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Nightcrawler: Where it Started, Why I Like Him, and Comics I Own and Have Read

It might go without saying, but Nightcrawler is my favorite Marvel character.  In my experience, I will find that one character that I really get invested in and want to read up on.  When it comes to DC, that comes in the form of Tim Drake (Red Robin/Robin III), Roy Harper (Speedy/Arsenal), Joey Wilson (Jericho), and Ra’s al Ghul.  Of course, I enjoy other characters from both Marvel and DC (ex. Wolverine, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, Red Hood (Jason Todd), and Starfire), but there will usually be one or two characters that I will always return to.

I thought I would go over where my interest for Nightcrawler began, why I like him, and X-Men comics that I own, alongside Nightcrawler centered stories.

A Little Bit of Background on My Relationship with Marvel and DC

Before I jump right in, I feel like I should preface this stating how I was mostly a DC viewer growing up.  A number of my favorite shows as a kid included Static Shock, Teen Titans, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Batman Beyond.  I did watch Marvel shows like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and snippets of X-Men Evolution, enjoyed the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, as well as liking the first 2000’s Fantastic Four.  I would certainly say I was more of a DC fan as a kids. 

That kind of continued when I finally got into comics during the rise of DC’s Rebirth comic line after spending years as a slightly more avid manga reader.  I started reading up on characters I liked and branched out and found new characters and series to enjoy.  Recently, I feel like I’ve hit a wall with what to read next with DC.  With Rebirth ending and not really knowing what to jump into next, I was at a bit of a stalemate.  During this time is when I got interested in checking out Marvel content.  More specifically Nightcrawler/X-Men.  I cannot pinpoint exactly when or why it started, but it was in the last few months.

Currently, I’ve read through a good chunk of the original X-Men run, read through the 2003 run of Wolverine, a few smaller X-Men runs like X-Men Gold, X-Men Red, and All New X-Men, and am planning to jump into Sandman (DC/Gaiman) and getting into the X-Men run starting with House of X.  

The Beginning: Where it Began

With that little bit of history out of the way, allow me to get into Nightcrawler.  I guess it would have started with X-Men Evolution.  I didn’t watch it much when I was younger, but when I did catch it, I found myself liking Kurt.  It probably had to do with how laid back he was and him being the more comedic of the gang (that probably contributed to why I liked TMNT 2003’s Michelangelo too).  One episode of X-Men Evolution I remember watching was Middleverse, the season one episode where Kurt accidently ends up in another dimension of sorts and meets Forge.  It wasn’t the only X-Men media I had watched over the years, as I also remember seeing Wolverine 2013, First Class, and was overall aware of the X-Men movies.  Though, I will admit that I never got around to all of it back then.  

Jump to the latter half of 2021.  I was trying to find more graphic novels to read, but I was at a bit of a stalemate.   I fell into a bit of a DC slump.  Rebirth was ending and The Joker War event, mainly what they did with the Nightwing portion, I think burnt me out a little.  Nothing seemed to be grasping my interest except for Batman Urban Legends, which is where Tim Drake came out as bisexual.  Side note: I actually purchased a hard copy of Batman Urban Legends not too long ago. 

It would be around this time that I would start getting into Nightcrawler.  And it involved a crossover in a DC community I am apart of.  It’s there that this interest in Kurt returned.  It would respawned an interest in Nightcrawler and be what lead to my getting into X-Men as a whole.

Then came the movies, which I am getting around to binging.  I think the only reason I hadn’t was because of how the timeline diverged after First Class and/or Days of Future Past, and for whatever reason that confused me at first.  That and the poor reception of The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Dark Phoenix.  In hindsight, the timeline of the movies isn’t all that complicated, and I’m still going to watch all of movies, weaker ones included.  The movies also had some stellar casting choices.  Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy as Charles Xavier/Professor X, Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, and Hugh Jackman were all iconic.  A good chunk of the cast was also good.  For instance, people really seem to enjoy Evan Peters’ Peter (Pietro) Maximoff, myself included. 

And of course, there’s Kurt Wagner.  Portrayed by Alan Cummings in X2 and Kodi Smit-McPhee in Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix, I would say both did well with the character.  I kind of like Kodi Smit-McPhee’s a little better, but Alan Cummings did good too.  I only wish either appearance confirmed Nightcrawler’s relation with Mystique, his mother.  Heck, they could have confirmed both of Nightcrawler’s parents in Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix since Azazel, his father, appeared in First Class (and later confirmed dead) and Mystique was present since First Class.

That’s were it all began.  An interest in Nightcrawler’s X-Men Evolution would go dormant until a crossover event reignited by interest in the character.  And his portrayals in the movies have caught my interest.  

The Character: Why I Like Him

Why do I like Nightcrawler?  There’s a lot to like about him, I think.  In terms of design, he looks pretty cool.  His abilities are neat and his weaknesses make sense.  For me, it comes down to personality, backstory, and what he represents.

In terms of personality, he’s light-hearted and optimistic.  He can display moments of anger, sorrow, and fear, but he is usually seen as pretty positive, all things considered.  And with Logan being his best friend, it’s the perfect balance to his more stern and pessimistic world view.  He’s flirty, but not in a problematic or annoying kind of way.  In some ways, he could be seen as a hopeful outlook for the future, while also not being blind to the problems in the world.  

His backstory.  There is a lot that went wrong in his life, despite what his more positive outlook might suggest.  His mother abandoned him as a baby.  The circus that he was raised in drugged and used him.  Said circus was also going to sell him to be a road side attraction if not for Margali Szardos, his adopted mother, freeing him.  And because of a promise he made, Kurt had to kill his adopted brother when he lost his mind and killed a bunch of people, not that the mob knew.

I think his past is something that helps show how despite how terrible things can be, people can still come out of it on top.  It might not be easy, but it is possible.  Life didn’t give Nightcrawler much peace prior to joining the X-Men.  Margali and her biological children certainly love him like family, but the circus they were apart of wanted to exploit him.  And the reason Charles found him being pursued was because the mob chasing him thought he killed Stefan Szardos and the missing people, when in actuality, Stefan killed the missing people and Kurt only killed Stefan out of self-defense and a promise he made to Stefan, where if Stefan went off the deep end, Kurt would stop him.  Yet, he never became cruel later in life, rather, he was a better person than those who wronged him.

I also kind of like how he got the last name Wagner.  At least originally.  I’m not sure if Marvel ever retconned the whole thing where Mystique was married to Baron Christian Wagner and had an affair with Azazel, which later lead to Kurt’s conception, and that being where Kurt got his last name despite not being the baron’s biological son.  Originally, Kurt took on the last name Wagner because of a priest to housed him after Margali released him and he was being pursued.  Father Wagner gave Kurt a place to stay, despite Kurt’s “demonic” appearance.  This is also where Kurt’s teleporting would come into effect as he would use it when Herr Getmann’s men came for him.  He did end up leaving the church, but Kurt didn’t forget the priest’s kindness, taking on the last name Wagner in his honor.  

As for what Kurt represents, I feel he fits into a few different categories.  I’ve mentioned how he represents good people rising up from bad situations, which is one thing he can represent.  Something else he represents is how people shouldn’t judge things based on how they appear.  The old Never Judge a Book by It’s Cover saying if you will.  He might look evil/demonic, but is one of the most kind hearted and saintly people out there.  That’s something that also makes his friendship with Logan great and so symbolic.  Both of them are considered monsters in some way, externally (Kurt) or internally (Logan).  Yet, both are also human.  Logan has gone onto say how Kurt is one of the most saintly guys he’s met, and Kurt, despite knowing how gruesome his job can be, sees the good in Logan and knows that he’s not an animal or evil.

One other thing I feel Kurt represents, and this could just be me, is irony.  He’s a “demon” yet he’s Catholic.  He’s morally good, while his parents would be considered morally bad (though Mystique could be morally grey given she isn’t purely evil and has helped her children).  Both of which I feel perfectly define what irony is.  

Reading Between the Lines: Comics I’ve Read and Comics I Own

I own a handful of X-Men comics.  Some solo series, some with the team.  Nightcrawler has a few solo series: Age of X-Men: The Amazing Nightcrawler, X-Men Icons: Nightcrawler, a four issue mini series, and two twelve solo series in 2003 and 2014.  Of his solo pieces, I own the 2003 and 2014.  I haven’t started them yet, but I have skimmed through both. 

As far as X-Men comics with Nightcrawler as a central character, I’ve read and own several.  Of course there is the X-Men run in the 70’s, starting with Giant Sized X-Men #1 by Chris Claremont.  That run, which does go on for several years, is recommended by quite a few people who want to start X-Men comics.  It’s a classic and a good place for a start.  I don’t own any of the Claremont run, but I do have a list of issues that I’d like to purchase one day.  A few other series I’ve read through in their entirety include X-Men Gold, Extraordinary X-Men.  I’ve read some of Wolverine’s 2003 run, some of Wolverine’s first solo, Second Coming, the story where Nightcrawler dies, and one volume of Chuck Austen’s Uncanny X-Men.  Specifically the Trial of Juggernaut volume since it had the notoriously bad story, The Draco, which I only read after I learned about Kurt’s father through the First Class movie and his appearance in Amazing X-Men volume one (the one where Nightcrawler is brought back to life).

I like Azazel, and don’t mind him as Kurt’s father.  It’s a bit of an unpopular opinion, but that’s okay.  I was going to read The Draco either way because I wanted to see how bad it was.  But since I liked Azazel in his other appearances, The Draco didn’t tarnish it much, outside of thinking that the story could have been a whole lot better.

A few other comics I own, but have yet to start, include House of M, Inferno, Giant-Sized X-Men volume #1 (2020), Way of X, X-Men (2020) volume one, Amazing X-Men volume 1 The Quest for Nightcrawler, The Hellfire Gala, Wolverine (2020) volumes 1-3, The Death of Wolverine, The Return of Wolverine, Wolverine: Weapon X the Gallery Edition, and Wolverine the Deluxe Edition.  I might be missing one or two, but those are the ones I know I own.  Nightcrawler also appears in a number of them.

I would certainly say that my collection is very Nightcrawler and Wolverine involved.  Yes, the broader X-Men comics do have the rest of the X-Men, but if there was a pattern, that would be it.  Which is by no means a problem.  Everyone reads comics a bit differently.  I will certainly read a series if it interests me, but I also like reading comics with my favorite characters.  It’s a reader by reader basis.

While I would recommend all of these, if you are looking for Nightcrawler reads, I would recommend: Claremont’s run starting with Giant-Sized X-Men #1, Nightcrawler (2003), Wolverine by Greg Rucka #6, for both a great story with Logan and Kurt and a gem of a censor passing cover, Second Coming, Amazing X-Men, Nightcrawler (2014), House of M, X-Men Gold, X-Men (2020), Giant-Sized X-Men (2020), Return of Wolverine, Way of X, and Inferno.  There are more out there, I am still working my way through X-Men comics. 

And as for movies, I’d recommend X2, X-Men Apocalypse, and X-Men Dark Phoenix.  I know the last one is considered more of a miss, just like the Dark Phoenix adaptation before it (The Last Stand), but thought I would include it.

BAMF: The Conclusion

Though not X-Men’s most popular member, Nightcrawler is one that is generally liked.  For me, a combination of his personality, backstory, adaptations, and what he symbolically represents is what I enjoy.  I also really enjoy his friendship with Logan.  I hope you enjoyed this little deep dive into why I like Kurt Wagner.  

Now I leave you with the following.  What are your thoughts on Nightcrawler?  What are your favorite adaptations of Nightcrawler?  Favorite stories?  Who’s your favorite X-Men member?


Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: A Review

In honor of Kenobi’s release and May being dubbed Star Wars Month, I wanted to do a review of the movies. Starting off with the first chronologically, but fourth released, The Phantom Menace. While not the most popular of the Prequel Trilogy, heck, not even the most popular in the franchise, The Phantom Menace is one movie that can be looked back on with either fondness and/or a keen eye for constructive criticism.

Funnily enough, this is my second favorite of the Prequel Trilogy. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure these days, as I can see how it is a flawed movie, but there was enough for me to enjoy it a bit more than the next installment (more on that movie later). But considering I was only six when The Phantom Menace came out, I am a bit nostalgic for the Prequel Trilogy.

The Phantom Flaws

Starting off with the flaws feels like a perfect start. Because out of the three prequel movies, this one probably has the most. In my experience I was able to narrow it down to a few factors: the effects, some of the designs, dialogue, and the political aspects of it.

Starting off with the more visually glaring aspect, are the designs for some of the characters. Now, some viewers will mention how certain characters and races, mainly the Neimoidians, Watto, and Jar Jar and the Gungans.

Six year old me didn’t know that these characters were racial caricatures. Even less so with Watto or the Neimoidians. It wasn’t until years later, and the rise of the internet, that I found out that they were. Whether not it was intentional, I could not tell you. I’m not defending it either way, I just haven’t found anything outright confirming if Lucasfilm and George Lucas made an intentional choice with it at this time. If there was one positive to come from the backlash it’s that Watto only had a brief appearance in Attack of the Clones while the Toydarian species, the Niemoidians, and the Gungans weren’t as prevalent, save for a few episodes of The Clone Wars and having very little screen time in the following Prequel movies. Though in the case of the Gungans, Jar Jar’s lack of screen time could have also been due to him missing the mark as the comic relief in The Phantom Menace.

Politics have been a part of Star Wars in some fashion. Whether it be in the form of the Rebellion vs the Empire or the governing system of certain planets. That said, the political aspect of Star Wars, at least in the original trilogy, wasn’t a huge focal point. It existed, but the focus was more on the fight between good and evil, battles in space, and the mysticism of the Force.

One of the bigger criticisms of The Phantom Menace, and by extent the prequel trilogy, is the attentiveness to the political side. It does feel a bit boring at times admittedly. Because while the political side could help build and diversify the planets (ex. Tatooine having a more Hutt dominated practically lawless state, not Republic abiding system, Ewoks having a more tribe based system with a chief, and Lothal having an Empire supporting leaders) in theory, the execution comes off as dull and prolonged. While a story doesn’t need constant action to keep intrigue, and political aspects not being inherently bad, there is a fine line between engaging and boring. The Phantom Menace falls into the latter as a lot of the communication and debate comes off as dull. Much like the previously mentioned characters, the political aspect is a bit more sparse, allowing it to have moments where it’s important and the not as engaging side being discussed in a conversation or two.

Speaking of dialogue, it is hit or miss. I’m not blaming the actors, some of the delivery does fall flat. A few examples can include how Anakin calls Padme an angel or how he says he’s a person and his name is Anakin. I don’t mean to jab at Jake Lloyd, as he was only ten years old, but those are examples of awkward dialogue.

And it’s not just a few lines from Anakin that seem to feel awkward. Jar Jar, who was supposed to be the comic relief of the movie, doesn’t have a lot of dialogue or actions that made me laugh. Granted, he does have less humor based dialogue, but I don’t recall his humored lines sticking. Not even when I was younger. For example, the ‘yousa point well seen’ quote when Obi Wan mentions what’ll happen to them if Jar Jar doesn’t take them to the Gungan city. While it is meant to be funny, I don’t think I so much as chuckled at it.

This is probably the least bothersome flaw, mostly because of the year it was released. With CGI being in its infancy when The Phantom Menace came out, it was going to age in some way. Whether something aged good or bad depends.

In the case of The Phantom Menace, while the practical effects work really well with some of the special effects, it has shown its age. On the one hand, while the more alien characters look passible enough, considering how far CGI has come, they aren’t as refined as some (though given what some of the special editions did, quite a bit of the CGI there doesn’t blend well). Things like the Trade Federation ships might be another point of how the CGI were a bit lack luster. All in all, the CGI hasn’t aged all that well.

In conclusion, it’s easy to see why this is considered one of the worst Star Wars films. And despite it being a guilty pleasure of mine, I do see its flaws. How certain characters look is questionable to say the least and the CGI has shown its age. The politics, while having the potential to have an air of intrigue, felt prolonged and dull. And certain dialogue didn’t stick the landing. With my flaws and critiques laid out, allow me to get into what I think this movie did well.

The Positive Menace

If there are a few things I can give The Phantom Menace credit for, it’s for casting, music, Darth Maul, and action. All of these are areas that, for the most part were well done. And these are reasons I enjoy it. One a little more than the rest.

When it comes to casting, there was a lot of good choices in this movie. Liam Neeson as Qui Gon, Natalie Portman as Padmé, Kiera Knightly as Padme’s decoy Sabé, and Samuel L Jackson, though maybe not his best, would become a staple in the series. We also have the return of Frank Oz as R2D2 and Yoda, Anthony Daniels as C3PO, and Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Sidious.

And while characters like young Anakin, the Gungans, and Jar Jar may be considered weak, I can appreciate that the actors did the best they could with the dialogue they were given. Basically, separating the dialogue and writing of the weaker characters, I would say that the actors themselves were fine.

That said, Ewan McGregor was (and is) one of the best casting choices out of the returning actors. The Prequel Trilogy is as much Anakin’s story as it is Obi Wan’s, and as such, we get to see how both of these characters grow. Ewan is one of the overarching positives that the Prequel Trilogy has. SO much so that Ewan will be returning to reprise the role in the Disney+ Obi Wan Kenobi mini series.

If there is one character that The Phantom Menace is praised for, it’s Darth Maul. For an antagonist who had very few scenes and only three lines of dialogue, he became one of the prequel trilogy’s popular characters. He looked cool, sounded cool, and had a double bladed lightsaber. As well as his fight with Qui Gon and Obi Wan being one of the best scenes in the movie.

People wanted more of him, his short screen time being a possible critique. As a result, he did get several books and comics as well as being brought back from the dead in the 2008 Clone Wars animated series. And when Disney acquired Star Wars, he got a few more comics and appearances in Rebels and Solo in their canon (with the books and comics released prior to the acquisition being labeled as Legends). For a character who only had minutes of screen time, he would become one of the most refined and developed characters from the Prequel Era.

The action in the movie is one of, if not it’s best, feature. It doesn’t have a lot, but that’s okay. It didn’t feel overly congested with action.

But that’s not to say that a little more action wouldn’t have made it better. Had it toned down the political aspect and added a little more action, there could have been a bit more of a balance. What we got though, was well choreographed and paced well.

And of course where there’s Star Wars, there is John Williams. As always, his score is something wonderfully crafted.

Each setting and scene had just the right tone and it all fit into the story. Going back to the Maul fight and the climax, Duel of the Fates was this movies Imperial March. While Imperial March is the most iconic piece from Star Wars, barring maybe the title theme and Binary Sunset, Duel of the Fates is no less iconic. So much so that it makes a subtle return in one particular seen in Rebels’ season 2 finale and in some ways could be seen as Maul’s theme. Just like Imperial March is with Darth Vader.

So despite the faults of The Phantom Menace, there are some good aspects in the movie. Aspects that could have needed more time or worked out well with the spectacles provided. One other positive this movie has, that I feel I should mention, is the pod racing scene. It was a spectacle in its own right and spawned an N64 racing game.

Conclusion

I would probably give this movie a five out of ten. It may be my guilty pleasure and what created my favorite Sith (Maul), but it does have a lot of flaws thanks to age and certain decisions made. Nostalgia can only go so far after all. However, I do think it’s enjoyable in its own right. If not as a good movie, than as a guilty pleasure or an it’s so bad it’s good kind of way.

What are your thoughts on The Phantom Menace? Did you enjoy it or would you consider it a bottom tier Star Wars film? Guilty pleasure and/or meme creator, perhaps? What are things you think this movie did right? And what do you think it could have done better?

Could Maul Have PTSD: A Star Wars Speculation

Of all the things to come out of The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul and Duel of the Fates are two icons that came out of the first prequel movie. Qui Gon and Mace Windu were other interesting characters and Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan would go down in history as an example of the perfect casting choices. Yes, there is Jar Jar and yes, it may not have aged the best, but The Phantom Menace is actually one of my favorite Star Wars movies, and honestly, it wasn’t all bad.

Yet, despite having the aforementioned positives, and being one of my favorites, it is a flawed movie. Special effects were still a work in process, the political side of it would feel odd, and midichlorians added what some might consider an unnecessary explanation of the Force, just to name a few critiques.

However, I am not here to dissect The Phantom Menace. No, today, I would like to dissect the character that only had a few minutes of screen time and ending up becoming one of the most developed characters to come out of the Prequel Movies.

Darth Maul

Darth Maul. The red Dathomirian Zabrak with the black tattoos and double bladed red lightsaber. He was Darth Sidious’ first apprentice given to Sidious as a baby (Legends) or as a child (Canon) and raised to be a Sith. He would fight Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan, killing the former and being “slain” by the latter. However, through pure hatred it was revealed that he survived, returning in the fourth season of Clone Wars, which just so happened to come out several months before Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney. Maul would stay alive through the rest of Clone Wars and into Rebels where he died. Scattered throughout, several Canon comics were released, where as his previous novels were considered Legend when Disney bought Star Wars.

Maul is certainly a well liked character. While maybe not as popular as Darth Vader or even Sidious, he left enough of an impression to make a return. And with his revival in Clone Wars, Dave Filoni was able to expand on the character. Not only by giving him a new lease on life with his motivation to kill Obi Wan and Sidious, but a family as well. Along with Asajj Ventress, viewers would get to learn more about the Dathomirian Zabrak. Asajj was revealed to be a Nightsister, the female Dathomirians, while Mother Talzin and Savage Opress was Maul’s mother and brother respectively.

With the development he got, how he was raised, and how Clone Wars ended, I feel like there is a discussion to be had about Maul’s psychology. Namely, that he could have some form of PTSD. And while that is by no means an excuse for the actions that he’s taken, it could help explain certain reactions and how his upbringing damaged him mentally.

What is PTSD?

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be defined as “a mental condition where someone experienced something traumatic”. Reactions can be triggered when remembering what happened, which can result in things like nightmares, depression, and feeling numb to name a few symptoms. It was at one point called shell shock, combat fatigue, and battle fatigue. When it comes to people with PTSD, the most recognized group are military personnel. With everything that happens during war, it isn’t surprising that they could/would come home with trauma. With that in mind, PTSD isn’t exclusive to war. Surviving a car accident could be another reason someone has it, or violence of any kind on a person could trigger it. These are just a few examples.

Common Symptoms/Reactions

There are a few common reactions and traits when someone has PTSD. Whether it be another mental condition, a physical reaction, sleep patterns, or something else, there are a few traits that someone with PTSD might experience. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Heightened Anxiety/Panic
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Isolation
  • Easily Angered/Increased Angered Outbursts
  • Easily Startled

I will touch on what symptoms Maul exhibits that could line up with him having PTSD. But first, I’d like to take a moment to go over why he might. What kind of trauma he might have experienced that would trigger PTSD in the character. And again, while this isn’t meant to condone his actions, it could help explain it with an additional angle.

Why Would Maul Have PTSD? What Could Have Caused it?

If Maul were to have PTSD, I’ve narrowed it down to three different catalysts. Because beneath all of the Sith training and high levels of anger and vengeance, which is common for a Sith, I wouldn’t say his life was easy. Who he was raised by and connections he lost couldn’t have been easy.

Darth Sidious: Raised, Trained, as Well as Tortured by

Where it be from infancy or as a child, Maul was raised by Sidious all the way up to his twenty second year. While Jedi have certain regulations, I don’t think he would have been as harmed by someone like Dooku or Qui Gon. And while all Sith aren’t harsh or abusive, Sidious isn’t known for being a warm master.

The man was cunning, intelligent, and strong in the Force. He desired power and control, following the Rule of Two as a guideline in which the apprentice wouldn’t surpass him. He wanted his apprentice strong, sure, but not enough to defeat him. Basically a puppet.

Now, depending on if it’s Canon or Legends, what Maul went through may vary. The only content to remain Canon for Maul after Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars was The Phantom Menace and Clone Wars. He got a few comics after the acquisition, like Son of Dathomir, Darth Maul (2017) and an issue of Age of the Republic as well as reappearing in Rebels. While storied lie Wrath of Darth Maul, Darth Maul (2000), Shadow Hunter, Saboteur, the Clone Wars tie in graphic novels, Maul Lockdown, and Darth Plagueis are all considered Legends.

Either way, it can be, at the very least implied that Darth Sidious was not a great guy to Maul. In Legends he was very stern with Maul due to his pride, which on it’s own wouldn’t seem problematic, but what really would make it problematic would be things like leaving him alone in Wrath of Darth Maul for extended periods as a means to hide him from Plagueis. In Canon, we don’t get to see too much of his childhood with Plagueis, but one could imagine he wasn’t much better.

Torture

Then you get into what viewers do know happened to him in Clone Wars and Son of Dathomir. Maul would be subjected to torture not around the dame time as two loses, which I will get into in a moment. He was electrocuted, imprisoned, and treated harshly.

And while Maul may hate Sidious, if seasons five and seven of Clone Wars were anything to go off of, he was terrified of Sidious. Begging for mercy even. But he never got it.

All an all, I would say that Sidious is Maul’s biggest source of trauma, outside of maybe the deaths of those close to him. Also how he survived The Phantom Menace.

Mental Instability After The Phantom Menace

Whether him surviving after being sliced in half was pure luck, a show of true will/hate, or plot armor, he did survive. He spent years on a trash planet where his sanity flew away. Going temporarily insane doesn’t really result in PTSD, and when I say ‘insane’ I mean he fell into madness while alone on Lotho Minor. I also believe it didn’t help. If being cut and half and surviving didn’t scar his psyche, the eventual break from being alone sure did.

This isn’t a super big cause, but I believe it could have been partially responsible. Being alone without a lower half on a trash planet for years doesn’t sound like an ideal situation. And the solitude less than ideal, even if he was more of a solitary character. Think solitary confinement, but a planet sized solitary confinement. Socially and mentally that doesn’t sound reasonable.

The Deaths of Savage Opress and Mother Talzin

This would be another big cause. Having witnessed both, it would have been traumatizing. Despite treating Savage like an apprentice like Sidious did with him, and not being able to show affection in a conventional way, Maul did care for him. In Rebels, when he tells Ezra how they could defeat the Empire as brothers, it is clear to see that he is still hurt by it.

The death of Mother Talzin wouldn’t be much better. She was the only family he had left and after escaping torture from Sidious, she would be killed by Grievous. He witnessed it, and while he has seen and caused his fair share of death, Talzin and Savage were the only people he had left.

It would also become a piece of his revenge puzzle. While coaxing Ezra into helping him, he relates to him by stating how the Sith (and by by extent the Empire) took everything from him.

In conclusion, Sidious, the loss of his family, and the time spent on Lotho Minor are all reasons that I believe Maul could have PTSD.

What Symptoms Would Maul Exhibit?

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/ has a page on PTSD. On this page, it has a section discussing symptoms. There they have them categorized into four categories, re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, arousal and reactive symptoms, and cognition and mood symptoms. For each category, someone would have to experience one ore more of the symptoms in each for at least a month. One or more for re-experience and avoidance, and two or more from arousal and reactive, and cognition and mood. Using the examples provided, I think I’ve narrowed it down a little.

Re-experience Symptoms

I would say that flashbacks, recurring memories or dreams of the event, and/or distressing thoughts. I feel flashbacks would be a given, but since it’s never really confirmed whether or not he has had flashbacks to his trauma, I do have a few alternatives. Recurring memories feels like the more accurate symptom in this category since at multiple times, he seems to dwell and recall Savage’s death and what Sidious is capable of. The former is more of a sad one since whenever he mentioned Savage (and Talzin) in Rebels it seems to be with a slightly more sorrowful tone, or an angered one when he remembers how the Sith did it to him.

Distressing thoughts could allude to how in season seven, when he is captured by Ahsoka, there is a moment of what could be perceived as disturbed or terrified. He would rather die than be captured and he’s vocal about it and how Ahsoka didn’t know what she had done. He sounded distressed. Not only because he was captured, but because he knew what was coming (Order 66) and that alarmed him.

Another disturbing thoughts, that might not have to do with his Sith upbringing, would be with how he felt abandoned by the Sith, namely Sidious. After surviving Phantom Menace and learning that his former master took on Dooku, he wanted revenge. However, there also seems to be an underlining feeling of abandonment. He was supposed to be there to help set up the Clone Wars, he was raised to be apart of that. So when he returned, he felt like he was abandoned. That everyone left him behind.

These are all potential ways that Maul could fit into the re-experience symptoms category. He could have had flashbacks that viewers never got to see. Feelings of abandonment or fear of the impending future could be signs of distressed thinking. Though the most likely is reoccurring memories, since it is shown that he does dwell on the losses of Savage and knowing what Sidious is capable off based on what the Sith Lord put him through.

Avoidance Symptoms

Of the two symptoms mentioned in this category, I would think that staying away from places/events/objects would be the more accurate symptom. He doesn’t try to hide his feelings and does dwell on certain thoughts pertaining to his life and potential trauma.

Of the two symptoms mentioned in this category, I would think that staying away from places/events/objects would be the more accurate symptom. He doesn’t try to hide his feelings and does dwell on certain thoughts pertaining to his life and potential trauma. Along with avoiding places, I would also add avoiding people.

While it was also a smart move on his part, going into hiding until the events of Rebels season 2 could have been his way of avoiding things. On Malachor, he didn’t have to worry about running into Sidious or any planet that could turn him over to him. He might have had to deal with an Inquisitor or two, but fore the most part, he was on his own to reflect and plan his eventual return. Which he would later get to some degree by the time Rebels came along.

Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms

The first of the two categories that need two or more symptoms, I think I know the perfect two. Irritability with angry or aggressive outbursts and engaging in reckless, risky, or destructive behaviors. Both fall may fall into what makes a Sith a Sith, but I think they would be amplified.

Angry or aggressive outbursts could be explained by how explosive his anger was when he found out about. He was angry that he was abandoned and even more so when his brother was killed. Another example of an aggressive outburst was when he killed the Seventh Sister. When Ezra refused to kill the Inquisitor, Maul took it the matter into his own hands. And while this could be seen as a logical choice from one aspect, to Ezra, who at that point was taught not to be as lethal, it would have been a pretty aggressive move.

Engaging in reckless, risky, or destructive behaviors could appear in the form of getting revenge against Sidous and Obi Wan and trying to manipulate Ezra into becoming his apprentice. Revenge can be a risky business, but in Maul’s mind, it’s justified. People did him wrong and he wanted to make them pay. It never really ended the way he wanted, but it wouldn’t stop him from trying. Manipulation can be destructive. Not only to the person doing it, but to the person being manipulated.

Those are the arousal and reactivity symptoms that Maul fits into. These symptoms would have been amplified because he was a Sith, but all the same, they are symptoms that fit. Aggressive/Angered outbursts and partaking in risky/reckless/destructive behavior are the symptoms that I feel Maul fits best into.

Cognitive and Mood Symptoms

For the final category, the two symptoms that Maul would have include negative thoughts about oneself or the world, in this case the world and distorted thoughts about the event resulting in feelings of blame. I also feel like ongoing negative emotions would also be another symptom of his, if merely amplified thanks to his Sith teachings.

In regards to negative emotions to the world, Maul sees the world as doing him wrong. He lost the life he had after Phantom Menace, he lost family during the Clone Wars, and bitterly notes how he was abandoned in Rebels. These events lead to negative thoughts, but not on himself. Rather, towards the world. Life and people had been cruel to him and it wasn’t something he personally internalized.

Which leads into the distorted thoughts and blame. One could argue that some of what life dealt him was self inflicted. His pride being his biggest weakness in a lot of fights. However, he never put the blame on himself, whether he was partially or whole heartedly to blame, if at all. Instead, he blames others, most notably Sidious and Obi Wan. Both did him wrong on the most significant level. Obi Wan beat him and Maul wishes to get back at him for it. Sidious, he caused Maul to be where he was at throughout the series. The fact that Maul was so easily “replaced” and abandoned left two scars.

One being in the form of the only person he had a connection to in some way leaving Maul behind and cutting those ties. Part of that does have to do with Maul being presumed dead until Clone Wars, which was a good decade or so after Phantom Menace. Yet, when Sidious knew, he didn’t take Maul back, which could have dug that feeling of abandonment deeper. The second being how Sidious, in Maul’s mind, would be the source of all his problems. He trained him, tortured him, and killed his family. Had Maul not been taken in by Sidious, his life could have been better. Not by much considering Dathomir’s hierarchy looked down on the male Zabrak and treated them as lower class/slaves, but somewhat better.

In those ways, Maul has hit at least two cognative and mood symptoms. They do overlap, but are distinct in their own way. Two are layered yet separate symptoms.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Maul could very well have PTSD, implied or diagnosed. It isn’t outright confirmed or canon, what he went through, coupled with his Sith upbringing would play a role in his mental state. The loss of family and torture at the hands of Sidious, alongside how Sidious treated him on a personal level is grounds for unresolved trauma. When inspecting the character and his story, he can fit into each category of symptoms, re-experience, avoidance, arousal and reactivity, and cognitive and mood, in his own way.

Source

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd#part_6127

Peter Gordon, Trauma, and Psychology: The Power of the Dog Introspective

Trauma. It can have an array of effects on people including nightmares, fear, and depression, among other responses. In media, it can be used to explore a type of trauma and/or to help the character grow. It’s not uncommon, yet not an everyday occurrence.

In The Power of the Dog, both the book and movie, it’s something Peter Gordon, one of the main characters is familiar with. The death of his father. Having seen his father’s lifeless body after he killed himself, which the book goes into more detail on, to say that Peter was effected by it might be an understatement.

Then comes the Burbank brothers. While George is a wonderful gentleman, it’s his brother Phil who makes the home a bit more hostile.

They way his father’s death not only effected him personally, but how he perceives his duty. Because he never really had a father figure in between his father’s death and Rose’s marriage to George, he in some ways had to grow up and take care of his family. And though not as expressive or emotional, readers and viewers never really get to see how he grieved. If he did.

Through various quotes and moments, I wanted to take a deep dive into Peter Gordon as a character. Mainly how things like his father’s death, alcoholism in the family, and Phil may have contributed to some form of trauma.

“When my father passed, I wanted nothing more than my mother’s happiness. For what kind of man would I be if I did not help my mother? If I did not save her?”

-Peter Gordon (The Power of the Dog)

The movie starts off with this quote. Because of the death of his father, Peter essentially was the “man of the house” and was in charge of making sure his mother was safe. This also foreshadows how he approaches Phil later on in the story, specifically more towards the end, giving what he did more motive.

He has to worry about his mother, since he is all she had until she marries George Burbank. And when she does get married, he still worries about her.

While Peter did become independent, his relationship with Rose could be seen as a form of parentification. He genuinely loves his mother and wants to protect her, because of his father’s death. However, in some ways, Peter had essentially become a caretaker for Rose.

Parentification is defined as a child taking on the role of parent for other children and/or parents. There are two main subsections in parentification: instrumental and emotional parentification. Instrumental is where the child performs duties that might normally fall on parents, like making dinner for the household, taking care of sick family members, and taking other children to and from school. Emotional parentification is when the child takes on the role of emotional confidant/counselor/caretaker to their parents.

I would say that Peter could suffer from a combination of both. Because while he does care for his mother and had cause to confront Phil on her behalf, he shouldn’t have been required to. And while Peter was mature for his age, he was still a sixteen year old who was dealing with the lose of his father with his mother. He shouldn’t have had to with him being sixteen, but he did. Things were also much different in the 1920’s too.

While I am not a psychologist, I can’t say that he does exhibit that behavior. However, I could see how Peter could have developed a sense of parentification after his father’s death. The trauma of losing his father and how Phil treated her could have culminated into something along those lines.

“…Yeah, your father. I guess he hit the bottle pretty hard. The booze.

Until right at the very end, then he hung himself. I found him, cut him down. … He used to worry I wasn’t kind enough. Then I was too strong.

You, too strong? Huh! He got that wrong. Poor kid. Things will work out for you yet.”

-Phil Burbank and Peter Gordon (Power of the Dog)

At this point of the movie, Peter is back home for the summer and finds himself essentially under Phil Burbank’s guidance. The man, who for the most part, was belligerent to his mother and picked on Peter, wants to start over by helping Peter and get to know him. During a moment of peace, the two end up discussing Rose, Peter’s mother, and her alcoholism. This discussion takes a turn when Phil asks about his father, resulting in the excerpt above.

The alcoholism is discussed, but rather it being a tale of abusive alcoholics, it’s more a tale of how depression and distress can lead to it. While his parents’ alcoholism might not have effected Peter in the way of physical or emotional abuse, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t effect him in the long run. Whether that be in the form of inheriting their alcoholic tendencies or being completely turned off by drinking entirely.

Essentially, while not being abused due to a drunken rage, it could have caused Peter to be turned off from it. Seeing what happened to his father and how his mother fell into a drunken state because of Phil, he could have hated how it effected the people close to him. And seeing the spiral it caused, it could have made him hate it and maybe fear losing people because of it.

Antisocial Personality Disorder as a Result of Trauma

Antisocial Personality Disorder, also commonly referred to as sociopathy, can be defined as someone who has a hard time in social settings, may have a hard time caring for right and wrong, and can be seen as manipulative. Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is a term that was used to describe sociopathy, however ASPD is a bit more complex than that.

While I am not a psychology major, I do like to look into psychology from time to time. Especially if I want to better understand a condition. When it comes to ASPD, I’ve found that there doesn’t seem to be one set definition or ruling on the condition. DSM or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental defines it as

Do I Think Peter is a Sociopath?

Yes and No

I feel this really comes down to how the character is interpreted. Some might say that he was a sociopath given the nature of his plan and/or sympathizing a bit with Phil given where his character ended up. Some might say no, because of Peter’s motivation and Phil’s antagonistic behavior towards Rose.

One thing that could add to a viewer’s interpretation of Peter is Peter’s father. While the movie addresses that he dies, viewers are never really shown what lead up to it. As such, it could be easier to infer that Peter had no qualms with killing Phil and how he could have been behind his father’s death.

I have also seen the case made that Peter could have autism, and how the director, Jane Campion, may have brought that to the foreground of his character. ASPD, Autism, and Psychopathy, while all different conditions, do have some overlap in symptoms. Similar to how ADHD and autism may have similar or overlapping traits. Yet, despite the similarities, an individual can have one or both.

In the case of Peter Gordon, I think he has ASPD, but isn’t a sociopath. Because while his actions may have been manipulative, may not be as empathetic, and crosses a line of morality, his motives weren’t out of indifference. Rather out of love.

Because while he nay have a hard time expressing emotion, it was out of love and a sense of duty to keep his mother safe. Based on my interpretation of the character, and with the general research I did, I would say that Peter has a comorbid (two or more conditions diagnosed in an individual) diagnosis of autism and anti-social personality disorder.

Autism would help explain things like areas of his interest in becoming a doctor and the repeated behavior with running his thumb through the teeth of the comb in a repetitive and relaxing way (stimming). The manipulative tactic he used and disregard for whether it was right or wrong could be explained by anti-social personality disorder. While both could explain why he seems emotionless, not particularly social, and seen as awkward in social interact.

It might not be a perfect diagnosis, but it is a reasonable explanation. With Campion putting it to the foreground according to some sources and some of his behaviors being associated with it, it’s not hard to see why he would have autism. And with the movie taking place in the 1920’s, it wouldn’t have been diagnosed and could have been a factor in people making fun of him. Not because he should have been made fun of for it, but because understanding of autism wasn’t as understood back then as it is today.

As for anti-social personality disorder, I believe the death of his father is what triggered it. While the movie doesn’t show what happened to his father, it’s understandable if people would see Peter as more of a sociopath and possibly killed his father. However, if someone has read the book, it does state that his father took his own life. Whether he had autism or not, seeing that at a young age would have effected him negatively. I suspect that seeing this was what pushed him into the quiet, introverted state readers and viewers got to see. I also think it could have been what caused him to feel it was his duty to go as far as he did to protect his mother. conclusion

Conclusion

With everything Peter has been through, I believe he has had his fair share if trauma and struggles. From the death of his father to the way Phil treated Rose, he probably had some baggage. He felt like it was his duty to keep his mother safe, he probably had animosity towards alcohol, and due to seeing how his father died probably contributed to an ASPD diagnosis on top of a possible autism diagnosis.

Sources

The Power of the Dog (2021 Movie): A Review

Believe it or not, I am not one for Westerns as a genre. A big reason probably has to do with me not being a fan of a lot of John Wayne movies, and most of his were either Westerns or War movies, the latter being another genre that I never really had an interest in. And while my exceptions for war films include Imitation Game, I never really had that one exception for western, aside from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, which I feel is just as much of a horse movie as it is a western.

Then along came a video that popped up on one of my socials talking about a scene, specifically one of the last scenes, in the Netflix adaptation of The Power of the Dog with the least amount of spoilers possible. It got me a bit curious, and when I asked about it, thankfully, they kept it spoiler free and recommended I check the movie out. So, after about two weeks of getting motivated to, and getting the book it was based on, I finally sat down and watched it. I recently finished reading the book, which I may review in the future, but today, I thought I would discuss my thoughts on the movie.

With that in mind…

Spoilers Ahead!

I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but it goes without saying that spoilers are bound to occur.

Story

The story itself is certainly a curious one. It takes place in 1920’s Montana, two brothers work on a ranch, Phil, a crass and somewhat feared cowboy who deep down has a more complex and surprising nature, and George, the kinder and more soft spoken of the two. George marries Rose Gordon, a widow, who’s husband died by his own hand. Rose is tormented by Phil throughout the story, who doesn’t seem too fond of her or her son. Peter, Rose’s son, is a young man studying to become a surgeon. He is protective of his mother, feeling it is his duty to keep her safe after the death of his father. To others, he appears gentle, fragile, and feminine (by 1920’s standards), however, like Peter, he is not all that he appears to be, having an inner strength, confidence, and intellect that no one would expect.

The story focuses on these four characters, the ranch, a hill that, depending on ones point of view, looks like just hills or a barking dog, and what one sees vs what is really there.

The story might not be for everyone, though it does have good qualities. While some people may find it as slow, simple, and/or straightforward, others might see it as intriguing, I’d argue the characters, and how they are characterized are something worthwhile. It doesn’t need a lot of action to get it’s point across. The slow burn type movie that really utilizes this technique really well.

As someone who doesn’t normally watch westerns, this was one that caught my attention because of the story it was telling. Yes, at times it feels straightforward and slow, but given the small details throughout the film as well as the characters, there is a story about appearances not always being met. Secrets that wouldn’t be expected based on perceptions at the time and how seemingly unimposing people can hide inner strength and manipulation.

Nuance

Nuance is something that has significance in this movie. Details that have more meaning than one might think. For instance, what Peter does with the rabbits he finds in the movie. Body language, like how Peter caries himself when walking passed Phil and his men to check on some birds. He ignores the less than friendly reactions, holding himself with a sense of unfazed confidence.

Quiet moments, like the scene in the barn during the climax, says something despite very little being said. Dialogue has importance as well. Like when Phil and Peter are talking about Peter’s father. How he died, how Peter feels it is his duty to protect his mother, and how Peter’s father told him to be kinder. That he was “too strong”. And while Phil would scoff at the notion, it does foreshadow what’s to come.

Things like this is what I enjoyed in the movie. While I may not always need a movie that makes the viewer think, when done well and in a

Casting/Characterization

What really makes this movie stands out is the casting. Even if viewers don’t like how the story is presented, the characters are something worth enjoying. The main four characters are casted and acted perfectly. Kirsten Dunst plays the role of Rose Gordon, a widower who was living with her own demons (Phil, grief, and growing alcoholism) really well. Jesse Plemons really played off of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil as George Burbank. And I think the background characters were pretty well too.

However, if there were two performances I was really drawn to, it was Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon. Not only because of some of the underlining subtext between the characters, but because of how the actors portrayed them. Both characters can be seen as different sides to the same coin, and viewers can get that feel from the actors.

While the story focuses on the main four characters, these two have a lot of focus, and the dynamic is really intricate and interesting. Phil appears masculine and intimidating, deep down, there’s actually an intelligent and a softer side to him. Peter, meanwhile, appears introverted and feminine (by 1920’s standards), yet, he has an inner strength and is more cunning than he seems.

Benedict Cumberbatch pulls off the abrasiveness of Phil’s character really well. Watching a bit of the behind the scenes, it’s noted how Jane Campion really wanted him to embrace the character, which he did well.

While one could argue that he feels out of place, I’d argue that he plays a range of character types. So things like westerns and portraying a character who is more crass or confrontational weren’t impossible. Because while Benedict Cumberbatch is known for intellectual roles like Sherlock Holmes and Alan Turing, as well as Dr. Strange, he’s also done other types of roles.

For instance, he’s portrayed menacing and sly persona as Smaug and Khan. He’s played more comical characters like Rory in Fortysomething. Roles in animated features like the Penguins of Madagascar and The Grinch. As well as several stage performances. So Benedict Cumberbatch was bound to break onto the western scene eventually.

Then there’s Kodi Smit-McPhee. What I really enjoyed with his performance is how he portrays Peter. Peter throughout the movie, is seen as someone who isn’t all that imposing or strong, which he is belittled for. Especially by Phil.

It isn’t until later in the film that viewers get to see that Peter has an inner strength and the mind of someone who can do things that most wouldn’t expect. That this seemingly weak character has a deeper strength and cleverness to him alongside his intellect and kind heartedness.

Considering the character being described as particularly introverted, slim, sickly around the time of his birth as the book mentions, and not appearing particularly masculine/macho, I feel like Kodi Smit-McPhee also brings a physical accuracy to the role. Considering how the character is described in the book, I feel that Kodi was able to pull off the physical ingenuous impression that was required for the role. And as far as the characterization of someone who’s introverted, appearing emotionally detected, and unthreatening, yet intellectually crafty and caring, I don’t think I could picture someone else in the role. It goes without saying that, much like Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi is not a type cast actor while still pulling off a role like this really well.

Overall, the movie has a great cast of characters and actors. Each bring their own personal touch to their roles and have great performances. Whether viewers like Phil Burbank, Peter Gordon, or any of the others will depend on their preference, but each character has their own story.

1920’s and The Company of Men: Phil, Peter, and Bronco Henry

This is the one thing that can draw in a number of discussions. Especially in regards to Phil and Peter. I may do a post breaking down my thoughts on it as well as a post discussing Peter Gordon specifically. That said, I did want to touch on this considering it does have a significant point.

It starts with Phil and his stated admiration for Bronco Henry, a man who taught Phil everything he needed to know to get where he’s at (riding, rope tying, etc.). With how much he talks about Bronco, it’s easy to see how much Phil respected the man. Yet, it isn’t until later that viewers would get to see the true depth of said admiration.

As the movie goes on, viewers come to realize that Phil, with all his admiration towards and fond memories of Bronco Henry, that he was a closeted gay man. Given the time period this takes place in, Phil’s relationship with Bronco Henry would be scrutinized more than it would be today. So keeping up the façade of not being gay most likely contributed to why he comes off as hostilely as he does (or toxic masculinity as it has also been described). Or at least partially. And in keeping up with this façade, that could help explain why he was so demeaning towards Peter at first. While that might not excuse all of his actions, forcing that part of himself to stay secret, probably didn’t help.

As for Peter, while his motives would become more apparent and dealt with the vitriol alongside his mother, he left an impression on Phil. It isn’t until Peter finds Phil in the woods that things seem to take a shift. Phil seems to want to start over with Peter, claiming they “got off on the wrong foot.” While this could also be seen as a way to bother Rose, things tend to shift a bit the longer the two are together.

Phil does mention Bronco Henry, at one point even stating that Peter was a late rider much like Bronco Henry was. And when Phil finds out about his father, he seems sympathetic, only really disbelieving his father’s statement on him being ‘too strong’. While the book may go more in depth about the death of Peter’s father, the sympathy was apparent in both.

However, I think if there’s one scene that really shows off how both characters shifted, it was in the climax when Phil finds out that Rose sold the hides he was going to burn. Both the book and the movie have details that make this scene impactful. From body language to dialogue to the details described in the book, the moment Peter offers to give Phil the raw hide he found, how Phil reacted was one of gratitude and a form of sentiment.

Whether it be one-sided or not, this interaction has symbolism. This moment and the conclusion told viewers what it needed to.

The Ending

Whether viewers see the ending as justified and what Peter’s motive was could be debated, I do think that the ending was a great way to conclude it. Whether viewers think Phil was the true villain and deserved his fate or if Peter was the true villain or was justified, it was a suitable conclusion. This was a story that didn’t need a happy ending to be good.

Conclusion

All and all, I would certainly recommend this movie. I know it might not be for everyone, but the subtle details, cast, and story was interesting. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

Transformers Dark of the Moon: Review

The third movie in the Michael Bay universe and the last one I saw in theaters. This is a movie that I do not see a lot of criticism thrown towards. It still has its fair share, but unlike its predecessor and The Last Knight, this is one that most people may not be as heavily critical of. In fact, it is probably one of the most well received of the Bayformers movies.

The Review

The third movie in the Michael Bay universe and the last one I saw in theaters. This is a movie that I do not see a lot of criticism thrown towards. It still has its fair share, but unlike its predecessor and The Last Knight, this is one that most people may not be as heavily critical of. In fact, it is probably one of the most well received of the Bayformers movies alongside the first movie.

Positive: Music and the Cybertronians

Obligatory feedback for the music and how the Cybertronians look. I could be in the minority with the design in some cases, but I do enjoy how the Autobots and Decepticons look in these movies. The Autobots and Decepticons that return are pretty much stayed consistent in the first three movies. Sentinel Prime looks pretty good, as does Shockwave.

The only Autobot I may have a slight issue with may be Que. Supposedly, he was supposed to be the movie’s Wheeljack. And if you’re not familiar with Wheeljack, think of him as a bot built like Ironhide (a fighter) with an inventor’s brain. They got the intellect, but not the look or fighting prowess. Other than that, the designs are pretty solid.

As is the music. The soundtrack feels like the previous two movies. Not in a generic way, but in an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” way. And of course, Steve Jablonsky does great with the score.

Negative: It Feeling too Long/Like it Drags

In my Revenge of the Fallen review, I mentioned how I felt the movie went by pretty quick. I didn’t count that as a positive or negative since I didn’t think it needed to. And to be blunt, RotF being quick may be a benefit for me since it is a worse movie.

Unfortunately, I am including this as a negative here because it feels like it drags. While this may vary from person to person, a movie that drags is less likely to be enjoyed. Dark of the Moon is certainly a better movie than it’s predecessor, but I did have a few moments through out the movie that felt dull and slow.

This is coming from someone who can enjoy the theatrical and extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This isn’t meant to be a flex, so much as a comparison, but these are films that run anywhere between two and a half hours to three and a half-four hours depending on the edition. And I could watch either version of these films without feeling like it drags.

Maybe the film is too long, or just feels that way. Which is weird when you consider the Transformers movies average around two and a half hours more or less. And Revenge of the Fallen, which is only four minutes shorter, goes by a whole lot faster for me. It could be that there was too much filler. I’m sure they could have cut out some of the job hunting or the something without feeling like we lose much.

Either way, this movie has moments where it drags. And while it may not hurt the overall movie for me, I could see how it could bore others.

Positive: The Story

While Revenge of the Fallen had a good concept, I’d argue Dark of the Moon had the better execution. It introduced Sentinel Prime, a Prime who predated Optimus. There’s also a plot about fusing the Earth with Cybertron and betrayal. There’s also Sam, who is trying to move on with his life.

We then find out that Sentinel is not all that he cracks up to be, and that he shouldn’t have been as easily trusted. So when it’s revealed that he is working with the Decepticons, it’s a bit of a surprise. It may not be an Earth shattering reveal, but it is one that I think worked. We are then treated to a large scale battle that tries to prevent the end of the world (for the humans) and a final battle with Optimus, Megatron and Sentinel.

The only thing in the story I may critique is with Dylan (Patrick Dempsey’s character) and some scenes. I kind of get why they had Dylan working with the Decpticons, but I can’t say I really cared for his motivations. Some of the scenes at Sam’s work also felt weird and unnecessary. Like the scene with Sam and Jerry (Ken Jeong’s character) could have been done so much differently. And Optimus’ whole flying shtick could have been ironed out a bit more. Also, I feel like Ironhide could have been kept alive.

Negative: Charlotte Mearing

I can’t complain to much about a number of the newer characters, nor can I complain about Wheelie and Brain since they are not on screen enough for me to find them annoying. Charlotte Mearing, on the other hand, I do find pretty annoying. She feels like a mix of Simmons in the first half-two thirds of the first movie and Theodore Galloway from Revenge of the Fallen: She’s strict and insists on doing things her way, blatantly ignoring anyone who has experience with the Autobots. Nothing against Francis McDormand, but the character was not likeable.

And maybe that is how the character is supposed to be. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to like her, and by not liking her, I am getting the direction they were going with. In that case, I would say, “I see what you did there”. But as it stands, I do not like the character.

Neutral: Carly

Now, with Carly, I wouldn’t say she was a bad character, nor would I say that Rosie Huntington-Whitely was terrible in the movie, I just couldn’t get latched onto Carly. As much as I did enjoy Mikaela, I do understand why she was replaced (whether or not it was in good faith, is debatable). But even so, I would have preferred if Mikaela returned in the movie. It’s water under the bridge now, and again, I wouldn’t fault Megan Fox for not returning, it is more of a preference thing at the end of the day.

Now the Transformers movies did take elements from the G1 series, like the make up of the Main Autobots and the Witwicky’s being an homage to the G1 Witewicky’s (Sparkplug (father) and Spike (son) Witwicky), it did do it’s own thing as far as other characters. And I kind of appreciate that in a weird way. Like the call backs are nice, but it didn’t rely heavily on them. With that in mind, I don’t feel like we necessarily needed Carly, who I believe gets her name from Spike’s wife in the 1980’s show. I feel like they could have gone with a new character.

That said, I feel a bit conflicted saying so. On the one hand, I appreciate the homage, even if not everyone gets it, but on the other, Mikaela felt more complex. Because while Carly was able to get Sam a job, Mikaela felt more proactive in the previous movies. She wasn’t entirely a damsel in distress and knew enough about vehicles and such to feel like she could fit in with the other characters.

I won’t deny that this may be more of a personal preference, but it’s mine. However, between Charlotte Mearing and Carly, I do like Carly more. This is also a change that I am fine with nowadays, but do remember not being too fond of it when I first learned of it (though I did not know the whole story at the time). As superfluous as it may sound including it, I am.

Positive: Wrapping up the Witwicky Story

Dark of the Moon would be the movie to conclude the Witwicky story. And I think this was a good place to end it. Because, while the Transformers movies would go on, I think I can speak for everyone when I say we were done with Sam Witwicky’s character. Keeping him around may have felt draining and I don’t think taking the route they did in G1 (which introduced Spike and Carly’s son Daniel), would have helped.

Dark of the Moon would be the movie to conclude the Witwicky story. And I think this was a good place to end it. Because, while the Transformers movies would go on, I think I can speak for everyone when I say we were done with Sam Witwicky’s character. Keeping him around may have felt draining and I don’t think taking the route they did in G1 (which introduced Spike and Carly’s son Daniel), would have helped.

Conclusion

Overall, I would give this movie a 7 out of 10, much like the first. Despite it feeling like it drags at times, this was one of the better movies in the series. It had a solid plot, some good designs, and concluded the Witwicky Trilogy in a good way.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: Review

Here we have one of, if not the most, critically panned Michael Bay Transformers movies. Alongside The Last Knight, Revenge of the Fallen is considered one of the worst of the franchise. Not that everyone was thrilled with the series to begin with, but this is a movie that is considered bottom tier. Released in 2009, two years after the first installment of the franchise, Revenge of the Fallen certainly turned a few heads.

I would have to agree, which I will get into in a moment. I feel like I may have seen this movie in theaters, but I can’t recall, so I cannot say what my initial impression was. I remember seeing Dark of the Moon in theaters, which is why I think I did, but I’m currently drawing a blank.

The Review

While I have a slight nostalgic attachment to this film, I can certainly admit that I am not as sentimental/nostalgic for this movie as I am for the 2007 movie. I am certainly more critical of this movie, and have a lot more issues with this movie, that I am less likely to excuse. And while this may not be the case for everyone, for me, this movie does feel like it goes faster. That’s neither a positive or a negative, but sometimes movies feel like they will either drag or go by really fast.

Negative: Risqué Humor/Content

If you’ve read my review for the 2007 movie, you may recall one of my critiques was how some of the humor didn’t hit because I felt like it was a bit raunchy/risqué. However, I feel like it was a little tamer there than it was here.

Once again, considering that Transformers is a series meant for a younger audience, and can be enjoyed by all ages, these jokes and cues felt like it was dialed to eleven. And not in a good way.

I don’t care if this is a PG-13 movie. Not all PG-13 movies need to be raunchy or risqué. And this is still a movie that parents would bring their kids to, just like they would for the similarly rated Avengers movies. As such, these kind of jokes could be deemed as immature and/or inappropriate for kids.

Whether it be Simmons’ comment about Demolisher’s underside, the whole scene with Alice, or Wheelie’s whole thing with Mikaela when Jetfire was introduced, this movie made some questionable choices in the humor department. While humor is certainly subjective, this is a critique that people will commonly have with this movie.

Positive: Cybertronians and Music

I’m lumping these two together since I don’t feel like there is enough for me to add for either. Because unlike the previous movie review, where I felt it was justified to have them separate, I don’t think they need to be here. The Transformers still look good here. The effects used to create them are solid. Of course Michael Bay’s signature explosion flair is there, but if we’re talking strictly about the Cybertronians, they’re good.

The music is also good. Steve Jablonsky’s score still works great here. As does the vocal tracks. I have no complaints about the music.

Negative: The Plot Device that is the Matrix of Leadership

Something that feels out of place is the whole search for the Matrix of Leadership. They spend a good chunk of the movie trying to find it so they can revive Optimus. And while I do get the reason behind it, I can’t help but think that them searching for it feels like a bad plot device. A cliché macguffin that the heroes and villains both want for their own reasons. One to save the world and revive Optimus. The other, to destroy the world.

Also from a lore perspective, it feels problematic. If you are not familiar with the Matrix of Leadership, you may think that it was just a plot device/macguffin to keep the movie going. However, that isn’t entirely the case. Originally, the Matrix of Leadership was an artifact given to Primes/Autobot Leaders and was what turned the humble Orion Pax into Optimus Prime. It’s said to contain remnants of Primus, the original Cybertronian.

And while it can be removed from one Autobot and passed down to another, it should not have been the case here. It feels like it was something Optimus should have already and maybe have it a) passed to another Autobot (presumably Bumblebee) or b) It stuck with him. That way, if the Decepticons still wanted it and the Autobots wanted to revive Optimus, at least they’d have it to do so while evading the Decepticons.

Granted, the Matrix of Leadership may still be considered a bit of a macguffin/plot device in the other Transformers media, which I won’t argue. It is kind of a strange artifact and its uses could be seen as such.

Positive: The Concept

While maybe not executed well, I’d say the concept for the story was good. The idea of a Fallen Prime seeking out vengeance against Optimus and the Autobots sounds like a cool concept. The revival of Megatron was also a solid concept (granted it wasn’t the Galavtron treatment like we would get later on, but still) and killing Optimus similarly to how he was killed in the 1986 animated movie was a neat touch.

All of these would make for a good story. The drama of losing Optimus, the panic that there is a vengeful Prime out there, and the chaos of reviving Megatron thrown into the mix would make for a solid movie. Certainly a solid sequel. I may dock points for the execution, but a good concept was there. But compared to the movie, I feel like it’s not as much of one given how it’s only ever used when it involves Optimus and death (as well as when he gets it as Orion Pax).

Negative: New Characters (Mudflap, Skids, Wheelie, and Leo)

I considered doing a Neutral point for characters, but since I had a lot of critiques for the newer characters introduced, I chose not to. I enjoyed Mikaela and, while I didn’t quite like the Devastator joke he made, I did enjoy Simmons’ eccentric humor. He was funny, had good moments, and John Turturro is just a joy in these movies (I may be in a minority saying that, but Simmons is one of the few human characters I enjoyed in the series). I also thought that Jetfire was a neat addition and it was interesting to see how they worked Soundwave and Ravage, with Frank Welker returning to voice the former.

That’s about all I wanted to say about the more positive characters (Sam’s neutral to me, at least in this movie, and I never really cared much for his parents). The next few characters are not so lucky.

Skids and Mudflap are a duo notoriously criticized, and I can’t say without merit. It has been stated that they are offensive racial stereotypes. While they certainly are, they also are just down right annoying. Nothing they bring to the table is anything of value. They weren’t entertaining, nor were they necessary.

The same could be said for Wheelie. He wasn’t really amusing. He tries to get an All Spark sliver, provides some exposition, and is a little too attached to Mikaela. Viewers only have to deal with him for like two movies. And while he may have seemed “tamer” in Dark of the Moon, I can’t say he got any better on a personal level in my opinion.

And then there’s Leo. Much like the previous three characters, he did not feel necessary to the plot. He just acted dramatic (for humor’s sake I would assume) and made as the comic relief character. Leo feels like a stereotypical conspiracy theorist mixed with a comic relief character. While I am not implying that all comic relief characters are terrible, how they are written/executed can make them that way. And I feel like that was Leo’s problem.

Conclusion

I would give this movie a 5.5 out of 10. I did enjoy the music and the effects from this movie. It had some good action and the concept was there and had potential. However, the humor, offensive and/or annoying characters and the use of the Matrix of Leadership really drag this movie down.

Transformers (2007): A Review

Being a 90’s kids, Transformers was one of the biggest animated franchises I grew up around. Maybe not the only animated staple, as Cartoon Network, Toonami, and Nickelodeon also great line ups of animation that enjoyed (including Courage the Cowardly Dog, Scooby Doo, Hey Arnold, Sponge Bob, and Dragon Ball Z among others), but it was a franchise that certainly had a growing fanbase sine the mid 1980’s, 1984 to be exact.

While I don’t remember watching Beast Wars and Beast Machines as much (I may have, but don’t remember), I would say the Unicron Trilogy (Armada, Energon, and Cybertron), were staples that I watched. Hot Rod was a favorite of mine, I didn’t mind Energon as much (though looking back, I can see the complaints and agree with them), and Cybertron’s animation was pretty good in my opinion.

Jump to 2007 and the first Transformers movie directed by Michael Bay was released. I remember seeing it with a cousin that summer and really enjoying it. Having never seen the 1984 Transformers (also know as Transformers G1 or just G1), it was the first movie that introduced me to what I called the “G1 Team” (essentially, well known bots of the G1 series). While the Michael Bay Transformers, a.k.a. Bayformers, may not have aged well, nor is it a perfect series in general, the first movie is one that I look back on fondly. So I thought I would do a review for it.

I may do a review for all of the other movies, including Bumblebee, which isn’t technically a Bayformers movie, but I still have to see. But today, I’d like to focus on this movie.

The Review

The Michael Bay movies are certainly a mixed bag and each movie may be a hit or miss for viewers (be they Transformer fans or not). Out of all of them, I would argue that the first movie is the best. It still has it’s flaws, but compared to say Revenge of the Fallen (a guilty pleasure of mine) and The Last Knight, I feel this movie is a much better one.

Positive: The Look and Sound of the Autobots and Decepticons

CGI is a tricky business and there is such a thing as too much and too little. As well as good and bad CGI depending on the technology, time, and effort. Since the Cybertronians (the actual name of the Transformers as a species) require a little more effort, with their vehicle forms being an exception, obviously CGI was going to be a must.

In my opinion, I think the CGI for them worked really well. Each of them look like how you would expect and look very mechanical (as they should). Even with Optimus having to have a slight color change with red areas being changed to flames, it works. And if you’re wondering why they did that, according to some sources, it was due to the red not being a good color to work with (green screen/motion/etc.) and the flames just looking cool.

Each Autobot and Decepticon looked pretty unique. They were all various types of vehicles and builds. And while the Decepticons may have had a more grey/monochrome color scheme, where as the Autobots had a bit more color, there was enough details to differentiate them.

The voice cast also is really well cast in my opinion. And while most might not have been tied to a Transformers property previously (For instance Hugo Weaving as Megatron and Jess Harmell as Ironhide), one Transformers veteran does return to the helm. That being Optimus Prime’s (and one dower Eeyore’s) 1984 actor Peter Cullen. Having not voiced Optimus much since G1, this was certainly a nice return to form and Peter Cullen would go on to voice Optimus in a few more Transformers related titles (like Transformers Prime, War for Cybertron, Fall of Cybertron, and Rescue Bots).

Negative: Too Focused on Human Characters

While having time to develop the human characters isn’t inherently a bad thing, there were times that it felt like it focused a bit too much on them. I don’t think we needed an extended scene for the interrogation nor do I feel like we needed a drawn out awkward scene with Sam and Mikaela when Bumblebee tires to set the mood.

I also feel that, at times, some of the human characters are not all that interesting and/or annoying. For example, while I kind of enjoyed the humor of Agent Simmons towards the climax of the movies (John Turturro was entertaining as the character), I did find him aggrivsting when he was first introduced in the film. Glen, the character who helped figure out that the sound/signal was coming from Frenzy was uninteresting, and Miles, Sam’s friend, felt unnecessary. Quite frankly, I feel like they could have taken out a character or two (mostly Miles and Trent) and they wouldn’t have changed the plot of the movie much if any.

Personally, I would have loved a scene or two that explored the war on Cybertron. Maybe a flashback of how Bumblebee lost his voice (a prequel comic kind of did that, but I feel not everyone would have read it) and prologue showing how The Cube was lost.

Positive: The Action

The action of this movie worked really well. The fight with Scorponok and the climax were the big battles. There were also some good smaller battles too. Like the Bumblebee vs Blackout fight and the Bonecrusher vs Optimus fight on the way to where the final battle took place.

For the fight with Scorponok, I feel it set up how the humans would initially react to such an attack. Not knowing what Scorponok was or where he came from certainly gave it an unknown territories type scenario. As well as setting up the realization that Scorponok wasn’t Earth made from a more casual observer (as Sector 7, the top secret government agency, already knew).

However, I think the battle in Mission City was the better battle of the two. An all out brawl was just what the climax needed. It’s Autobot vs Decepticon with some help from the Autobots’ human companions. Both sides want The Cube for different reasons: destruction vs preservation and not every character makes it out alive, with both sides losing allies (i.e. Jazz is killed by Megatron, Bonecrusher is killed by Optimus, Brawl and Blackout are killed by the human allies). Not even Bumblebee emerges unscathed, having lost both feet.

The action scenes are well done and serve the purpose they need to. Even of they don’t seem great in their entirety.

Negative: The Humor Doesn’t Always Hit

While I feel certain entries in the Bayformers series certainly have worse humor, I do feel like some of the humor here just doesn’t stick. Mostly when it comes to the more raunchy/risqué humor. Yes, this is a PG-13 movie, and this kind of humor can be utilized here, however, for a movie about sentient transforming robots, it doesn’t really fit. There’s also a particularly literal potty joke that, while in certain children media may come off as more tame, may come off as more eye rolling than actually funny.

Especially since this is a movie where parents may take their kids to go see (since much like the Avengers films, these are franchises that can be enjoyed by all ages despite the PG-13 rating). Again it’s worse in other movies than it is in this movie (just wait until I get to Revenge of the Fallen), but this kind of humor is simple flat in my opinion.

While certain humor does land, like the tone of the scene when Simmons, Maggie, Glen, and the Secretary of Defense deal with Frenzy. How Bumblebee handles Bobby Bolivia tries to get Sam into buying another vehicle and the Autobots trying to avoid being caught by Sam’s parents while he looks for his great grandfather’s glasses, where also well humored moments. However, the humor as a whole just didn’t lands, and I feel like the humor that didn’t do bring down the move a bit.

Positive: A Solid Enough Story

While the humor at times may feel off and the focus on the human characters a bit uninteresting, Transformers 2007 does have a solid story. I feel that it is everything you would expect from a introductory Transformers film. It brings them to Earth, shows how some people would react to sentient, unearthly robots, and gave us a reasonably constructed conflict.

Positive: The Music

Much like the look of the Cybertronians, I would say that the music is another positive that carries throughout the series. Between the (instrumental) score by Steve Jablonsky and the various main stream songs (for example several Linkin Park songs) work really well. None of the songs feel particularly jarring and linger as long as they need to.

Conclusion

Overall, I would gives this movie a seven out of ten. While not a perfect movie, and maybe not what people would have expected from a Transformers movie, it did a mostly good job. The designs of the Cybertronians were good and identifiable. The story was solid enough to work. It had plenty of action and well selected music added. And while the humor didn’t stick, and it felt that it focused on the human characters, I do feel that this was certainly an entertaining movie.