Samurai Jack: Cultural Collage At Its Finest

This article contains spoilers for the entire series of Samurai Jack.

Samurai Jack is a true melting pot of a show. Created by Genndy Tartakovsky, an animator/immigrant born from the Soviet Union, was clearly inspired by a multitude of influences. The world that Jack – our titular samurai warrior flung out of his  time into a future ruled by the evil Aku – inhabits is a mishmash of many cultural touchstones. This premise was born from limitations. Building a show around a sword wielding samurai had the obvious trouble of getting past killing humans on a program aimed at children. So, Tartakovsky decided upon the conceit of killing robots instead, eventually leading to the premise that sparked Samurai Jack into the show it is. This conceit not only got this concept past the Cartoon Network board of directors, but also allowed for the cultural mesh that enabled so much creativity to spring forth for the production staff behind Samurai Jack.


Right from the first episode “The Beginning,” Jack is seen training under the guidance of an African tribe, Chinese Monks and even Robin Hood himself. This elaborate montage showing Jack crafting his fighting skills is not only meant to showcase the massive amount of skill Jack has obtained in order to vanquish his foe Aku. It also shows the major theme of the knowledge Jack learns across his travels. Presenting Jack as a man willing to learn and take the guidance of those around him manages to give him an endearing desire to learn, but also a varied set of skills to boost the legitimacy of his prowess as a fighter able to nearly defeat a demonic entity like Aku. The variety of influences that give a balance of the tone and much in this same way, Tartakovsky took a variety of influences from his youth through his career in animation up to that point.


The easiest influences to spot are Japanese, given the titular character. Moments of quiet contemplation followed by extreme action having the pacing akin to the works of Akira Kurosawa. Indeed, Jack has the typical weakness of the more authentic heroes of those stories, in that he has a soft spot to help those in need. After all, his entire quest in spearheaded by a desire to help his father after he’s been captured by Aku in the opening moments of the show. The father who had a fight sequence that visually mirrors the iconic arrow death scene from Throne of Blood. There’s also some definite recall of grand scale anime like Akira, particularly during the future scenes of city leveling destruction. This type of influence helped Samurai Jack find a place on the Toonami block during its initial run. The subset of Cartoon Network known for playing anime programming like Dragonball Z or Big O. Yet, it also helped the show find an artistic identity with the use of red on black that mirrored Katushiro Otomo’s harsh dystopian layout. The combination of red, black and green serves as a motif for Aku’s presence, especially when considering episodes like Jack and the Warrior Woman where Aku’s manipulation haunts Jack into doubting many potential allies.


Yet, those would be too obvious a turn for cultural tributes for Samurai Jack. The genius of Samurai Jack‘s premise is that it allows for so many different styles to take place in a world as uncertain and maddening as one ruled by Aku. Thematically, this fits the perception of Jack within the culture of Aku. Adults like the western themed bounty hunters of the episode The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful know that Jack is a force of much curiosity for the formidable ruler of this land. In The Princess and the Bounty Hunters, a wide variety of bounty hunters from different backgrounds – from a Russian brute to a southern gentleman to an intergalactic warrior princess – detail their alternate ways to defeat Jack. All of them present their individual concepts of Jack, giving the character further mystique in universe that helps mirror another clear influence on Tartakovsky’s: Sergio Leone. The Italian filmmaker’s love of quiet staredowns before sudden action and Man With No Name-style protagonist is clearly reflected upon with Jack’s various violent encounters. One can even hear a remix of the famous Ennio Morricone score track “Ecstasy of Gold” from The Good The Bad and the Ugly during the big fight that takes up so much of season 5’s second episode.


There’s also a perception of doubt within this world, arousing the spirit of rebellion in those raised under Aku. The most notable example would probably John Dimaggio’s Scotsman character. A recurring tough brute who initially sees himself as the only great warrior of the land, his encounters with Samurai Jack transform from head butting confrontation into a mutual respect. This continues the trend of seemingly clashing cultures can come to a consideration of each other’s strengths. This continues into episodes where Jack helps to bring back the cultural reigns of a cursed people. Like saving a group of Frank Miller’s 300 type Spartans from an unending war against machines or rescuing a Bavarian, Germany-esque town’s children from the hypnotic influence of rave music. All these conflicts involve a conflict between older and newer styles of cultural influence, the latter usually the more sinister object based ideas of technology. They conflict with Jack’s anti-materialism stance in a way that constantly builds upon Jack’s desire to destroy the material wrongs of Aku’s robotic minions.


Samurai Jack‘s consistent stance against these robots even seeps into the youths of this world. In the episode Aku’s Fairy Tales, Aku attempts to curry the favor of Jack-obsessed youths with stories based on the folk tales like Little Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Bears. Despite his rather phony and half hearted tales of propaganda against Jack, the children question his stories and Aku disappears in a puff of anger. This leaves the children to think up their own more grounded tale of the heroic Jack vanquishing Aku. This shows Jack’s multi-cultural influence spreading amongst children of all races and species in a beautifully mythological fashion, giving him even more importance than just a warrior. He’s a symbol of what could be beyond the world that has existed for hundreds of years. A foreign force for good against the evil establishment that rules over all. Jack even demonstrated this with the initial series finale Jack and the Baby as the samurai tends to an abandoned child while telling the tale of Momotarō, a boy born from a peach.


With the recent revival, Samurai Jack has continued to mix pop cultural ideas with relish. One of the more blatant examples is the robotic assassin Scaramouche the Merciless. His name comes from a stock commedia dell’arte, Tom Kenny’s speech patterns denote a Sammy Davis Jr. style speech pattern and his musical style of combat has shades of a Pied Piper style character. He even has a blade that has the properties of a tuning fork. The other fights Jack has – mainly with the daughters of Aku – have shades of the recent epic fights from wuxia films like Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers and Hero. There’s a ballet style precision to the choreography that gives every step that makes the animation still feel seamless.


Season 5 has some of Samurai Jack‘s best examples of cultural recontextualization. Jack and Ashi – the Aku daughter who survives and accompanies Jack – journey through the belly of a whale-like being, much in the vein of The Book of Jonah… with more monsters, obviously. Jack is haunted by a warrior on a horse, an illusion to the German spectre Nuckelavee and the Japanese God of Death Shinigami. We even see the return of Odin, Ra and Rama, the three gods who we saw forge the mythological sword from the earlier episode The Birth of Evil. All of the historical context of Jack in this world becomes abundant as we see all the various people he has touched since the start of the series. That Jack has helped to bind all these people in a world that Aku has manipulated to separate them. The fruits of those labors pay off in a big fashion during the series finale, where all these people unite to help Jack in his time of need.


Then again, Samurai Jack has occasionally had uses of cultural homage that feel cloying. The main example would actually be during this recent season. Jack and Ashi had an interesting relationship that built over the course of the initial seven episodes. One that went from adversarial to respectful. A chemistry built, but one that seemed more based on mutual admiration of skills and independent gumption. Which means a lot in a world ruled by Aku. Unfortunately, the eighth episode of the season turns this into a much more romantic connection. Which in a better built up scenario wouldn’t be much of a problem. However, the entire episode that leads to their romance suddenly blossoming feels so sudden and more for the sake of Tartakovsky making his own little action romantic comedy plot rather than paying off something he failed to build up properly. It’s not a deal breaker for an otherwise brilliant season, but it’s an instance of Tartakovsky’s desire to splice genres getting in the way of making his story seem more effective.


Since it’s return, Samurai Jack has been accused of cultural misappropriation. That is, the idea of taking from varying cultures in a way that can be seen as disrespectful. Given this is a show about a Japanese samurai created by a Russian man, one can see the initial hesitance. Yet, what makes Samurai Jack as engaging an artistic achievement as it is is a true respect for all the sources it homages. So many different cultures ingrained into its DNA that it stretches beyond what some may argue to be cultural misappropriation. Samurai Jack is an immigrant story from an immigrant’s perspective. A “stranger in a strange land” trying to find his place in the world. Jack as a character has such respect for the people who helped train him. He learns more from them than just how to fight. He learns how to respect others who are different and respect their traditions as much as his own. A concept he carries over into the future. As we all should.

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“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017): Emotional Stakes > Interplanetary Destruction

Guardians of the Galaxy was a definitive point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a film entity. After making bank with somewhat recognizable names like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, the studio took a big chance on a property few knew about. Yet, it resulted in the surprise hit of the year, making Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) household names. So… now what? How can Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 up the ante? When you have a film that odd and out of nowhere that truly surprise audiences like the first Guardians, it’s really tough to expand on that while also not repeating the same beats. There are points where Vol. 2 comes close to repeating beats, but never forgets to develop what matters; the characters.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a rare sequel that knows how to develop rather than repeat what worked the first time. Comedy sequels can be especially terrible at this practice. Yet, the jokes and the characters they come from clearly have progressed from where they initially were. Rocket is dealing with his tendency to push the few who care about him away. Groot is recuperating from his heroic sacrifice of last time to relearn life lessons while being an excited toddler again. Drax himself doesn’t have the hugest progression, but his chemistry with the anti-social Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is refreshing and consistently enjoyable as a running thread. Gamora and her adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) are dealing with the ripples of their mutual father Thanos concerning his treatment of them. Those last two in particular fight with splendidly scrappy choreography, but only because they were raised to do so. That motivation gives us the audience far more engrossing stakes to their brawling, while also setting another piece for the upcoming Avengers battle royale.


Yet, this isn’t a Marvel movie too obsessed with that element of universe building. Rather, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 builds upon the more intimate. Mainly, with Peter Quill a.k.a Star-Lord finding his father Ego (Kurt Russell), a being who created a planet around himself and can form anything out of pure energy, including a human being vessel. That sounds like an incredibly dense sci-fi concept, but writer/director James Gunn wisely chooses to keep the dynamic between Pratt and Russell down to the basics. Pratt is the son struggling to trust the father who suddenly came into his life and Russell is the cool dad trying to make up for lost time. It’s a chemistry the two actors relish, but avoid settling into the more potentially maudlin traps of. The type of dynamic that Russell can charm the pants off of people with in his sleep, yet not seem to phone it in for the sake of a Disney paycheck. That effortlessness is inviting, to make his luscious paradise of a planet seem more illustrious. There are bigger reasonings behind these two meeting, but that base develops the emotional tug-and-pull which gives this massive sci-fi idea a grounding anyone can attach to.


Even Yondu (Michael Rooker), the lead Ravager thief who abducted Star-Lord in the first place, becomes a more fully fleshed out character along the way. He and Rocket have some of the weirdest moments of comedy and genuine moments of heart throughout Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Both share a gruff exterior that guards a rather fragile broken person inside. Both have a past that leaves them abandoned and unique to the point of alienation. So, when they find some kind of kinship in the mutual form of Peter Quill – whether it be as an adopted son or a genuine friend – the two try to disguise it for the sake of fitting into the box made for them by the roles they’ve grown into. The entire Ravager subplot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a hilarious examination of the type of overbearing tough guy toxic masculinity that Yondu and Rocket have carved for themselves, giving the minor character Kraglin (James’ brother Sean Gunn) more definition as one Ravager questioning his loyalty. While the others bicker and argue to the point of chaos, our heroes try to escape through scrappy cunning and a true sense of trust. Even if that trust involves desperately trying to get Groot to perform a simple task.


James Gunn and his team really manage to step up their game in the visually arresting department. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 carries over the character fueled space opera vibes of Star Wars from the first film, it also mixes that in with the societal world building of a Star Trek. There’s the previously mentioned planet being, but there’s so much more. A society of gold people obsessed with maintaining royal dignity while bubbling under the surface. The larger expansions of The Ravagers and their codes, enforced by Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) who judges Yondu for his actions connected to Ego. There’s even a space port full of robot prostitutes that serve every nook and cranny. Each society revels in the varying shapes, sizes and colors of the inhabitants visually. Yet, we also get a sense of hierarchy and of culture. That this universe is even bigger than the one we got last time. And that the creatures our heroes fight are larger, yet will have the piss taken out of them just as much as the average joe in the Guardians ranks.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 truly does up the ante. Sometimes this can be a bit detrimental, mainly in trying to squeeze as much action into the climax to the point of confusing momentum in the middle of the set pieces or a few arc seem a bit haulted. Yet, while the initial surprise may be gone after the first film, the characters are never forgotten about. This is probably best displayed in the title sequence, where Groot dances to the dulcet tunes of Electric Light Orchestra while the other Guardians fight a massive monster in the background. It’s a wonderfully comic illustration of what James Gunn aims for with these characters. Where everyone is a “dancer” who carries to their own rhythms, yet still enjoy the company of a dance floor full of people they love. While world destroying stakes are involved like so many other MCU films, the main focus is an personal one. In every step, the small comic foibles bubble to the surface and reign supreme over the chaos… mostly. The emotional core of these people being a family runs deep. Even if that deepness means filleting a giant alien to get a dear friend out of its stomach. That’s what family really is all about.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Awesome Mix Tracks


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“Sleight” (2017): Impressive Shuffling of the Cards Dealt

Sleight is not a wholly original exercise. J.D. Dillard‘s sci-fi crime tale doesn’t really break much new ground in terms of the story its telling. The beats are often familiar, recalling superhero origin tales that have been rampant in the last few years. Of course, the major difference here is the scale involved. Given this is a Blumhouse production, Sleight doesn’t have the massive budget to provide us with dazzling city destruction or an explosive battle. Instead, Dillard takes advantage of its smaller stakes and makes them larger on an emotional scale. Sleight gives more power to the characters than the situations. With that in mind, Sleight ends up being more earth shattering despite the lack of Earth destroying stakes.

sleight-lightReally, Sleight makes the interpersonal stakes of our hero the world it revolves around. We get to know our protagonist Bo (Jacob Latimore), a young engineer who throws away a scholarship to raise his younger sister Tina (Storm Reid) after their mother dies. It’s a noble goal that one can understand him pursuing, but the means from which he does so make him a complicated character. The balance of drug dealing and pursuing his interests in magic conflict in a wonderful fashion. One where you’re not sure how much you can be on his side given the horrible things he’s done and the risks he’s putting the people in his life into. Latimore helps to make Bo consistently endearing throughout, even when he commits some brutal actions and dumb decisions. All of them feel motivated by a desire to get out and leave this awful life behind.


The rest of this small yet effective cast manages to give a lot more insight into their characters despite smaller amounts of screentime. Particularly with the antagonistic force of Sleight Dulé Hill. Hill – whom most would probably recognize as one of the two leads from the procedural TV detective show Psych – completely washes away his nice guy demeanor. Imbuing a local drug kingpin with a sense of intelligence, but a temper that’s massive and unpredictable. He presents all these traps for a life of crime to Bo as an opportunity to progress. To be a part of something bigger than himself. It recalls the opportunities Bo has left behind and gives him the illusion of upward momentum that could get him out, only to realize that Hill is merely pulling him further into that mess.


Sleight as a story clearly only needs the female characters to support Bo, with any forward momentum in their lives being from merely through having conversations with our lead. Yet, Sasheer Zamata and Seychelle Gabriel provide endearing performances that give their roles far more vitality and heart than what was originally written for them. Sleight pays particular attention to the growth of Gabriel and Latimore’s relationship, an understated meet-cute that evolves into something more. Both find a sense of growth and support from each other that’s desperately need in their lives. While we only see this from Latimore’s perspective, the reciprocation shown in the chemistry between the two for Seychelle is still emotionally effective.


As for the genre thrills, Sleight uses them sparingly yet effectively. The magic on display during Bo’s performances is small but dazzling. There’s a grounded sensibility to all the tricks that works within the logic presented of his mechanical engineering background. Admittedly, Sleight really pushes the limits for suspension of disbelief. The gimmick of what Bo has done to his own body raises a lot of questions, namely in how any of it was truly accomplished by someone in a rather destitute state. Yet, the conviction of the characters makes the powers on display quite impactful. The smallest movements have the most lasting effect.


Speaking of effects, the special effects in Sleight have just the right amount of subtlety to them. Cascaded enough by lighting without hiding the motive and pay off behind them. Even without using the sci-fi element, there’s a rather chilling scene involving amputation that – while implausible on more than a few levels – still chills because of what it means for the characters and how they directly deal with it. All of this is to say that Sleight never loses sight of motivation or character even as the logic leaps grow wider and wider. It only really loses some of the grounding with elements like this, but not enough to take one out of the film. Regardless, it shows J.D. Dillard is a potential creative force to be reckoned with in the near future. Showing he has an authentic perspective, but with enough genre flare to have a diverse career. If he can pull off something this solid on a $250,000 budget, there’s no telling how far he can go with Hollywood money behind him.

Rating: 3.5 Out of 5 Moving Metal Objects


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“The Fate of the Furious” (2017): Bold Turns Down Dead End Streets

The Fast and the Furious is one of the more inexplicable franchises out there. Who would have thought that we’d go from a 2001 car chase/heist movie built around portable DVD player thieves into a team of car based spies clearing their names by driving on a frozen ocean from a giant submarine? Yes, with The Fate of the Furious – the eighth entry in the surprising juggernaut action series – there’s plenty of wild stunts, elaborate cars and themes of “family” that we’re all familiar with. Going into it though, there’s a bit of doubt as to how this franchise can carry on. After director of installments 3-6 Justin Lin reinvited the property for its new elaborate action context (and perfected that concept with Fast Five), noted horror director James Wan took the reigns of Furious 7 to deliver another thrilling action ride that ended on a genuinely sweet note for deceased co-star Paul Walker. Now, how could F. Gary Gray (FridayStraight Outta Compton) take this machismo soap opera action fantasy and give it a renewed purpose?


Well, F. Gary Gray at least tries to carry over elements from his earlier films into The Fate of the Furious. Mainly, a love for the back and forth between confident personalities. Some of this falls into more franchise old hat, particularly with the continued comedic relief of Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges having their typical banter over women. Through no real fault of Gray’s ability to shoot such interactions, these moments have just sort of become stale in the grand scheme of The Fast and the Furious chronology. The two of them continue to make Nathalie Emmanuel an object of desire, which to be fair is a lingering aspect from the original films I was never that big a fan of. The type of unconfident machismo that feels rather dated in a modern context. It’s the most guilty aspect in calling The Fast and the Furious franchise a “guilty pleasure.” Where most of the female characters are either plot devices or objects to be won.


The only real exception here being Michelle Rodriguez, who is attraction to Vin Diesel at least seems genuine and respectful towards both as individuals. This especially gets complicated during the more spoilery second act reveals of The Fate of the Furious. Where the continuity is brought back into the equation for the type of soap opera reveal that ultimately squanders a motivation for Vin Diesel to turn rogue. It’s not out of character, but at the same time it brings a cliche to the table that doesn’t push the stakes to over the top dramatic heights as much as rather middling ones that feel passe, even for the Fast franchise, Diesel overreactions aside.


Honestly, the best interaction really settles itself between Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson. Both trade barbs so well that it really just makes me want to see them have a buddy picture outside of The Fate of the Furious. Here is where the machismo charisma actually has something to back it up. Statham and Johnson are just moments away from ripping their orange jumpsuits the moment they meet in prison, playing a volume pointed game of The Dozens that makes their action beats all the more fun to see. The two of them also have some of the best individual character moments. Johnson leads an entire girl’s soccer team in a war chant. Statham has an entire hallway action sequence down a plane protecting a rather key package to the plot.


Then again, respect towards individuals isn’t really that heavily a factor towards anyone – regardless of gender – with The Fate of the Furious or any of the franchise’s previous installments. They do mainly serve as action figures to pack into vehicle that break the laws of physics at any given time. F. Gary Gray’s competency here is fairly uneven. The best car specific stunt is the opening street race, which has just the right mixture of drifting through city scapes and crazy manic logic that produces the type of astonished laughs that make The Fast and the Furious… well, fast and furious. There’s another rather ridiculously massive sequence where cars basically turn into zombies and pile up on the streets. It’s maddening, but in a fashion that’s insanely fun to watch.


Still, there are massive pacing issues with some of these action scenes. Mainly, the over bloated climax. The cutting between multiple different set pieces and fights isn’t uncommon to The Fast and the Furious, particularly for the last few entries. Yet, The Fate of the Furious doesn’t really take advantage of much that’s set up for some of these action beats. There’s a clunkiness to the pacing between moments of pure volatile car explosions and the one-on-one fights. This isn’t just during the final climactic moments though, as there are several scenes that involve the puzzlingly dull back and forths of hacking and Jason Bourne-style looking at monitors that feel so unnecessary to the Fast franchise, grinding this franchise to an extreme hault in favor of the lamest visualized hacking scenes in recent cinematic history. There’s a real tonal fracturing as well, with Charlize Theron’s villain doing things far darker than any Fast villain followed by happy-go-lucky goofing from the cast.


It’s the type of start-and-stop I would have feared from Gray, a relatively inexperienced action director. Lots of slow mo pauses to show off the stunt work or effects, but not nearly enough focus on individual characters directly dealing with the consequences. Even at its most elaborately CG, the previous Fast films kept the cast’s reactions front and center during the chaos. Here, the moment that’s front and center is Tyrese doing his usual screaming schtick. This is especially frustrating with someone like Rodriguez, who is going through the bigger emotional stakes of The Fate of the Furious yet is mostly relegated to punching henchmen and driving.


Of course, all of this cuts deep into the major issue with The Fate of the Furious; a desire to have its cake and eat it too in a way that betrays a goofy yet core element of the franchise. Vin Diesel’s major catchphrase and the element that keeps these people together is the conceit of “family.” Cheap and familiar, but a decent emotional clothing line to string along these thin characters with entertaining actors behind them. The type of rapport that the actors have built over the course of several films and was so key in particular to the conclusion of Furious 7. So, with the added twist of Diesel going rogue with Charlize Theron to turn his back on family, one would figure that there would be a more consistent broken trend amongst everyone here. After all, they all care about family. They love the idea of having each other in their lives. Hell, most of these movies end with a big barbecue to signify their attachments to one another.


Yet, no one seems too broken up about the fracturing of family in The Fate of the Furious. Despite introducing an intriguing conceit that would genuinely shake up the series, things fall straight back into formula. For example, everyone clowning on Scott Eastwood‘s character, an underling of Kurt Russell‘s CIA badass Mr. Nobody who’s a rather flimsy stand in for the late Paul Walker. This is mere hours after Vin Diesel has completely turned his back on all of them and there’s no real remorse on anyone aside from Rodriguez. Even after Diesel has a passionate kiss with Theron in front of Rodriguez, there’s no follow up to it on the latter’s end. Hell, Statham straight up MURDERED their friend Han during the last film… and no one brings it up beyond a vague threat. No confrontation. No satisfaction. As simplistic as it sounds, The Fate of the Furious doesn’t even follow the most easy examples of set up and pay off correctly in a way that would satisfy its fanbase.


It may seem odd to be this genuine about the authenticity of the characters for The Fate of the Furious, but it’s something the series prides itself on. Even when the plots don’t make sense or the action is ridiculous, there’s a charm to seeing everyone come together and have a consistent warm glow to their interactions. Here, much of that is sacrificed and not even for something that truly changes the stakes in a way that drives us to somewhere new. We’re back at square one, making most of what’s happened before completely inconsequential… which is odd for a series so steeped in its convoluted continuity. That balance of absurdist storytelling and action are both essential to this franchise as it has stood for near a decades since its relaunch with 2009’s Fast and Furious. That entry is probably the best comparison point for The Fate of the Furious. Both took some risks and had a decent amount of thrills & character moments. Yet, both ultimately seem like forgettable stepping stones in the franchise. Hopefully, this means Fast and the Furious 9 will finally see the series reach the quality of Fast Five levels again. Only time will tell.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Exploding Engines


Other Works

“The Void” (2017): A Gorgeously Horrific Nightmare

The Void clearly has a lot of influences. Mainly, a love of 1980s era creature features and extensive practical effects. While that admiration is something shared by many a horror fan, it can often leave those same fans thinking more about the influences rather than the final product. Avoiding this can often be elusive, especially in a modern nostalgia context that’s become all the rage. Directors Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie have shown their love for the above mentioned influences elsewhere. Stuff like Manborg showed that the duo could create a stylized dip into the retro-80s techno satire that is aesthetically appealing, but even they knew this couldn’t be sustained for long given the 67 minute running time. The key to doing so lies in making a definitive stamp and exploration of the universe being built.


This is something The Void does in spades, mainly by taking the concepts established by the likes of John Carpenter, Lucio Fulci and Tom Savini into a nonstop nightmare of a rush. Aside from the early introduction to all of our characters that follows an intense cold open, The Void rarely considerings breathing room into the equation for its audience. The film relishes in throwing every single possible cosmic horror it can think of and slamming it directly into our eyeholes. It truly is a living nightmare, one that establishes the familiar base of these characters before throwing them into a surreal hell that they can’t escape from. It’s a wonderfully macabre example of how to give its audience people worth investing in and destroying them without a single eye batted.


The Void couldn’t really accomplish this without having a solid knack for developing its characters. With probably the best example of taking from its influences, The Void chooses to unveil the motives and pasts of its characters through authentic interaction rather than blatant exposition. It helps create an endearing base of a small town intersection that an audience can gravitate towards. When such a world becomes ruptured by unholy terror, it gives the tension, gore and monsters far more impact. This particularly resonates with Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) as our lead, giving us a full spectrum of a character haunted both by the small town past of his family and his love life that feeds the eventual disturbing horror.


Said horror is one of the better examples of Lovecraftian horror in cinematic history. The Void knows when and when not to reveal the unbelievable horror of the creatures on display. In a vein similar to the indescribable cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft, The Void knows how to leave some horror left to the imagination and others in plain view. It’s the difference between the classic practical effects horror of old and the modern lesser CGI of new. The Void knows when to show off the horrific effects work and when to show it off fully. There’s always a delicate balance to fully achieve in this case, one that films like Harbinger Down fail to achieve. The imagery is often simple yet effective, such as the cult followers adorned in robes with triangles on their hoods. They send messages of idolatry and worship without having us be too clouded in  It would be easy to show off these effects in full and ruin the surprise inherent in the film. Yet, The Void cleverly knows when to cover the full display and when not to at every single point. The monsters are given ample time to show off their full colors, but not without some restraint. The lighting and blocking allow the audience to wonder in horror and gaze in awe at the same time at what The Void has to behold.


Ultimately, The Void is the type of genre throwback that should be emulated more. Rather than recycling the same type of tributes we’ve been privy to in the last several years and turned them into a brilliant new combination that one would never anticipate. The type of excitement that isn’t built on pure emulation, but rather existing foundation that evolves into something fresh and new on its own. The Void is the type of creature feature that knows practical effects aren’t the only things people find themselves attached to. What made films like The Thing or The Fly work as well as they did was how they approached the characters on equal footing with the effects work. The Void is well aware of this and gives plenty of mutilating punches to the throat. It’s unrelenting in the way a feverish nightmare is. Playing on our conceptions of reality by dismantling them in a gorgeously disturbing fashion. Truly, The Void is a horrific nightmare that’ll linger in the recesses of your mind long after viewing it… in the best way possible.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Mutilated Monsters


“Ghost in the Shell” (2017): Gives Up The Ghost Pretty Quick

Aesthetic is key to sci-fi. Whether it’s the lived in dirt covered look of Star Wars or the glossy slick atmosphere of Blade Runner, the aesthetic is key to how the individual worlds are established. Giving us visual cues that we the audience can give a sense of how this place operates. With Ghost in the Shell, director Rupert Sanders is definitely aping more of the Blade Runner sleek sheen, giving us the impression of a world overtaken by the holographic manipulated visages of Japanese culture that have been corporatized. It’s a visually stunning glossy update that shows the shallow soullessness of the world Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) attempts to protect, foreshadowing her own struggles with a concrete human identity while placed inside a robot body.


So, after establishing the initial aesthetic that gives us the most basic feel for what this world is going to be, one would figure that Ghost in the Shell would build on it. One would hope that the flawless mechanical action sequences Sanders creates would lead to a contemplative insight into the characters. Create an individual identity and that separates itself from the pack, especially for those – like myself – who have never seen the original 1995 anime film of the same name. Something that isn’t just a rehash of Blade RunnerRobocopMetropolisShort Circuit, A.I. or countless other stories about automatons with pretty hues. Of course, one would hope all that… but hope for that is about as empty as a robotic body without a “ghost” to fill it. Hope for this to be more than a vapid exercise in shooting recycled sci-fi jargon. There is no hope. There is no joy. Only boredom and extreme blandness lie in the wake Ghost in the Shell‘s unbelievably dull overlay.


The biggest reasoning for this mainly seems to be the construction of these “characters.” Killian is our cyborg protagonist searching for her human past. One would figure that some kind of curiosity or attachment or any number of actual intriguing aspects of her discovery would seep into Scarlett Johansson’s performance. Not necessarily that she’d become fully human, but that there would be a building realization that changes her as a character. Then again, that would suppose a world where Johansson isn’t sleepwalking through Ghost in the Shell. Putting aside the awkward whitewashing controversy, the Killian character could have made for engaging commentary on a Japanese woman forced into a white woman’s body to fit the standard concepts of beauty. However, that is never a concern here, where Johansson makes the average android seem like Daniel Day Lewis by comparison.  Where humanity or contemplative robotic energy is vacuumed out in favor of extreme familiarity. Any attempt at anger or curiosity or revelation from Johannson is rendered worthless by her monotone delivery. There’s nothing there to invest in as she jumps off buildings or shoots at people, especially since she just ends up getting fixed later. There’s no suspense at all to any action she takes. Making every well shot action sequence totally pointless as it displays with total accuracy the type of unimpressive stakes that films like Aeon Flux or Ultraviolet previously created with slightly less engaging visual competence.


At the very least it would contrast with the very human behavior of her supporting castmates. Like Pilou Asbæk as her loyal human partner or Takeshi Kitano as her tactile chief of police. But no. They have a similar lack of human reaction. No concern or worry or joy beyond what’s necessary to the plot for Ghost in the Shell. Spouting some of the worst attempts at cop banter and “badass” one liners. The type of back and forth that feels more common with a parody of a cop drama rather than a real one. Yet, these are supposed to be the larger connections Killian has with humanity, along with her relationship with the doctor who helped build her (Juliette Binoche). Then again, when that relationship mainly hinges on the audience finding meaning in her endless repetition of “Ghost in the Shell” rather than anything genuinely meaningful.


There’s also the mysterious past that lingers within Killian that drives the central mystery of Ghost in the Shell. Without “spoiling” too much, Killian’s origins as a Japanese woman who  becomes the test subject of an experiment to make cybernetic enhancement after a cybernetic enhancement has a lot of potential. Potential that was exploited to incredible heights in the likes of a Robocop, but could be given more life in a clever new context. However, Ghost in the Shell doesn’t give much of any emotional context to make this recycling worth much of anything. There are points where they try, mainly with Killian’s interactions with a Japanese woman who seems familiar to her brief glimpses of the past. Oh and her connection to the main villain Kuze (played with Max Headroom-style delivery by Michael Pitt). These two connections hinge the rather large revelations that expose the major aspects of Killian’s past. Yet, these revelations ultimately feel cold and mechanical. Much like the action scenes. That they’re more necessity of the plot rather than an emotionally immersive hinge of our main character.


All of this ultimately shows how incredibly vapid Ghost in the Shell is as a visual exercise. From the first twenty minutes, we get the sleek modern visuals Rupert Sanders is displaying. We get the astounding effects work and cinematography is on every single visual level. Yet, when that’s really all Ghost in the Shell has going for it beyond a few familiar themes, shallow one-note performances and a mechanical follow through with the action sequences, everything seems alien and distant. But without the added punch of eventual human emotion. Or engaging thrills. Hell, even one solitary moment of exciting thrills that lasts beyond the eye candy. It’s an endless droning display of effects demo reel that has little rhyme or reason to it that exists beyond the most basic of sci-fi. It’s drones on and on without making much of an identity to separate itself from the pack. Ghost in the Shell flops like a Rainbow Fish on a pier. Leaving shimmering glimmers of visual mastery that ultimately die on the dock. The pigments get old after staring at it too long. Leaving a dead husk of meat and scales that doesn’t excite as much as it overstays any sense of welcome. One would just hope Ghost in the Shell makes its last desperate flop into the ocean so one can stop watching the rotting colorful corpse flay randomly without rhyme or reason. Putting itself and the audience out of its consistently tedious existence.

Rating: 1 out of 5 Soulless Action Sequences


Other Works

“Life” (2017): Rocky Travel That… Finds A Way

On its face, Life feels like every other sci-fi horror concept. Bits of Alien, shades of Gravity, sprinklings of Event Horizon. There’s a certain amount of familiarity involved in every step of Life. Then again, some of that is probably expected. After all, there’s only so much you can do when trapped in space and close to Earth. Plus, doesn’t Life tend to involve some amount of repetition from the way living organisms develop? We start as a primitive single celled creature, grow appendages, learn how to use tools and eventually try to dominate over those who rule the food chain. Worked for us humans, right? Now, Life posits the question of man’s own curiosity coming to figuratively – and literally – bite us in the leg for attempting to find new living creatures outside of our atmosphere.


Of course, that intrigue relies heavily on the humans we’re stuck with. The multi-cultural cast of Life seems on paper to be rather ordinary in terms of set up. We’ve got Ryan Reynolds as the cocky young space engineer from the states. Jake Gyllenhaal as the quiet loner who prefers the vast empty network of space. Rebecca Ferguson as the British crew captain trying to keep individuals and the ship in line. Hiroyuki Sanada as a Japanese ship pilot with a brand new kid along the way. Olga Dihovichnaya is a Russian crew member who… is there. And was inspired to be an astronaut by “Goodnight Moon,” I guess? All of these are pretty familiar backstories that are transcended by the actors involved, who have a solid rapport that could only come from all of these people being together in one confined space. There’s joy and tension there between all of them that helps provide suspense when things turn from bad to worse. It helps to disguise some of the boneheaded moves these characters make, but not necessarily make up for them.


Really, the only person that has an unique and dimensional character from the start is Ariyon Bakare. He’s the ship’s main scientific officer who has been confined to a wheelchair for most of his life, with the abilities of weightlessness giving him the chance to move far beyond the circumstances of his Earthbound nature and feel like he belongs. To the point where he takes his desire for human discovery too far. It’s an emotional concept that isn’t exploited as much it is genuinely developed in an authentic way. Where the tragedy comes across  Bakare takes a role that could have just been very shallow and turns it into the tragically beautiful human curiosity that gives Life an emotional tether.


Despite those main presences, there’s one other major character: Calvin, the alien specimen that grows from a sweet little single cell organism to a nightmarish alien from hell. The realistic look of Calvin initially relates us to the creature on a literal cellular level. Seeing its initial larval stages of Life somewhat endears us to the creature before it grows to be a vicious killing machine. The design is sleek and elegant during each stage of its growth, giving the a sense of suspense and intimidation on a pure visual level thanks to the swift and ferocious animation. However, the least convincing element of Calvin’s transformation is the knowledge he accumulates. The creature’s ability to be one step ahead of these people alternates in terms of believability. Sometimes Calvin clearly learns from seeing and reacting. Other times, Calvin’s actions are rather contrived to suit the purposes of the plot. There’s never much cohesion to Calvin as a threat, rather an unstoppable force. Which is a shame, given how grounded its origin is.


Really, Calvin is a catalyst for all the crazy sci-fi horror that takes place. All of which is shot with rather familiar majesty and terror that comes with the territory. Director Daniel Espinosa doesn’t really leave much of a distinctive mark with his visual style here. There’s a rather mechanical efficiency to even the chaos that happens later on, showing off the lack of an unique stamp Life puts on the genre. He handles certain elements well, particularly a few terrifying death scenes that are only marred by some rather underwhelming CG blood. Yet, there are important reveals that feel rather confusingly staged, to the point of putting the motives of certain characters into question. And not in an “ambiguous intrigue” way. More of a “why would that character do that” kind of way.


That being said, this sort of ambiguity does come to a genuinely exciting head once the climax occurs. There’s a masterful use of editing and laying out of information that serves to lead audiences down multiple paths. Second guessing or confirming what happened based on previous information before really digging the knife in the appropriate place. This is as potentially spoilery as I’ll go. Let’s just say that Life takes the rocky terrain it treads on and lands in the most elegantly constructed way it could. Despite all the problems that hang over, Life doesn’t take the lesser road with the conclusion, giving it far more credit than it probably would have deserved otherwise.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Killer One Celled Organisms


Other Works

“Power Rangers” (2017): Not the Best Go Go

Power Rangers is a property that exists solely because of recycling. When the Japanese kaiju/martial arts show Super Sentai from the Japanese studio Saban sought out American distribution, the American creators literally just filled in the blanks of the giant monster fight scenes with all American “Teenagers With Attitude” scenes to make it palatable to the elementary school audience. So, there’s not too much sanctity to the American rebranding of Super Sentai to worry about when viewing 2017’s film reboot Power Rangers. It was a silly 90s kid show scrapped together to sell toys. The bigger question with the new attempt is whether or not it can carve its own identity. Would this be a faithful reimagining to the point of too much fan service or a dark reboot that removes the basic fun required for the project?


Weirdly… the major issue with this reboot is a bit of both. Power Rangers director Dean Israelite casts a literal dark shadow over the proceedings. Most every frame has the darkest possible Instagram filter over it. The intent seems to be giving the scenes of these kids interacting a grounding in reality, but it clashes with the broader elements of comedy and sci-fi action. It’s this contrast that seems to signify a clear lack of cohesion with the vision of the project. This makes sense, given Israelite, Saban, Lionsgate and five different screenwriters all had input. Hell, they clearly even had influence from Krispy Kreme donuts, who end up becoming vital to the clunky action climax. These visions don’t gell consistently, resulting in a jumbled mess overall.


One can tell from the first five minutes that we’re in trouble.  We transition from an elaborate prologue of Earth’s meteorite crash that killed the dinosaurs being caused by the aliens who were the initial rangers. Followed by a elaborate school prank scene where a high school kid mentions that he masturbates a male cow, thinking it was a female he was milking. Then leading to an elaborate Children of Men style one shot car crash sequence. It’s a sequence of events that feel like they’re from three separate films. Even then, none of those films are that good or appropriate for a property like Power Rangers. The conflicting shifts from summer blockbuster to sophomoric comedy to overly ambitious action film continues throughout as Power Rangers tries and fails to find an authentic groove to settle into.


So, Power Rangers is pretty much all over the place on a tonal level. One would figure that it translates to the kids featured would have an even more awkward progression into superhero-dom. Yet… the kids are actually pretty fun to watch. It’s weird, considering the American teen aspects alway felt so poorly translated into the show. However, there’s a genuine solid chemistry the builds between all the teens. Darce Montgomery portrays a likable handsome jock with a desire to help the underdogs. RJ Cyler is an energetic and endearing nerd who’s implied to be on the autism spectrum without being exploitative. Naomi Scott has an earnest rebellious desire that transcends her rather awkward backstory. Ludi Lin makes the most of his positive role model son/manic hobo stuntman character with an infectious energy. Becky G has a struggling burgeoning sexuality that she hides through her rebellious activities against her traditionalist family.


They’re an authentic varied mixture of people who come together with a chemistry that this film on paper clearly doesn’t deserve. Even if we don’t get a huge amount of information on all of them, the cast has enough to chew on to where they can build a seemingly interesting charisma off of. Unfortunately, when Power Rangers gets more focused on the elements of its namesake, interest wains significantly. These kids are stuffed into CG suits that are incredibly unconvincing. The Zord action is kind of atrocious to watch in all its over edited glory. The CG for Goldar and the Puttis alternates between decent and atrocious. Elizabeth Banks is trying to bring something to Rita Repulsa that’s just buried under far too much makeup and elaborate costuming. Bill Hader shouts exposition and one liners in a fashion that’s more annoying than Alpha 5 traditionally is. Bryan Cranston… is just there because he owes Saban for getting him money when he needed it as a voice over artist for the original Power Rangers.


That mixture of genuine enthusiasm and contractual obligation pretty much sums up the lackluster yet decently entertaining ride of Power Rangers. It’s all over the place in most respects and never quite knows how to accomplish its goals or what those goals even are. They’re not really sticking to a nostalgic audience by waiting until the end to reveal the suits and Zords, yet a kid audience seems just under the level of appropriate for the more mature jokes and darker visuals at hand. It’s a confused mess, but one that honestly seemed like it could have gone far worse if not for the main cast of teens. Still sad that they couldn’t have a knee to the crotch save the day like in the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers film.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Out of Place Cow Masturbation Jokes


Other Works:

“The Belko Experiment” (2017): Faulty Hypothesis

The Belko Experiment on its face seems like a satirically edged horror comedy. Comparing the cut-throat nature of office politics with the thrills of confined murder could result in some smarter edged gore in theory. In practice, it’s a clumsy exercise in trying to execute either. Whether or not this was a case of screenwriter James Gunn‘s initial faults or an issue of translation from director Greg McLean is a unclear. After all, many factors can go awry during a shoot. Still, the final result still ultimately feels like something didn’t quite click together with what was released to theaters.


The concept aims to have a “Battle Royale meets Office Space” style tone. One where we get the feel of office politic that slowly devolves into maddening hacking and slashing. Much of that comes through during the earlier tension setting scenes of The Belko Experiment, in which co-workers brush off the unsettling demands of the loudspeaker as some sort of prank or test done by some disgruntled employee. We see the dynamics of the office. John Gallagher Jr is the likable everyman. Adriana Arjona is his feisty love interest who stands up to creepy flirtations from John C. McGinley. Tony Goldwyn is a born leader of a boss that takes command. Sean Gunn is the stoner custodian. All of it is solid setup for these people to clash, given they’re stuck in a contained environment and force to kill each other. The panic that strikes after the first kill is made feels palpable, such is the case with Michael Rooker and David Dastmalchian as the maintenance crew. They share a genuine connection of two friends who are cooperative until the fear gets to one of them in a heartbreaking way. Their interactions resemble more of the human component The Belko Experiment wants to keep going.


Unfortunately, McLean really can’t seem to settle on what tone he should go for after this early point. Office jokes, elaborately disturbing deaths and more than a few moments attempted tear jerking moments pop up here and there, but there’s never an authentic balance. Most of it just feels so damn random in terms of cohesive connection from one scene to the next. The term mood whiplash was invented for films like The Belko Experiment, where one isn’t sure how motivations or scenes spring to such violent actions in such a quick progression. One minute we’ve got a subversive joke about two characters whispering in a cubicle, the next a super serious montage of death set to classical music. The comedy especially feels inconsequential, given a total lack of irony as the film rambles along into points of limply engaging nihilism.


The gory death scenes are also incredibly uneven. They range from repetitive head explosions (due to a pretty half assed & unconvincing excuse for why explosive chips would be in these employees’ heads) to a rather chilling use of an axe and a tape dispenser. But it’s not nearly enough to make The Belko Experiment worth much. To be fair, some of this is very clear story problems that might lie on Gunn instead of McLean. One can’t seem to determine the progression of any of these scenes or characters that well as time goes on. We never really get a grasp of who they are as they struggle to survive, which really doesn’t engage us to them as they nearly die at every turn. The only people we seem to get a solid glimpse of are Tony Goldwyn as the rather demented CEO and John Gallagher Jr. as our hero… who’s really a moron at every turn. The rest are canon fodder with a few one-note jokes or drives, but are engaging solely based on the performances like John C. McGinley or Sean Gunn.


Still, The Belko Experiment is a rather uneven exercise in nihilistic satire horror. There’s so much uncompromised brutality on display, but the ends are so underwhelming. There’s a lot of potential in the premise and some of Gunn’s knack for human connectivity within a genre context shines through in cracks. Yet, The Belko Experiment is ultimately a cold one. One that doesn’t destroy with purpose or real intent beyond shallow unearned malice. It’s a cynical bitter story that feels like a first draft more than a completed tale.

Rating: 1.5 Bloody Office Supplies


Other Works

“Beauty and the Beast” (2017): Ever Just The Same, Rarely A Surprise

Beauty and the Beast is a rather odd… beast. To say the least. A live action remake of a 1991 animated film that dazzled audiences over a quarter of a century ago and still beloved to this day. The first Best Picture-nominated animated film still has such a rousing sense of scale, poise and charm despite its on paper premise of a young woman falling in love with a man-turned-monster who kidnnaped her father. A chemistry developed between the two characters that was elevated by a mutual disgust that turned into two people realizing their better natures. So, how could one take what seems like a perfect film and adapt it for modern audiences who still love the original?


Well… they try. One really can’t knock director Bill Condon, the production design team, the costume designers or really any of the actors for not attempting to do justice to this story. Earnestness and production value ooze out of every frame from Beauty and the Beast. The gothic architecture of The Beast’s castle gives so much ominous empty glory that builds such appropriate atmosphere for our seclusionary male lead. Belle’s French village contrasts so well by having a claustrophobic feel that seems to box her potential in. The elaborate designs of the various object sidekicks even have a wonderful mix of practical use for their intended purpose and facial structure that made them both elaborately decorative and expressive. Bill Condon’s direction takes advantage of these sets most during the most elaborate musical numbers like “Belle” or “Gaston”, showing off a love of spectacle numbers from the olden heydays of MGM.


Despite the magnificent work on that visual level, some of the more character focused attempts at adapting the 1991 film tend to fall short. Namely, with the titular leads of Beauty and the Beast. Emma Watson as Belle has glimpses of further conveying the independent spirit necessary for the character. This new version even attempts to add new details of her proficiency with the tools her father (played with the usual effortless charm that Kevin Kline tends to provide) uses to invent things and a more active role in the climax to make her a bit less passive. Yet, some of the essential key parts of the character aren’t given a chance to flourish. The main one that Watson deserves blame for lacking is singing ability. Whenever she sings Belle’s more iconic songs from the original as written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman for the original Beauty and the Beast, the lack of vocal range is blatant. Watson just keeps one monotonous tone droning through each song. She can’t hit the highs or lows that original Belle voice actress Paige O’Hara was pitch perfect on. Which is distracting and disappointing given how crucial those songs often are to establishing Belle’s desires and passion. Watson does better with the new songs Menken and Tim Rice composed to fit her range, but those are incredibly forgettable and unnecessary songs that just seem overly repetitious of what we’ve learned from previous dialogue… or even songs.


Of course, this story of girl-meets-beast has a crucial hairy second half to potentially balance things out. The Beast here is created through motion capture and CG… which often hits the uncanny valley. Dan Stevens‘ portrayal of the prince turned monster works best when he is at either his most beastly or more vulnerable extremes. Stevens’ body language comes through in a convincing fashion when he’s either lurking in the shadows ready to pounce or having a casual conversation with Belle while in a weakened state. There are glimpses of a chemistry between him and Watson that show potential to grow into a believable romance. Yet, the design and animation around him often struggles to catch up. With the original animated Beast, the amazing feat of taking the hideously designed monster and having Belle humble him into remembering his human side felt like more of an authentic transformation because of how inhuman he seemed by appearance alone. The design of this new Beast has smoother more human features, making for an awkward uncanny valley experience that’s also far less transformative once he does become human again. If anything, the attempts fit this unholy middle ground between monstrous and human that appeases neither side of the character. They can’t even capture the beauty inherent in Stevens’ gorgeous eyes. This Beast is more often stiff and lifeless, particularly during the flat attempt at recreating the iconic ballroom scene of the original Beauty and the Beast.


The supporting cast tends to be a bit more consistent. Ewan McGregor captures the lively showmanship of candelabra Lumiere (“Very different from a candlestick!”) quite well, filling the role with as much exuberant life as the cleverly articulate animation can muster. Ian McKellan gives a fair shot at he pompous dignity of the punctual clock Cogsworth. Emma Thompson has the appropriate amount of gentile niceties that make her a solid Mrs. Potts. Even the new objects like Broadway maestro Audra McDonald as a refined singer turned narcoleptic wardrobe or Stanley Tucci as a flamboyant pianist turned piano get a few moments of genuine comedic relief. They handle the famous “Be Our Guest” number well, though the spectacle of it feels misplaced given the new set-up for Cogsworth, making it a joke without a punchline sort of problem. Their climactic attempts to save the castle from villagers also feels clunky, as Condon’s attempts at action direction there and during the various “running from wolves in the enchanted forest” scenes show his clear limitations as a director.


However, the shining spots of this interpretation of Beauty and The Beast honestly are Luke Evans as the witless brute villain Gaston and Josh Gad as his conflicted sidekick LeFou. The former was particularly surprising for myself, given Evans hasn’t had the best track record. Yet, he finds the right mixture of authentic belief in every word he’s saying and relishing in the cartoonish behavior of the original subversion of the manly prince that the cartoon Gaston was. Gad has that same charm, while advancing something that was pretty obvious in the original cartoon: his massive obsession with Gaston. After all, LeFou starts the song titled after the man, so it’s only natural that there would be a textual one-sided love from this sidekick to his emotionally abusive compatriot. It’s rather explicit… and it’s honestly the most intriguing new element for this version. There’s room for Gad to be joyous without being stereotypical. Plus, his attempts to tame Gaston into being nicer serves as a comedic tragedy of a subversion to Belle and Beast’s similar story. The former based in failing to calm a man who loves nothing more than to kill vs the latter in digging out the calm that lies under a man with a fatal blow to his humanity.


Yet, despite their best efforts, Beauty and the Beast still doesn’t add much new to justify it’s existence. Aside from the previously mentioned forgettable songs, more backstory is added to Belle and Beast’s pasts to attempt to flesh out their journies. Talk of Belle’s mother dying and Beast’s father being a brute that turned him evil try to fill in blanks for these characters being who they are. One a girl desperate to become a woman out in the world her father shunned her from for fear of her safety. The other a brutish man who is too wrapped up in his own self-pity to let others in. But we don’t need any of that new material to get that message across. Nor do we need further reveals about connections between the villagers and the objects in the house. Or to make the enchantress appear a few more times. It’s all just window dressing over repetition of what we’ve seen before. It just makes for a rather empty nostalgic exercise in “You Remember this from the original Beauty and the Beast, right?” rather than an adaptation that makes itself stand out like recent Disney remakes The Jungle Book or Pete’s Dragon.


Still, it’s at least not a Maleficent level mess up of what the original was either. There’s a respect for the scale and majesty of the original that makes this feel more sincere than something like Maleficent. Yet, the tug and pull of this version to appease rabid Disney fans while carving something new for itself feels too one sided in the former rather than the latter. Those dips into new material are well meaning, but ultimately bland in execution. The older material is often well realized in live action, but without any kind of distinctive spin. Even a few of the more modern subversive jabs at idea of the inconsistent object personification or Belle preferring Beast over his human form are so throwaway and last minute. Ultimately, it’s a mediocre attempt to recreate something that’s already pretty perfect to wash the audience over in what they loved in the first place. So… why not just watch Beauty and the Beast instead?

Rating: 2 Out of 5 Non-Enchanted Objects


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