THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (2021)

Sadly, no good.

Starts out interestingly enough, but the instant it becomes so meta that you expect it to elevate into something wild, it just… stops evolving.

The rest of the (very extensive) runtime is filled with dull exposition and mediocre action. Familiar characters return, with some of them swapped out for younger counterparts (with wobbly in-world explanations) since it seems unlikely Hugo Weaving or Lawrence Fishburne were going to get back into fighting shape for another go around the block.

Action films have come a long way since the original Matrix, and it’s disappointing that there’s nothing here that comes even remotely close. It’s unremarkably shot, and there’s not a single iconic setpiece, which is odd in a franchise that exploded to fame on the back of its iconic setpieces. We all thought, apparently foolishly, that the return of The Matrix meant some grand, mind-bending new evolution of action films again. Hell, Keanu’s still on his A-game with the John Wick franchise.

Instead, Resurrections chooses to go down this strangely self-aware and self-referential path, but then doesn’t really capitalise on the ideas at all. One of the earliest bits of dialogue in the film literally goes: Our parent company, Warner Media, was going to make another Matrix anyway, at least this way we get to do it on our terms.

Kind seems like “on our terms” meant taking everyone’s interest in the franchise out the back and shooting it.

Don’t bother.

DON’T LOOK UP (2021)

Your standard Adam McKay biting satire that’s so uncomfortably close to reality as to hardly qualify as satire.

This time around, it’s a comet headed for Earth with a 100% guarantee of a planet-wide extinction event, and the absolute trainwreck of a circus that ensues from the media parade of misinformation, disinformation, corporate interest and general political fuckery.

It’s frequently infuriating in its accuracy, playing for comedy what could be modern headlines with only a few small tweaks.

If the pandemic hasn’t yet completely soured your appetite for laughing at this sort of thing, then it’s a solid comedy with a stacked cast and a black heart.

Recommended.

FOUNDATION // s01

It’s long been held that Isaac Asimov’s titanic science fiction book series Foundation could not be adapted. As it stands, it still hasn’t been.

There are ten fairly short novels comprising Foundation, the bulk of which are made up of anthologised tales of men in rooms discussing historical events in extraordinarily dry fashion. They’re fascinating reads, absolutely, but they don’t make for exciting television.

The Apple+ series counterbalances this by altering the characters and the narratives to focus on some of the action of the various conflicts, however in doing so it fundamentally alters what Foundation is.

The problems come when the cold, clinical narratives about predictive models of mathematics and “psycho-history” from the novels are adapted somehow into storylines that border on mysticism and the supernatural, while handwaving away what should be hard explanations as simply fatalism cloaked in “very fancy maths”.

In the novels, the moral is that individual actions are essentially meaningless against the tide of culture and time. Humanity as a large-scale movement in eminently predictable in its behaviours, and individuals are not be able to alter this course, only adapt and prepare for its eventualities.

In the show, individuals shift and alter events, and talk of mathematical predetermination on granular scale. They have visions and talk about fate and higher individual purpose. It’s a complete inversion of the point and emphasis of the books, and as such, Foundation still cannot be said to have been adapted.

There is certainly some fantastic work going into this. The cast are excellent, the effects and designs are extremely well executed. Some of the concepts presented are fascinating.

As an original, standalone sci-fi series, it’s pretty decent for the most part. But as an adaptation, it fails, and it fails hardest when it deviates furthest from the source material.

Read the books instead.

COWBOY BEBOP (2021)

It’s not bad!

Look, it’s missing a bit of the punch and slickness of editing and action that made the anime series so memorable, but the cast is great, the soundtrack bops and it’s mostly a fun, silly scifi romp.

Not without its criticisms, however. The extension of the villain’s story does little to establish him as a credible threat, and some of the VFX look very unfinished. Action can be kind of stitled, which is a shame because it has glimmers of real creativity and excellence that shine through and unfortunately serve to highlight the flaws.

But mostly the characterisations are fun, albiet slightly different takes to the original. If you want slavish dedication to the source material, just rewatch the anime. The prime three (John Cho, Daniella Pineda and Mustafa Shakir) are all totally on point for this interpretation.

My main disappointment was that the show didn’t adhere to the brilliant sylisation of the promotional segments, or at least leaned harder into some kind of hyper-realism to make it pop. That could have been truly special.

If you’re willing to take this on its own terms, it’s a totally serviceable space action adventure.

Good, not great.

ARCANE // s01

A high water mark for animation, bringing fantastic art design and execution to a rich and detailed fantasy world.

From my understanding, knowledge of League of Legends (the game franchise this is based on) is unnecessary, and it certainly seems interested in making itself both accessible and engaging.

Action is kinetic and complimented by exceptional VFX work. Characters are complex, and their relationships shift and change to keep you wondering who will survive, ally, betray. It’s a big cast, but it’s very well balanced, even when it occasionally feels like it’s spreading itself thin across too many threads.

Plenty has already been said about the stunning visual style, and it’s all warranted. Better though, the story feels like it barely scratching the surface of a huge world.

Already renewed for a second season, and incredibly promising.

Highly recommended.

MARVEL’S ETERNALS (2021)

So different to the usual Marvel fare that it’s understandable the audience reaction is so mixed.

I really enjoyed it though! Don’t believe the haters, there is really something distinct here.

A cosmic epic spanning millennia, centering on a group of immortal beings sent as caretakers for humanity to gently guide their development.

Yes, it’s very slow and often dense with exposition. I would argue it might have been better served as a prestige series to allow it more time to breathe, but it does a lot with the time its given even if the pacing is uneven. Even at two and a half hours it feels like some decent sized chunks were lost in the edit.

The characters are great and their “family” dynamic is full of well executed moments and humour. Their powers are all distinct and visually striking, some of the most interesting in the MCU. The visual design is on a whole other level, there’s a kind of scope and scale here that’s wonderful to behold. The lore, while heavyhanded, is fascinating and rich.

Not without its problems, but I’m willing to forgive a lot for the sake of ambition on display. Doesn’t require any pre-existing knowledge of Marvel stuff to get into it, this is actually impressively standalone for the most part. It’s taking chances I want to see more blockbusters take.

Not for everyone, but certainly not the disaster some are hyperbolically painting is as.

Recommended.

DUNE (2021)

The granddaddy of modern sci-fi finally gets its (partial) due on the big screen.

Yep, it’s probably worth knowing going in that this is very much Part One of a gigantic epic. For all the political machinations and galactic prophesies, it only covers around half of the first book — pretty much right before things get weird.

This is prestige science fiction: incredibly shot, full of iconic design and a thundering soundtrack, political subterfuge, stacked cast. It’s slow and contemplative and absolutely dense with cryptic worldbuilding; there’s a lot to take in and someone unfamiliar with the classic could find themselves kind of lost.

There’s a depth and a complexity to the visual design and lighting that makes it feel both jaw-droppingly fantastical and tangibly, organically real. It feels like a totally realised world on a galactic scale — an immense achievement and a high-watermark for blockbusters.

So yes, it does feel incomplete, but it absolutely lays an amazing foundation for sequels. It will be an utter tragedy if Villeneuve doesn’t get to continue his vision because he’s knocked it out of the park yet again, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of what the books have to offer.

EDIT: Part Two was announced as greenlit between my original post and the following morning. Hooray!

Now that things are safe, go out there and see it big and loud. A true cinematic experience, even if it’s only half of the first part of an epic story so far.

Highly recommended.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021)

Absurdly violent, ridiculously silly and very, very entertaining.

The smartest move was definitely to just ignore that they made one of these in 2016 and throw a whole pile of fresh C-list characters into the grinder.

Never once takes itself seriously, yet manages to take enough time to bring an emotional core to each of these assholes to make the stakes stick and the action meaningful.

Soundtrack’s great, characters are fun, story is appropriately bonkers. Most importantly, it’s a good time!

Easily the best DC film, requires zero comic knowledge to enjoy.

Definitely recommended.

THE STAND (2020)

Ironic that this released just as the world was dealing with a very real pandemic, so understandable that it was largely ignored or passed over given the circumstances.

Stephen King stories are best treated as limited series such as this, as it gives the characters plenty of room to exist and be human within the story.

As post-apocalyptic tales go, this is more mythical forces of good and evil acting through human conduits than say, your standard meditation on the nature of humanity in a world gone to hell.

Plus, the production quality really sells the end of the world and the casting is all excellent.

A solid and faithful adaptation of King’s epic, tweaked and modernised just enough to play to modern sensibilities.

Recommended.