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!


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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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

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REVIEW: Hawkeye – Episodes 1 and 2

By @HolocronJosh for @Mar_Tesseract

The next Disney+ series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is here, after what has felt like an extremely long wait. The gap between What If, the animated series that premiered in August and ran for 9 episodes until early October, and Hawkeye proved to be one of the most extended periods of time without an MCU series on the streaming service since Kevin Feige and co. embarked on this journey into television in January with WandaVision.

Given that, the question fans are asking is: is Hawkeye worth it? Does a series about perhaps the most localized and seemingly unimportant Avenger do enough to justify its existence? From the first two episodes, which premiered on Wednesday (just in time for the real start of the holiday season, as it is a Christmas-set show), Hawkeye proves to be yet another competent, enjoyable MCU series, if a little uneven at times, particularly when it comes to the plot.

The first episode sees us introduced to Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop, who’s unlikely favorite Avenger is Hawkeye, after the archer saved her from an alien during the Battle of New York. This scene was an interesting and fitting way to bring in Bishop, and to explain why she idolizes Hawkeye so much. No offense to Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton, but Hawkeye and his role within the Avengers has served as comedic relief for years now, so seeing him save a young girl’s life brings a level of seriousness to the character and justifies Bishop’s interest in him.

We’re also introduced to Kate Bishop’s mother and her soon to be stepfather, who gives off evil vibes right from the get go. Better Call Saul fans will be familiar with Tony Dalton, who plays Lalo Salamanca in the prequel series. It will come as no surprise to those familiar with his work that Dalton is a scene stealer, with his charisma as the suspicious Jack Duquesne proving to be the most captivating aspect of the opening two episodes.

Duquesne and his fiancé, Eleanor Bishop (Vera Farmiga), both seem to be up to no good, and this is how the plot really kicks into a gear. At a holiday gathering, Kate wanders into a black market auction that Duquesne attends, at which a Ronin suit is being sold. Fans will remember Ronin as the darker, murderous alter ego of Barton during the five year period in which half the population was erased. More on Ronin, and the suit, later.

Kate gets herself into trouble as she is exposed at the auction, and the villainous and comedic track suit gang get on her tail, particularly after she puts on the Ronin suit. This is where she first encounters Jeremy Renner’s Barton, who just came from a Steve Rogers musical and spending time with his kids. She is startruck to meet him, and Steinfield plays the young admirer well, and also excels at showing why Bishop is worthy of such a big role in the series and (soon), the Hawkeye mantle.

Renner and Steinfeld have serviceable chemistry that strengthens as these episodes go on, although it’s a shame that they’re split up for much of the second episode. Barton is hellbent on fixing this issue on his own, keeping Bishop out of the way, but audiences will be quick to see that they need each other if they are to defeat the enemies coming their way. Their relationship seems to be the backbone of the season, and it’s overall serviceable, although it is a little bit of a standard superhero and young admirer story. Hopefully, an extra layer is added to this dynamic for more overall interest and audience investment in these two leads and their relationship.

The second episode has Barton looking for the Ronin suit, as anyone wearing it is deemed to be in extreme danger. This attempt at a Mcguffin proves to be largely unsuccessful as it opens the show up to plot holes and inconsistencies. If Ronin’s time in New York made him so famous as to warrant TV coverage on his return, it seems unrealistic that no one else has ever made a replica suit, or even a similar looking outfit, in the time since. People in the show are dressed as all members of the original Avengers, and writing on a sink in episode 1 shows that some are in favor of Thanos’ actions in Infinity War. The pessimism of siding with Thanos in particular would realistically suggest that, at the very least, Ronin has a small group of supporters as he kills known monsters and criminals in the underworld, so to say that this is the only suit of his is just too much of a stretch to be enjoyable or believable. Still, the scene in which Barton attends a LARP gathering in order to get the suit back was fun in the moment.

More broadly, Hawkeye suffers from a rather slow start, particularly when it comes to the plot. Much like The Falcon and The Winter Solider, Hawkeye sometimes falls flat, with a meandering plot and a dynamic between the two leads that, while good, isn’t as strong as it could be. Of course, they have plenty of time to change this, and there are signs of improvement as villains are introduced at the end of episode 2 and Barton and Bishop seem to be truly in the thick of it.


Hawkeye is just about a strong enough start for the series, and Hailee Steinfeld’s performance proves why she was the right choice for Kate Bishop. Tony Dalton often steals the show in his villainous role. With a flat and uneven feeling continuing throughout the two episodes, the rest of the season will need to have more intensity and a stronger plot to make this series realize its full potential.

Score 7/10

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REVIEW: Loki – Episode 6

by @holocronGeorge for @mar_tesseract

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Loki – Episode 6: For All Time. Always

The MCU is changed forever as Loki bows out with a jaw dropper of a finale. For All Time. Always sees Loki and Sylvie arrive at destiny’s door as they finally unravel the mystery of the TVA.

After the beautiful chaos of last week’s episode, Loki’s finale took our breath away from the start and didn’t let the tension drop for a second throughout. Each episode of Loki, including the finale, works so well as an installment in a grander narrative, but also a standalone tale. For All Time. Always feels like the conclusion (of sorts) to a story of Loki, while also feeling like a wild MCU movie that sets the stage for so much more to come.

The opening moments of the finale evoked The Wizard of Oz. Loki and Sylvie have been through thick and thin together on this journey and are finally at their destination’s doorstep. Who is behind the curtain? What are his / her / their intentions? Well, questions were answered (and posed) with the introduction of Jonathan Majors as Kang. This was surprising to say the least. Yes, we knew that Majors would play Kang the Conqueror in the MCU, but to see him be introduced in such a fashion here was spectacular. Loki puts criticisms regarding the lack of implications that WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier aside by blowing the MCU wide open in this finale. The finale, and Loki overall, are absolutely necessary viewing moving forward in this sprawling universe.

There’s so much to unpack with Kang’s introduction in the show. For starters, Jonathan Majors absolutely steals the show here. While it was a bit of a shame to see Hiddleston and Di Martino somewhat sidelined or overshadowed in their finale, Majors’ performance is simply captivating from start to finish. The actor has impressed in projects like Lovecraft Country and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and continues to showcase his talent on this new stage. Majors plays the character with a frightening nonchalant attitude. We anticipate some gruesome monster at the end of this tunnel and, instead, the man behind it all is a self professed “jerk,” a man who looks like he’s wearing a purple bathrobe as he toys with the fabric of reality. And it’s with Kang that we’re given an explanation of what’s going on with the TVA and the stakes at hand if he is dislodged from his throne. We already know that projects like Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man: No Way Home will be delving into multiversal matters and it seems as if that door has been blown wide open by Loki. And, it’s a testament to the incredible writing of this season that the complex plot regarding time travel, free will, and multiverses is told in an approachable and comprehensible way throughout.

Kang aside, the resolution of other plot threads and themes in this finale was mixed. Loki and Sylvie are given fantastic moments together as they deliberate the fallout of Kang’s reveals and it’s tragic to see these two characters who love each other so dearly see this situation so divergently. Nonetheless, I wish the episode spent a bit more time with these two characters and wrapped up their journeys this season a little tighter. The same could be said for Owen Wilson’s Mobius, who has been a highlight throughout Loki, but fizzled out by the season’s conclusion. 

And, despite ending rather abruptly and abstractly, Loki’s finale leaves you desperately wanting more. There are so many questions left standing about the multiverse and the state of the TVA that we’re so desperately awaiting answers for now, which is a great sign for a TV show heading into its (now announced) second season.

Verdict: 8.5/10

Loki closes out with a bang – answering many questions, while posing many others. The introduction of Jonathan Majors’ Kang was the highlight of the episode as the mystery of the TVA was unveiled and we were introduced to the next big bad of the MCU. Although it would’ve been nice to see more time spent wrapping up Loki, Sylvie, and Mobius’ arcs, Loki’s finale provides plenty of brilliant character work and moments that affirms this series is easily one of the best installments in the MCU yet.

Images courtesy of Disney+ and Marvel Studios

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REVIEW: Black Widow

by @holocronGeorge for @mar_tesseract

11 years and 8 movies later, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow finally gets a much deserved solo outing as Phase Four finally kicks off. It’s unfortunate, however, that the film, while bolstered by great supporting performances, falls short of delivering a journey worthy of the long-standing MCU character. Set in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Black Widows follows Natasha Romanoff on the run from authorities after her violation of the Sokovia Accords. Natasha’s attempts to remain in the shadows, however, are thwarted when she has to team up with her sister to defeat an enemy from the past.

From beginning to end, Black Widow struggles to justify its existence beyond righting the wrong that was sidelining Johansson’s character for so long. This isn’t to say that every project in the MCU needs to have great relevance and implications for subsequent stories, but Black Widow feels more like a filler installment of a long-running TV series than anything the MCU has done to date. But, how inconsequential the film is could be ignored if it was an enthralling and self-sufficient tale on its own, which, for the most part, it is not.

Black Widow felt like the perfect opportunity to give Scarlett Johansson’s character the attention and recognition she deserves after playing significant, yet largely understated, roles in previous MCU films. Johansson herself has spoken negatively of the over-sexualized version of the character in Iron Man 2 and attempts to really grow her character (i.e. the possible romance between Nat and Bruce) often fell short. But. fans eager to immerse themselves in a deep and profound examination of Natasha will likely leave this film disappointed. Black Widow provides somewhat interesting details about Nat’s upbringing, her family, and the infamous mission in Budapest, but falls short in offering much else to her character. Despite the personal stakes for Nat, her involvement in the film’s central plot feels rather passive. The film is called Black Widow and yet it’s more a film about the secret organization of Black Widows rather than the character herself.

Black Widow excels when it focuses on the family dynamics of Nat and her mother, father, and sister figures. The film is immediately captivating as it opens up like an episode of The Americans with surprising emotional depth and a terrific action sequence on a runway. After an incredibly choppy first act largely devoid of any family focus, Black Widow eventually shifts its focus back to its most interesting elements. Florence Pugh’s Yelena makes her debut and virtually steals the show from there on out. After impressive performances in Midsommar, Fighting with my Family, and Little Women, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Pugh is such an exciting addition to the MCU. Also superb here is David Harbour, masterfully taking on the role of Red Guardian. The Soviet Union’s counterpart to Captain America has some of the film’s best one-liners and, with Pugh, easily delivers the film’s most touching moments. It’s with these touching moments that Black Widow impresses – it’s just unfortunate that more of them do not focus on Nat. Rachel Weisz’s character Milena, on the other hand, feels rushed and out of place. Very little information is provided about her motives and backstory, making it difficult to really care about her journey at all. 

Black Widow’s antagonists also leave much to be desired. A miscast Ray Winstone plays General Dreykov, the leader of the Red Room and a villain that is absent for almost the entire duration of the film. This leaves much of the villainous work to Taskmaster, whose introduction is haunting and superb. However, over the course of the film, Taskmaster’s intrigue and threat diminishes and the third act reveals simply don’t pay off. 

Verdict: 6/10

Black Widow is extremely watchable, entertaining, and humorous, but Scarlett Johansson’s character deserved more in her first and only solo outing. While the film’s spy elements work and the performances of Harbour and Pugh were captivating, Black Widow tells a choppily paced and low-stakes story lacking the emotional impact we wanted to see.

Images courtesy of Disney+ and Marvel Studios

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REVIEW: Loki – Episode 4

by @holocronGeorge for @mar_tesseract

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Loki – Episode 4: The Nexus Event

It’s incredible how much emotion, tension, intrigue, and action can be packed into a mere 48 minutes, but Loki proves time is no restriction in its fourth episode. The Nexus Event picks up on Lamentis with Loki and Sylvie waiting for an impending death on the apocalyptic planet. Meanwhile, Mobius searches for the variants as mysteries about the TVA are unveiled.

Last week’s cliffhanger left us waiting with baited breath after we were finally introduced to Sylvie and saw her relationship with Loki develop and evolve over the span of an episode. The Nexus Event immediately follows up on Lamentis as Sylvie and Loki await their deaths. There was something destructive, yet poetic about these beginning moments of the episode. Loki and Sylvie have known each other so briefly, but now they are two individuals who will be sharing their final moments together so intimately. Loki’s comforting of Sylvie was heartwarming and the backdrop of the planet silently turning to rubble was stunning. From the get-go, Tom Hiddleston and Sophia Di Martino command the screen once again in this episode.

After a departure from the inner-workings of the TVA last week, episode 4 sees a reintroduction of Mobius, Ravonna, and Hunter B-15. The Nexus Event really explores the intrigue surrounding the TVA and the unique position Loki finds himself situated in. Once recruited by the TVA to stop Sylvie, Loki now feels connected to his fellow Variant and disturbed by her revelations about the TVA. In many ways, episode 4 feels like a mirror of episode 1, but things have changed now. Loki isn’t the conniving villain he once was – he is more reasonable, vulnerable, and selfless. Owen Wilson’s superb turn as Mobius continues, but now with a twist – there’s a seed of doubt regarding the intentions of the TVA. There was a sense of tension reverberating throughout the entire episode as we saw Mobius and Hunter B-15 gradually grow suspicious of the TVA in the wake of their interactions with Loki and Sylvie. After a few episodes in the background, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was given her most substantial role in the series yet as we follow Mobius’ suspicions and similarly come to realize the TVA is not what they seem.

Apart from the core mystery, The Nexus Event also featured the return of Jaimie Alexander’s Sif in unique fashion. While ultimately inconsequential to the broader narrative, the mere inclusion of Sif added a sense of interconnectivity between Loki and the Thor films that came before it and, hopefully, opens the door for Alexander’s return as the character in future projects.

Tensions come to a head in the final act of episode 4. After deliberation and investigation, Mobius follows his gut and concludes that the TVA is hiding something and that Loki may be telling the truth that he and the other agents were not created by the TVA, but are Variants plucked from the timeline. It’s not long after the formation of Loki and Mobius’ reforged alliance that Mobius shockingly ‘dies’ at the hands of Ravonna and her TVA forces. At the time, this moment was shocking and felt like we had truly said goodbye to Mobius, but the closing moments of the episode put this in doubt. Either way, Loki’s reaction to Mobius’ death as he is dragged through the halls of the TVA was heartbreaking and further emphasized what kind of person the God of Mischief is becoming as a result of his interactions with others.

It’s from there that the episode goes to new heights of suspense and unpredictability. We are finally given our first look at the mysterious Time Keepers. Their design was grandiose and haunting, although their dialogue was too muffled and difficult to hear. The entire action sequence that ensues before the Time Keepers very much evoked Rey and Kylo’s team-up in Snoke’s throne room in The Last Jedi, as many fans have pointed out. And, similar to the duel in Star Wars, this fight also felt like it could have been at the center of the closing moments of a movie. As the agents of the TVA are disposed of, we see Sylvie behead one of the Time Keepers, only to reveal that they are machines. This fake-out felt a little predictable given the MCU’s tradition of similar fake-outs in previous projects. That being said, the twist comes with two episodes to go and is executed extremely well.

Speaking of twists and turns, seeing Loki ‘die’ as he was about to confess his feelings for Sylvie felt like a knife to the back. We had never seen this intimate and warm side of Loki before and suddenly he is taken away. This heartbreak doesn’t last long, however, as we’re greeted to one of the MCU’s most bonkers post-credits scenes yet. Loki wakes up only to stand before three other Loki variants, once of which played by the incredible Richard E. Grant. What this means for the remainder of the show remains unseen, but the sheer surprise of it all really took our breath away.

Verdict: 8.5/10

Mysteries were interestingly unraveled in The Nexus Event, an episode that saw Loki reach new heights of intimacy and unpredictability. The suspicions of Mobius and Hunter B-15 were intriguingly explored, as was the relationship between Loki and Sylvie. The big reveal regarding the Time Keepers was well executed, albeit somewhat predictable, which is something that could not be said for the death and reappearance of Loki before a series of Variant Lokis. Needless to say, Loki demands your viewing and continues to impress week after week.

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios & Disney+

Marvel Tesseract

REVIEW: Loki – Episode 3

by @holocronGeorge for @sw_holocron

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Loki – Episode 3

The mysterious Sylvie enters the fray in the latest episode in Loki, a clever, intimate, and apocalyptic change of pace for the superb MCU series. Episode 3, titled Lamentis, sees Loki and the other ‘Variant’ reluctantly team up to escape a planet on the brink of destruction.

Last week’s episode left off on a startling cliffhanger as Loki followed the Variant away from the TVA, leaving fans with many questions left to answer. Opting for Demons by Hayley Kiyoko, rather than the classic MCU entry music, Lamentis picks up in an interesting fashion. We’re finally given a proper look at the Variant, later identified as Sylvie, deftly brought to life by the excellent Sophia Di Martino. In a seemingly inconsequential opening scene, we’re given a lot of information about this character, who has previously remained in the shadows (both literally and figuratively). She’s powerful, possessing abilities somewhat akin to Wanda Maxmioff, but certainly different from the Loki we know. She’s also driven and willing to go to great lengths to complete her mission, whatever that may be. And, soon after, Di Martino infiltrates the TVA itself and let’s the audience, and Loki, know she’s a formidable foe.

From there on out, Lamentis becomes another expertly executed installment in the sub-genre of superhero and buddy cop, except this time Tom Hiddleston’s Loki trades back-and-forths with Sylvie, rather than Owen Wilson’s Mobius. Although Wilson and his banter with Hiddleston have been highlights of the series so far, Lamentis was so consuming and captivating that Mobius and the inner-workings of the TVA we’ve grown to love in the past episodes weren’t missed. This episode works because of Hiddleston and Di Martino’s dual performances. So much character development and relationship building occurs within a compact 42 minute episodes, and every second of it is investing and believable due to the commanding lead performances. Loki met his match with Mobius in episodes 1 and 2 and now meets another individual who matches him in wit and mischievousness. 

The entire episode is structured around this burgeoning relationship and its reluctant necessity as the two must team up to escape the planet on the brink of destruction. This added a sense of urgency to the episode as well as the terrific sequences and dialogue that follow from a team-up neither party wants, but both parties recognize as necessary. The reveal that Loki is bisexual was delicately done, making Loki the first openly bisexual character in the MCU. And, although not strictly speaking reveals, there’s a number of hints in the episode that the TVA aren’t exactly as they seem. Should Loki continue his fight with the TVA against the Variant? Or is he on the wrong side of this battle and should Sylvie be his partner? 

Special attention needs to be directed toward the closing moments of Loki’s third episode, which stuns with a manufacturing one take sequence as Loki and Sylvie try to escape the planet. Everything in this sequence was breathtaking – top to bottom. From the production design to the directing to the score to the acting to sound design, the final scene in Lamentis was meticulously put together and really highlights that the line between television and cinema is blurred now more than ever. Not to mention the jaw-dropping cliffhanger the episode concludes on that has you just begging for more. It’s a somewhat abrupt ending, but one that perfectly sets the stage into the next episode.

Verdict: 9/10

Mobius and the TVA take a step back as Loki hits its half-way mark in characteristically spectacular fashion. Sylvie is a welcomed addition to the show and the episode triumphs largely due to the cleverly constructed dynamic between Tom Hiddleston and Sophia Di Martino’s characters. Lamentis and its impending apocalypse truly come to life in this episode and offered a jaw-dropping cliffhanger that has us waiting on the edge of our seats for more.

Images courtesy of Disney+ and Marvel Studios

Marvel Tesseract

REVIEW: Loki – Episode 2

by @holocronGeorge for @mar_tesseract

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Loki – Episode 2: The Variant

After a stellar premiere episode, Loki propels forward in another intriguing, clever, and compelling installment. The Variant sees Loki and Mobius continue their investigation into the variant Loki wreaking havoc across the timeline as they uncover clues about the threat posed.

Two episodes in and it’s pretty clear: Loki is the best MCU series on Disney+ yet. So much brilliant exposition, narrative, character dynamics, and humor are packed into a tight 54 minute episode that simply flies by. A significant reason for the series’ success so far, as evidenced in The Variant, is the relationship between Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Owen Wilson’s Agent Mobius. The two play off one another superbly and deliver screenwriter Elissa Karasik’s sharp dialogue to perfection. Hiddleston is such a commanding screen presence and continues to highlight why he’s the MCU’s best villain to date. Loki is tricky, devious, witty, and yet undeniably likable, which is no small feat given that this is the character who led an invasion of New York City just days ago. Owen Wilson’s Mobius serves as a worthy juxtaposition to Hiddleson’s character. Loki evokes a sort of maniacal confidence and egocentrism that is delicately balanced by Mobius’ calm, collected, and equally intelligent demeanor. Loki has clearly met his match in Mobius. Their relationship, especially given the organization of the TVA and sci-fi leanings of the series, feels like the MCU’s version of the relationship between Will Smith’s Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K in the Men in Black series.

Unlike WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki doesn’t wait to dive head first into its central plot. The brilliant set-up in Glorious Purpose is capitalized on here as we see Loki and Mobius reluctantly team up to stop the variant Loki right from the get-go. Loki continues to draw upon Doctor Who, both aesthetically and narratively, while feeling like a natural next step in the sprawling MCU. And despite the speed at which we’re thrown into the core plot of the series, The Variant is largely devoid of action, with the exception of its opening and closing scenes. This felt refreshing as the character dynamics and machinations of the TVA are the most compelling aspects of the show so far, and the series continues to place these elements in the spotlight. Moments of tension and suspense do not rely on big, CGI-heavy action sequences to add stakes. But, rather, the plot and character arcs are driven by more intimate and clever conversations and revelations.

These conversations and revelations kept us interested for the entirety of the episode. We see Loki and Mobius do a bit of detective work to uncover that the variant Loki is hiding out in an apocalypse after disrupting other parts of the timeline. This revelation came about with a terrifically morbid sequence on Pompeii that somehow balanced the humor and horror of the situation. Ravonna Renslayer and Mobius’ conversations also added some depth to the Time Keepers and the inner-workings of the TVA. Everything we know about the TVA so far is so interesting and has surprisingly widespread implications for the MCU. Questions about free will, determinism, and the purpose of life add a unique, philosophical bend to Loki.

And the tension and suspense ramped up significantly in the episode’s closing act. The futuristic grocery store setting was eerie and fitting for the mysteriousness of the cloaked figure. Sophia Di Martino made her first appearance in the show as Lady Loki – confirming many fans’ speculations ahead of this reveal. Lady Loki has a crazy track record in comics to say the least, so it’ll be interesting to see how this character is depicted as the plot unfolds in Loki.

Verdict: 9.5/10

Loki impresses once again with an episode full to the brim with clever dialogue and interesting reveals driven by two superb leading performances. The Variant evokes element of Doctor Who and Men in Black as the time-bending, sci-fi-heavy plot moves forward in surprising and compelling fashion. The episode is worth watching for Hiddleston and Wilson’s relationship alone, but thankfully Loki has a captivating and impactful plot that lives up to the performances of its stars.

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios & Disney+

Marvel Tesseract

REVIEW: Loki – Episode 1

by @holocronJosh for @mar_tesseract

After 10 years, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has been through a lot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From discovering his true origins as a Frost Giant to his strained and complicated relationship with his brother Thor, and ultimate demise at the hands of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, Loki has had quite a journey so far. In that fateful first scene of Infinity War, it looked to be the end of the road for the God of Mischief, especially as he finally aligned himself with Thor and turned good (or as good as a character like Loki can get). This, however, proved to be a bit of a premature judgment, as Avengers: Endgame saw the 2012 version of Loki steal the Tesseract and escape…

Cue the latest Disney+ series, aptly titled Loki. Once again starring Tom Hiddleston in the titular role, the series also features an array of new side characters, most notably Mobius, played by Owen Wilson. Originally planned as the first Marvel Studios series on Disney+, production delays and the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the schedule was reworked to have WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier premiere first. After delays and much anticipation, Loki is finally here with its first episode, ‘Glorious Purpose’.

The premiere centers on Loki, fresh from the Battle of New York in 2012, as he wanders his new surroundings at the TVA, or Time Variance Authority. From here, both the character and the audience get a long exposition of the TVA and their role in the MCU, with some humor sprinkled in between. All in all, this exposition works, and proves to be far clearer on the mechanics of time and the multiverse than Avengers: Endgame. The little video that accompanied this exposition was an obvious callback to Jurassic Park and provided much needed foundational explanations as the MCU delves deeper into time travel and other similar plot lines,

The explanation continues as Loki meets Mobius, who works for the TVA as an investigator of dangerous variants (even more dangerous than Loki. One of the highlights of the premiere comes from scenes between Loki and Mobius, as Hiddleston and Wilson prove to have great on screen chemistry. Surprisingly, the back and forth, clever dialogue in Loki and Mobius’ scenes together proved to be more engaging to almost everything seen between Sam and Bucky in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, a show built around the premise of a buddy comedy adventure. Despite the success of this part of Loki’s premiere, the back and forth does end up continuing just a bit too long, one of the only criticisms that can be said of the episode. Loki denies the power of the TVA, along with the events he’s shown about his future, before Mobius refutes these claims. This results in a bit of over-explaining of sorts, which is certainly better than the opposite and not giving enough exposition, but it ultimately doesn’t bring the episode down in any substantial way.

Loki’s escape proved to be the most action heavy section in a premiere largely devoid of action. This was a welcome relief and smart placement as it gives the audience some time to breathe before getting back into the main plot. When Loki finally stops running and returns to the room he spoke with Mobius in, he begins to watch the rest of the footage of his life, which provides the most emotionally gripping moments of the episode. Loki seems horrified at not only his death, but that he’s capable of essentially killing his mother and other acts he committed along the way. Loki also seems to regret his deteriorating relationship with Thor as he watches the two of them bond, before he admits to Mobius that he doesn’t want to hurt or cause pain to anyone. Mobius reminds Loki that he’s not a villain, and this is the start of interesting character work. Rather than showing the angry, god-like Loki, we get to see the vulnerable and more human side of him, one of the highlights of this episode. It also provides the framework for further character development as the show goes on, with Loki seemingly bound to move further into the anti hero, if not downright hero, territory once again.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger of a reveal that another Loki variant is killing TVA agents and causing chaos in the timeline, hence Mobius’ intent to recruit the 2012 Loki to help. As for who this could be, it seems unlikely that it’ll be Hiddleston. If it was, then he probably would have been shown. That this Loki was hooded and in the dark in the final moments perhaps reveals a much different version of the character, maybe even one played by Richard E Grant, who shares a resemblance with Hiddleston and is in the show in an unknown capacity. Nevertheless, this ending provides a lot of intrigue heading into the next episode and the rest of the season.

Visually and aesthetically, Loki’s premiere is stunning. The production design feels uniquely 1970’s and clearly evokes settings from shows like Doctor Who. It’s also notably different from anything in the MCU before, resulting in a welcome change from blander looking projects such as The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. This continues with the directing by Kate Herron, who lends a unique visual style to the whole premiere that makes it stand out from other recent Marvel movies and shows. That being said, the D.B. Cooper sequence, although entertaining, felt entirely out of place.

This episode was written by Michael Waldron, who has fast become one of Kevin Feige’s most favored screenwriters. After working on Loki, Waldron was tapped to write Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which he worked on with director Sam Raimi, before switching gears to a galaxy far, far away with Feige’s secretive Star Wars film. Because of this, there was added interest in Loki and Waldron’s writing of the series and the iconic lead character. Overall, Waldron shows his writing strengths as he clears up any time travel related questions left by Avengers: Endgame, which was not an easy feat. Waldron’s writing also gives the episode a flow that works extremely well, something that The Falcon and The Winter Soldier struggled to achieve for the entirety of its run. The dialogue is punchy and memorable, and the humor provides much needed comedic relief amidst heavy exposition, with the comedic talents of Hiddleston and Wilson taken full advantage of. Even though this does continue a bit too long, Waldron can be forgiven for this as he’s introducing such a large and unique concept into an already massive universe. After this premiere episode, it’s exciting to see what else Waldron does at Marvel and Star Wars.

Verdict: 9/10

Loki’s premiere is a unique, interesting time adventure reminiscent of Doctor Who driven by two leads with great chemistry. While much of the episode centers on exposition, this isn’t a bad thing (for the most part), as the show lays down a good basis for the TVA and the broader rules of time in the MCU. With much promise going forward, we’re looking forward to seeing what happens next in the latest Marvel series. From the look of things, it seems that Marvel Studios have yet another hit on their hands with Loki.

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios & Disney+

Marvel Tesseract

REVIEW: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Episode 6

by @holocronGeorge for @mar_tesseract

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Episode 6

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Or, should I say, Captain America and the Winter Soldier. 

The conclusion we’ve all been anticipating since the first moments of the series, with Sam finally taking up the mantle of Captain America, came to fruition in this week’s season finale, an action-packed and entertaining, yet somewhat predictable and underwhelming ending.

Going into the season finale, episode 6, titled One World, One People, had a lot to accomplish. Two of the five episodes that aired so far largely gave the central narrative a backseat and, as such, it was difficult to go into the finale without a feeling of: so, this is it? It just seems that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had so many different avenues to explore and, just when things started to get far more interesting in the last few episodes, the season is coming to a premature close. 

And this season closer doesn’t waste any time as we’re thrown right into the mix of things from the start. This was a little jarring considering the meandering pace of the last episode, emphasizing a more systemic issue with this series’ pacing. That being said, the brisk pace affords a host of exciting opportunities for climatic action and suspense. It’s an action-packed episode with each and every sequence expertly crafted by director Kari Skogland.

Where this finale particularly struggles is how all of the different characters’ plot threads come to a conclusion. With John Walker joining Sam and Bucky, Karli becoming increasingly radical despite her good intentions, and the reveal of Sharon as the seemingly not so villainous Power Broker, it’s difficult to discern what we’re supposed to think of all these characters in the end. This season has played around extensively with themes of heroism and villainy, making us question who should we really be rooting for. But, come the end of the season, we’re left with unsatisfying answers to this question. Walker seemed to have become a villain, consumed by his rage that finally unveiled his true colors. So, it was confusing to see him be turned into a hero allying with our titular characters. Also confusing was where we’re supposed to land on Karli in the end. Her intentions to oppose the displacement of survivors of the Snap have been relatable since the introduction of the Flag Smashers. But, after teasing a redemption and an alliance with Sam, Karli becomes more and more merciless. Yes, we as an audience agree with her fight wholeheartedly, but not at all with the way she conducted this fight. What message were they going for exactly with their final alignment of Walker, Karli, and Sharon? Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell.

The episode triumphs, however, in spotlighting Sam Wilson as Captain America. The suit is incredible, as is Anthony Mackie’s stellar performance once again as the character. Previous conversations regarding what it would be like for a Black man to be Captain America are fully capitalized on and exploring in touching and emotionally resonant ways. This is hammered home in Sam’s conversation with Isaiah, highlighting one of the series’ brightest moments.

Verdict: 6.5/10

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier comes to a somewhat abrupt and underwhelming conclusion after significant improving in recent episodes. Convoluted character values and jarring pacing, however, are offset by well-executed attention to relevant sociopolitical themes and a slew of enthralling action sequences. 

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios and Disney+