The Animatrix (2003): A Beautiful Anthology That Brings the World of the Matrix to Life

“The Animatrix” is well worth checking out if you are a fan of the universe of “The Matrix.” This anthology series captures more aspects of the world from the live-action films while giving us unique takes with animation and direction to tell those stories. The one warning I will say this is it is graphic especially in regards to violence as the stories do cover the war against the machines and everything that lead up to the creation of the Matrix by the machines. If you are good with that though these stories are well worth your time and do so much to explore the fascinating universe the Wachowskis created.

This anthology series was produced by the Wachowskis.

The stories cover the lead-up to humanity being enslaved into the Matrix and how it happened and captures stories from around the timeline of the films from before the “The Matrix” and up to “The Matrix Revolutions.”

I’ll be rating the stories from worst to best.

SPOILERS ahead

So without further ado here we go.:

8th) Kid’s Story

Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe and written by Lilly and Lana Wachowski.

This one doesn’t really do anything original and the animation is the worst 2D animation of the anthology. The Kid was one of the weaker characters in the “Matrix” films so that doesn’t help. You just see Neo helps him believe and he escapes a bunch of Agents at his high school. Better animation would have boosted it to enjoyable as it never gets beyond okay because of how scattered the animation and focus of the story is. The Kid is a blank character which doesn’t help the story as we just see he is apathetic and doesn’t care about school but he never is really seen to be a troublemaker, just distracted so the effort the Agents put into catching him doesn’t make sense.

Score: 5 / 10

7th) Beyond

Directed by Koji Morimoto who also wrote the episode.

“Beyond” is a cool idea with a glitch in the Matrix being explored before Agents come and destroy the glitch. The mystery behind it is cool and seeing how it kids build a community around the “Haunted House.” What keeps it from being good is we never get to know any of the characters and the hint of the glitch being a possible way out of the Matrix is never fully explored. Still as a glitch in the Matrix being explored is such a cool idea which makes the episode enjoyable. We don’t really get to know the characters or what is at stake as to why the Agents are trying to destroy the glitch though. For this reason it isn’t good and only enjoyable as it feels like the first draft of a story and just needed to explore a few more aspects of that story (Characters and villain motivation) to fully make it work.

Score: 7 / 10

6th) Matriculated

Directed by Peter Chung who also wrote the episode.

“Matriculated” is a cool idea with human resistance above ground trying to convert machines to their cause but where it falls apart is the 3D animation doesn’t work. Where the 2D animation is sharp and flows and 3D is clumsy and it hurts the compelling tragedy being told as the machine does convert over but when he brings the final human survivor into the digital world she freaks out and dies. This episode captures how hopeless peace out of the war seems and that is what makes it really enjoyable. We don’t really get to know the characters or the machine though which is what holds it back and of course the 3D animation doesn’t work too which also keeps me from considering this episode good.

Score: 7.2 / 10

5th) The Second Renaissance Part 1 and 2

Directed by Mahiro Maeda and written by Lilly and Lana Wachowski.

“The Second Renaissance” is a 2-part story that I’m scoring as 1 since they are the whole story being told. They tell the story of the initial oppression of the machines that lead to their uprising, creating the Nation of 01 and eventually war when humans refused to recognize them. From here you see the conflict grow with the machines eventual win after humans blotted out the sky and the formation of the Matrix. It is a powerfully animated story and the distinct style feels like a realistic lead-up to the wold of the films. It is solidly good in presentation and exploration of the themes of resistance and oppression.

Score: 8 / 10

4th) World Record

Directed by Takeshi Koike and written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri.

“World Record” gives us a situation of a runner who breaks through the program because of how hard he pushes his body. The concept and how the Agents are used is cool but we don’t get to know the characters all that much. It is a good episode though and the presentation and aftermath of him remembering what he saw in the “real” worked really well.

Score: 8.4 / 10

3rd) Last Flight of the Osiris

Directed by Andy Jones and written by Lilly and Lana Wachowski.

“Last Flight of the Osiris” would have worked as a show. We get to see how the Captain Thadeus and his lover Jue spend their downtime using fighting in the matrix to flirt and we see them discover the machine invasion of Zion and how they risk everything to warn them by dropping a package in the Matrix. I wanted to know more about the crew but Thadeus and Jue were interesting characters. This like one of the later stories on this list is one that would have worked really well as as mini-series as I see the promise of the characters but we only really get to know Thadeus and Jue.

Score: 8.5 / 10

2nd) A Detective’s Story

Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe who also wrote the episode.

This episode is a noir and animated in 1940s style and black and white. It is neat seeing a detective hunt for Trinity and how he isn’t able to leave the Matrix as he is nearly possessed by an agent. The animation and his short friendship with Trinity are great though and how it suggests that time may not apply in the same way in the Matrix and Trinity and the freed humans could be much older than those still trapped. This one I rate highly because we get to know the detective and his motivation and even though he can’t join Trinity and leave the Matrix, his last act is to cover her escape and resist the Agents.

Score: 9 / 10

1st) Program

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri who also wrote the episode.

“Program” like “Last Flight” I also would like to see as a show. Cis and Duo fight and Duo reveals he is going to betray humanity and return to the Matrix. It makes their fight all the more intense as prior they are discussing the appeal of this Feudal Japanese program they are in and how it relates to the Matrix. In the end it is revealed Duo didn’t exist and she passed the test. It is powerful and I wanted more time with the crew after that. It was great action and had the best animation out of them all and the twist and drama worked extremely well. I would watch a show around this crew and it had my favorite animation out of them all.

Score: 9.5 / 10

This was a really enjoyable anthology series that was nearly all good if it had just explored some of who the characters were better. A lot of these episodes work great as concepts but we don’t get to know the characters all that well except for maybe “Program” and “A Detective’s Story.” Outside of those great episode it is really solid themes and concepts that are explored but we never get to find out who the characters are who we are following. If that had been fixed I would say this is a good anthology rather than the really enjoyable anthology it ends up being. Still, if you like the universe the Wachowskis made this is an anthology film well worth your time that I would recommend.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Castlevania – A Retrospective on the Fantastic Netflix Show and how it Explores Revenge, Morality and Love

We continue Vampire Weekends with my retrospective on “Castlevania” one of the few great adaptations of a story from a videogame series and one that gives us an array of different vampires and motivations. This was a show that wasn’t afraid to go deep while still embracing the fun of the characters and premise. Before I get into my thoughts on the show as whole my season reviews of the show will be posted at the end and this review will contain SPOILERS, so be warned. Before that I do highly recommend this show as the animation, action, soundtrack, characters and themes are all fantastic and it is a favorite show I look forward to rewatching again.

The series was created by Warren Ellis.

The story follows Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage) as the last Belmont he finds allies in the fight against Vlad Dracula Tepes (Graham McTavish) who seeks to destroy humanity after the Church killed his wife Lisa (Emily Swallow) for witchcraft.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this is amazing with the standout battles being Trevor, Sypha and Alucard facing off against Dracula’s generals and Dracula in Season 2, Isaac against Carmilla in Season 4 and Trevor, Sypha and Alucard fighting against Death and his generals when they attempt to bring back Dracula from Hell. There are also great battle sequences through all seasons but season 2 and 4 had the best battles.

The Soundtrack – Trevor Morris created a beautiful soundtrack that captures this gothic world so well with his rendition of “Bloody Tears” being a song I keep coming back to. He captures the hopelessness that humanity is facing with all the vampires and night creatures trying to kill them but also the hope in the heroes who rise up to fight. The fight song of Trevor against Death is also notably epic.

The World – The world of “Castlevania” was compelling in the games where Dracula has won and it is you trying to stop him and is given depth here in the Church killing his scientist wife and us seeing human cruelty being a motivator for not just Vlad Tepes but also his generals Isaac and Hector who only experienced human cruelty. This adds a dimension of redemption for humanity through it all as our characters go through arcs and find a reason to be beyond hate and revenge. Also the variety of night creatures, vampires, demons and human kingdoms keeps the world compelling as they are all distinct.

Dracula’s Generals – Dracula has generals from around the world and each have a different way of being vampiric be it turning into mist, speed, super strength, etc. They also have distinct looks and personalities with standouts being Godbrand, Carmilla and Varney who have motives beyond just following Dracula’s orders. Their defeats are earned and rewarding too and usually advance a character’s growth.

The Characters – The characters make this story work and how their relationships are explored keep the show interesting even when there isn’t a major arc to the season. The character work in season 1 setup Sypha, Trevor and Alucard and season 3 explores Isaac and Carmilla’s realm. Because of this character work even the slow or setup seasons were still good or great.

Striga and Morana – Striga and Morana are two of Carmilla’s generals and also lovers. They have a compelling relationship too with Striga being the military strategist and Morana knowing supplies and number. They have a great arc too as they realize that if they go through with Carmilla’s plan of trapping all the humans in their nation they will be fighting forever so after here death they go their own way. These two vampire women’s story is one I’d like see continue.

Carmilla – Jaime Murray does a wonderful job as the vampire lord consumed by rage. All she does is to hurt the vampire lords who ignored her nation like Dracula (her betrayal of him), revenge for abuse from the vampire lord who made her and rage at the world for their nation being left with little resources. She’s charismatic and deadly and we see why she rules too as her desires shapes the world around her. In the end she only falls because she betrayed Dracula and Isaac and his night creatures get revenge on her for it as well as stopping her dreams of conquest.

Vlad and Lisa Tepes – Lisa and Vlad have a sweet relationship with her teaching him science and showing him there is more to humans than fear and hate. Sadly she is killed by the Church while Vlad is exploring the wold leading to his goal to wipe out humanity. In the end they find each other in Hell though after their child Alucard kills Vlad when he regrets what he’s become and that he is killing Alucard. Eventually they are freed by Death’s ritual and we see that Vlad has changed and no longer has his rage though he still distrusts humanity. I didn’t mind them getting a second chance at life and I hope that they end there story there though.

Death – Malcolm McDowell’s Death is hilarious. He plays an arrogant English vampire as an act and as Death speaks the same way cussing up a storm. I loved how much he just didn’t care and wanted souls. This was how to do a one-dimensional villain right as he was powerful, knew it and had plans within plans as well as being hard to kill. His reveal design is great too puling from the “Castlevania” games design as a giant skeleton.

Isaac – Adetokumoh McCormack’s Isaac was my favorite character besides Alucard on the show. Freed from slavery by Dracula he hated humanity until Dracula saved him again giving him the chance to meet people like a merchant and ship’s captain who changed his perspective. He also made friends with his night creatures and changed their role from one of destruction to rebuilding as he became a redeemer to all the souls he was pulling from Hell to make his night creatures. His arc is amazing and he even forgives Hector showing that in his journey he grew beyond hate and found a reason to live that made life more.

Alucard, Sypha and Trevor – The trio of “Castlevania” is one of the best trios in any show or film. Sypha is the one with perspective while Alucard and Trevor are quick to fight and mope. All have dimension though and I loved the Sypha and Trevor romance that developed that Armitage and Reynoso gave so much weight too as well as humor in how they played off each other. James Callis’s Alucard is my favorite character on the show besides Isaac and I like how he finds a reason to live too beyond just guarding his father’s castle from threats. They all find community in one another and the world which is fitting given how much of the world was lost over the course of the show.

Redemption and Community as Motivation – Hector, Isaac, Dracula and Alucard all find redemption in different ways by connecting to people. Isaac sees not all humanity is evil, Hector forgives himself, Dracula stops destroying and finds his wife once more and Alucard leaves his castle and sees a world worth protecting. All of them find reason to be in their own redemption and in relationship with others.

The Dangers of Revenge and Hate – Revenge and hate are shown to be self-destructive through the series as Isaac if he’d stayed to fight Sypha, Trevor and Alucard would have died as he would have been living for Dracula’s mission of hate and revenge and not himself. Carmilla like Dracula is consumed by it and the rules even apply to side characters like Taka and Sumi who die and nearly kill Alucard who had only ever been kind to them. The Church that kills Lisa is also consumed by hate as well as we see it target anything it doesn’t understand with hate which leads to Dracula destroying it and the world. This theme is established from season 1 and never stops being relevant.

Okay:

Hector and Lenore – Hector and Lenore have a toxic relationship where Lenore enslaves him to be Carmilla’s forgemaster and make night creatures for their kingdom and this is after Carmilla abused him and he betrayed his only friend Dracula…but somehow they form a functioning relationship and he bests her in the end as after Isaac sees his regret for his betrayal he does not kill him and lets him know there is more to live for. Lenore was talking about that and starting to distrust Carmilla but after Carmilla’s defeat she just chooses to die. I wanted to see where their relationship would go as they were equals by the end of the show. Still their arc was okay.

Saint Germain – Saint Germain like Dracula is used by Death to bring back Dracula believing it will bring back his wife. We never see his relationship to his wife though so it is all tell. Bill Nighy does a good job as being the arrogant alchemist but I wanted more for him to be a pro to the show.

The Cons:

Taka and Sumi – Taka and Sumi are vampire hunters who befriend and try to kill Alucard. They exist purely to show that humans and vampires still have problems with each other (they were abused by one of Dracula’s generals) and so Alucard can feel hate and be alone. This plot should have been redone as it shows us nothing we don’t learn in the Hector plot. Also we don’t get enough of either of their backstories or the state of the world Dracula left behind.

Lack of Focus in Sypha and Trevor’s Journey After Defeating Dracula – The one issue I had with Sypha and Trevor was after Dracula they just went fighting monsters around the world but never to any point. It doesn’t lead anywhere until season 4 which is a shame as season 3 should have setup the truth big bad of Death. Their story needed focus even if it was just to develop their love further.

Lack of Setup for Death – Death was the one who set Dracula’s madness in motion as he feeds of dead souls and Dracula was going to give him the greatest feast. For this reason him trying to bring Dracula back made sense but his character Varney should have appeared in season 2. He only shows up in the last season and given how core he was to the plot he needed that character work or at least hints of who he was earlier.

This is a great animated show that is well worth your time if you are looking for great action, characters, world, soundtrack and animation. There isn’t much that didn’t work about this show and it is one of the more complex portrayals of vampires I’ve seen in fiction whether they are friendly like Alucard or villains like Dracula and Carmilla. This is a major reason I wanted to write about the show as a whole for Vampire Weekend on the blog and if you are interested I hope you check this amazing show out.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10 A favorite show.

“What If…?” Season 1 – Shows the Promise of the Marvel Multiverse

“What If…?” season 1 is a wonderful addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and shows the promise of the stories that can come out of the multiverse. Before I go into spoilers I would highly recommend this animated anthology series as the animation largely works, the writing is usually works and the characters and stories are compelling. Seriously, if you are an MCU fan you should check this series out.

Below I’ll be giving summaries of the individual episodes from worst to best.with a link to the full review and score and at the end my final score.

This fantastic series was created by A.C. Bradley.

“What If…?” explores the different realities of the multiverse through the eyes of The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright).

SPOILERS and episode reviews ahead:

9th) Episode 7 – “What if Thor Were an Only Child?”

“What if Thor Were an Only Child?” is the only bad episode of “What If…?” This is an attempt at comedy that largely fails. What keeps me from rating it lower is Ice Giant Loki as Thor’s best friend is a lot of fun and the animation is good. Still, this is the only episode in this anthology I’d recommend skipping. It is just Thor throwing a party and having to clean it up before his mom arrives on Earth. That is all you have to know.

Score: 5 / 10

8th) Episode 1 – “What if Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?”

I like Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter so I wish we could have got more than a retread of the same beats from “Captain America: The First Avenger.” The same story beats happen just with Captain Carter as the super soldier, even the jump to the present and being greeted by Nick Fury. What helps keep it afloat are the interactions between her, Steve and Howard as Red Skull is even more bland than he was in live-action. It needed to be more original to be more than enjoyable.

Score: 7 / 10

7th) Episode 4 – “What if Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”

“What if Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” has promise as a premise as we have evil Doctor Strange through him selfishly wanting to bring back his lover when her death is a fixed death in time in his universe. It is powerful seeing him destroy his own universe just to be rejected by her in the end and to regret his mistakes. Cumberbatch is once again owning this role and I wish they hadn’t had two different Stranges in the timeline face off against each other as other threats should have been going after Strange Supreme. Still, really enjoyable but not quite good. Needed a little more work to work.

Score: 7.8 / 10

6th) Episode 9 – “What if The Watcher Broke His Oath?”

“What if The Watcher Broke His Oath?” is the last episode this season and gets a lot of things like character interaction and action right. Party Thor works here given how serious most of the characters are so he plays off them well. The Guardians of the Multiverse are all great characters. The problem is the villain doesn’t get any wins against the heroes so it feels predictable and no loss in the end. I did appreciate how victory came about through trickery rather than brawn though, it was a nice touch and The Watcher choosing his Guardians of the Multiverse was fun.

Score: 8 / 10

5th) Episode 3 – “What if the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?”

“What if the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” is a good murder mystery and it works having Black Widow drive the investigation as we know she is a target of the killer too so she’s racing against the clock to find out the truth. We see the Avengers taken out and the reveal of Hank Pym’s Ant-Man as the villain worked too as well as Fury’s alliance with Loki that eventually leads to Loki’s takeover of Earth. This is a story with consequence and the mystery largely works, Hank’s daughter Hope being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent just needed a little more setup to make the episode great.

Score: 8.4 / 10

4th) Episode 5 – “What if Zombies?!”

“What if Zombies?!” is another story with consequence that plays to the strength of the zombie story tropes. This episode does have tonal whiplash sometimes but it makes it work because when loss happens you feel it. Peter Parker being the primary point of view was a good call here as was having Bruce Banner as the de-powered Hulk through most of the episode. We have our survivors picked off in heroic sacrifices over the course of the episode, the hope of a cure, a mad scientist in Vision and a foreboding ending with a zombie Thanos reveal. The Cliffhanger and Scott Lang’s jokes held it back from me rating it higher though.

Score: 9 / 10

3rd) Episode 8 – “What if Ultron Won?”

“What if Ultron Won?” finally gives us an Age of Ultron as the movie of that title gave us a weekend of Ultron at best. He has total victory in this and grows as a being after getting the Vision body as he had planned. This episode you see him destroy all the civilizations in his own universe with Hawkeye and Black Widow as the only survivors and to end it all he beats The Watcher forcing The Watcher to break his vow to defeat him before he conquers and destroys the multiverse. Reason I didn’t score it higher was he never grew beyond destruction, I wanted more complex thinking given he has the Infinity Stones and the Vision Body.

Score: 9 / 10

2nd) Episode 2 – “What if T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?”

“What if T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” is a great story and was made to honor Chadwick Boseman at the episode’s end. This episode shows so much hope as T’Challa leads the Ravagers who now include a non-genocidal Thanos and Nebula. The episode is a heist against the Collector too so is a lot of fun. Only reason it isn’t more highly rated is the Collector sucked as a villain in this.

R.I.P. Chadwick Boseman. You were an amazing human being.

Score: 9 / 10

1st) Episode 6 – “What if Killmonger Saved Tony Stark?”

“What if Killmonger Saved Tony Stark?” is the best episode in the series as we get a villain perspective and a more soft power approach to Killmonger as he manipulates everyone around him to bring about his goals for liberation. Michael B. Jordan once again carries every scene with this fantastic character and I liked seeing his plans unfold. This was a story that I wish we’d seen play out till the end as I’m curious how he would have faced his manipulations being revealed by Pepper and Shuri.

Score: 9.4 / 10

“What If…?” is a fantastic series that truly shows the promise in the Marvel Multiverse. I hope we see the MCU take more risks like this. The majority of these stories worked and I hope we get a season 2 as I want to see some of these stories continued as well as new stories in the infinite possibilities that exist in the multiverse. This show showed us some of those amazing possibilities and I can’t wait to see how stories are continued and what new stories are told.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

What If…? – Season 1, Episode 9 – “What if The Watcher Broke His Oath?” – The Guardians of the Multiverse

“What if The Watcher Broke His Oath?” Is a fun finale for the “What If…?” series that pulls off being solidly good. It really should have been an hour given one of the main characters never gets her story told or shown but the relationship between the members pulled from throughout the Multiverse to be it’s Guardians are fantastic. Without saying more I do recommend it. The core relationships, animation and action create a good finale to the season.

The episode was directed by Bryan Andrew and written by A.C. Bradley.

What if The Watcher broke his oath?

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action is great as we get Captain Carter doing the opening of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” with Black Widow until she’s pulled into the Multiverse Oasis space. The action is also great against Ultron Vision as we see Strange Supreme protecting the team as each of them use their abilities to help in the fight as the plan to neutralize him unfolds. The action needed to be good in this and it is.

The Guardians of the Multiverse – The Guardians of the Multiverse are a great team with Strange Supreme, Captain Carter, T’Challa Starlord, Black Panther Killmonger, Gamora Victorious (who killed Thanos and destroyed the Infinity Stones) and Party Thor. Thor is the joker and it works here as everyone is serious so he creates levity. Ultron Vision’s Black Widow later joins them too as the Zola Virus is what finally defeats Ultron Vision. They are a great team and it was cool to see them work together to win.

The Watcher’s Plan – Work together to win is only part of the story though as Killmonger hacks the Ultron technology to get the Infinity Stone and continue his mission but Zola stops him as he now possess Ultron’s body. Thery are in a standoff as Strange Supreme puts them in a pocket dimension and is the one to watch over them in case they break out, which was The Watcher’s plan all along. It was clever and punching wasn’t how Ultron Vision was stopped in the end.

The Cons:

Lack of Villain Victories – None of the Guardians die. This is a similar issue I had to “Endgame” as Black Widow and Iron Man chose their deaths but new Thanos didn’t have any way to show how he was stronger than the one who had snapped half the universe away. Ultron Vision should have got a kill against at least one of them to better show why they were all needed to fight him.

The Missing Gamora Story – Gamora is one of the Guardians of the Multiverse but we are only told and never see her story. Everyone else got an episode so she should have too. She is a core member of the team and the other tech. specialist besides Killmonger. If her story had been weaved in the story would have been great.

The Open Plot Threads – We see at the end that Steve might be alive in the HYDRA Buster armor on the ship that Captain Carter is on in the opening, Ultron Vision Black Widow joins Fury in the world Loki is trying to conquer, Thor goes on his date, etc. A lot of these stories still feel open so I hope this show continues and that we see more of the multiverse and where the stories end. The Marvel Zombies story is still very open too as The Watcher didn’t take any of the survivors to be Defenders of the Multiverse.

This wasn’t my favorite but it is a good episode and finale to “What If…?” It only had 30 minutes to stop Ultron Vision and it did that. I do wish we’d gotten Gamora’s story though and that we’d seen more of the stories wrapped up. Also I was surprised The Watcher didn’t pull any of the survivors from Marvel Zombies. I hope we get more stories as this was a wonderful show that showed just how many compelling stories Marvel can tell with the Multiverse.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solid ending to the season.

What If…? – Season 1, Episode 8 – “What if Ultron Won?” – The Highest of Stakes and Still Hope

“What if Ultron Won?” is a great episode that mostly works. Pretty much the only thing holding it back is we don’t see much of Ultron’s evolution as a character, besides this though he works great as an antagonist and this episode is one I highly recommend.

The episode was directed by Bryan Andrews and written by Matthew Chauncey.

What if Ultron won?

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Ultron’s Ascension – Ultron ascends when he gets the organic/machine body and keeps it from becoming Vision. After this he kills most of the Avengers and kills Thanos getting all Infinity Stones leading to his annihilation of all civilizations around the galaxy including Asgard and Ego. You feel his threat and he hears the Watcher leading to his next move and powerplay.

Hawkeye and Black Widow – Hawkeye and Black Widow are the last survivors we see after Ultron kills Captain Marvel. They are the ones who discover the Zola program as a way to fight Ultron and infect and kill it but when they do Hawkeye dies so the Zola infected Ultron Drone and Black Widow can escape as we learn that Ultron is out of our universe.

The Zola Plan – The Zola Plan is for Zola’s program and mind to get uploaded into the Ultron Hivemind and kill it. It is a neat plan given how ancient the Zola Cold War tech is compared to Ultron and I liked his banter with Natasha and Clint. In the end he is just surviving but the plan is still active.

The Watcher Asks for Help – In the end we get an awesome fight between Ultron and the Watcher with their fight breaking through universes. In the end The Watcher is beaten though and retreats to Strange Supreme, finally asking him for help after he was so thoroughly beat by Ultron.

The Cons:

Who is Ultron Beyond the Program? – Ultron believes himself to be the pinnacle of evolution but we don’t get anything beyond that. He makes drones but no other versions of him that are similar in type so he is alone. I wish we’d see evolution of thought beyond destruction, hell if he were seeking out other Ultrons I’d love that. Right now he is a good threat but could be more.

This is a great but flawed episode that is the highest stakes out of any “What If…?” so far. I can’t wait to see the heroes from the other universes team up against him and how the first season ends. There are a lot of good team-ups that could happen of both the hero and villain variety so I hope the finale makes the most of the premise.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“Star Wars: Visions” Season 1 – Intriguing Stories With Beautiful Animation That Fit Right Into the Star Wars Universe

“Star Wars: Visions” is a great anime anthology show that I hope gets more seasons. This series gives stories that fit so well into the Star Wars Universe. I’ll be grading each episode individually in this review and listing them from the episode I liked least and ending with the one I liked most and give a final score for the season at the end. So this is a SPOILER review of season 1 of the show. Before I get into SPOILERS this is a show I highly recommend though. The stories are compelling and the animation is beautiful. They really chose great collaborators for this series.

So without further ado, here are the reviews.:

9) “The Twins”

Ep. 3, Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, Written by Hiromi Wakabayashi and animated by Studio Trigger.

The premise to this episode is promising with two twins born from the dark side of the force and used to create a superweapon. Sadly that is where it ends as the brother is randomly good and any logic is thrown out the door with them fighting in the vacuum of space and the brother surviving being on top of a ship and jumping to hyperspace. Leaps of logic can be explained but not without setup. The writing sucks and nothing is explored. The animation and voice acting are good at least.

Score: 5 / 10

8) “T0-B1”

Ep. 6, Directed by Abel Góngora, Written by Yuichiro Kido and animated by Science SARU.

This episode is harmless and takes no chances. Really my biggest issue is how a robot can use the force is never explained. This is a fun adventure though and the Jedi professor is killed so there are stakes.

Score: 7 / 10

7) “The Elder”

Ep. 7, Directed and written by Masahiko Otsuka and animated by Studio Trigger.

“The Elder” is beautifully animated and poses some cool ideas in the ex-Sith Elder. Sadly it fails in stakes as the apprentice survives when he should have died so the Jedi Master is back to status quo by the end.

Score: 7.2 / 10

6) “The Duel”

Ep. 1, Directed by Takanobu Mizuno, written by Takashi Okazaki and animated by Kamikaze Douga.

Stylistically this is the most unique of the episodes. The reason I don’t rate it higher is how much was planned. Our not-Jedi fights a Sith Bandit Leader and seems to be collecting Kyber Crystals. The mercs were defending the village from the bandits but the not-Jedi doesn’t interact until it looks like they are losing. I wanted more clarity whether it was all chance or the not-Jedi’s plan all along. Still the duel is great and the aesthetics of the episode rock.

Score: 7.8 / 10

5) “Tatooine Rhapsody”

Ep. 2, Directed by Taku Kimura, Written by Yasumi Atarashi and animated by Studio Colorido.

This episode is fun as a Padawan escapes from Order 66 and is taken in by a rebellious Hutt who’s forming a rock band. In the end Boba Fett takes in the Hutt but the band rescues him with their first finished concert and Jabba becomes their sponsor. This episode is so good and wholesome. Only reason it isn’t higher is the music from the band doesn’t always work. They are good but not great.

Score: 8 / 10

4) “Akakiri”

Ep. 9, Directed by Eunyoung Choi, Written by Yuichiro Kido and animated by Science SARU.

“Akakiri” is a great story with not great execution. It has a Jedi return to a planet to help his former lover and he saves her and the planet but joins the dark side. The problem is pacing and execution as it largely depends on flashbacks and the Sith is one-dimensional.

Score: 8.2 / 10

3) “Lop and Ochō”

Ep. 8, Directed by Yuki Igarashi, written by Sayawaka and animated by Geno Studio.

This is an episode with consequences that I wish had gone deeper as Lop was an Imperial slave given freedom by Ochō and her father yet they work with the Empire until the father rebels but Ochō goes full collaborator. The characters and action are all good though and it sets up future drama between the adopted siblings as they are the ones in full control of the family legacy as Lop is now a Jedi standing against the Empire.

Score: 9 / 10

2) “The Village Bride”

Ep. 4, Directed by Hitoshi Haga who co-wrote the episode with Takahito Oonishi and animated by Kinema Citrus.

This episode is an explorations of Jedi philosophy as a Jedi and her partner return to her former Master’s homeworld and face a bandit threat as the local village is trading the princess for peace and we see her marriage to her love beforehand and her drive from duty. In the end the Jedi saves her and we see how the people are connected to the force. The princess and her husband and the Jedi and her friend are the compelling relationships explored. It is a great episode.

Score: 9.4 / 10

1)”The Ninth Jedi”

Ep. 5, Directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama and animated by Production I.G.

“The Ninth Jedi” is a great episode with so much misdirection. It starts with a mysterious man who looks like a Sith calling all Jedi to a Jedi Temple where lightsabers are being constructed again after the form was lost. It is later revealed most of the Jedi are Sith and the one who called them is a Jedi. It is a great episode that sees 2 young characters learn what it means to be a Jedi. I loved this episode and the misdirection only makes the story stronger.

Score: 10 / 10

This is a series I highly recommend I can’t wait to see what future seasons brings.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

What If…? – Season 1, Episode 7 – “What if Thor Were an Only Child?” – Irresponsible Thor Mostly Happy Universe

“What if Thor were an Only Child?” is the weakest of the “What If…?” episodes so far. Comedy is hard to pull off and this episode is almost entirely comedy with drama coming in at the end. For this reason I’d say unless you are a huge fan this episode probably isn’t worth your time. The episode is okay but is never entirely fun.

The episode was directed by Bryan Andrews and written by A.C. Bradley.

What if Thor were an only child?

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Frost Giant Loki – Loki and the Frost Giants show up to Thor’s party and I like his friendship with Thor as they see each other as friend brothers. Loki also feeds on Thor’s recklessness too and ends up causing conflict when he accidently breaks Thor’s phone. He was one of the few characters who worked.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – S.H.I.E.L.D. is dealing with the threat of Thor’s planet wide party as his last party destroyed a planet. This adds a fun element and stakes and I wish the story had been entirely from their perspective given how many different alien groups come to Thor’s party on Earth. There is the potential for so much drama there that is never explored though. The focus is entirely on the party maybe being dangerous.

Okay:

Thor – Thor is just a dumb partier who falls in love with Jane. In that way he is a lot like how he was in the original “Thor” film but he has less going on since he isn’t clashing with Odin or Loki. This ends up being the blandest version of the character as even his recklessness is played safe and reset in the end.

The Cons:

The Comedy – The comedy is largely references to MCU films so isn’t funny. Howard the Duck marries Darcy and that goes nowhere and we get awkward flirting with Jane and Thor and in the end Thor has to use his godlike powers to compel all the people he invited to clean up the mess of the party on Earth. No risks are taken and it all felt bland and safe. So many characters show up like the Grandmaster, Nebula, Drax, etc. but it doesn’t mean anything. It exists to be a reference not to tell a story.

The episode ends with Ultron melded with Vision with an army of Ultrons invading this Thor’s universe showing potential for greater conflict and melding of the different universes so the end is at least promising. It needed it after this episode which is the first episode in this series I’ve disliked. Seriously, unless you are a super Thor fan or this comedy sounds appealing it isn’t worth your time.

Final Score: 5 / 10

What If…? – Season 1, Episode 6 – “What if Killmonger Saved Tony Stark?” – The Machinations for His Revolution

“What if Killmonger saved Tony Stark?” is an interesting premise that I wish we’d seen more of the global scale of the fallout of what happens. The core story and driver of Killmonger (One of the MCU’s best villains) voiced by Michael B. Jordan is great but the episode size keeps it from being greater as it could have developed more of the plot. Still, this is another strong entry in the “What If…” series and is worth checking out.

The episode was directed by Bryan Andrews and written by Bryan Chauncey.

What if Killmonger saved Tony Stark?

SPOILERS ahead

Obadiah Stane Revealed – One of the early reveals is that Stane is an agent of the Ten Rings, which Killmonger reveals after he saves Tony in Afghanistan. This in turn leads to him becoming Tony’s number 1 and co-owner of Stark Industries.

The Death of T’Challa and Rhodey – The next major reveal is Killmonger is following his plan of liberation and revenge from “Black Panther” as he kills T’Challa and Rhodey and frames Wakanda for Rhodey’s death. He calls out Rhodey for being in the U.S. military too as he sees him as tool of the system. T’Challa’s spirit later confronts Killmonger, once again voiced by the amazing Chadwick Boseman. R.I.P.

Tony Stark vs. Killmonger – Tony figures out the betrayal and sets of the one the drones Killmonger was building with Tony on him. Killmonger wins and kills Tony. It is a great fight and you see how different their perspectives were. Tony saw orphans in the two of them while Killmonger saw the oppressive system Tony held up and supported.

Leading Wakanda to War – The final manipulation is him becoming Black Panther as Thunderbolt Ross puts Killmonger in charge of invading Wakanda with the drones which leads to Killmonger killing Klaue getting in good with the Wakandan royal family and leading them to war. It is a great arc of Killmonger’s rise to power.

Pepper Pots and Shuri Team-up – Pepper Pots always doubted Killmonger and Shuri figures out Tony and T’Challa were killed by Killmonger leading to them teaming up as Wakanda and the United States go to war.

The Cons:

Echoes of Similarity to the Film – Death of Klaeu, defeat of T’Challa and manipulating the Wakandan royal family were just like in the film so thatis the one thing bringing it down. I’d hope we would at least see more differences in the plan of Killmonger, his rise in both “Black Panther” and this “What If…?” are still both great though. The similarities wre still a little annoying.

Cliffhanger Ending – We have a war about to start and Killmonger known by Pots and T’Challa. The fading away left the story feeling unfinished which keeps me from rating it higher.

Killmonger is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best villains and seeing his rise to power along a different path was compelling, even with the similarities to the film. I also wanted to see what the end game was. Killmonger believes in liberation so are he and Wakanda fighting the war alone? Still an amazing episode and a favorite.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 A favorite “What If…?” episode.

What If…? – Season 1, Episode 5 – “What if Zombies?!” – Survival and Hope

“What if Zombies?!” is one of my favorite episodes of the “What If…?” series so far. This episode has a great threat in infected heroes and villains and a compelling narrative in what drives our survivors forward. This is a good example of how to do the zombie cliches right and I want to read the comic this is based on now. I highly recommend this episode.

The episode was directed by Bryan Andrews and written by Matthew Chauncey.

What if the Marvel Cinematic Universe was infected with a zombie outbreak?

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action is great as you get slowed down infected Avengers as well as zombie hordes. The undead heroes can remember their abilities so t makes the action high at all times and leaves our survivors racing against time.

The Beginning – Hope wanted to find her mom and Hank wanted to find his wife but she was infected. We get this story laid out to us when Banner returns as this is the beginning of “Infinity War.” The Obsidian Order folks quickly fall to the infected avengers who Hope (Wasp) saves Banner. Hulk is still refusing to come out too.

The Survivors – We have Hope, Kurt, Happy, Spiderman, Okoye, Cloke, Bucky, Sharon Carter and Banner and after Spiderman gives them fun intros on their zombie apocalypse specialties we have them traveling to a Secret Lab where there might be a cure. On the way there we lose Sharon to Zombie Cap, Happy to Zombie Hawkeye Hope who carries the remaining survivors to the base after she’s infected by Sharon. Every action scene has loss and the heroes have great chemistry with each other and once we reach the base we lose more while gaining new survivors in Scott Lang and T’Challa.

Wanda and Vision – Wanda is infected and Vision is feeding her survivors as he wasn’t able to cure her with the mindstone as he could Scott. When the survivors figure it out they are able to convince him to help though and he sacrifices himself, giving them the mindstone to find a cure. Wanda is easily the most deadly of all the infected and even Banner going Hulk is fighting an uphill battle in his sacrifice.

The Sacrifices – All but T’Challa, Spiderman and Scott are dead or implied to be dead but it is from those who protected them. It is powerful and each survivor has a moment to shine before facing the horde or dying. They are powerfully done.

The Haunting End – We got infected Thanos outside Wakanda (where the cure is to be made) and he has 4 stones. There is hope but Thanos and his army being cured with most Avengers dead is an out of the frying pan into the fire situation.

The Cons:

Scott Lang – He makes nothing but quips and bad jokes about being a head. I wish another character had been saved. He’s really annoying.

Cliffhanger Ending – Thanos waiting in the wings and the 3 survivors with Cloak arrive in Wakanda. The story feels incomplete with that level of a clifffhanger so I hope we get follow-up.

If you like zombie films and shows and the MCU films you will probably enjoy this episode as much as I did. It is well worth checking out and is one of the best of the “What If…?” episodes so far. This was a favorite for me and I’m curious if the story will be completed in the show. I can’t wait to read Marvel Zombies as this episode sold me on the concept.

Final Score: 9 / 10

What If…? – Season 1, Episode 4 – “What if Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” – Doctor Strange Alone

This episode of “What If…?” is really enjoyable but not as good as episode 3. There are a lot of concepts at play here but the base isn’t strong enough to make it great. This is a story that is strongest when we are with the magic folks and I wish we had gotten more of that. Still, this is one I recommend. Also it was cool that Cumberbatch, Swinton, McAdams and Wong all returned to voice their characters.

The episode was directed by Bryan Andrews and written by A.C. Bradley.

What if Doctor Strange had lost his heart instead of his hands?

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The Ancient One against Doctor Strange and the two Doctor Stranges fighting lead to some great fight sequences. We even get a fight between the two Stranges’ capes. The action in this episode is fantastic.

The Time Loop – The major turning part in the story is Doctor Strange using the Eye of Agamotto to try and change the moment Christine dies but finds he can’t. Each time he changes the day she dies in a different way. This eventually leads to the Ancient One confronting him and him killing her. It is a powerful sequence and shows what motivates Strange’s desire for power, to save Christine.

Dr. Strange and Wong – Dr. Strange and Wong have a great dynamic and I loved good Strange talking to him before his battle against Strange Supreme. There is seriousness, humor and charm and Wong is clearly much wiser than Strange will probably ever be.

Strange Supreme – Strange consumes magical beings which transforms him into a literal monster. We see how trapped he is too as the universe dies around him he can’t even see it and he denies the reality of his mentor’s O’Bengh dying. Strange Supreme rejects the reality of death until he loses it all as even when he brings back Christine she still dies as his universe is destroyed in the paradox he created. We are left with his sorrow in the last scene.

The Watcher – The Watcher thinks about getting involved but decides against it and leaves Strange Supreme alone in his destroyed Universe. It captures just how much the Watcher has seen and that he isn’t an ally.

Okay:

Christine – Like in the film we don’t get to know her that well but McAdams does a good job with what she is given. Her empathy clearly rubbed off on the good Strange and this one fell in love for a reason. I wish she’d been explored more as a person but she did a good job and was essential to this story.

The Cons:

The Love Story – We see Strange and Christine in love and like the film it doesn’t work. I wanted more than a day and to see more of the why and how they connected and fell in love in the first place. It is the weakest element of the story.

Lack of Action Against Strange Supreme – Strange is destroying this Universe and after the Ancient One’s initial attack no one else tries? This felt unbelievable and there should have been another fight before the final confrontation between the two Stranges.

I’m curious if we’ll see Strange Supreme again as I think more can be done with the character, even if he is just a mad villain. The Watcher has yet to intervene as well so I’m curious what will be the final story in the multiverse he chooses to change. This story had to accomplish a lot (love story, end of the universe, two different Stranges, etc.) and it succeeds in a lot of it. So I do recommend checking it out.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10