My Musings on Game of Thrones: The Long Night (Season 8, Episode 3)

My Musings on Game of Thrones: The Long Night (Season 8, Episode 3)

April 29 was an intense day on social media. As soon as the Long Night (Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3) finished, social media accounts were caught in a frenzy, posting (and virtually screaming) all sorts of reactions: from status messages without context, to memes, to downright spoilers. Blood pressures went up and friendships were lost (because of spoilers), but now we’re left with the question: Was it worth all the hype? I can’t speak for everyone, but…

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The #Beardict: As the most ambitious episode/battle sequence Game of Thrones has released to date, The Long Night (Battle of Winterfell) tries to live up to the very high expectations through its non-stop action and suspense, but ultimately ends up lacking in storytelling. Although it does give us with the greatest assembly of Game of Thrones characters ever, fitting farewells to the characters we’ve come to love since Day 1, and a sense of direction moving forward, I can’t help but feel that a very important part of the show was closed abruptly, leaving a lot of questions unanswered.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s impossible to please everyone, and we should just be happy that we’re alive to witness such a great moment on television. Be that as it may, being a loyal fan doesn’t mean we should not provide criticism when it’s due. Let’s get into our points, shall we?

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Many things didn’t make sense, and characters made very poor decisions. The Dothraki were the very first victims of this episode. This is what happens when your group is not represented properly when battle plans are made the night before. Haha. Whose bright idea was it to make them run into the dark when they’re not winter folk? The scene spit on Khal Drogo’s grave. I also get why Jorah Mormont was with them, semi-leading, but why was Ghost even in their faction?

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Daenerys didn’t use Drogon enough to help her soldiers on the ground. She saved Jon Snow when he was surrounded by wights, but for some reason, decided not to fly again, allowing Drogon to get super mobbed. Jorah basically died because Dany froze. Her case to be queen of Westeros just went out the window (Side note: It’s possible that there’s a deeper reason why Jorah was killed off this early in the season—without her stalwart sentry, traitors have a more open line to Dany *cough” Varys *cough*).

Additional questions: How did Sam and Davos survive even if they don’t really know how to fight? Why did Bran warg into crows and do nothing else? Was he taunting the Night King or recording history? Why was the crypt emphasized even though all the main characters were miraculously unharmed by the end of the ordeal?

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The Lord of Light is real, but the Azor Ahai isn’t? During the trench scene, Melisandre had her most vulnerable moment in Game of Thrones as she was not sure if the Lord of Light would heed her call and provide fire to keep the wights at bay. Thankfully, he did—visible proof that he is real. If that is the case, then why does it seem like the Azor Ahai prophecy is fake?  Throughout the series, Melisandre has been going on and on about the “one who was promised” by the Lord of Light, someone who would defeat the forces of darkness (presumably, the Night King) and save everyone in the realm. At first, she thought the reincarnation was Stannis (let’s face it, everyone was way ahead of Melisandre on this one and figured he’s not the Azor Ahai) but changed her mind when she saw Jon Snow. Steady in her newfound belief, she even goes to the extent of resurrecting Jon when he dies at the hands of traitorous Night’s Watch folks. In The Long Night, since Arya ends up being responsible for shattering the Night King into a thousand pieces, then why was Jon resurrected in the first place? Did he fulfill his destiny by bringing everyone together to fight the Night King? Was there really a coming of an Azor Ahai, or was Melissandre just busting our collective balls the entire time?

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Arya’s Destiny: Did Arya need to be the one to kill the Night King? Okay, since we just discussed the Azor Ahai prophecy—did Melisandre change her mind yet again and thought Arya was the one who was promised? She reveals that Beric Dondarion can now rest (he was resurrected by Thoros multiple times in the series) since he’s finally fulfilled his purpose—saving Arya from wights in this battle. However, Arya would be an odd choice to be the Lord of Light’s champion because she, in a way, believes in the Many-Faced God (this is the reason why she can wear many faces).

Anyway, before this episode, there was no indication that she was going to be the one to get rid of the Night King. Until recently, she didn’t even know about the looming threat of the White Walkers. You can say that the surprise is the beauty of it, but it disrespects the revenge list that Arya herself promised to finish. Her entire badass character growth was hinged on that list, and the Night King is such a deviation to her otherwise calculated plans.

Melisandre mentioned brown eyes, green eyes, and blue eyes—did this mean Walder Frey, Cersei, and the Night King? Or Meryn Trant, Littlefinger, and the Night King? People now have many combinations for Arya’s list of actual and potential victims, and although many fans are predicting a Cersei death under Arya’s capable hands—I don’t think this will happen anymore. Her contributions to the Battle of Winterfell have already propelled her to the top GoT characters tier (so much so that expecting mothers are planning to name their daughters Arya), and it will be quite unfair to the story/unbelievable if she ends up killing Cersei as well. My fearless forecast is that Cersei will be the one to kill Arya to make the finale really sting.

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The Night King went down like a punk without enough backstory. We know that to defend themselves from the First Men, the Children of the Forest did some nasty experiments and led to the creation of the Night King. Although it has been reported that his origin may be fleshed out in the planned Game of Thrones sequel, it’s quite sad that the Night King is now gone (after he was hyped season after season) but the questions still remain. Bran says the Night King wants “an endless night” to devour the world, but why? Who is he, really, and why can he smile but not talk? When Daenerys used Dracarys on him, he was quite smug about it because he knew he would not die. Since he was not affected by dragon fire, does that make him a Targaryen, or just an illogical ice being? While we’re on the subject of the Night King, let’s mention how he was so easily dispatched by Arya. She’s an assassin and all, but she’s still human, and he is not (Side note: You know why that Arya move is so familiar? Think Rey and that Last Jedi fight scene with Kylo Ren and the Praetorian Guards of Snoke).

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“You did nothing, Jon Snow.” A lot of memes are going around saying that Jon Snow was basically useless in the Long Night. After watching the episode twice and thinking about what Jon did, I can indeed say that he was, unfortunately, near useless. This started because Jon chose to ride Rhaegal and do How To Train Your Dragon adventures with Daenerys (as my girlfriend called to it) while all hell was breaking loose down below. As he’s not experienced with a dragon, he should have just remained on the ground with Ghost and did damage there. He could have joined Lyanna Mormont and her men in defending the opening, or helped out Theon in protecting Bran, or stayed with Daenerys so he and Jorah could team up to save the woman they love the most. Instead, he ended up running around aimlessly, lost on what to do. At one point, he saw Sam getting mobbed by wights and he didn’t even attempt to help his best friend. Before Arya struck the Night King with a dragon glass blade, he was seen screaming in front of Viserion, ready for his suffering to end (I thought Viserion would try to engulf him with blue fire but he’d survive because he’s a Targaryen). Fans suggest that he was actually distracting the ice dragon so Arya can head past them undetected, but I highly doubt that’s what the episode was going for.

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To be fair, we did see that Jon was feared by the Night King and his generals. When he was swerving with Rhaegal to attack the White Walkers below, a mysterious shroud intervened and pushed him away. When the Night King saw that Jon was only a few meters away from him, he rose an army of wights to come between them (it seemed he did not want to fight Jon one-on-one, because he might lose—he already saw Jon take care of White Walkers beyond the wall).  It’s kind of like when NBA teams play the Golden State Warriors – they concentrate their efforts in locking down Steph Curry, forcing him to have a bad game but freeing his teammates to do the work and attack the opposing team. This was a bad episode for Jon (even MVPs have bad days I suppose), but he did succeed in making the Night King lower his guard when he got taken out of the picture, leaving the path free for Arya to take advantage of. It’s just sad that what Jon set out to do from Season 1 was to protect Westeros from those beyond the Wall, and it’s not even him who gets to take the final blow.

Will Jon get to take the Iron Throne? No. Does he even want it? Not really. Will he help Dany take it? Most likely! Will they succeed? I don’t think so. Whatever happens, let’s all hope Jon Snow’s character is given justice and closure. He deserves at least that.

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Cersei as the big bad of Game of Thrones? When you progress in video games, you usually fight lesser bosses first before going up against the big boss at the end. The enemies you triumph against serve as stepping stones for the final showdown. Although Game of Thrones is not a video game, is it essentially saying that Cersei is a bigger bad than the Night King? It’s certainly anti-climactic given the Night King was described as the greatest threat the entire world has ever known. I’m under the belief that if the first scene of the show is about White Walkers, then one of the last scenes should be about them as well. However, the showrunners are probably reeling us towards the fact that at the heart of Game of Thrones is politics and warfare (Remember the War of the Five Kings?). Season 8 Episode 5 has been teased to even have a bigger battle than that of Winterfell, so I’m keeping my hopes up.

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Bonus: The dark cinematography – was it necessary? This is a controversial topic among fans, but in case you didn’t notice, The Long Night was unusually dark, bordering on pitch black already during some scenes. I joked that the only times the screen was visible (aside from the fire scenes) were when the clouds and subtitles were shown (The night is dark and full of darkness. Haha). The Internet complained and declared that the Battle of Helm’s Deep (from the Lord of The Rings: Two Towers) is still the best medieval-fantasy battle scene more than 15 years after its release. However, a lot of people were also quick to defend how the Battle of Winterfell was shot—that the show wanted us to feel how it was like being there: stressful and full of desperation. They also pointed out that this is why TVs have the brightness function. According to a Mashable report, the cinematographer Fabian Wagner blames “HBO’s video compression which he claims added pixilation and dark colors.” My stand here? HBO should have already told viewers in advance that the Long Night is meant to be dark, and that people can adjust the brightness if they become uncomfortable and can’t see anything anymore.

Thank God the Episode 4 preview already shows us some sun. Haha. Can’t wait for it!

Photos courtesy of HBO. Game of Thrones returns on HBO on May 6, Monday (SST 9AM).

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Avengers: Endgame is a fitting close to a beautiful era of superheroes

A NON-SPOILER REVIEW (out of respect for the fans who haven’t watched yet)

Is April your birth month? Well, this 2019, every MCU fan’s birthday became April 24 (or 26, depending on your geographic location). Haha!

The Beardict: Avengers: Endgame has got to be the most hyped movie of all time! And yet, Marvel Studios, President Kevin Feige, and the Russo Brothers was able to craft a thing of beauty that lives up to our very high expectations, and then some. You can almost hear them say: “Some people mishandle their franchises and source material, but not us.” Endgame ties more than 10 years of Marvel Cinematic Universe goodness in a neat bow and presents us with a carefully gift-wrapped story that explodes right in front of our very (watery) eyes as soon as we step foot inside the cinemas, making us shake with raw emotions.

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Endgame speaks to us on a level that goes beyond a regular movie could ever do, kind of like a food dish that gives an umami flavor. Its ability to engage the audience more than any interactive film is an achievement by itself. It doesn’t matter if Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor are characters we grew up with, or we’ve only been acquainted with them for only a short period: Endgame effectively transforms us into happy kids having our first cinematic experience. 

A friend mentioned that Endgame is not “just a movie” (as non-fans would like to remind us every chance they get) but a well-developed masterpiece. Indeed, it is. It escapes the 3-hour movie trap and uses incredible pacing in showing character development, build-ups, and glorious fight scenes–all towards a very satisfying climax and conclusion. This is why for every post that talks about when to pee during Endgame, there are a lot more which provide tips on how not to pee at all–because each scene is simply important.

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Endgame is, without a doubt, the Russo Brothers’ crown jewel. It will be sad to see them go (they have said this will be their last MCU film for the foreseeable future), but they end their Marvel stay with a bang. Joe and Anthony Russo made their MCU directorial debut in 2014 with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Five years down the road, and it is arguably still the most solid Marvel film ever made (which headlines a solo superhero). They obviously didn’t rest on their laurels, because for each succeeding movie they’ve directed–from Captain America: Civil War to Avengers: Infinity War and now to Endgame–they have gotten better and better at transitioning from a world of spies and soldiers (S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra) to something that offers the largest collection of superheroes ever assembled. The Russo Brothers definitely leave an MCU in a great position to tell even more stories that we can enjoy. What a time to be alive!

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We can see how much study was done to portray a single character or display a certain scene. The level of respect is certainly there. Of course, not everyone gets equal screen time in a movie like Endgame, but rest assured that heroes previously glossed over have their shining moments here. Credit should also be given to screenplay writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus for doing an awesome job for inserting laugh-out-loud moments in an otherwise serious movie. To compare, Thor: Ragnarok was enjoyable, but its humor was a double-edged sword because it seemed as if the characters went out of their way to be funny. Thankfully, Endgame does not suffer the same fate. Instead, it has the most heartfelt movie lines that will be quoted for years to come.

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If you’ve watched Avengers: Endgame already, watch it again, and again, and again. It’s the gift that keeps on giving–you’ll always find small gems that you didn’t see before. So many references to the past films are there, so remember to pay close attention. As accessible as Endgame is to everyone who wants to watch a great movie, it serves as a huge thank you to the die-hard MCU fans who have been with the franchise since Day 1.

All of the positive reviews on Endgame will be superficial if it doesn’t translate to box office numbers. As of this writing, Box Office Mojo reports that the film has now broken so many records, including the highest 1-day opening ever (estimated at $156.7 million) in the US. In the Philippines alone, it has already garnered an unprecedented $10 million (I am proud to have contributed to this, and I’m sure many of you are too.) Can Endgame become the highest grossing movie of all time? Hopefully. The reigning champion is Avatar (2009) (Somehow, I want a #BeatAvatar hashtag to trend. Haha!). Its director James Cameron believes that superhero stories are overdone. With all due respect to one of the best filmmakers of our time, I disagree. If the genre continues to produce Endgame-caliber movies, why should it end? As the old adage says, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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Is Avengers: Endgame a perfect movie? No, simply because that’s an impossible undertaking (I personally have questions that I wish were answered, but that’s another article for another time). But wow, it’s super close to being one. Why, you ask? Because Marvel understands us better than anyone in the industry ever could.

Photos courtesy of Marvel Studios. Avengers: Endgame out now in cinemas near you!

The Fun Superman: Shazam Blasts His Way Into Our Funny Bone

In Shazam!, an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) transfers his power to foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel). By shouting ‘Shazam,’ he transforms into one of DC Extended Universe’s most powerful heroes to date.

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The Beardict: With its laugh-out-loud comedy and likable characters, Shazam! is a great addition to the DCEU, much like Aquaman (2018) and Wonder Woman (2017) were in the past couple of years. As it should, it totally deviates from the gloomy Snyder era and jolts us with entertainment that we desperately need. It makes us head out of the theater with a positive vibe, basically in the mood to happily shout ‘Shazam’ to a random passer-by.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Shazam! has such a fun origin story. The wizard was supposed to give his power to someone who’s “pure of heart,” and when presented with the proposition, Billy himself said that he doesn’t think there is someone like that. Despite his admission, the wizard still gives power to him anyway because he doesn’t have any other choice. It’s like when you spend hours and hours looking for the perfect shirt at the store but when it’s time to go, you just pick something that’s good enough. Haha.

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With the help of his brother and self-proclaimed superhero expert Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), he discovers a plethora of powers: lightning blasts, invulnerability, fire immunity, super strength, super speed, and flight. Because of the lack of instructions, Billy proceeds to use his newfound abilities the way a teenager would – for money, fame, convenience store treats, consoles and gadgets–the works. His superhero start was the total opposite of “With great power comes great responsibility” (Sorry, Spider-Man, I know you hate using that overused line). Zachary Levi, who broke out more than a decade ago through NBC spy comedy Chuck (2007), was perfectly cast as adult Billy. With his bubbly personality and goofy expressions, he shows us how transforming into Shazam! boosts Billy’s confidence and helps him have a more positive outlook in life.

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One of the things that Shazam! effectively does is not take everything too seriously–and that includes making fun of past DCEU movies. Taking a page from Deadpool’s consistent ridicule of Fox’s X-Men franchise, Shazam! takes shots at Batman and Superman several times during the film: the kid reenacting the fight scene between Batman and Superman through his toys (and dropping them to the floor once he sees Shazam through the window), the fact that collateral damage was kept to a minimum despite his power level (Superman and Zod in Man of Steel basically wrecked half of Metropolis), and how Superman visited the school cafeteria at the end of the movie (but his face was not shown, touching on the fact that there is this existing dilemma of finding a new actor to play Supes given Henry Cavill’s sudden departure from the franchise). Credits also featured a creative cartoon showing Shazam and his silly interactions with the other Justice League members (dragging Batman around was gold). Additionally, the second post-credit showed Shazam laughing at the idea of talking to fish as a superpower, an obvious jab at Aquaman.

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Shazam! is not all games though. Throughout the film, Billy tries to find his mom while trying to adjust to his new home. Shazam! highlights the difficulties a foster kid goes through–that missing feeling and all the unanswered questions that comes with it. The scene where he finally gets reunited with his mom is arguably one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I’ve ever seen in an otherwise hilarious movie. In his journey, we rediscover with Billy what family means, and it isn’t, in fact, measured by blood. Just look at what happened to Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

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Is Shazam! a kids’ movie? Yes, but before you react negatively to this, let me say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Like Netflix’s Stranger Things, it is able to make the children the front and center of the story without it being too corny or cheezy. Shazam! reminds us that when we were kids, everything was simple, and if we had a problem, we dealt with it without too much emotional baggage. Oh, and that part where Billy realizes that in order for him to succeed, he could share his power with his brothers and sisters? That was beyond cool, and the fact that the likes of Adam Brody (The O.C.) played his siblings’ adult superhero versions made it waaay cooler.

The only gripe I had while watching Shazam! was about Eugene portrayed as a stereotypical Asian nerd–he wore thick glasses, played video games all day, and knew how to hack, etc. However, when he transformed to Ross Butler (13 Reasons Why) and said ‘hadouken’ while using his newly-granted lightning powers, the scene more than made up for the initial portrayal. Haha.

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To end, let’s discuss the slug-like creature that appeared during Shazam’s first post-credit scene (fun fact: he’s voiced by Shazam! director David Sanberg). His name is Mr. Mind, and he’s an alien said to have “high intelligence and telepathic powers.” In case you were not able to notice, we actually get to see Mr. Mind early on in the film when young Thaddeus enters the wizard’s lair (he is inside a case). However, when it’s Billy’s turn years after, we see that the case is now broken and Mr. Mind is nowhere to be found (it is possible that he escaped during the breakout of the Seven Sins).

In the comic books, Mr. Mind is part of the Monster Society of Evil, a supervillain group which includes Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson was cast to play this character back in 2014). This is a smart tease of things to come in the Shazam! franchise, and we certainly hope we have not seen the last of Billy and his supportive family.  SHAZAM!

Shazam! starring Zachary Levi now out in cinemas near you. Photos courtesy of New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. Pictures

Captain Marvel Brings #HigherFurtherFaster To The MCU

By: Jurmane Lallana

“Higher, further, faster, baby!”

It’s been barely a week since Captain Marvel photon-blasted her way towards the big screen. Reviews are mixed, and except for the fact that everyone is looking forward to Avengers: Endgame, the fans are currently divided on almost anything you can think of—from Brie Larson’s casting/performance as Carol Danvers to whether or not Captain Marvel does well as a stand-alone film or if it only serves as an appetizer for Endgame. Let’s attempt to discuss some of the issues here, but first…

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The Beardict: 8 out of 10. Captain Marvel is a stellar start to Marvel’s new wave of superhero films. Although technically still part of the MCU’s Phase Three, the generous display of power and leadership effectively establishes Carol Danvers as the premier hero of Phase Four. As an origin movie, it skips the awkward stages of development and presents Captain Marvel right away as a “noble warrior hero” who sees the light and showcases a glimpse of her full potential during the film’s climax (I got really emotional when she went Binary and MAY have shed tears). Oh, and it gives us 90s nostalgia through its awesome soundtrack and references, which is always a plus in my book. Captain Marvel is definitely not perfect, and I’m saying that as a fan who has been anticipating this for years now. However, my belief in Marvel Studios remains intact, and things can only get better for the franchise from here on out. The best treat for yourself is to watch the movie on IMAX, so you can see Carol’s thrilling adventure in its full glory.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

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Brie Larson as Carol Danvers

With an Academy award under her belt, Brie Larson brings a lot of talent and experience to the MCU. However, Captain Marvel is the first female-led movie from Marvel Studios, and that puts a big responsibility on her shoulders. Her detractors often cite two complaints against Brie: 1) She’s a hardcore feminist whose controversial comments cause certain demographics not to watch her movie, and 2) she simply doesn’t look, act, or sound like a superhero.

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For 1), while it is true that Brie identifies herself as a feminist and has a lot of things to say about society, it does not mean that she only wants women watching Captain Marvel. Many media and vloggers have blown up what she said about wanting more diversity in the movie critic industry, and twisted her comments into something toxic and racist: that white men should be offended and they should boycott the movie. Even in the Philippines, literally any Captain Marvel promotional post is littered by people saying that the movie will tank because the main actor doesn’t care about her audience. Rotten Tomatoes even had to change their system of how movies are rated because trolls kept bombing Captain Marvel with abysmal scores even before its release.

For more clicks and views, the Internet tried to derail MCU’s plan of making Captain Marvel a shining beacon for empowerment. Fortunately, as of this writing, Box Office Mojo reports that the film is expected to have an estimated 153M USD opening weekend (domestic US), which means that all the hate for the movie pre-release was not enough to hamper its success.

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For 2), to Brie Larson’s credit, although she would not have been my first choice (Emily Blunt as Captain Marvel would have been perfect), it seems Marvel was right to cast her as Carol all along. Because of her strong personality and non-apologetic stance when it comes to the causes she believes in, she is able to embody the essence of Captain Marvel even when off-screen: a woman who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo despite the potential backlash that may occur.

In terms of her actual performance as Carol/Captain Marvel, all things considered, I think she did a good job in depicting how a gifted Kree solider would be if she lost her memory. Despite initial criticism received from the trailers that she is emotionless/does not smile at all, Brie’s acting does not disappoint, and she is able to make Carol relatable, especially during her conversations with Nick Fury. In the next installments, now that her past is no longer in question, we will most likely see a more confident Carol Danvers from Brie, something that many viewers were probably looking for already in her debut film.

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Marvel Studios establishes Captain Marvel as MCU’s Superman

Captain Marvel is often compared to DC superheroes. Because she is bannering MCU’s first solo film with a female lead, both fans and bashers would like to know how she measures up against Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Additionally, Shazam (slated to be released on April 5 and headlined by Zachary Levi as the titular character) is traditionally called “Captain Marvel” as well, so people are also talking about which film would be better.

Although these comparisons are valid, the real contest here is actually between Captain Marvel and DC’s golden boy himself, Superman. Powered by the lightspeed engine from the Tesseract, Carol ends up being the strongest Avenger (sorry, Hulk and Thor) and can stop warheads and crash spaceships with minimal effort. That ending scene where Carol looks back at the Earth fondly moments before she departs with the Skrulls? That’s something Superman would do.

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Clearly, President Kevin Feige and the folks at Marvel Studios saw how Man of Steel (2013) failed to captivate its audience, so they proceeded with Captain Marvel with these two things in mind:

#1: Make MCU’s most powerful hero have a solid connection with the female demographic. Basically uncharted territory for them, it was a bold move for Marvel Studios to emphasize Captain Marvel’s gender during the marketing efforts. For example, the trailers highlighted HER in HERO, and release date was set on International Women’s Day. Aside from Carol Danvers, they also featured formidable female characters like ace pilot and best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and Kree Starforce sniper Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan).

Although Wonder Woman was great, Batman and Superman are such icons already that other DC heroes tend to automatically live in their shadows. By making Captain Marvel the strongest MCU character, they are able to boost the name Carol Danvers, a heroine, to the level of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark.

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#2: Concentrate on the fact that Captain Marvel is a human being. The Supreme Intelligence made the mistake of reminding Carol that she’s human, and it led to her drawing strength from it. However, that reminder was not only for Carol, but also for us. Her humanity makes her relatable and inspirational, as she’s not a male alien who arrived on Earth to avoid planetary destruction.

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The genius of Captain Marvel’s twist and secrecy

Once again, Marvel Studios proves that it is a master when it comes to trailers. People always become wary of their trailers because it seems they show too much, but each time, we get amazed at how there was no spoiler at all. For Captain Marvel, they were able to keep the characters played by Ben Mendelsohn (General Talos), Annette Bening (Supreme Intelligence/Wendy Lawson/Mar-Vell) and Jude Law (Yon-Rogg) secret. The Kree turn out to not be so noble after all, and the shapeshifting Skrulls A.K.A. the supposed bad guys are only looking for a new home.

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For the longest time, speculators were so sure that Jude Law was Mar-Vell, and some comic book fans may actually be irked to find out that Mar-Vell’s gender was bent (his alias in the comics is actually Dr. Walter Lawson). However, having Mar-Vell as a female mentor to Carol does work better, as it makes the passing of the torch more symbolic.

S.H.I.E.L.D. is a welcome blast from the past

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The last MCU film that focused on S.H.I.E.L.D was Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Age of Ultron only featured a marginal appearance from Nick Fury), and the organization has definitely been missed. Seeing how the state of the 90’s S.H.I.E.L.D. operations was really funny, knowing how advanced things were in the Avengers (2012). Their headquarters was shown to be in Los Angeles, which ties up nicely to the storyline of Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) being transferred to the LA office during the show’s second season.

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We saw two-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) with his “high clearance” at level 3. His short partnership with Carol prompted him to start the Avengers Initiative, and most likely inspired him to reach the top of the ladder as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. so he could protect the world while she was away.

We also saw a younger Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), a beloved character who has not appeared in an MCU movie in seven years. He will always be the reason why the Avengers came together and saved the world.

Captain Marvel in Avengers: Endgame and beyond

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Of course, it was very strategic for Captain Marvel to open around a month before Endgame, so events of the movie are still fresh in our minds when we enter the cinemas for the fourth installment of the Avengers. Although there’s a certain level of satisfaction obtained from watching Captain Marvel while knowing the details of the other MCU films, it’s not a requirement. One can basically watch the movie, understand what’s happening, and get entertained even if that person hasn’t seen Infinity War.

On the other hand, it becomes a must-watch for anyone who wants to know more about her potential role in Endgame. As the post-credit scene showed us, Carol is probably just a few minutes away from charging into the rice terraces and punching Thanos in the face (Mar-Vell was right all along about lightspeed technology ending wars, just not the way she expected it to). Having said that, it won’t be a deus ex machina scenario either, for sure. I have this wild theory that Captain Marvel gets mind-controlled by a resurrected Ebony Maw, and so the original six Avengers have to band together to defeat her. Haha. Imagine the possibilities!

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Beyond Endgame, as Captain America and Iron Man take a bow, stories revolving around newer Marvel properties such as Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange will become front and center in Phase Four. For the second installment of Captain Marvel, it can focus on Carol’s continuous battles with the Kree (remember, Yon-Rogg and Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser are both still out there), or it can pick up after Endgame. Whatever the case, if there will be another Avengers movie in the near future, Carol will most likely lead that team (she was, after all, the leader of the Mighty Avengers at one point in the comic books).

The Goose effect

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Just as Marvel dedicated posters and collaterals for Goose, I will also dedicate one whole paragraph for our favorite fluffy Flerken. In the comics, Carol’s pet is actually named Chewie (after Star Wars’ Chewbacca). Early reviews of Captain Marvel said that Goose was a scene stealer, and we actually didn’t know the extent of it until Goose eats the Tesseract through his hidden alien mouth. Unlike the porgs from the Last Jedi which were criticized because they had no use at all except for being cute and selling merchandise, Goose succeeds in being both an aww factor and an important plot mover. Universally-liked, there are already reports that Goose will have a role in Avengers: Endgame. Personally, I’m interested in seeing his interactions with Rocket and Groot!

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Together with the rest of the Avengers, Captain Marvel will face Thanos in Avengers: Endgame (opening April 26). I am so grateful that we live in a time where the distance between 1995 and 2019 is just a month. Haha. Until then, I’ll continue using #HigherFurtherFaster as my motto, and I suggest you do too.

Photos courtesy of Marvel Studios. Captain Marvel is currently available in cinemas near you! 

Netflix’s Sex Education Teaches A Lot About Life (And Sex)

Sex Education is a coming-of-age story that centers on Otis, an awkward teenager who becomes even more awkward because of his sex therapist mom. School outcast Maeve spots Otis’ talent at giving sex and relationship advice, and convinces him to start a sex therapy clinic with her.

In an age where movie and series titles can be confusing, Sex Ed is as straightforward as a show can be—we already have an idea of what we’re getting into when we decide to watch it. With only eight episodes, it’s definitely a strong candidate for our weekend Netflix binge.

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The Beardict: Sex Ed is able to get the realness of life. It’s not all drama and it’s not all comedy; it’s able to simulate what a normal day of a teenager is like: exciting but also full of cringe (I can’t count how many times I had to hit pause because of the embarrassment that was about to come. Haha.). Sex Ed is unapologetic, branding nothing as taboo. Nothing is weird simply because everything is.

With that said, here are the lessons we picked up while watching Sex Education:

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

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  • People are brought together by circumstance and form unlikely alliances. Arguably, the best parts of Sex Ed are when Otis, Eric, and Maeve work together to perform a task. They’re so dysfunctional that it actually works—much like Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. Come to think of it: Like Harry, Otis is brilliant but heavily awkward (the “magic” basically is in his blood), Eric has Ron’s loyal best friend mentality except he’s extra fabulous, and with her insight and quick actions, Maeve would be Hermione only if she didn’t scare people to death. If we do get a season 2, we certainly look forward to more adventures with this trio.

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  • It’s okay to think and talk about sex. This already goes without saying, right? Well, in the Philippines where everything is almost always more conservative, people find it hard to open up about sex because it might be considered too vulgar. However, Sex Ed reminds us that it’s perfectly normal to tackle sex head on. Like all things, it can be sad, it can be bad, but it can also be wonderful and mind-blowing. Furthermore, a lot of sexual problems are connected to life problems, and vice-versa. For example, in the show, Otis points out that the reason why sex between Ruthie and Tanya is never okay is because Ruthie is not emotionally connected to the experience (she likes someone else). We also see Aimee’s pushover attitude crossover to her sex life–when asked about what she wants, she doesn’t know because she’s always allowed others to tell her what she should do. When Otis fixes her sexual problem, she finally finds the courage to rebuff her social clique and declare her friendship with Maeve.

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  • “My vagina has betrayed me.” Sex Ed teaches us that we can be brutally honest because it won’t be the death of us (well at least, in most cases). Codes and mind games should take a backseat because the truth is awesome. There are two paragons of honesty in Sex Ed. First off, we have Lily (my personal favorite). She doesn’t have everything figured out, but she’s not set back by inaction, to put it lightly. For the majority of the season, she’s on a quest to have her first sexual experience. When Jean asks her what happened to Otis, without hesitation, she answers that they were trying to have sex (she says this with both Jean and Jakob in the room). Secondly, we have Ola. She flirts with Otis, tells him she likes him, and ends up getting invited to the school dance. Though at one point she gets labeled as a goat (not her fault, by the way), her journey in the show is pretty smooth sailing, and it’s because she says what’s on her mind.

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  • “You’re 16. You’re not supposed to know the answers to anything… You’re going to be just fine.” Sex Education assures us that giving ourselves time to figure out things is a decency we owe to ourselves. Sure, Jean used Otis’ young age to calm him down after he told her that he’s not normal. However, as evidenced by all the parents in the show, even adults haven’t fully understood how to live, and they still learn a lot from their kids as they watch them grow up. And on that note…

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  • If you’re going to live like this, you have to toughen up. This was what Eric’s dad told him when he went home bruised after Otis was a no-show at their supposed Hedwig and the Angry Inch meetup. Mr. Effoing doesn’t really approve of Eric’s sexuality, but he tries to be the best parent he can be. In the end, he even says “Maybe I am learning from my brave son.” All parents shown in Sex Ed try to be there for their children (yes, even Principal and Mrs. Groff), but they differ in their approaches because it’s quite difficult to do. As Jakob said to Jean when they were talking about their kids: “We can never let them know how much they make us feel lonely.”

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  • Sex Education shows that “you can’t choose who you’re attracted to. You can’t engineer a relationship.” This bathroom stall advice from Otis was specific to a sex clinic case he was working on, but you can see it throughout the eight episodes of the season. Otis is proof of this; he didn’t want to fall for Maeve (especially because he thinks he’s a kangaroo and she’s a lioness) but because of all the time they spent together doing the clinic, he did anyway… and got a massive erection when Maeve touched his eyebrow (possibly one of the funniest scenes in Sex Ed).

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  • Things can be pretty messed up, but there is already a level of acceptance even in a toxic environment such as high school, indicating times have changed. Notice how the characters didn’t have to explain how certain things were in the show? They were just accepted and treated as normal with no stigma attached. For example, raised by an interracial lesbian couple, the golden boy Jackson is black and is good at both sports and academics (he has a lot of insecurities but I believe he does not mention his race once). Anwar, whom Eric fancies and hates at the same time, is a fashionable Indian gay guy who is part of Moordale’s elite and thinks he’s better than everyone else. His friend Ruby, the self-proclaimed queen bee and Regina George of the school, is also non-white but is at the top of the food chain and preys on all the “losers” on campus. Interestingly enough, the weakest in their quartet happens to be rich white girl Aimee, who hangs around them to be cool but keeps getting bossed around on a daily basis.

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More to this point, Eric and Anwar are the only two openly gay guys shown on Moordale, and yet nobody suggests or asks why they can’t get along since they’re both gay anyway. In the same way, the show doesn’t need to explain why Ola and Jakob don’t share the same ethnicity since they have a daughter-father relationship. As best friends, Otis and Eric don’t share a “no homo” moment, and they don’t skimp on showing physical affection towards each other just because Otis is straight and Eric is gay.

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  • “You owe me a birthday.” Maeve-Otis scenes are awesome, but the highlight of the show may just be the friendship between Otis and Eric. Their rift was really uncomfortable to watch as their daily banter was the oil that kept the show engine running. However, it made their reunion sweeter, culminating in a heartwarming dance. Eric supports Otis almost without question, and Otis dresses up in drag because he knows it’s important for Eric. They are, without a doubt, #FriendshipGoals.
  • There’s some sort of sex education inception that happens. Maybe we can call it a Sex Eduception? Kidding aside, what we mean by this is that the Otis’ clients approach him for advice and they learn from his wisdom, and yet, at the same time, Otis learns from each client he talks to. Watching Otis and his sessions helps us viewers learn too. So in the end, who really is having the sex education?

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  • “What do you get someone who’s having an abortion? Sunscreen. They need it in hell.” Despite this quote from the protester outside the clinic, Sex Education does not judge at all and tells us not to dwell on decisions we’ve made in the past. In most shows, when a character undergoes something controversial such as an abortion, her entire storyline begins to revolve around it, and her decision whether to go through with it or not becomes the climax of her story. We love how Sex Education puts this arc at the start of the show and does not let the abortion define who Maeve is. Otis doesn’t mention it again, and although it may have played a part in her reluctance when it comes to Jackson, it’s not the focus of their breakup. The real culprit is Jackson overwhelms Maeve, because he’s “too much.”

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  • Life sucks, but not everything is bad, and there’s always hope. Not everyone had a happy season ending in Sex Ed, but Adam probably had the worst. His father issues remain unresolved and to top it off, he gets shipped off abruptly to military school against his wishes. Despite all of this, he was able to have a moment with Eric, and he found their lost dog just sitting on the grass, waiting for him. Although we saw him leaving, his story is most likely far from over. Hopefully, Principal Groff gets to show Adam his fun side, and they repair their severely damaged relationship.
  • “It’s my vagina!” This scene was pretty funny and heartwarming because everyone in the student assembly just kept on shouting “vagina” (even guys) in support of someone they didn’t even know. This reminded me of that scene in In & Out where everyone kept shouting “I’m gay!.” Sure, it’s overly cheesy, and Ruby probably didn’t deserve such a save, but Moordale High, for once, banded together and became one voice, and that’s a good thing.

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  • At the end of the day, we’re all just high schoolers who need “teachers” to believe in us. Miss Sands recognized Maeve’s excellent writing ability and encouraged her to say out loud that she’s smart. Mr. Hendricks from the brand asked Eric to join even though he’s not (yet) particularly good. All the students who came to Otis for advice – they just need someone to steer them towards the right direction. They simply need an honest conversation. Don’t we all?

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  • Sex Education actually makes the procedural drama format interesting. You know how in crime and detective shows like C.S.I., someone mysteriously dies at the start and that’s the case they take on for that episode? For almost all of Sex Ed’s episodes, they start off with side characters who experience sex and relationship mishaps, and it gives us a clue of what Otis will handle throughout the episode in terms of the sex clinic. They act as plot devices that move the show along and make us understand Otis’ method of thinking more.

Sex Education’s treatment of teenage drama is certainly fresh, and we obviously want more!

Photos courtesy of Netflix. Sex Education is now available for streaming on Netflix.

Welcome!

Hi there!

To friends or anyone who accidentally ended up here, I welcome you to my review site called Beardict, short for Bear’s Verdict. Here, I try to review movies, TV shows, and anything about pop culture that I find interesting. Please bear with me as I get this blog up and running. Check back in for updates!

Enjoy!

Jurmane

4 Important Lessons from Netflix’s The Ted Bundy Tapes

Trust. We tend to give it freely to the people around us. We give it to our parents–we hope they don’t kick us out of the house even though we sometimes (intentionally) forget to do our chores. We give it to our friends–that they don’t turn their backs on us when we tell them our not-so-pleasant secrets. We give it to our schoolmates and hope they don’t take the credit when we contribute wonderful ideas to a project.

We trust all the time because we kind of need to, and we even give it to people we don’t really know. When we’re craving for a decent cup of coffee, we go to a shop and trust that the barista will blend it the way we like it, that he will not spit on it because he’s annoyed that he had to wake up 5am to do his job. When we let other people open doors for us, we trust that they will hold said door until we finish passing by, that they won’t slam it on our faces midway.

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The Beardict: We assume that every person we encounter is normal by default, but should we? Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes documentary definitely reminds us that we shouldn’t, as we get to see a glimpse of how a seemingly-harmless man manages to murder more than 30 young women in the 1970s. What are the lessons to be learned here?

#1 Monsters abound in this world, and they are flesh and blood just like us. We often scare ourselves silly with supernatural stories and movies, but the ones we should fear the most are fellow human beings with ill intentions. No boogeyman in our closet is going to harm us the way a person can. During Bundy’s reign of terror across different states in America, he did unspeakable things—kidnapping, rape , mutilation, and murder. The term serial killer was coined because of him. However, at the end of it all, he was only a man (and he died like any man would), but the fact remains that he did so many bad things while he was still alive.

#2 There are simply people without any guilt and remorse. They say that serial killers such as Ted Bundy have psychopathic and narcissistic tendencies, and they have no sense of empathy or remorse. Guilt is an alien concept to them, which means they could literally do the worst things imaginable and not feel bad about it. During his jail time, Bundy admitted to have engaged in necrophilia. He also decapitated some of his victims and spread their body parts across his favorite forest and mountain spots. On top of all of this, his youngest kill is an innocent 12-year-old school girl from Florida. These acts scream a total disregard for human life.

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#3 Trust with caution. Ted Bundy had the intellect to change the world for the better, but he didn’t. A wasted genius, he gained the trust of the people around him through his charm and good looks, and was able to hide the fact that he was, all things considered, barely a human being. When the murder accusations came pouring in, his family and friends were in disbelief. Later on in his life, he said that there was this compulsion, this voice in his head that made him do the horrible things he did, but can you really trust a proven liar? Anyway, we don’t know what people are capable of, so we should never ever put ourselves in such a helpless position. Constant vigilance, as Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter franchise loved saying.

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#4 We should continue to be disturbed. I was talking to a friend about this documentary and she said she’s not drawn to watch it because she’s seen so much disturbing stuff in her life already. Be that as it may, Ted Bundys can be born at any moment, or they may even be in our midst already–we just don’t know. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in, and if watching serial killer documentaries will give us a slight edge in life, we should take it.

Realistically-speaking, with technological advances and added securities, can a Ted Bundy wannabe go on a killing spree in 2019? Well, anything’s possible. Better to be safe than sorry! Feel disturbed, get angry, be prepared. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Photos courtesy of Netflix

 

Netflix Catches Us Off Guard With Zombie Period Drama Kingdom

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In early Korea, a corrupt political clan rules the land and controls the king like a puppet—check. A dashing prince attempts to overthrow them and win the hearts of the people—check. Swords clanging, arrows swooshing, and gunpowder exploding every episode—check. Oh, and did we mention hordes and hordes of grotesque, flesh-eating zombies?  Combine all of these and you get Kingdom, 2019’s surprise hit from Netflix.

The Beardict: Kingdom is that type of show which friends recommend to you, and you’re like “Okay, I’ll watch it if you say so.” And then when you get to finally watch it, you’re like “Woah. I need to recommend this to as many friends as possible because I have feelings.” In that moment, a cult following is born. To be fair, Kingdom deserves such loyalty, with an intensity that doesn’t subside until the ending credits of the 6th episode roll out. It’s a fresh take on a mostly Western-dominated zombie genre.

Here’s a list of why Kingdom was so successful in captivating audiences:

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

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The blending of K-drama, zombie, and period drama works. As far as I know, promotions-wise, Netflix isn’t pushing Kingdom as much as its other newly-released titles like The Umbrella Academy. However, I do see a similar number of people posting about it on my social media feed, generating interest from word-of-mouth reviews. The backbone of its success seems to be the intersection of different genres that have solid fanbases. If you’re a fan of K-drama, the show’s concept alone can get you hooked. If you’re a zombie fan, then you’d be curious to know how the zombies are in the series. Finally, if you’re a fan of shows set in the past, then you’d be excited about how a zombie outbreak would devastate the Joseon dynasty during the 17th century.

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Spreading of epidemic is unique. Most of the time, pop culture shows that the start of a zombie outbreak is a result of a failed medical experiment (an effort to make the ultimate soldier, etc.). Franchises like Resident Evil and 28 Days Later (and to a certain extent Train to Busan) fall under this category. However, there are times when there’s no explanation given at all and zombies just appear out of nowhere, like in Dawn of the Dead and The Walking Dead. In Kingdom, not only does it start off with an attempt to resurrect a dead body, but it also spreads not through a bite, but through one of the most unnerving ways possible: ingestion of an infected corpse. The moment Seobi realized that the patients at the clinic were happily eating the dead assistant of the doctor (that severed thumb plopping from the soup is a certified Sweeney Todd moment, by the way), my skin crawled. It’s a lot to take in since it’s cannibalism and zombie outbreak in one swift motion. Wow.

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The terror is put to the extreme, and the helplessness is so real. What makes Kingdom so terrifying is that it’s set in the olden days– modern technology is simply not available. Instead of guns, they have swords and arrows. Headshots are almost impossible, and beheading is the go-to kill move, and you have to be quite skilled and close to pull it off. Thankfully, the afflicted have several weaknesses, such as fire, water, and sunli—Oh, right. Haha. Nevermind that last part. Instead of cars, they have horses and wagons. That wagon-gate scene when they were passing through the forest was extremely stressful, so much so that it caused us, the audience, to break a sweat ourselves.

Intro is an educational experience. When we watch shows, we tend to take the intro music for granted. Although artistic, it’s usually abstract and doesn’t really tell much about the story. However, Kingdom takes a more proactive approach and reminds us over and over again at the start of each episode how the King was originally infected—the process is right there for us to see! In fact, we find out that the resurrection plant was used on the King even before Prince Chang does.

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Prince Lee Chang (Ji-Hoon Ju) is a likable protagonist. Brave and perceptive, he tries to do what he can to save the kingdom even though the stacks are against them. He’s someone who can rally troops (even if accused of treason).  Despite all of this, he has a long way to go in becoming the true leader of the people. His arrogance and elitist views sometimes still get in the way, and loyal royal guard Muyeong is there to nudge him along during bouts of hesitation. It’s interesting to see how he will avenge all the scholars who died so he could live.

Romance takes a backseat in Kingdom, making it a unique K-drama hit. Although popular K-dramas such as Descendants of the Sun (2016) and Black (2017) have exciting plots, the developing relationship between the leads is still one of the main drivers of their stories. In Kingdom, our hero Prince Chang is not romantically-linked to any character, and is just dead set on solving the zombie epidemic plaguing the country. Actually, the only “courtship” that happens in the show is between cowardly Magistrate Cho and determined healer Seobi (Doona Bae), and it’s honestly more for comic relief. Because of this, the male demographic more inclined towards action would easily be invested in watching Kingdom.

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The length of Season 1, and signs of things to come. A friend said that the only thing wrong with Kingdom is that the first season is too short. Only six episodes with each running for less than an hour, I would have to agree… to a certain extent. I think the fact that it’s just a short series makes it very easy to binge or integrate during your week—Kingdom can either be your lunch break buddy (if you can stomach all the gore while you’re downing your meal) or something you watch right before you go to bed (if it’s cool for you to have zombie-filled nightmares).

Simply put, Kingdom would be Game of Thrones if it happened in Korea. Rather than thinking that its unoriginal, I actually believe that it’s a great way to build the audience. After all, Game of Thrones works for a multitude of reasons. Here are all the similarities (and certain differences) I spotted:

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o    Chief State Councilor Cho Hak-ju and his children are simply the Lannisters of Kingdom, and they take advantage of a king who does not know how to rule (Robert Baratheon, anyone?). Thankfully, there’s no brother-sister incest happening here. Whew.

o   In true Lannister fashion, Cho Hak-ju and the Queen (his daughter) engage in a power struggle, reminiscent of how Tywin and Cersei used to threaten each other. Like Cersei, the Queen is all about the family, but her loyalty is tested time and time again by her father’s words.

o   The death of a king triggered a chain of events that led the whole kingdom to disarray (While drunk, Baratheon gets speared by a wild boar, while Prince Chang’s father dies from “illness”).

o   We have rabid zombies instead of White Walkers. They seem to be much easier to kill (unless they evolve in the next season). However, the fact that they’re already knocking on doorsteps makes them more urgent. Winter has already come, friends.

o   Prince Chang is accused of wanting the throne for himself; his supporters are executed (Ned Stark is accused of usurping the throne; Winterfell pays the price.) Chang also shares a similarity with Jon Snow, since they’re both bastard sons who reluctantly rise to the challenge because the people need them to.

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o   In both shows, politics is strong, secrets abound, and the rich and powerful prey on the weak. Both provide commentary on how real life is—people with no food are used like fodder to protect the “noblemen” who have more than plenty to eat. Magistrates ally themselves with the ruling family even though they know what’s right. Although Kingdom doesn’t have a Master of Whispers, the truth is still an elusive thing.

o   Almost everything bad that can happen happens. The turning point for Prince Chang was when Magistrate Cho left, and he took it upon himself to ensure the people’s safety. He wanted to be different from the traditional politicians, and even had a heartwarming moment with the children he gave slabs of meat to.  However, minutes after, the same children died because of arrows meant for him. Ugh, we can’t have nice things anymore—Oberyn’s almost victory-turned-brutal head explosion is still etched in my brain.

o   Noticeable differences: – Except for the effect of the resurrection plant, magic is non-existent in Kingdom. There are also no dragons that can swoop down if all else fails. There are fewer factions for now, and the zombies don’t take forever to pose a threat (almost everyone is now aware). All the leads are still alive at the end of this season, but who knows? The spirit of George R. R. Martin’s writing might just invade Season 2.

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Given the positive reception, we are almost assured of a Season 2 anyway, and Kingdom desperately needs one because the season ended with a cliffhanger. Now that the zombie epidemic is widely known, we have many questions: How will the living defeat the dead? Is one of our lead characters going to be eaten for breakfast during the attack at Sangju? Will everyone know about the queen’s deception? Who is the spy among the Prince’s merry band of misfits? More importantly, will Seobi and Magistrate Cho live long enough to become a couple? Haha. We hope all of these are answered soon enough! Meanwhile, let’s enjoy our regular, zombie-free lives, and pray that no real outbreak happens anytime soon.

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Photos courtesy of Netflix. Kingdom is now available for streaming on Netflix.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch: A Futile Tug of War Between Viewer and Movie

In Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, we try to help a hopeful game creator named Stefan Butler make the greatest video game imaginable for the fantasy novel called Bandersnatch. Do we actually help him, or do we lead him to his downfall?

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The Beardict: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is not for people who want to relax. Watch this when you’re wide awake with all your brain cells intact. Allot 2-3 hours even though it says it’s just 91-minutes long. Eat and take a bathroom break before starting. Once you’re ready, immerse yourself in one of the most engaging and revolutionary films Netflix has ever produced.

If you’ve watched it already, I salute you. We can now get serious and try to make sense of Bandersnatch.

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

#1 Netflix calls it an “Interactive Film.” Bandersnatch’s concept makes it such a cinematic experience, but not in the traditional sense.

Bandersnatch makes the viewer choose so the movie can progress, leading to actions that dictate how the story will end. During a scene, two choices will appear, and we have to pick one before the timer runs out. The assumption of Netflix here is that we’ll watch it on our phones, tablets, or computers, making it easy to participate. Bandersnatch is kind of like a video game from Telltale, except that this is in film format.

In terms of getting the full Bandersnatch experience, because of the interactive choices involved, streaming it through Netflix seems to be the only logical choice, so this discourages people from creating copies and spreading it illegally online. You can’t even fully fast forward it because it’s interactive.

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#2 The Choices. Back when I was a kid, I used to love those Goosebumps books with the “Choose Your Own Adventure” label on them. It gave me a sense of accomplishment when I ended up choosing correctly and made me more determined to choose again if not. When it comes to video games, I prefer those with rich stories that get influenced whenever I make a decision.

During one of his therapy sessions where Dr. Haynes keeps convincing Stefan to talk about what happened to his mother, she says:

“You might learn something about yourself you don’t know.”

This line was directed towards Stefan, but it was primarily for us viewers.  By throwing choices at us at every turn, Bandersnatch wants us to look into ourselves and is interested to know more about who we are, who we’d like to be, or how much we like push things knowing they’re not real? How far along will this bad choice really get us? We’re curious to know. We then have to deal with the (unpleasant) consequences of our actions.

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#3 Re-watch Factor. I saw a Reddit thread that had a flowchart of all the possible choices you can make in Bandersnatch. It has only been one day since release and  yet there’s so much talk about this movie already. Why? Because we do our best to see all the different endings that our eyes can handle. I personally spent three hours going through all endings that I could find, going back and forth and combing through the scenarios. I would have continued watching if not for the strain I felt in my eyes. Haha.

In time, Bandersnatch may not be the most watched film in Netflix, but it could well be the most re-watched when it comes to their originals.

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#4 Theme of Getting Lost. Bandersnatch can be confusing, but who actually gets lost in going through it?

Stefan. A lot of young people complain about not being able to control themselves, but they’re thankfully not Stefan. Arguably, Stefan is the most confused teenager in the history of movies. He knows someone is making him do things, but he just can’t pinpoint who. Is it P.A.C.S.? Is it Netflix?

Actor Mike. Speaking of Netflix, if we choose to reveal to Stefan that we are, in fact, controlling his actions through the streaming app, then he ends up in Dr. Haynes’ office once again where things stop making much sense. All hell breaks loose, but if we actually make Stefan escape through the window, someone yells “CUT!,” and the camera pans out to reveal an actual Netflix set shooting Bandersnatch. Talk about breaking the fourth wall! Our Stefan turns out to be an actor named Mike, but at this point, Bandersnatch has him so confused that he really thinks he’s now Stefan. Compared to the rest of the bleak endings, this is probably one of the funniest ones.

Us. Bandersnatch stresses out viewers a lot, especially those like me who want to get to the bottom of everything. As I went through ending after ending, I reached a point where I began to question all of my efforts. Do I really understand Bandersnatch more now, or is this one of those things that the “less is more” adage is applicable to?

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#5 Puppet Master. In Choose Your Own Adventure books/video games, we effectively become the character. We don’t control the character; we become him/her. In video games like the Sims, we control the characters, and they don’t know any better. Depending on our moods, we lay out the best lives possible for them, or set them on fire or let them die of starvation when we’re pissed off. In Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Stefan is like our Sim, except he’s aware that someone else is controlling his actions, leading to an identity crisis. Because of this…

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#6 We are the villain in Stefan’s eyes. As viewers, we do our best to “help” Stefan turn Bandersnatch into a video game. In the process,  however, we cause him intense distraction and pain, so much so that maybe we shouldn’t have bothered at all. We choose (or are compelled to choose) to be part of “Netflix” or “P.A.C.S.,” making us Stefan’s #1 enemy.

#7 Alternate realities. Bandersnatch succeeds in making things more convoluted by introducing alternate realities described by Colin. Come to think of it, are there other versions of myself typing this review, destroying my computer, or spilling tea on it? Maybe in another reality, I’m saying that the point of Bandersnatch is we have free will and we shouldn’t question that we do have it? Hmmm. Lastly, did someone click the “Write about Bandersnatch” button so I ended up doing this instead of just proceeding to watch another Netflix show? Haha.

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#8 Illusion of free will. Movies always have the protagonist and the antagonist. When we watch Bandersnatch, we might fall into the trap of thinking Stefan is the protagonist and his personal demons and mental issues are the antagonists. If we look closely, however, Stefan is just collateral damage from a tug-o-war between us and Bandersnatch.

And like in casinos where they say the house always wins, it’s the same for our case as viewers. Bandersnatch will always win over us no matter what we do.

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Bandersnatch gives us a false sense of power by seemingly allowing us to make choices for Stefan. Notice how the first two choices are very random (cereal and music). Although they don’t seem to have a direct effect on how the story ends, they make us feel in control of Stefan’s destiny.

If we want what’s best for Stefan, our ultimate goals are to 1) help him finish Bandersnatch, 2) get a 5-star rating from that kid critic, and 3) keep his sanity in check and 4) keep everyone alive and their limbs intact. There’s an illusion of free will that happens here because we think we are in control of Stefan’s choices. However, as things progress, we realize that no matter what we choose, Stefan ends up getting harmed or derailed. The longer we stay immersed in Bandersnatch, the worse things get.

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It’s clear we are steered towards certain (gruesome) endings, and Bandersnatch also dictates which decision point we can revisit (go back to Point A, Point B, exit to credits, etc.). When Bandersnatch thinks we’ve had enough, there are no options given anymore, and the credits just roll.

As viewers, we can get over or “beat” Bandersnatch if we accept that we can’t control the outcome, and Netflix/Black Mirror does. We can’t get the ending we want because we can only get the ending they want. Imagine–to get the coveted 5-star game ending, it’s not enough that we make Stefan kill his dad. We also need him to chop up his dad’s body instead of burying it. At this point where we and Stefan give up and submit to the devices of Bandersnatch, the movie finally gives us a break and awards us a “successful” ending. Without a doubt, Bandersnatch prefers us making chaotic choices instead of sane ones.

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#9 Illusion of free will part 2. Bandersnatch gives us a time limit to decide on an answer. If we don’t choose, it chooses for us. Free will is just an illusion here because technically, we can choose to do nothing, and therefore, Stefan should do nothing as well, but this isn’t the case.

Additionally, we are given only 2 choices out of so many things we can actually ask  Stefan to do. For example, if we see a random slice of pizza on our kitchen table, we can decide to leave it alone/eat it/keep it in the fridge/throw it in the trashcan/do any action that does not make sense). During the 5-star game ending, Stefan admits himself that everything Bandersnatch became clear to him once he chose to make things simple and just gave his character an illusion of free will. He knows he’s the one deciding how the ending will be. As viewers, that’s actually our entire Bandersnatch experience in a nutshell, so basically, we played the game Stefan created. Mindblowing, right? If Black Mirror: Bandersnatch had 10 different choices per scenario, then the movie will become super complicated, and we may no longer be willing/able to participate.

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10) Colin Ritman is not your friend. Yes, that’s right. Colin Ritman is an agent of Bandersnatch meant to confuse us. The fact that he’s introduced as a successful video game maker and Stefan’s idol is supposed to project that he’s trustworthy, However, everything that involves him leads to disaster. Remember that the first major choice we had to make was whether to make Stefan work at Tuckersoft with a team or work alone. If we choose the team option, Colin says Stefan made the wrong choice, and it cuts to the 0 out of 5 rating. It’s probably because he sabotages Stefan’s work so we’re forced to “try again.”

After this, he messes with us by being inconsistent–at times, he seems to be aware that we’ve tried again but during some moments, he pretends to be oblivious. When we make Stefan follow Colin instead of visiting Dr. Haynes,’ he feeds Stefan that mumbo jumbo about time being a construct, Pac-Man, people watching him, alternate realities, etc.  He says this as quickly as possible so we don’t have enough time to process everything on screen, and we leave even more confused.

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When you make Stefan refuse the drugs, Colin drops it in his tea anyway, and he says “I CHOSE FOR YOU.” Colin dares Stefan to jump, and when we do decide to make Stefan jump, it ends up in Stefan’s suicide and Bandersnatch getting a very poor game rating. Because he says flashbacks are opportunities to rewrite the past, we’re given false hope that Stefan can actually save his mom from the train accident. Stefan is then shown lifeless during a session with Dr. Haynes shortly after, an ending which surely leaves the Bandersnatch game unfinished. Remember that video tape he told Stefan to watch to help him finish the game? Well, that certainly DID NOT help.

Arguably the best ending of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is achieved by visiting Dr. Haynes instead of following Colin, sticking to the meds instead of flushing them, and getting the 2.5 stars game rating. This is definitely not the most exciting scenario, but it leaves everyone alive, breathing, and with all limbs attached. Haha.

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11) Soundtrack. There are so many visual and audio clues in Black Mirror: Bandernsatch that we need a day to discuss all of them. However, what I’d like to point out is the soundtrack. To complete the experience, they pick the perfect songs to mess with us. For example, each time Stefan wakes up from something disturbing, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax plays: “Relax, don’t do it, when you wanna go do it.” When his dad tricks Stefan into visiting Dr. Haynes again, XTC’s Making Plans for Nigel was playing in the car: “We’re only making plans for Nigel, we only want what’s best for him.” We want what’s best for Stefan, but unfortunately, it’s not up to us.

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To end, we need to congratulate 1) Netflix and Black Mirror for coming up with such a mind-boggling film in Bandersnatch, and 2) ourselves, for surviving such a weird, stressful, but still entertaining experience. Let’s give ourselves a pat on the back. Whew. We’ve definitely earned it!

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is now available on Netflix.

Bird Box: A Horror Movie That Makes Us Reflect

Netflix aims to make our holidays scarier with Bird Box, the adaptation of Josh Malerman’s thriller novel of the same name. Do they succeed, or is it all hype?

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The Beardict: Bird Box is a gripping look at humanity’s struggle when the world finally ends. Although it gives some suggestions, the film does not focus on why the end is happening. Instead, it’s effective in showing how people react to it. Human beings are obsessed with solving problems. But what do you do against a threat that does not seem to have any weakness? You simply survive.

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SPOILERS AHEAD

Here are several thoughts I had after watching Bird Box:

  • If M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (2008) and the Quiet Place (2018) had a baby, Bird Box would probably be it. This is probably the best description I can give this movie.

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  • We take the gift of sight for granted all the time. In the film, Malorie and her fellow survivors can’t use their eyes outside because they’ll become suicidal once they “see.”
  • We always think of how the world ends, but not really of what we will do once it does. Bird Box steers us to ask the right questions. Will we discover that we care less about others when push comes to shove? As Malorie said, “the end of the world makes us do things.”

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  • Is it true that love makes us “soft,” as Olympia suggests, and that the two types of people are simply “the assholes and the dead” as differentiated by Douglas.
  • If crazy people suddenly found a purpose, we would be in so much trouble. In Bird Box, all of them only had one mission, and it was to make everyone “see.”          Bird Box
  • Trust is something that you can’t give to everyone. With that said, you still need to trust. A lot of bad things happened in Bird Box because the characters tried to see the best in people and it ended in betrayal. However, Malorie and her kids would not have found much-needed sanctuary if they chose to strike out on their own.

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  • A mother’s love manifests differently. At first glance, Malorie can’t possibly win Mother of the Year award, but then we realize, somehow, she can.

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  • Birds are beautiful. Cats and dogs are usually our go-to pets, but this film reminds us that from how they look to how they chirp, birds are awesome creatures.

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Bird Box is scary not because of the end-of-the-world scenario, but because of how we all know human beings are capable of being very selfish.

How about you? What did you think of Bird Box? Do you think you’ll survive its post-apocalyptic world?

Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock is now available on Netflix.

8 Movies Aquaman Reminds Us Of

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures

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From Suicide Squad’s (2016) wasted potential to Justice League’s (2017) lukewarm reception, there’s a certain skepticism that already comes when watching a DC film. With the exception of Wonder Woman (2017), audiences have generally become wary of anything DCEU-related. Comparisons with Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) certainly don’t help, and with Avengers: Endgame and a slew of superhero movies just around the corner, Aquaman faces no easy task and has to step up to distinguish itself from the rest of the competition.

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And step up, it definitely did. Aquaman is able to hold its own, and is worth a watch even from  non-believers of the DC Extended Universe. Not too dark but not overly funny either, it has great pacing, well-developed characters, and exciting special effects. Director James Wan, Arthur (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Heard) are table to take us on a very visual underwater journey to Atlantis. Plus, Aquaman’s mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) is not named Martha, so we can finally lay that Batman V. Superman joke to rest. Haha.

What I really like about Aquaman is that it successfully borrows elements from past blockbusters and combines them to form a solid film. With that said, here are the list of movies we got reminded of when we watched Aquaman:

————————————————-SPOILERS AHEAD—————————————————

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1) The Lord of the Rings. Arthur Curry’s story is similar to that of Aragorn. They’re both outsider kings but rightful rulers of their people. Initially mistrusted and set aside, they are eventually able to win everyone over through their bravery and resolve. They pass tests of worthiness and end up commanding the impossible (Aragon convinces the Army of the Dead to help in the final battle of the Return of the King, while Arthur brings the Trench Dwellers to face Ocean Master).

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2) Star Wars. It was beautiful when Mera and Arthur shared their first kiss. Time slowed down, and you can see ships and laser beams all over the ocean. At that moment, I smiled because it dawned on me that the whole thing was like one massive Star Wars brawl, except it had all sorts of water creatures instead of TIE fighters and AT-ATs.

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3) Prince of Persia. Maybe it was the sand in the Sahara desert, or all the rooftop jumping that Mera did, but the sequence felt like something you would see in a Prince of Persia movie/game. In their search of King Atlan’s trident, they encountered puzzles which they needed to solve before they could move on with their quest. Once progress has been made, hordes of enemies or boss battles would occur (Ocean Master, Black Manta, etc.)–really entertaining touches, if you ask me.

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4) Avengers: Age of Ultron. Mera has tremendous power, and we saw how she can manipulate water the way Arthur couldn’t. When Black Manta and the Atlantean commandos attacked Arthur and Mera, she found herself inside one of the wine rooms. Mera then released her fury and formed spikes to take out her enemies. During this awesome scene, she reminded us a lot of Scarlet Witch when she emerged from one of the abandoned homes in Sokovia, fully confident after Hawkeye’s pep talk.

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5) Iron Man. Black Manta is clearly presented as a villain. He mercilessly kills a submarine officer at the start of the movie just because he didn’t like his answer. However, they take the time to develop his character by highlighting 1) his closeness with his dad, 2) his frustrated efforts at besting Aquaman (he prides himself as being the best but his humanity limits him), and 3) his technical know-how. The scene where he hacks Atlantean tech and molds it to his own is very Tony Stark of the first Iron Man movie (Tony fashioned his armor out of metal scraps found inside the cave where he was held captive).

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6) Eat Pray Love. This is probably a surprise to anyone who has read this far, but yes, Eat Pray Love! Haha. I recall that Elizabeth Gilbert travels to find herself and Italy is one of her destinations. I think I got reminded of it when Mera walked around Sicily and mingled with the townsfolk, all the while being amazed and realizing that humans aren’t so bad after all. The flower-eating scene worked well because of Heard and Momoa’s chemistry, and I temporarily thought I was watching a romantic comedy.

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7) Wonder Woman. Multiple sources have reported that Aquaman is basically DC’s Black Panther, except Erik Killmonger is the good guy. They may have a point there, but what it actually reminded me of was DCEU’s own Wonder Woman. Both films have fierce women warriors present (Queen Atlanna and Mera for Aquaman, and Diana and the Amazonians for Wonder Woman). Both films feature a superhero who does not fit into the world they are thrust in–the main difference is that Diana heads out of Themyscira into the world of humans, while Arthur leaves the world of humans to fight for Atlantis.

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8) The Fast and The Furious. Before directing Aquaman, James Wan did Furious 7. I feel like this work stint influenced how each location greatly differed from one another, and how there were written labels on the screen (The Trench, Sahara Desert, Sicily, etc) each time the location changed. Oh, and that crazy jumping out of an airplane scene? That’s just something you’d expect from a Fast and Furious film.

Warner Bros. definitely hit gold with their latest offering, as Aquaman is able to restore our faith in the DC Extended Universe. Here’s to getting the same level of quality in the future!

Aquaman (Warner Bros. Pictures) is now available at cinemas near you!

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