the infamous bounty hunter front and center of a new Disney+ series. Stay tuned to Star Wars Holocron for plenty of Boba Fett coverage over the coming months!

For reference, a condensed list of upcoming projects in December without descriptions is included below:

December 1 – Bounty Hunters 18 

December 1 – Darth Vader 18 

December 1 – The High Republic Adventures 11 

December 7 – Star Wars: The High Republic Vol. 2 – The Heart of Drengir 

December 7 – Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters Companion 

December 7 – Star Wars: Darth Vader by Charles Soule Omnibus 

December 8 – Crimson Reign 1 

December 8 – Star Wars 19 

December 14 – Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Vol. 3 — War of the Bounty Hunters 

December 14 – Star Wars: Attack of the Clones Graphic Novel Adaptation 

December 15 – The High Republic 12 

December 15 – The High Republic Adventures Annual 2021 

December 21 – Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 3 — War of the Bounty Hunters 

December 21 – Star Wars: Jedi Artifacts 

December 21 – Star Wars Adventures: The Light and the Dark 

December 21 – Star Wars: Be More Boba Fett 

December 22 – Darth Vader 19 

December 22 – The High Republic: Trail of Shadows 3 

December 22 – Star Wars Adventures 13 

December 28 – Star Wars Vol. 3: War of the Bounty Hunters 

December 29 – Bounty Hunters 19 

December 29 – The Book of Boba Fett – Episode 1

Images courtesy of Disney+, Lucasfilm, IDW Publishing, Insight Editions, & Marvel Comics