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.

The 4th Doctor – Season 18, Serial 4 – “State of Decay” – The Doctor and Romana Against Ancient and New Vampires

For the first review for Vampire Weekends (Some reviews will be posted before the weekend initially since started event later into October then I wanted) I was curious to see what other ways “Doctor Who” had done vampires as there is always the sci. fi. twist in the supernatural in the show. I had already reviewed “The Vampires of Venice” during the 11th Doctor’s run so it was fun to go to Classic Who and find “State of Decay.” This is a more classic vampire tale in some ways but also stays true to the sci. fi. nature of “Doctor Who” and is part of what makes the show so fun. Without getting into spoilers I do recommend this serial as it is a good story even if I wish it didn’t have Adric and that they’d expanded on some story elements further.

The serial was directed by Peter Moffat and written by Terrance Dicks.

Trapped in E-Space the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) investigate a mysterious medieval planet ruled by three ancient mysterious beings who have repressed all knowledge on the planet as they discover their origins and who they serve.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Vampire Planet and the Mysteries of E-Space – The TARDIS is trapped in E-Space and the Doctor and Romana having to find a way out back to their universe is a good base challenge. Add onto that a mysterious medieval planet run by vampires that has advanced but old technology as a part of it and you have a compelling premise.

The Rebels – Among the rebels you have Tarak who drives the fight and helps the Doctor and Romana and is killed for it, the old leader Kalmar who is convinced by seeing the King Vampire in the technology the Doctor helped fix and Ivo the village leader who joins the rebels after his son is eaten by the Three Who Rule. These are the most compelling of the rebels and work as support characters.

The Three Who Rule – The Three Who Rule were originally human astronauts called into E-Space by the King Vampire so they could help him return and conquer the galaxy. They are fascinating though we never see their path to corruption only them as having ruled for 1000 years over the humans already on the Vampire Planet. Camilla and Zargo were the face of the rulers as King and Queen but Aukon was the true ruler as he was in contact with the Ancient King Vampire who had given them their psychic powers, super strength and had mutated them. He was able to shut them both down even when they were in a bloodlust and ready to kill Romana and Adric. They are all such fun villains and I wish we could have learned more about who they were before before they were mutated as Zargo and Camilla love one another so I was curious if it predated their mutation and if it existed when they were still humans.

The Idea of the Ancient Vampires – The idea of ancient alien vampires who ruled the universe is cool the Time Lords being the ones to stop them works too as well as their reach being so vast all alien cultures had vampire myths. It is a shame the vampire leader’s portrayal wasn’t better.

K-9 – K-9 is funny and great as leads the storming of the castle and we get emotion from him too as he hates failing the Doctor. Easily the most underrated hero of the episode and even saves the rebels in the end.

Romana – Lalla Ward is wonderful as the Romana. She has just as much sass as the Doctor and only got captured because Adric was hypnotized. She also is on par with problem solving as the Doctor. I can’t wait to see more stories with her. She’s one of the best companions.

The Doctor – Tom Baker is amazing as the Doctor. He is funny and had some great sarcastic jokes to the Vampire Lords and also has moments of empathy too as we see him compliment Romana for helping him find the answer to stop the King Vampire and we see his leadership when he rouses the rebels to fight and attack the tower. This story really showed why he is one of my favorite Doctors.

The Cons:

Adric – Adric is a stowaway on the TARDIS and his doing so just causes problems. Romana only got captured because Adric was captured and she was trying to save him and he is just arrogant and mean in every interaction with her and the Doctor. What an awful companion.

The Missing Corruption Story Behind the Three Who Rule – Why did the Three Who Rule give into the power offer of the King Vampire? I get the immortality draw but beyond that why did they give up their humanity to enslave their fellow human beings? There was a missing step that we never see and was never explained in their path to corruption from scientists and explorers to monsters.

The King Vampire Presentation – We get what looks like a giant bat on the scanner in the rebel camp and giant hand in the summoning area of the planet. There isn’t any scare factor and the prop for the King Vampire looked like a toy. It was a shame as I could see they wanted to go for a monster that Time Lords feared the execution was just awful though.

If we had learned more about the corruption of the astronauts and seen how they lost their humanity the story would have been stronger. They were once scientists so why did they give that up for power? If that had been answered the serial would have been great, even with how annoying and unnecessary Adric is to the story. The serial is still good though and the 4th Doctor and Romana are fantastic together.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solidly good Classic Doctor Who story.

“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.

“Agent Carter” Season 1 – A Solid Espionage Thriller That Just Needed to Flesh out the Ideology of the Villains

“Agent Carter” season 1 is a solid espionage show with the potential to be great. This MCU has some standout performances with Haley Atwell’s continuing to be memorable as Agent Carter, D’Arcy as Edwin Jarvis and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark. They carry the show when the action isn’t and I do recommend this show to any MCU fan.

The series was created by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

The story follows Agent Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) as she must face the sexism in the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) and dealing with the actions of the mysterious Leviathan when Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) inventions are stolen, leaving him a fugitive seeking Agent Carter’s aid.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The espionage thriller is great and Agent Carter having to face Leviathan and her co-workers gives high stakes and an arc for the show as she proves herself to those around her. It works.

Action with Consequences – This show kills a lot of SSR agents and civilians. You feel the threat of Leviathan from the get-go and most characters you meet are dead b the end of the season. I did not expect this much murder in an abc show.

The SSR Agents – The SSR agents are given depth over time but most start out as pretty bland and annoying. Jack and Daniel get the most development and survive the season. Their boss and quite a few co-workers don’t. They aren’t incompetent though, so that helps.

Howard Stark – Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark is super memorable and fun. He’s a playboy inventor who like his future son Tony creates most of the problems by his recklessness. We also see he blames himself for Steve’s disappearance and it takes Peggy helping him through that guilt to find himself again and for good reason as he has Steve Roger’s blood which he gives to Peggy at the end of the episode.

Edwin Jarvis – James D’Arcy’s Edwin Jarvis was my favorite character on the show. He is the reluctant partner in adventure but is risking it all for Peggy by the end. He is a good friend to both Peggy and Howard and I loved seeing how the show developed that friendship. His dry humor is also a joy and the chemistry he has with Peggy Carter.

Agent Peggy Carter – Haley Atwell is amazing once against as Agent Peggy Carter. Her arc is facing her grief over the loss of Steve Rogers and learning to trust and make friends again outside of showing the SSR how much they need her and facing their awful sexism. We get to see her meet up with the Howling Commandos in Europe as well as we learn more about Leviathan and see the proto-Black Widows.

The Zola Reveal – Zola is in the same prison with the Leviathan Doctor and we see how comfortable he is, most likely having already put forward his plan to infiltrate the SSR and later SHIELD. Toby Jones is simply fantastic as this mad scientist.

The Cons:

Forgettable Supporting Cast – Most of the SSR agents have memorable moments but are forgettable. It is sad given how often they die. There was just something missing beyond the text of the episodes. They needed more dimension.

Leviathan’s Lack of Philosophy and Ideology – Leviathan wants to destroy the United States and that is all we know. Is that really all their ideology is? Right now they are a far less interesting HYDRA.

Leviathan’s Agents – Like Leviathan the agents are surface. We have a Doctor who hypnotizes people and lost people from Stark Tech and Dottie, a proto-Black Widow abused to become a weapon. Both have interesting backstories but are only one-dimension presentationwise. It is a shame as these are the villains of the season.

If Leviathan’s ideology had been better explored and Dottie and the Doctor feel like more than a one-dimensional threat the show could have been great. Even the more forgettable SSR agents got explored and the leads are all fantastic. I’m excited to watch season 2 and this is a good first season worth checking out for any MCU fan.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

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

Top 5 Ways I’d Fix “Game of Thrones”

“Game of Thrones” did not end well. It wasn’t something that I hated but it was a show that had good to great writing and action for the first 6 seasons and in the last 2 completely forgot about consequences and any sort of logic, character development or scale. So going into that I got thinking about what I’d fix and how it could be applied to upcoming epic fantasy shows like “The Wheel of Time” or Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” show and even “The Witcher.” These 5 fixes will have the general idea behind them to apply on a broad scale and other shows as I hope those shows don’t make the same mistakes “Game of Thrones” made. There will be SPOILERS as this does cover the last 2 seasons primarily of “Game of Thrones” and major plot points.

1)  Take the Two More Seasons That Were Offered

The biggest issue that can be said in how the storylines were handled was in how the story was rushed. Benioff and Weiss had been offered two additional seasons and if they’d taken it I think a lot of the problems that the story ran into with rushed plots and action would have been minimized or prevented completely. This is the first fix and it is super easy. The show was already getting away from the books so more time will show us the consequences of what characters have done such as the Burning of Sept or the Night’s King crossing the Wall. These are huge events that needed more development rather than the rush to action or status quo that we got. What comes next? What do other Houses think? These are all things that more seasons could explore which in turn can tie into the overarching narrative being told. Other shows should take the chance to explore their story unless they already know what they are doing. Benioff and Weiss were working from an outline in the end so flesh out that outline and make it real. That is what more seasons will let you do.

2)  Winterfell Must Fall

      We need to have the White Walkers have a win to establish their threat and Winterfell falling fits this perfectly. It also gives us a reason to return to the Vale and make use of the Alliances that the surviving Starks have made. There is no reason for Winterfell not to fall. This firmly establishes the apocalyptic threat and end of the world of the White Walkers and the need for Azor Ahai which can still remain ambiguous at this point and bring more characters from around the map into the picture and would involve the other Houses. The Fall of Winterfell returns us to the scale of the conflict which the writers seemed focused on shrinking during the last 2 seasons. This for other shows means tell a story with consequence. If you set up a Chekov’s gun like the threat of the White Walkers, pull that trigger and make their existence count and matter. This is a global conflict which ties into my next feedback, never forget the scale of the story being told and all the parties involved. The fight against the White Walkers and the Night’s King should be bigger and more than a single standoff. A threat that great needs to be paid off in scale and in Houses involved in the fight against it.

3)  Involve the Other Houses

     Part of what is missing from the show in the final seasons are allies and scale. We never get House Reed, we never get the politics of more of the North against the Boltons and the Northern Conspiracy and we never see how Cersei is holding all the powers together or the fallout of the Burning of the Sept. Wouldn’t some Houses be religious and end up joining Daenerys or Jon in protest? What is the state of Dorne and their houses? What of the other bannermen of Highgarden? Bringing more of these Houses and characters in shows us the politics of how to keep and negotiate power which was always one of the strongest parts of the show but was removed in the final 2 seasons of the show. “The Game” in “Game of Thrones” was forgotten for easy victories to drive the plot.  Scale is important and the showrunners forgot it as we only had the Wall, Winterfell and King’s Landing in the end. Westeros is full of so many houses each playing the game of thrones. The early seasons remembered this and I hope the other shows do too. Make the world lived in and matter and never forget the scale of the conflict and all the parties involved.

4)  Use Bran’s Powers and Define What He Is

    Bran and what he became as the Three-Eyed Raven is never defined. He is a being that is made of the the minds of the Children of the Forest and Bloodraven. He even says he is no longer human and has warging powers. Not much needs to be done to show he’s manipulating but make it a reveal. He doesn’t have human desires or wants anymore so what is his endgame? If it is to become King and sit on the Iron Throne show that and explain the why, either in dream sequences or dialogue. This isn’t difficult. Show and tell would have easily solved the major Bran issue the show created by just having him sit around and become King at the end. He should be the one who is key to defeating the Night’s King but also the one who starts the war between Daenerys and Jon so that he can rise to power at the end of it all. Again, that plot point can still work but it needs more setup and if you introduce a character who has magic and other minds within them, do something within that. What does Bran want and what does it mean to be the Three-Eyed Raven where your desires are no longer linear and you aren’t even entirely human? Other shows with magical characters, please don’t waste them. Bran was one of the weakest parts of the show and the potential was there for so much more.

5)  Give us a “Dance of the Dragons”

We could have got a final season of Jon and Daenerys at war in a version of the Dance of the Dragons of old of Targaryen against Targaryen. Martin loves calling back to the past so this should have happened rather than Jon just being an assassin. This could have been the battle before the White Walkers or after and what leads to Bran’s rise to the throne. There was no reason not to do this, instead we just got “My Queen” and jealous Daenerys for 2 seasons straight as both characters got ruined in how they were written. This ties into consequences and conflict and one of the themes Martin loves in his stories is history repeating in different ways. Give us that conflict and make it believable as both Jon and Daenerys would have different desires on the Westeros they want to exist and that should be fleshed out well and informed by their pasts and histories. Don’t forget who the characters are or forget what the world you’ve made is built upon.

These are the five ways I’d fix “Game of Thrones.” It has been a long time since the show ended and it was fun exploring the missed potential as all the threads were there to create a complete and at the very least good ending that fit the tone of the shows and books. I wish the best for other ongoing and upcoming fantasy shows and hope they can accomplish what “Game of Thrones” could not in the end.

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.