Umbrella Academy – Season 3

Stranger Things, The Boys, and Umbrella Academy… all launched within a couple weeks. They may not have identical markets, but there’s a pile of overlap. Seems a really weird decision… unless this is the point of the year that people unsubscribe? May be too cynical.

Anyhoot, I’ve watched the Umbrella Academy with an odd curiosity. The premise is somewhat simple, what if there was a dysfunctional superhero family? This is different from The Boys, where the supes are simply evil, here they are simply flawed. But flawed in a way that if they overreact, really bad things happen for other people. Maybe the premise is “what if immature kids had super powers”?

Season 1 was about dealing with their horrible father and their destiny of causing the end of the world. Season 2 had them time travel backwards and go through similar steps (though with a significant amount of cultural context). In both, there was a continual antagonist force of The Commission, a group that controlled the timeline.

Season 3 sees them pull a Back to the Future 2, back to the present but with changes. Their actions in the past (with their father) meant he didn’t adopt them, but others instead (Sparrows). And a similar set of actions has created a paradox that threatens to destroy the universe (though in this context, it’s still just Earth). The Commission is gone, and the antagonists are the Sparrows and themselves.

The net result is a significant amount of character bloat and the feeling of “the same” from prior seasons. The scenery is smaller (mostly within a hotel) and the episodes are shorter. It’s a weird mix, honestly, where there’s very little story progress at all, but tons of character development. The end of the season is the “cleanest” of all the endings so far, but still leaves room for more.

Some notes:

  • The Elliot Page transition is handled in character, and handled in a way I’d hope most humans would
  • Luther’s character arc here is a long time coming, and finally acts like the audience surrogate he was supposed to be.
  • Victor’s arc remains extremely painful to go through. It’s finally called out with a statement like “you know what they call a superhero that doesn’t listen to anyone else? A villain”. Where all the siblings are childish (well not Five), Victor’s power levels are such that their outbursts are catastrophic.
  • Diego’s arc is really quite solid. The relationship with Lila (strong chemistry) makes it a fascinating growth.
  • Five is interesting, and still the strongest character in the series. A leader who wants to just enjoy life, but keeps getting pulled back in to clear up the mess. Aidan Gallagher does a fantastic job.
  • Klaus finally comes into his own, which is both cool to see and frustrating that it took this long. While his character himself finally finds himself, his role in the larger context is pure deus ex machina. Still steals every scene he’s in.
  • Allison… I am not a fan of the arc here. I won’t spoil it, but there’s a particular scene with her and Luther that is beyond the pale compared to the other insanity in the series. Allison has always been a selfish character, using her powers for her self-gratification. That continues here, but to another level. Given this purposeful usage of power, I consider her to be the true villain.
  • Reginald Hargreeves has a weird arc here, where the first few episodes have him positioned as bumbling idiot who’s forced to pop pills. When the pills are removed, then he turns back into a puppet master. I dunno, it’s 2 different characters and feels like it comes out of left field.
  • Sparrows – Ben is interesting, in that he’s no longer a selfless character but one continuously looking for external approval. It fits well with the rest of the siblings. The remainder of the Sparrows are window dressing with horrible character traits (what if superheroes have no villains to fight?).
  • The music choices remain a strong highlight, in particular the Footloose battle in episode 1. The quirkiness of the series is the true highlight, and music choice is the best part.

Season 2 remains the standout in the larger context, and Season 3 loses a lot due to the lack of crazy and clear villain. I would be surprised if there was a Season 4 given the challenges present in this season and Netflix’s penchant to cancel as much as possible. It would be unfortunate, as the ideas here are quite solid. We can use more quirky bits, the world is serious enough.

Stranger Things 4 – Eps 5 -7

Episode 4 remains the season (if not series) highlight, with very strong visuals on mental health and PTSD.

Episode 5 continues that message with Hopper’s monologue on the karmic effects of his time in the military, and Eleven’s literal exposure to her memories in order to access her powers again. There are comedic bits with the kids tracking down Suzie, and Joyce/Murray with the Yuri airplane bit. I am not a fan of the editing in this episode because the themes swing so heavily from one end of the spectrum to the other, which reduces each other’s impact. Oh, an Vecna takes another victim.

Episode 6 feels like the other half of episode 5 if the editing was tighter. They are running 5 main story arcs at once, and that’s a herculean feat. There’s a reason this is avoided. It works here simply because Stranger Things released all these episodes in a batch. Weekly serials would not work. The episode feels like pure stalling to put the characters in the proper place for the next episode. This is the first episode where Vecna doesn’t attack someone.

Episode 7 is the payoff for the setup. Hopper and Joyce/Murray meet up. Eleven learns the truth about Vecna, which is both interesting to see but also mind bogglingly stupid when you think about the chain of events leading up to it. Stranger Things has always had a mystery box portion where you simply need to suspend logic and go along for the ride… *hand waving*… when they get to explaining some logical bits, it rarely works out (see Season 2, Ep 7 – The Lost Sister). Aside from Dark, I can’t really think of a recent mystery box that had a satisfying reveal. A season highlight for me is Eddie (Joseph Quinn), who is a surrogate for the audience geek. He has a completely rational view of all the crazy stuff going on, which is an offset to Robin’s let’s-see-how-far-this-goes approach. Eddie’s chat with Steve in this episode is solid.

There are 2 episodes left, coming out in a few days. I don’t see how these will be episodes as much as a single film split into 2 parts. And at an average of 1:15 per episode, this is a very long season. With one of them being called Papa, I’m hopeful they can finally close the Brenner mystery box. After 3 episodes of flashbacks, I’ve had enough.

Overall I’m surprised at what this season has delivered so far. It’s tonally much different than the 3 prior, with a significant focus on mental health and a monster than feeds off it. I’m not convinced the story understands why this is actually important, as compared to the 80s horror tropes it is emulating, but it’s still there. 2 more to go.

Stranger Things – Episode 4

I thought I would bundle these more, but this particular episode merits it’s own post. Spoilers, obviously

Every so often, you find a particular episode that perfectly encapsulates a series. There’s a little piece of magic found, where the individual pieces fit just right and you get some magic. It requires impeccable timing, amazing acting, a tight story, and an appropriate score. Episode 4 somehow manages to do this, and more miraculously, does so after the doldrums of the first 3 episodes.

The long setup of the first few episodes comes to light here, on all the arcs. Jonathan finally stops being a stoner long enough to actually do something of merit. Will and Mike finally have a conversation that’s more than reacting to El’s behaviour. El is heading back to regain her powers. There’s a big action scene where the military comes to take the kids that pays off with some nice comedic bits from Argyle. A payoff for the stoner comedy is more than welcome.

Hopper escapes, right in line with most action films. Joyce and Murray meet Yuri and are double crossed, while Hopper gets sent to a worse prison. There’s something about a defeated hero that works here.

Robin and Nancy go full undercover to get into see Victor Creel, a source of the suspected murders. Again, Maya Hawke beats the tar out of the script focusing on how women are not even given a chance in a male dominated society. It’s a monologue that is so far ahead of anything else this series has produced, I was just stunned in the delivery. It also comes with a “poltergeist” subview of the start of the curse, which is framed in the typical just enough but not all context of most horror reveals.

The final thread deals with Max, and her acceptance of her inevitable death due to the continual trauma from her brother’s death. She experiences more trauma the episode, and tries to make some sort of amends through letters to those she cares about. She eventually does get captured by Vecna, set up for the kill, and then with the help of Kate Bush, visualizes all the positive memories and people she cares about, enough to escape and “run up that hill” (which is not what the song is about, but it fits). It’s an absolutely fascinating take on mental health, from depression and isolation, through acceptance, and recovery. One that Netflix sorely has lacked. It’s astonishing that a series based on an 80s homage is able to take any topic seriously enough to pump this quality out.

Plus, as always, Steve is the man. He continues to be a better parent than every other adult in the entire series. Which is a topic for a future post.

If Season 4 was a 15 minute summary of the first 3 episodes and then ended here, I would consider it a win. There’s zero filler, and plenty of spotlight for the actresses to shine. No wonder Kate Bush is all over the place right now… for sure this is sticking in people’s skulls.

Love, Death & Robots – Season 3

Not quite sure if spoilers apply to this or not, but hey, it’s back. It’s as short as Season 2, but the stories themselves are much more focused. I do get that Season 1 was pretty much Heavy Metal in visual form, but this particular season has much less fantasy and more sci-fi, which I consider an improvement. I think the season overall is the best of the bunch, and that more than a few episodes really make you question the ending/moral. That’s the beauty of sci-fi shorts after all.

On a per episode aspect:

Three Robots: Exist Strategy

This was the original short in season 1 and the robots are back with pretty much the same format as before. Slightly different take on what society is doing with regards to the climate crisis and how “castes” of society are trying to address it. I found it the weakest of the bunch.

Bad Travelling

This is pretty much a horror story set on a ship on the high seas. It’s more or less a continual set of bad events that people simply try to survive through, somewhat similar to the zombie/pirate story in Watchmen. The claustrophobia of a single ship really helps sell the horror aspect. There’s no sci-fi here, but the short is still quite good.

The Very Pulse of the Machine

This is pure sci-fi and could only work in this medium. Without spoiling much, the gradual decline (is it?) of the protagonist mental space makes you question if what you’re seeing is real or not. This one is a true highlight of the season.

Night of the Mini Dead

Zombie apocalypse filmed so that it looks like miniatures. The only point that seemed to matter to me what that this was but a speck of dust in the galactic scale. It looks cool mind you.

Kill Team Kill

This is a very violent take on a CIA robotics program gone rogue. I immediately shouted “that’s Shardik!” but sadly it wasn’t. Every season seems to have some set of soldiers fighting impossible odds, and then a horrible twist at the end. This is that episode.

Swarm

This one turned out way better than I expected. I find that the best sci-fi are the ones that make you question the context and imagine the world-building around the story. This is like a kid with their toes in the surf of an infinite ocean. I’d rank this higher if there wasn’t an absolutely useless sex scene.

Mason’s Rats

A comic short and a military organization of rats and a farmer’s attempts to get rid of them. This is a weak story overall because the ending isn’t earned. Looks cool and talks about the excess of AI robots, but it could have used another 5 minutes.

In Vaulted Halls Entombed

This is a weird one since it’s quite similar to Kill Team Kill… a solider squad it tasked with finding a thing, and that thing is killing them. The big bad here is an eldritch horror, and the ending is unnecessarily ambiguous. Cabin in the Woods did this story line better.

Jibaro

This is a stunning take on infatuation and obsession which lead to horrible loss. The main character is deaf, which means that the sounds shut off completely when he’s the focus, making for a really amazing sensory experience. This one is a real highlight of the season, and plays out like a fable of old.

Guardians of Justice (2022)

So this popped up on my Netflix feed the other day. It gave a lot of Kung Fury vibes, with a surreal take on the 80s. GoJ is that, but quite a bit more. It tries to answer the question, “what if Superman was depressed?” Or perhaps, what if superhero flaws were human?

Adi Shankar is a very particular individual. He takes mainstream ideas, and then strains them through all the tropes he can muster, turning the subject inside out.

Guardians of Justice is such an endeavour. The plot itself is a unhealthy take on the superhero genre, with an in-your-face approach to get the message across. Alan Moore runs on multiple complex levels, but the goal is deconstruction (and The Watchmen technically only has 1 superhero, everyone else is human with a fetish). There’s no subtlety here, and the mix of genres (live action, anime, CGI) help to keep it interesting. There’s something to be said about a boss battle being more like a video game than just a mush of blurry CGI.

As much as I enjoyed the 80s comic book and (heavy) social filter, the more enjoyable part was how every character has some rather massive flaws that are not plot bound but based on the character. It makes for a dark take on the “good vs bad” of the MCU, and honestly highlights the rather major flaws in that recipe. There are no giant plotholes here, no hand waving, no McGuffin to chase.

I can’t say the series is for everyone, it is not at all a pick-me-up type of story. It starts off on an incredibly dark take and just dives deeper as the story goes on. Heck, by the end you’ll wonder if there ever was a “good guy” in the entire story. Still, I’m glad that the series came out. It takes some interesting risks, and for the most part, they pay off. Well worth a binge.

Wheel of Time – Series

Where LotR was the fantasy foundation for, well, pretty much everything, Wheel of Time (WoT) can be seen as the major precursor to the sprawling epics of today (think what Game of Thrones should have been). I read the series multiple times, re-reading every book when a new one came out – fair to say it’s been formative in my understanding of fantasy literature.

WoT spans 13 (!!) novels, and close to 12,000 pages in paperback. It took 23 years to get it all out, and the main author (Robert Jordan) passed away before the final 3 novels could go out. Others have tried to emulate this structure (Sword of Truth is next up, which is a long post itself) with varying levels of success. The logistical nightmare of building something this large, with this many meaningful characters is astonishing. And to actually be able to finish the storyline with some level of quality is astounding. The most meaningful part of this series is the approach to magic use in fantasy settings – a setting of its time. Both men and women have access to magic, though the men have to pass through a taint in order to access that power – eventually rendering them mad. While I am certain there are plenty of ‘woke’ people who will see this as a bad setting, actually reading the books demonstrates a continuous level of grey at all levels. From that initial separation and frankly, stereotype, the world needs to find some balance. Rarely does it work out.

It’s certainly a filmable series, but the sheer size would make this closer to 600 episodes without some amazing writing and editing. Amazon has taken that bet. Amazon released the first 3 episodes of 8 for season 1 last week. New episodes every week until Christmas.

Something was there before…

First 3 Episodes

I don’t think it’s possible to spoil a 20 year old story, but I guess there are people who don’t know King Kong loses in the end, or that the Titanic sinks.

The focus for these is really exposition, setting the stage for what comes. You meet the main characters of import – Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Lan. There are quite a few others along the way, and generally if they have more than a few lines of dialogue, they will be important later on. You get a quick overview of what happened an age ago, see Two Rivers, the trolloc battle, Shadar Logoth and the tinkers.

The army of shadow is well done, with the faceless in particular quite ominous. Think of the orcish army from LotR, but on serious evil steroids. The character learn quickly enough that they have been quite sheltered and that life outside their town is much more complicated. The major factions are put into play in some fashion, and the episodes generally follows the flow of the first novel.

There are no sex changes here, which makes sense given that this concept is sort of fundamental to the story capacity. They are multi-cultural, which works out just fine in the short term. It will be interesting to see how the Seachan are approached in future seasons… but that’s a while to go still. The actors do a serviceable job, with rather apt representations of their novel versions. Rand and Mat are easy enough to run with… Perrin is going to be interesting to see develop. In the novels, he has continual self-doubt that defines his character for a very long time. I’m quite curious to see how the actual Forsaken are cast and played through – they tend to be written as exaggerations of character flaws, with centuries of experience to plan ahead.

Now, is it a great series, with amazing production values and tight writing? It is not. It lacks the discovery element of modern writing style (think the wonder of Harry Potter), a martial approach to pretty much everything (like GoT at the start), and the need to set up dozens of threads for future tugs. How many series are able to knock it out of the park in the first season?

Is it worth watching? I would certainly recommend it, and for two reasons. First, so that you can experience the foundation for modern fantasy stories. You may think it’s a trope now, but it probably became one because of this series of novels. Second, because we could all use more series in this genre where the characters and plot are aligned. For every Expanse or Handmaid’s Tale, we get a Red Notice, or Warrior Nun.

I’ll have a fulsome review once all 8 episodes are out.

Dune 2021

I took English Lit in a catholic high school, and one of the assignments was a comparison of golden age authors against new age. To properly date that latter portion, I went to high school in the 90s. The books were of our choice, and I went and picked out Foundation and Empire by Asimov. I had read a few of his stories and thought it may be a good attempt (as it isn’t very big). I can still recall my teacher explaining to me I couldn’t pick a book in a series without starting at the start… and she offered instead that I pick up Dune. (I still read the Foundation series, multiple times over years… I’ll come back to this).

Dune is considered new wave (at least in today’s view) where sci-fi moved away from the technology and into the psychology of the characters. That’s in line with how society was coming to terms with the war being over and a bunch of flower children I suppose. I can still recall looking at the brick of a tome (before Wheel of Time’s doorstops) and wondering what I was getting into. I read the crap out of that book. And when I found out they made a movie about it, I was extremely excited! It was not a good movie, for many reasons. In the early 2000s we got a decent take on this with the Sci-Fi miniseries, with Children of Dune being a real standout.

Sci-fi, the good stuff, it not about laser beams and rocket ships. It’s often cerebral, and the dissection of what it means to be human in inhuman circumstances. That makes filming it quite difficult, as the exposition in a story is often hard to put on screen. You can’t just pick anyone to transform an idea from paper to screen – they have to fundamentally understand the entire story from start to end. The why more than the what. Dune is many things, and one of the more obvious ones is the examination of pre-determination, and religious zealots. Think about that for a minute. In today’s overly extra sensitive climate, how could any critique of religion not generate some negative feedback? Visually, the novel is sparse and monochromatic as the eponymous Dune is just one big giant desert. There’s a limit to how interesting you can make a desert.

Dune isn’t impossible to film because of it’s complexity, but it’s simplicity.

Denis Villeneuve

I have been a fan of him for a very long time. I’m fortunate enough to have experienced his earlier films in French, as he’s Canadian… and his extension into sci-fiction has been absolutely amazing. Arrival is based on a short story, with a slow burn pace that really messes with your assumptions throughout. Blade Runner 2049 is somehow an extension to a high point in sci-fi cinema. Of all the sci-fi sequels you have seen, how many would you actually consider ‘good’? Terminator 2 and Aliens are the only ones that come to mind, yet those are focused more on the action than the sci-fi portion (ironically, the 3rd+ films in those series are bad and from different directors).

Denis Villeneuve has a touch on both creating and presenting interesting characters, and framing them in such a way that the world is just as important. Think Zack Snyder’s ‘comic book shots’ but with actual purpose. There are very few directors today that can make the world itself a character, and Dune (the planet) is absolutely a character that needs focus.

Impossible Task

Making a great film requires so many pieces to fit really well together. The idea and script – for sure – but the passion from the actors as well. The sets need to be solid, the photography stellar, and the music emotive. There’s an element of luck here, both in the opportunity provided and then the ability to deliver. You’ll get something amazing like The Deer Hunter, and then from the same director, something horrible like Heaven’s Gate. Consistency is very rare, and then being consistent with social expectations even more so. Zack Snyder is super consistent. 300 and The Watchmen are deconstructions of their comic book variants, filmed in nearly the same method. That worked in earlier context. Man of Steel is a rough film because you are comparing it to something like Iron Man or The Avengers.

There are very few directors that have general free reign to build a film of their choice. Peter Jackson still has that, though it’s been a while. Christopher Nolan prints money. Clint Eastwood directs a heck of a film. How many others have a string of not only commercial but critical successes?

The Film

How about I actually talk about it for a minute?

Give the above constraints, the film does a spectacular job in all the meaningful areas. It wisely avoids the spacing guild’s theatrics and focuses almost entirely on the people and the planet(s). There’s no voice over, not internal dialogue, you never see the emperor. There’s no fantasy elements here – it feels physical and raw, which is a fascinating thing for any sci-fi movie. Certainly helps that every actor does a great job with their characters. I could do with a stronger Jessica, as the Bene Gesserit threat isn’t as obvious here as it is in the books. And Jason Momoa’s Duncan is well, Jason Momoa. That works in this film’s context, but Duncan is a pivotal character in the series and I’m curious how that will play out. Timothée Chalamet really surprised me. Paul is a complex character, where he is continuously fighting against a destiny that he didn’t want, and a teenager no less. It’s an interesting take to have multiple perspectives of the same vision, though I can see how some would see it repetitive.

The director of photography, combined with the musical score are borderline nature documentary in quality. It is hard to make a monochrome setting interesting, without some form of overexposure, but I found it worked really well here. The books really focus on how the Fremen are the desert, and vice versa. The limited exposure of Fremen in this film mean that the desert has to do the lifting. It’s like it’s giving people permission to simply exist. The sandworms appear more realistic than the world destroyers found in other iterations, which again is more in line with the books. This is the type of film that is made for the movie theatre, it’s an experience!

I think that’s the part I enjoyed the most about this interpretation. Similar to Jackson’s original LotR trilogy, it’s crystal clear that the production team understands the source material. They aren’t trying to put their spin on the story, but are trying to bring a complex story from the 60s to the 2020s.

If I had one disappointment is that the story ends earlier than I expected, and that the 2nd part won’t start filming for nearly a year. The benefit here is that the actual characters will have real-world aged, which is appropriate since their time in the desert is not a short one. The downside is that I am very much looking forward to more of this.

Absolutely a film to see.

Free Guy

The tldr; is that this movie could not have possible worked without Fornite. Full stop.

If you enjoy Ryan Reynolds being himself, well then, you’re going to enjoy this movie. If you want a social critique on MMO behaviors, then yeah, this is the movie for you. If you’re looking for a film full of easter eggs and call-outs to gaming, then this is a thousand times more appropriate than Ready Player One.

I have no idea who was smoking what when this pitch came through. An NPC in an MMO gains sentience, and then the McGuffin quest to find proof of the AI. Sounds like a few people on a couch, enjoying the air, and then this comes out. Without Fortnite taking over the west, there’s no way for movie goers to even understand the fundamentals here. The whole over 49 demographic is going to come away from this with barely any understanding of what’s going on.

It is worth pointing out that Taika Waititi goes for the fences in this one. It’s so borderline absurd, it’s realistic to the immature genius of game development studios. That he doesn’t use an accent here, really let’s him lay into the kiwi vibe something fierce. There’s not a scene he doesn’t completely own.

This is also a weird movie with the romantic aspect is a key turning point. Fine, the epilogue is laying it on thick (more on this) in terms of the main characters, but it’s also an interesting twist plot-wise, that acts as a deux ex machina. Gamers understanding MMO technical limitations will find this particular scene a little tough to swallow, but in the larger scheme, it works.

The whole movie is about breaking a 4th wall (or I guess a 5th) in blurring the line between the art and the consumer. The epilogue just puts it all out there… log off and talk to people. Feels like a giant critique of streamer/gamer culture, which doesn’t feel like it’s heavy handed. It does feel like this is a more cartoony version of a Black Mirror episode, and packaged in such a way that people can take something away from it, aside from depression.

Call me pleasantly surprised with the balancing act this film achieves. Plus, you know, Ryan Reynolds.

Loki

The joy of vacation is that the world keeps going while you’re away. It meant that by the time I came back the entire season of Loki was ready for a binge watch. And it is a worthwhile binge.

I won’t get into specific spoilers here, since that’s part of the ride. I will hit some broader strokes, which I think make this the most “comic book” of all the Disney series so far. The larger plot point tries to answer the question about free will or pre-destination.

The series deals with a time travel agency (TVA). You learn this in the first 5 minutes, and the set design is astounding. It’s borderline brutalist in architecture design, but also full of whimsy – making for a very anachronistic setting. Each episode has something going on within the TVA, and it always feels real. This is a big contrast to the Easter-egg-a-thon of episode 5, which is almost entirely CGI. Comics work because they don’t live in the grey. They have a base foundation from where people start, then end up in space or another dimension.

With the exception of the last episode, every other one manages to build an idea and then subvert expectations. It’s very close to Dr Who under Moffat, where it feels like a roller coaster in the dark, never quite sure of what twist is coming along, but it’s a fun ride. It’s supremely helpful that all the actors here do a great job with the material (casting Owen Wilson seems madly appropriate in his role). The last episode is almost entirely exposition, which I’ll get to in a bit.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the development that Loki goes through. He’s one of the most interesting villains in the MCU, and has been in as many films as the Avengers (10+ years). MCU isn’t known for character development, and Loki was certainly in that package. He was interesting because you were never quite sure what his next crazy plan would be to betray everyone. He was consistent in his inconsistency – sort of like Jack Sparrow. That is not the case in this series – he goes through ample character development, to the point where he is all but unrecognizable by the end. It’s a bit weird that a being thousands of years old has a major change in a couple day’s adventures. He’s not causing any mischief – which is sort of his bag.

The last episode is pure comic book exposition. Love it or hate it, comics books follow a story line for months, then when it’s about to close, they put on bigger stakes or a bigger villain. Loki goes all in on this, and sets up phase 2 of the MCU multi-verse with the grace of a sledgehammer. Which, fine if it wasn’t preceded by 5 episodes of character progression. The sole saving grace in the last episode is that the character doing the exposition is frankly the most interesting character I’ve ever seen in MCU.

Some caution on the multi-verse… I read comics in the 80s when this took off. Without a leash, it goes off the rails super quick and nothing matters anymore because there’s another version to make up the gap. You get something like Sliders rather than Fringe. I’m less worried because it’s clear that Marvel has the larger plot points locked up 5-10 years down the road (as compared to DC), and yet the movie audience is not going to see these movies for the plot.

I liked Wandavision’s slow burn reveal, which was also wonderfully acted. I didn’t like Falcon and the Winter Soldier as it wasn’t episodic, with a really weird pace and structure. Loki feels like the best of the MCU series, while still being handcuffed to the larger story arcs.

Love, Death & Robots – Season 2

I’d been looking forward to this for some time, as I rather enjoyed the first season. I’ve been a fan of Heavy Metal since my younger years, if only because it often provided a raw view of Sci-Fi in visual medium. I do have a heck of a passion for long-form sci-fi, but truth be told, the short story format is often much more enjoyable. LD&R is all about short form stories, with 10min average duration for each short.

Season 2 is only 8 episodes, whereas season 1 was 18. It’s also much less excessive. You’re not going to find Aquila Rift’s 2 minute sex scene here. One short in particular is impressively violent, and another is a very difficult watch given the context.

Automated Customer Service

A humorous short and a killer automated vacuum cleaner. The pacing is good, and the context somewhat surreal. It lacks the larger questions of most sci-fi. I found it the weakest of all.

Ice

This one has very unique art style – in line with Zima Blue from prior season. It has a decent concept, about teenager social acceptance, this time through the lens of ‘modifications’. The final action bit feels like you’re there, and look brilliant. I think the art choice here is better for it, as it focuses on contrasts.

Pop Squad

This is a very hard watch the first time through, as you’re lacking the context for the first few minutes. It’s the longest of all the stories, and I’m going to avoid spoilers beyond. I enjoyed this story the most as it asks some fundamental questions and leaves plenty of room for discussion.

Snow in the Desert

A merc is hunted for his biological abilities. The themes here are more complex than the other stories, or at least appear so to me. The art here is photo-realistic, and makes it all pack a lot more punch. I find it has good pacing, but certainly has a sterotypical romance sub-plot that feels tacked on. Those should be earned, which is all but impossible in a short story.

The Tall Grass

This is the horror episode and I don’t quite follow why it’s here. I do enjoy the art style, and the panic within the story. But it’s based on multiple bad decisions, and then luck at the end. I don’t enjoy stories that depend entirely on crutches.

All Through the House

What if Christmas had a horror tinge? The shortest and most surreal stories in the anthology, it asks the simple question ‘what if you were naughty’ for Christmas…It’s frankly surreal and I ended up confused as to who the target audience is for this one.

Life Hutch

So if you want to see a Michael B Jordan likeness in a sort of prison room, this is up your alley. With shades of a larger storyline, this one suffers greatly with editing. Take the crazy robot from Red Planet and you have all you need to know about this story. Too bad, cause the backstory here seems infinitely more interesting.

The Drowned Giant

Now here’s an interesting one on the concept of major events, impacts, and longstanding memory. You’re never quite sure if this is a fever dream or real. How the larger un-answered questions remain – like are there other giants? It begs to ask what really is meaningful and how unique events eventually become integrated into local legend. This is a real black sheep episode as it had no external conflict, it’s just a journal of an interesting event. I found it captivating in its simple portrayal.

Overall

With only 8 episodes and less hard sci-fi theme, it was quite a bit different than season 1. As with that, there are some stories that will hit harder than others, some where you want to learn more, others where you need to watch again, and then some that you can do without. Same with any short-story book really.

I will say that it reinforces the concept that great sci-fi is about the people in sci-fi settings, not a plot for plot’s sake.

I am hopeful for a season 3!