Talking Movies [Mario Month]: Super Mario Bros.

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties.

Released: 28 May 1993
Director: Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel
Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures
Budget: $42 to 48 million
Stars: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Samantha Mathis, Fiona Shaw, Fisher Stevens, Richard Edson, and Dennis Hopper

The Plot:
Mario (Hoskins) and his younger brother, Luigi (Leguizamo), are out-of-luck plumbers who, upon meeting Daisy (Mathis), are suddenly transported to a parallel world where dinosaurs, rather than primates, evolved into the dominant lifeform and are immediately caught up in King Koopa’s (Hopper) diabolical plans to merge this “Dinohattan” with the real world.

The Background:
By 1993, Nintendo’s portly plumber Mario was well-established as a successful videogame and pop culture icon; over sixty videogames had been released that either included Mario or featured him and his brother, Luigi, in a starring role. Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) was released that same year and the characters had featured in numerous animated and live-action productions. Mario’s popularity had captured the mainstream; a 1990 survey revealed that the character’s popularity and eclipsed that of Mickey Mouse and, perhaps inevitably, the idea of a live-action feature film began to take shape thanks to Nintendo’s then-director of advertising and public relations, Bill White. Despite bringing in Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) co-writer Barry Morrow and attracting such superstar names as Dustin Hoffman, Danny DeVito, and Tom Hanks, production of the film almost immediately ran into troubles when pages of the script were “rewritten on a daily basis” so the “actors didn’t bother reading the new pages, knowing full well that more would likely follow” (Russell, 2012: 140).

I feel like expectations were unrealistically high for this film, which distracts from its fun elements.

Despite some reservations about the script and being typecast, Bob Hoskins eventually signed on for the lead role and ultimately came to regret the experience; reportedly, he and co-star Leguizamo were so frustrated and unhappy on set that they spent the majority of their working days drunk and Hoskins later claimed that the film was the “worst thing” he had ever done and a “nightmare” as the general onset atmosphere was “anarchic”, with Nintendo being “nowhere to be seen [and without] a representative present during the shoot” and the directors being “out of their depth, pulled between the demands of the producers, their attempts to rewrite on-the-hoof and the logistical enormity of the production” (ibid: 140). Budgeted at $42 million and grossing just over $20 million, Super Mario Bros. was met with almost universal derision; everyone from critics, to cast and crew, and even Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto distanced themselves from the film because of its troubled production and removal from the source material. I, however, loved this movie as a kid; my friends loved this movie back in the day, too, because it was a bright, goofy, fun-packed adventure that was entertaining as hell. As I grew up and moved into studying videogame adaptations for my PhD thesis, I also came to appreciate the film as a movie rather than an adaptation, which I think is where a lot of its criticism falls down as people seemed to have been expecting a one-to-one transliteration of the source material and adaptation just doesn’t (or rarely ever) works that way, resulting an a light-hearted, kid-friendly action/adventure romp rather than a 100% recreation of the game’s more obscure fantasy elements (having said that, though, I am sure that the upcoming computer-animated movie will be the Mario movie fans have wanted for years).

The Review:
Although Super Mario Bros. was not the only videogame adaptation to be a critical and commercial failure, by virtue of being “the first” it exists as a perpetual reminder that videogame adaptation is difficult and often disappointing. Despite its failure at the box office, movie studios quickly exploited videogame adaptations to entice videogame players into cinemas and allowed the videogame industry the opportunity to license their franchises out with little to lose (Picard: 2008: 295). As a result, Hollywood continues to attract reasonable budgets and high-profile actors and production stuff to videogame adaptations despite the genre “[failing] to receive much in the way of critical or commercial success” and Uwe Boll’s ill-received contributions (ibid). However, while it’s true that the film has many differences from its source material and isn’t much more than a fun kids adventure, that doesn’t necessarily make it “bad”; it’s like a live-action cartoon and, when your source material is a chubby plumber bouncing on the heads of malevolent mushrooms, what else do you really expect?

Though dysfunctional, both brothers have strengths and weaknesses that make them a team.

Bob Hoskins may have spoken out against the film in the years since it released but, whatever his demeanour and mindset on set, he is absolutely fantastic in the role of Mario; the plumber brothers are introduced as normal, everyday working men who are behind on their rent, drive a clapped-out van, and are constantly being scuppered by Anthony Scapelli (Gianni Russo). While Luigi is the young, lazy, overly enthusiastic and imaginative of the two, Mario is the older, more cynical and jaded brother; Luigi is a day dreamer, who is open to all possibilities and probabilities while Mario is realistic and grouchy, concerned about their lack in income and their sustainability. Due to the absence of their parents, Mario has had to fulfil the role of mother, father, and brother to Luigi, raising him since he was a kid and his priority, above all other concerns, is Luigi’s welfare; this manifests itself in a number of ways, from berating his younger brother for his reckless ways and daydreaming, encouraging him to keep his feet on the ground and be realistic and serious for a change, to literally holding Luigi in check physically and emotionally. While Luigi somewhat resents Mario’s constant over-protectiveness and influence on his life, he is also heavily reliant upon his brother; Luigi isn’t much of a plumber and is more like Mario’s apprentice and assistant (he knows the tools and the trade but lacks confidence in tackling big plumbing jobs by himself) and is far my awkward around women compared to his older, far more confident brother. Still, the chemistry between both actors is immediately believable; I totally buy that these two are brothers who wind each other up and get on each other’s nerves in other ways but, nevertheless, share a real bond, their banter is amusing and realistic and, best of all, while they argue and disagree a lot, they never have a big, cliché falling out or anything like that and Mario is always extremely supportive of his younger brother even while he despairs over Luigi’s immaturity.

Though she undergoes a bit of a transformation, Daisy is little more than a damsel in distress.

Furthermore, Mario is given a crippling fear of heights (kind of ironic, you could argue, given the amount of jumping his videogame counter parts takes part in), meaning that he relies on his fearless younger brother when it comes to taking literal leaps of faith; additionally, Mario learns to adopt many of Luigi’s more open-minded characteristics by the conclusion of the film and grows from a reluctant hero to a willing hero, immediately jumping into action to assist Daisy when she pops up for the film’s conclusion. Speaking of which, Daisy is a serviceable enough character for the most part. Like Luigi, she’s an orphan but, unlike him, she’s been driven by an insatiable enthusiasm for dinosaurs and bones and struggled with her identity after she was abandoned as a child (…well, egg, to be more precise). Luigi is instantly enamoured by her based on her beauty and, later, her commitment to this cause and she seems taken by his enthusiasm and awkwardness. While she is able to speak up for herself and is largely calm and emotionally stable, she’s little more than a damsel in distress and doesn’t transform into a proactive heroine until the film’s sequel-bait ending. She directs the brothers when they come to rescue her and sets Yoshi free from his bindings but she doesn’t really factor into the finale in a meaningful way beyond being the only one physically capable of interacting with the meteorite (why, though, is never really explained).

He might not resemble his videogame counterpart but Koopa is a zany, scenary-chewing villain.

And then there’s King Koopa himself, Dennis Hopper. Again, Hopper might have distanced himself from the film but he delivers a glorious over the top, scenery chewing performance. For all their buffoonery, the Mario Brothers play mostly as the film’s straight men and, in comparison, Koopa is a cartoon villain; he’s bombastic, melodramatic, and packed full of weird little character quirks while still being cold, ruthless, sadistic, and the more serious of his many underlings. Koopa’s plot is ridiculous in the best way (he wants to take Daisy as his own and use the meteorite piece (the “Rock”) she wears around her next to complete the meteor that split their worlds into separate dimensions and merge Dinohattan with New York, with him as the ruling dictator) and every decision he makes is equally ludicrous: when he’s told the Rock is in the hands of two plumbers, he calls for a “Plumber alert!”; when his underlings defy him (or he faces defiance of any kind), he subjects them to his De-Evolution machine and turns them into incompetent Goombas; and, when he acquires the Rock, his first course of action is the order a pizza!

While Iggy and Spike are bumbling fools, Lena conspires to eliminate Daisy to rule alongside Koopa.

Koopa’s primary minions are his cousins, Iggy (Stevens) and Spike (Edson); while the Mario Brothers are bumbling at times due to their status as unlikely heroes, Iggy and Spike are bumbling full stop; incompetent in every respect, the two act as the film’s comic relief and are thematic parallels to the titular brothers, echoing the Mario’s love/hate relationship through their verbal and physical banter. In an effort to make them more competent, Koopa opts to subject them to a spell of cranial evolution; however, this does little to improve their competency and actually serves to make them smarter than Koopa in many ways, certainly smart enough to cut a deal with the Mario Brothers and, ultimately, turn against their cousin to ensure their own survival. Koopa does have at least one reliable subordinate, however, in the form of Lena (Shaw); however, Lena is intensely jealous of Daisy, since Koopa favours her, so conspires to remove Daisy from the equation while positioning herself as the only woman capable and willing enough to rule by Koopa’s side. Bat shit crazy, she is also a cartoonish villain, literally cackling like a witch when she tries to merge the Rock with the meteorite and pays the ultimate price for her pride and hubris. Before that, though, she demonstrates far more focus in her sadistic desire to off Daisy and even usurp Koopa’s ambitions as she believes that she can rule without him but is blinded by her mad desires just as Koopa is blinded by his ego and libido.

Dinohattan has a very tangible, “lived-in” feel it its dystopian dressings.

At its core, Super Mario Bros. is little more than a fun kid’s movie; an action/adventure piece that needs to be big, bright, and bombastic and, for the most part, it takes all of these boxes. Dinohattan evokes the murky, gritty, industrial aesthetic of Blade Runner, being this desolate dystopian city that (thanks to an elaborate, practical set) feels real and lived in. Covered with a disgusting fungus, the city is full of little background elements and references (the Hammer Bros, Thwomp, Bullet Bill, and Wriggler all get little cameos as brightly-coloured neon signs, advertisements, and businesses but perhaps the most accurate inclusion is that of the much-feared Bob-omb); sparks, flames, and explosions are aplenty in this gloomy dystopia and the film has a very tangible sense of kinetic energy (things are always moving and bustling and the Mario’s are constantly being herded or pushed forward). Furthermore, there are a lot of amusing scenes and moments in the film; the elevator sequence, for example, where Luigi teaches the Goombas to dance is a stand out, the Mario’s bickering in the desert is gold, and there’s an humorous little side plot later in the film regarding Koopa’s pizza and Toad (Mojo Nixon) bringing Daisy a plate of steamed vegetable amidst her dramatic escape from Koopa’s tower. Not every joke lands, obviously, largely those involving Iggy and Spike (who are a bit too cartoonish) but, again, this is a film designed to appeal to kids so, for the most part, the humour really works, in my opinion, thanks, again, largely to the banter and bickering between the titular brothers.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Super Mario Bros. is intrinsically linked with the perceived notion of the film as being a failure and being the first of many big-budget cinematic failings for videogame adaptations. It doesn’t help that the film is largely disregarded by academics (some, like Brookey (2010: 4), who exhibit a blatant misunderstanding about the film’s source material) and critics. Yet, positive reviews of the film can be found, with Thomas Leitch (2007: 263) admirably emphasising the film’s contribution to the field of adaptation by detailing how film-making techniques substitute for the layout of, and interaction with, the videogame world: “[Super Mario Bros.] not only retains but constantly emphasizes the title characters’ absurd names[,] their professional status as plumbers, their unlikely credentials as heroes, and their quest to rescue a kidnapped princess”. I know what you’re probably thinking, though; you’re thinking that the movie is trash because it’s nothing like the videogame. But you’re talking to the wrong person there because, honestly, I don’t care. The only way a Mario movie can hope to recreate the aesthetics of the videogames is to go the all CGI route, in my opinion, and we’ll be seeing that soon enough (hopefully) so, for me, the film does a pretty decent job of translating many of the source material’s more outlandish aspects to live-action.

The film incorporates dionsaurs elements from the videogames in a variety of ways.

The focus on dinosaurs is a bit odd, I guess, but remember that Super Mario World (Nintendo EAD, 1990) was still very fresh in people’s minds at the time and featured a dinosaur setting but also a little film called Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993) was due out the very next month and would go on to inspire a brief dinosaur craze so Super Mario Bros. was potentially influenced by that. It also really emphasises the Mario’s profession as plumbers; while pipes and plumber iconography was rife in the Mario videogames at the time, it was most more heavily emphasised in the various Mario cartoons (and, perhaps even more obscurely, Super Mario Bros.: Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! (Hata, 1986), a Japanese-exclusive anime that exhbits a number of narrative similarities to its live-action counterpart) that released before the film (which popularised the notion of the Mario Brothers as both plumbers from Brooklyn and everyday, unlikely heroes). Additionally, there are many aspects from the videogames included in the film; the iconic Mario theme opens the movie (and even plays on the DVD menu, despite never appearing in a prominent way in the film), Daisy ends up in a purple dress reminiscent of the pink attire worn by Princess Toadstool (who was largely interchangeable with Daisy at the time), and the film has a heavy emphasis on jumping and running; the production design features “strong verticals [that] provide many reminders of its heroes’ relative freedom from gravity” (Leitch, 2007: 270) and the Mario Brothers are “constantly jumping, falling, and swinging through a series of unusually vertical sets” to reinforce “the ability of video game heroes to surmount obstacles and enemies by [simply] jumping over them” (ibid: 264). Much of this is thanks to the “Stompers”, gas-powered futuristic boots that allow characters to make superhuman leaps and hover in the air to recreate the jumping mechanics of the videogames.

Toad might have gotten a raw deal but Yoshi and the Mario’s outfits turned out pretty good…

Sure, you can cry about the film’s depiction of Toad and even Koopa as much as you want but do you really believe that early-nineties effects would have been able to render a kingdom full of anthropomorphic mushrooms and a fire-breathing dragon/turtle hybrid? Of course, the counterpoint to that is to simply produce an animated movie but they didn’t and that’s ignoring the fact that many of the film’s effects hold up extremely well. Sure, the computer effects are quite janky but they’re used sparingly; as I said, Dinohattan is this huge, bustling set, for one thing, and the film is full of elaborate locations that evoke their source material in more ways than you might thing (there’s an arid desert, for one thing, and Koopa’s tower is full of ominous spikes, much like Bowser’s many castles). Add to this a pretty exciting and action-packed car chase that is full of practical effects and some nice puppetry and effects work (Yoshi, in particular, stands out but the Goomba’s aren’t half bad either) and you have an extremely visually interesting and exciting movie for my money. Also, while their outfits aren’t overalls and it makes little sense for them to wear them (Mario seems to think wearing them will help them get up Koopa’s tower without suspicion but none of Koopa’s minions are dressed that way…), I absolutely love the Mario’s brightly-coloured outfits and there’s a real sense of thematic significance given to the scene where they acquire them as it represents them embracing their roles as heroes. Furthermore, there’s some fun little Easter Eggs in the film, too, such as Koopa’s portable de-evolution guns being Super Scopes and Mario using a piece of fungus to shield himself from the gun’s effects (like in the games, he uses a mushroom allows him to take a free hit).

The Summary:
Even now, there is a lot to like about Super Mario Bros.; it’s a fun, bombastic live-action cartoon that is geared towards being adventurous and whimsical. What few elements it does take from its source material are incorporated subtly and slavish devotion to fidelity is secondary to telling a quirky story that will appeal, primarily, to kids and be amusing enough for their parents to sit through. In many respects, the film isn’t really geared towards fans of the videogames at all, at least not those who expect an exact recreation of the source material (something no adaptation, live-action or otherwise, has ever done; no matter how accurate an adaptation may be, it will never be 100% faithful as films are a completely different medium to videogames, being passive entertainment over which the viewer has no control). Sadly, though, Super Mario Bros. is perhaps destined to go down in infamy not just for differing so wildly from its source material but also for being the most often-cited example of why videogame adaptations are doomed to fail again and again. It was the first of its kind, however; no one knew how to translate a videogame into a live-action film and, it can be argued, few have really learned how to refine this process since then. Regardless, however, I think it’s best to view Super Mario Bros. in terms of its genre rather than as an adaptation; it’s so far removed from its source material that you kind of have to and, as a result, you’re left with a pretty decent kids movie that isn’t designed to appeal to everybody but is nowhere near as bad a movie as the majority of people like to make it out to be.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

How do you feel about Super Mario Bros.? Did you see it as a kid? If so, what are your memories of it and how do you feel it holds up today? What did you think to the casting and the performances in the film? Do you agree with the majority consensus that it’s a terrible film because it’s nothing like the videogames or do you, perhaps, enjoy it as an entertaining adventure film and nothing more? Do you think a live-action Mario movie could work with today’s technology? Which Nintendo franchise would you most like to see get a live-action adaptation? Whatever you think, leave a comment below and come back next Thursday for more Mario content.

Author’s Spotlight: Sleeping Celeste

Author: Alana K. Drex
Genre: Gothic horror
Publication Date: 9 October 2022
Pages: 104
Available As: Paperback and e-book

The Synopsis:
It is October 1885, and Marie Maecott seems to be the only one who knows what has happened to her daughter, Celeste. She is angry that no one else understands her daughter’s condition, as any mother would be. Then one chill night, groundskeeper for Heathridge Cemetery, Jacob Willis, tells her a dark secret in his family’s past that just may hold the key to her problem.

Marie will need to set off on a journey to find out–one in which she will discover terrible parts of herself–parts that would have been better off left buried. And some are going to find out the truth of the timeless adage: it is best not to come between a mother and her child.

The Review:
Sleeping Celeste is a brisk gothic horror tale that’s firmly focused on blind obsession. The main character, Marie (whom we follow through six chapters, each sporting a date as their title, and trough her first-person narrative), is absolutely devastated after the loss of her four-year-old daughter, Celeste. However, while Celeste appears to all to have died, Marie is convinced – absolutely dead certain – that the girl has simply fallen into a deep sleep and won’t even stop to entertain the idea that she’s anything other than stubborn. Much of Marie’s refusal to accept Celeste’s obvious condition stems from guilt; a twisted, shocking guilt that turns the entire tale on its head and really goes a long way in showing just how depraved Marie is regarding her daughter. Marie is driven to near madness at the thought of Celeste being buried under the ground so her dutiful and devoted husband, John, arranges to have the girl displayed above ground in a special sarcophagus, one that contains a little window so Marie can gaze upon and touch her daughter’s face day after day.

In time, Marie’s obsession only grows. She stays with Celeste around the clock, waiting for the day when she will surely awaken, and reminiscences about her childhood, one that saw Marie watch over her daughter like a hawk and go to questionable lengths to placate the girl when Marie was indulging her vices with a local dreamboat. It’s during her nightly vigils over Celeste that Marie meets Jacob Willis, the resident groundskeeper, who tells her a terrifying story of his Aunt Tress, a witch-like pariah who may hold the key to awakening Celeste through her black magic. Marie is unperturbed by Jacob’s horrific stories of mewling, zombie-like cats since she’s certain Celeste will retain her true personality since she’s not really dead; all Marie needs is a suitable sacrifice, a morbid incantation, and the will to try and awaken her beloved daughter.

I absolutely loved this book. It’s like Pet Sematary (King, 1983) meets Edgar Allan Poe! The way the author constructs her language and descriptions, using archaic inflections and capturing the mood of the era, is admirable and I loved how short and sharp the tale was. It was such an enjoyable read and the author does a fantastic job of making you sympathise with Marie and then begin to question her sanity, before turning her into a tragic figure who’s turned to deception and murder to reunite with her daughter. Marie’s grief is palpable; she’s so tormented that she eats dirt, wishes to kill herself, and is later haunted by visions and nightmares that reflect both her guilt and her heinous actions. Marie’s fascination with Celeste speaks to the blinkered tragedy of losing a loved one; Marie will do anything, brave any danger, for a way to awaken her but cannot entertain the thought that her daughter is dead because to admit that would be to admit her culpability, and this is all wonderfully realised in the shocking and gory ending!

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

If you’re interested in checking out Sleeping Celeste, and to learn more about Alana K. Drex and her journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.

Talking Movies: The Evil Dead

Talking Movies

Released: 15 April 1981
Director: Sam Raimi
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Budget: $375,000
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, and Theresa Tilly

The Plot:
Ashley “Ash” Williams (Campbell) and his friends, including his girlfriend Linda (Baker) and sister Cheryl (Sandweiss), drive to a remote cabin in the woods for a vacation. There, they find an audio tape that, when played, unleashes a legion of demonic spirits that possess and torment the group, leaving Ash to defend himself from his zombified friends.

The Background:
The Evil Dead was the brainchild of now-legendary horror director Sam Raimi, who had collaborated with his long-time friend Bruce Campbell on several low-budget Super 8mm film projects in the past. When they hit upon the idea of venturing into horror, Raimi produced a proof of concept on a measly $1,600 that served as the prototype for The Evil Dead and sought financing for a larger project by begging friends and family alike to amass the funds he required. With a cast and crew made up of locals, friends, and family, the film was shot entirely on Kodak 16mm film stock and fraught with mishaps: there were many minor injuries, including Betsy Baker accidentally getting her eyelashes ripped off, the contact lenses used to give the cast demonic eyes were extremely uncomfortable to wear, arguments frequently broke out because of the cramped conditions, and Raimi delighted in tormenting his cast, especially Campbell, to capture more realistic emotions on set. The Evil Dead popularised Raimi’s penchant for unsettling gore and sweeping camera movements; Dutch angles, camera dollies, and use of a cobbled together shaky cam all added to the unique visual presentation of the film. The film was also bolstered by some ambitious low-budget gore; Raimi relied entirely on make-up, prosthetics, and painstaking stop motion to create his gory effects, which included copious amounts of animal meat and live cockroaches. Perhaps the most controversial scene in the film saw Cheryl sexually assaulted by a demonic tree, a sequence with Raimi himself later admitted was unnecessarily gratuitous. Raimi went all in for the film’s theatrical premiere by hiring ambulances to wait outside Detroit’s Redford Theatre to build a sense of atmosphere around the film, which was beloved by legendary horror writer Stephen King and became one of the genre’s most infamous splatter-horror movies. Despite being slapped with a dreaded NC-17 rating or outright banned in some countries, The Evil Dead was surprisingly well-received for a horror film; the film was a sleeper hit, making between $2.7 and $29.4 million at the box office, and critics have praised The Evil Dead’s unnerving atmosphere and camera work and its unique twist on the genre, though its low-budget and obvious flaws were highlighted as failings. Despite its praise and financial success, The Evil Dead failed to launch Raimi’s directing career; he was forced to begin work on a follow-up that was part-remake, part-sequel due to rights issues, and this low-budget splatter-horror soon became a cult franchise that made a horror icon out of Bruce Campbell, allowed Sam Raimi to experiment with other genres before achieving mainstream success, and came to encompass comedy/horror sequels, videogames, and even a stage show!

The Review:
As a big horror fan, I became aware of the Evil Dead films largely through reputation; Ash was as much a recognisable horror icon as any of the top slashers when I was a kid, though my first real exposure to the series came with a completely out of context viewing of the second movie back in my youth that obviously impressed me enough to keep an eye on the franchise. When I finally switched from VHS to DVD, either the first or the second boxset I bought was the Evil Dead trilogy; back then, I would religiously watch all the special features and commentaries and it was amazing seeing this low-budget horror franchise being brought to life and becoming a cult phenomenon. I think it’s only fair to say, though, that it’s always been easy for me to rank the original trilogy; the second is clearly the best for me, with the first and third kind of tied at the bottom for different reasons. Still, it’s a horror staple and has been a part of my home movie collection for decades now and it’s always enjoyable to throw on one of these outrageous splatter-horrors and remember a time when the genre had some serious balls.

Ash and his friends are tormented by an evil force that first claims his sister, Cheryl.

The film centres on five college friends – Ash, his girlfriend Linda and sister Cheryl, Scott (DeManincor) and his girlfriend, Shelly (Lilly) – who decide to vacation at an old cabin in the woods that they rented on the cheap because it’s so secluded, rundown, and preceeded by a dilapidated bridge. It’s always weird rewatching the original Evil Dead and seeing Ash portrayed as a decidedly uncool and dorky college student; compared to Scott, who’s aggressively assertive and cynical at times, Ash is contemplative and bookish, far more likely to fumble his way through Latin than he is to spout one-liners. Indeed, it’s Scott who first investigates the basement and is more inclined towards being brash and outspoken, even pointing a loaded gun in Ash’s face just for a laugh and willing to take his chances out in the haunted woods than wait around in the cabin. In comparison, Ash is more empathetic; while he enjoys a gag, he knows when to stop, unlike Scott, and is more concerned with the welfare of others and figuring a way out of their predicament, though his curiosity concerning the Naturom Demonto directly leads to the evil force being unleashed when he plays Raymond Knowby’s (Bob Dorian) tape. Of all the characters, it’s Cheryl who senses the unsettling nature of the cabin and the surrounding woods right from the start; she’s clearly uncomfortable in the cabin, with its creepy decorations and atmosphere, compelled to draw a picture of the Naturom Demonto, and so creeped out by the haunting voice (Sam Raimi) whispering from the woods that she stupidly goes out to investigate and gets disturbingly abused for her curiosity.

While the romance between Ash and Linda is barebones, the tension and horror are palpable.

The attack leaves Cheryl understandably traumatised, so much so that she demands to leave the area right away, despite the disbelief of her friends and brother. Still, Ash agrees to take her to safety, only to discover that the bridge has been destroyed and they are now trapped in the cabin, much to Cheryl’s dismay as she fully gives in to despair following the shock and horror of her attack. Of course, Cheryl isn’t the only one who shares Ash’s affections; The Evil Dead makes an attempt to explore the romance between Ash and Linda when he gifts her probably the ugliest magnifying glass necklace-thing in a fun romantic gesture, but they don’t get many chances to interact with each other. Linda and Shelly are so bland and interchangeable that I often get the two mixed up or forget about whichever one isn’t wearing the necklace and they only really become interesting to the plot after being infected by the evil. The possessed Cheryl essentially becomes the primary antagonist, growling and watching from the basement, while Shelly violently attacks Scott after being claimed by the evil force and Linda becomes a spiteful, child-like demon who delights in mocking and tormenting her former friends. The entire experience rattles Ash and Scott in different ways; Ash refuses to leave behind his injured girlfriend, and later cannot bring himself to dismember her after she becomes possessed, whereas Scott its perfectly happy to save his own skin, only to end up cut to ribbons offscreen, thus leaving Ash as the sole survivor forced to step into a more proactive role to try and save his friends and destroy the evil force torturing them.

The spiteful, evil force lurking is the woods is unleashed with violent and bloody results.

Contrary to later films and entries in the franchise, the titular “evil dead” is somewhat vaguely defined here. Represented as a disembodied, malevolent force that lurks in the woods, the evil is already present even before Raymond Knowby’s tape is played but is fully unleashed upon the recitation of passages from the fabled Naturom Demonto. A Sumerian text containing ancient burial rituals and incantations, this book of the dead is inked in human blood and bound in human flesh and brings forth an intangible evil that possesses not only the main characters, but the surrounding area. It briefly jerks the wheel of Ash’s prized (if unreliable) Oldsmobile, almost causing a head-on collision, and an ominous voice calls for the characters to “Join us!” all before the book is even discovered, so strong is its influence. Of course, perhaps the most memorable incarnation of the evil force is when it possesses the surrounding trees to attack Cheryl. Cheryl then becomes the principal embodiment of the evil force, levitating and barking threats and being hideously transformed into a demonic, zombie-like being. From there, the horror only escalates; Cheryl attacks her friends, demonstrating incredible physical strength by manhandling them and the evil force is easily able to possess anyone injured while in the cabin following her transformation. Cheryl further degenerates into an ashen, cackling, crone-like monstrosity while trapped in the basement, leaving Shelly to attack Scott, her skin cracked and boiling, clawing at him even as her face splits and melts away.

The Nitty-Gritty:
While far from the first horror film to employ the “cabin in the woods” cliché, The Evil Dead may very well be the most mainstream and infamous example of it. Personally, I’ve always been a little ambivalent and ignorant towards it; I’m not very outdoorsy and spending a weekend in a secluded, creepy cabin isn’t really something we do here in the UK, so it can be a bit of a hit and miss premise since, much like the idea of summer camp, I can’t readily imagine ever being in such a position. Still, despite the questionable performances of the main actors (it’s clear that this is new territory for them, resulting in some clunky and awkward line deliveries), The Evil Dead does a really good job of making the cabin itself as much a character as the actors. Rusty tools, creaking floorboards, an aggravating ticking clock, and unsettling stuffed animals adorn the interior, creating an ominous atmosphere even before the evil force sweeps through the group. I’m a big fan of Sam Raimi’s unique camera work in this film; the evil force is represented through a series of sweeping first-person shots that fly through the woods, barge through the cabin, and is completely unbound by its surroundings, creating a menacing, unseen force that cannot be fought or escaped no matter how hard the characters try.

The film leaves an impression thanks to its gore and controversial content.

The Evil Dead deserves a lot of credit for doing as much as it can with a shoestring budget; yes, the effects haven’t aged too well and are questionable these days, easily being the worst of the franchise, but its commitment to violent gore is commendable. Still, the make-up effects are a bit hit and miss at times; those possessed resemble a combination of the possessed Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair/Mercedes McCambridge) and a zombie, featuring creamy-white eyes, slashes and gouges, a pale complexion, and an abundance of viscera and veins, and they jerk around like puppets with bone-crunching rigidity. The real meat of the horror is in the sickening depiction of gore; pencils are stabbed into ankles and the possessed Shelly is not only half melting but chews her own hand off at the wrist and ends up chopped into quivering, bloody limbs! Later, when Ash is attacked by his possessed friends in full force, he gouges out Scott’s eyes with nauseating brutality and the remains of his friends bubble and melt away as only the finest and most gruesome stop motion can depict. Of course, easily the most outrageous an unsettling part of the film comes within the first thirty minutes when, beckoned by the evil force, Cheryl wanders into the pitch-black woods where the force barrels through the trees and then possesses them, tangling her up in their branches and stripping her naked. The branches then thrash her, choke her, and force her down to be sexually assaulted by them through a combination of reverse footage and in-camera wire work which, while impressive, is maybe taking things a little too far just for the sake of shock value.

After enduring horrendous torture, Ash appears to win the day but the evil seemingly never dies…

If you’re more familiar with Ash as a chainsaw-wielding, shotgun-toting bad-ass then The Evil Dead will be a bit of a shock to you. Ash does use a shotgun in the film, though sporadically and with little effect, and he only fires up a chainsaw one time, though he’s unable to bring himself to chop up his beloved Linda’s body. Instead, he simply tries to bury her alive, resulting in her reanimating and attacking him out in the woods. Although Bruce Campbell would suffer far worse abuse in the later films, he certainly gets a hard time of it here; he’s tossed about by his possessed friends, crashing through furniture each time, beaten with a poker, and ends up caked in blood when Linda’s headless corpse tries to rape him and when he ventures into the basement for more ammo! Still, while he’s more an exhausted survivor than a wisecracking action hero, further study of Knowby’s recording reveals to Ash that the only way to stop the possessed is by bodily dismemberment; though they can fight off their possessed friends and even cause them pain, even causing violent, gory seizures with the Sumerian dagger, they will continue to reanimate unless they’re chopped up. Although Ash is initially hesitant compared to Scott, he’s soon decapitating and beating Linda’s possessed corpse with a shovel and fending off the cackling, mocking games of the evil force. Somehow, he’s even able to remain himself after his leg is gouged by Linda and later chewed on by Scott, potentially because the evil force delights in torturing him, and is forced to find new reserves of resolve to endure the torment. The cabin itself comes to life as the force stalks him, driving him to near madness through fear and exhaustion, and his demonic friends attack in a frenzy for the gore-drenched finale. In the chaos, Ash is able to use the ugly necklace to toss the Naturom Demonto into the fireplace, which causes the possessed to freeze, be torn to bloody ribbons by demonic claws, and then rapidly, sickeningly decompose before his eyes. However, as the blood-soaked and dishevelled Ash stumbles out into the light of dawn, the unseen force charges through the house and seemingly swallows him for one last jump scare!

The Summary:
As suggested earlier, The Evil Dead is far from my favourite entry in the splatter-horror franchise; as a horror movie, it’s pretty by the numbers in a lot of ways and more of a standard, low-budget gorefest that seeks to shock through its violent, bloody, and questionable content rather than provide something with real substance. The characters are all very bland and forgettable, even Ash, who exhibits none of his later bravado and impresses only because he’s the most good looking and he happens to be lucky enough to survive. I suppose you can argue that he balances the traits of the other characters – he’s not as brash as Scott or anxious as Cheryl or as forgettable as Linda or Shelly – and there is a tragedy and charisma to him, but I much prefer the tweaks made to his character from the second film onwards. That basically just leaves the gore, horror, and effects which, while ambitious and impressive, pale in comparison to other horror films and even the Evil Dead sequels. The Evil Dead feels like an extended proof of concept; the ideas are there, there’s some potential here, and it certainly shocks in its outrageous gore and content, but it’s definitely inferior compared to its sequel. I would still recommend it as a cult horror film and an example of how to stretch a limited budget and produce shocking content, and I commend the effort that went into it, but it’s hard to rate it much higher when there are better horror films from this era and the second movie so massively outpaces this one and set the standard for the rest of the franchise.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Are you a fan of The Evil Dead? Where would you rate it compared to other entries in the franchise? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to how Ash was portrayed here? What did you think to the evil force and its spiteful, playful nature? Were you impressed by the film’s gore and effects or is it a little too low-budget for you? What did you think to the performances and Sam Raimi’s directorial style? Would you read from a book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood? Whatever your thoughts on The Evil Dead and its franchise, feel free to leave a comment below or on my social media.

Back Issues [Stark Sunday]: The Invincible Iron Man #1

Anthony “Tony” Stark/Iron Man first lived, walked, and conquered in the pages of Tales of Suspense #39, published in March 1963 and brought to life by Marvel mastermind Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck. Since then, ol’ shellhead has gone through numerous different armours, served on Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers, struggled with alcoholism, swapped places with his teenaged younger self, fought against and imprisoned his fellow heroes, featured in numerous videogames and cartoons, and shot into mainstream superstardom thanks to am iconic, career-defining portrayal by Robert Downey Jr.  

Story Title: “Alone Against A.I.M.!”
Published: May 1968
Writers: Archie Goodwin
Artist: Gene Colon

The Background:
Long before Robert Downey Jr. uttered that unforgettable line, “I am Iron Man”, Stan Lee’s original Iron Man was to take a concept his readers would hate (a rich military industrialist), throw in a little Howard Hughes and personal tragedy, and make him a character to root for. Mounting deadlines saw Lee’s younger brother, Larry Lieber team with legendary Jack Kirby for the character’s debut in the pages of Tales of Suspense as an anti-communist. After Tales of Suspense was rebranded as a Captain America title in 1968, Iron Man was upgraded to his own solo series, The Invincible Iron Man, which has run pretty much uninterrupted from 1968 all the way up to the present day and has been home to some of the character’s most memorable and influential storylines.

The Review:
Oddly for the first issue of ol’ shellhead’s solo magazine, “Alone Against A.I.M.!” is actually the continuation of a story that began in the pages of Iron Man and Sub-Mariner and finds the Armoured Avenger being captured by a “vortex suction beam” courtesy of Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) after rescuing Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage and Law-Enforcement Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) agent Jasper Sitwell. The story takes place out in the vastness of the ocean, with Sitwell onboard a ship controlled by the Maggia crime syndicate hat is scuppered by A.I.M. Sitwell desperately attempts to maintain calm and get out into the open to summon help with his pocket communicator; despite briefly losing his glasses in the fracas, the eloquent agent is able to rescue one of Tony Stark’s admirers, Whitney Frost, and get the two picked up but a hovercraft commanded by none other than Colonel Nick Fury himself. Frost sells herself as a forthright socialite who deceives men with her charm and looks, but she’s actually looking to steal the secrets of Stark Industries and reclaim herself as the “Big M” of the Maggia.

Mordius has A.I.M. capture Iron Man so he can duplicate his armour.

This is merely a side-plot to the main story, however, which sees the bee-suit-wearing A.I.M. grunts entrap Iron Man in a magnetically sealed chamber on the orders of Mordius. Iron Mans fight with Mark Scarlotti/Whiplash in the previous story has drained his Repulsor Rays and the chamber is too tough for him to expend the energy trying to batter through, but he doesn’t have too long to worry about any kind of escape plan as A.I.M. promptly render him unconscious with a knockout gas and transport his helpless form to Mordius’s castle out on a small island off the New England coast. The A.I.M. minions are absolutely devoted to their master’s cause and the sanctity of A.I.M.s…well, aims, but Mordius himself is quite the abusive blowhard: garbed in a blue helmet and white outfit, he doesn’t tolerate tardiness, claims A.I.M.’s greater glory is his for the taking, and makes aggressive demands of his underlings without gratitude or concern for their welfare, but they’re only to happy to bow to his every whim and place the unconscious Avenger in the “X-Ray Photo-Chamber”. Mordius’s goal is less about the main within the armour and more with uncovering the secrets of the technology that powers Iron Man’s superhuman feats and is so confident in his machine that he removes his protective headgear, thus shedding the usual anonymity afforded to A.I.M.’s representatives, which also serves the dual purpose of clearly setting him above and beyond the usual A.I.M. grunts. Mordius delivers a lengthy soliloquy on the advanced capabilities of his machine, which scans and analyses every inch of the Iron Man armour and produces near-perfect replicas that he wastes no time in outfitting to three of his underlings.

Despite Iron Man’s efforts, it’s Mordius’s hubris that destroys A.I.M.’s ambitions.

However, Iron Man proves to not be as subdued as Mordius believed thanks to the oxygen supply contained in his armour; he breaks out of the chamber, destroying the irreplaceable “Vario-Mold Matrix” that allowed Mordius to copy his armour, but Mordius’s copies wildly malfunction when they try to use the Repulsor Ray technology and jet boots, causing only further damage to the A.I.M. master’s laboratory. Incensed at the development and convinced that Iron Man somehow sabotaged the process, Mordius both opens fire and commands his minions to stop messing around with the armour’s ordinance and attack Iron Man directly. Thankfully for the Armoured Avenger, the numbers advantage of his enemies means little; his armour’s “refractory casing” distorted the x-ray enough to produce inferior replicas and the fake Iron Men are nowhere near as skilled in utilising the armour’s full potential, easily allowing him to outfight them. Now determined to obliterate his hated enemy, Mordius fires a massive rocket cannon at the armoured group, no longer caring a lick for the fates of his loyal followers. However, Iron Man is able to avoid this lethal blast and sabotages the generator room; in response, Mordius unwittingly seals his fate and the fate of his fellow A.I.M. soldiers as he causes a massive power overload when he cranks up the auxiliary power. Thus, Iron Man is able to fly to safety while seemingly the entire castle explodes behind him, presumably taking all inside it in its wake and leaving shellhead to ponder that Mordius’s inability to consider himself anything less than perfect ultimately lead to his demise.

The Summary:
Well…this was certainly a whole lot of nothing. Just about the only thing “Alone Against A.I.M.!” has going for it is Gene Colon’s stunning artwork and Johnny Craig’s vibrant colouring, which really bring Iron Man to life. I think beginning Iron Man’s first solo series with the conclusion to a previous story was a pretty poor decision; it seems to me like starting a two-story arc and ending the first issue on a cliffhanger would have been far more effective but, instead, we get this forgettable tale where Iron Man feigns being unconscious for the majority of the narrative and we’re left wasting time with the weirdly articulate Sitwell and Mordius, two characters who simply love finding the most dramatic and overblown way to fill up panels with pointless dialogue. Since he’s a far greater part of the story, Mordius obviously carries a lot of the blame for this; he monologues at length about his amazing machine, gloats nonstop about his assumed victory, and seems to be this hyper-intelligent, super-smart tyrant but descends into an enraged madman to moment his plans go awry.

The art, and the bungling Iron Man copies, are the best part of this forgettable story.

I guess the best part of the issue is seeing how flawed Mordus’s Iron Man copies are; their Repulsor Rays hit everything but Iron Man, they fly head-first into the ceiling, and they’re unable to overpowered the Armoured Avenger despite apparently having been briefed on how to utilise the armour. Rather than coming across as a threat, though, they seem little more than bungling fools for Iron Man to toss about, mock at every turn, and are nonchalantly blasted to smithereens by Mordius’s own weapon! Iron Man is then able to destroy the entire castle with minimal effort, and without even meaning too! Half of the demise of Mordius is told off-panel and through an anti-climatic explosion, Iron Man barely even gives a shit that he just killed God-knows how many people, and I’m left wondering just what the hell the point of this issue was. I wouldn’t mind but “Alone Against A.I.M.!” isn’t the only story in the issue as the rest of the pages are taken up with a truncated version of Iron Man’s origin that was completely unnecessary and I can’t help but wonder if those couple of extra pages could’ve been better served adding to this story to maybe flesh out Iron Man’s escape a bit more. Instead, he just…conveniently slips away and then just flies out of their completely unopposed with Mordius dooms himself with his hubris.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.


Have you ever read “Alone Against A.I.M.!”? Were you also disappointed by its story and pacing? What did you think of Mordius and what some of your favourite A.I.M. moments? What are some of your favourite Iron Man characters or stories? Where does Iron Man rank in your hierarchy of comic book characters? Are you doing anything to commemorate Iron Man’s debut appearance and, if so, what is it? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Iron Man so sign up to drop them below or leave a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [Mario Month]: Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (Nintendo 3DS)

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties.

Released: 27 January 2014
Originally Released: 10 May 1999
Developer: Nintendo
Original Developer: Nintendo R&D4
Also Available For: Game Boy Color

The Background:
After his debut in Donkey Kong (Nintendo R&D2/Ikegami Tsushinki, 1983) and graduating to his own arcade title alongside his brother, Luigi, Shigeru Miyamoto’s Mario took the world by storm with Super Mario Bros. The game was extremely popular, selling over 40 million copies and was pivotal to Nintendo saving the videogames industry from destitution. The game is also no stranger to being ported to other systems; it was a 16-bit makeover for Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) and re-released on the Nintendo Wii to commemorate its twenty-fifth anniversary but, before that, though, Super Mario Bros. was ported to the Game Boy Color in this version of the game. Although Super Mario Bros. Deluxe suffered from a smaller screen size due to its new portable format, the game featured a few new features, such as additional animated elements, challenge modes, compatibility with the Game Boy Printer, and bonus levels, all of which saw it ranked as one of the greatest Game Boy games of all time and it was highly praised for its additional features. The game later made it onto the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Library, and gamers were even able to receive a free copy by registering their Nintendo Network ID, which further bolstered the game with the 3DS save state features and finally gave me my best opportunity to play through this classic title after years of struggling with Mario’s classic 2D efforts.

The Plot:
The Mushroom Kingdom has been invaded by Bowser, King of the Koopas, and this wacky army, the Koopa Troopas. After transforming the citizens into inanimate objects and kidnapping Princess Toadstool, Mario and Luigi set out to liberate the Mushroom Kingdom and rescue the princess from his clutches!

As an updated port of perhaps gaming’s most famous 2D, sidescrolling platformer,Super Mario Bros. Deluxe looks, sounds, and plays exactly the same as Super Mario Bros. except you have reduced visibility due to the screen size and the scrolling is a little janky at times. This basically means that the left side of the screen catches up to you pretty fast, which can be an issue as you can’t freely backtrack in the level (or “World”) so it can cause you to plummet to your death if you’re not careful, and it’s not always immediately clear what dangers or goodies are above or below you, meaning you need to use the directional pad to shunt the screen up and down for a better look but, otherwise, the controls and presentation are exactly what you’d expect from Nintendo’s breakout title. You’re played into the overalls or Mario (or Luigi, if you press the Select button prior to entering a World), who can run by holding B or Y and jump by pressing A. Mario will cain extra height and distance if you hold down the jump button and jump from a run, and jumping on enemies is his primary way of dispatching them. While Mario’s physics are pretty tight and responsive, he can be slippery and awkward at times, especially when bouncing off springs, but Luigi is even worse since he has far less traction and a less manageable, higher jump.

Run and hop around the game’s Worlds squashing baddies, clearing gaps, and swimming through treacherous waters.

As ever, your goal is to move from the left side of the screen to the right and reach a goal flag within a time limit; this timer is pretty generous and it’s only on later Worlds where the game throws repeating paths at you that it can get a bit tricky reaching the end in time. Mario hops about, bouncing off enemies and hitting blocks to progress, but also has to clear longer gaps with the aid of a spring or moving, weighted, or temporary platforms or smaller ones by running over them. Throughout the Mushroom Kingdom, you’ll find a number of pipes; some of these can be entered to reach secret areas, usually full of Coins, and provide you with a shortcut, but you can also go out of bounds sometimes and find a Warp Zone to skip ahead to a later World. For the most part, you’ll be exploring the block-and-gap-landed Mushroom Kingdom, with only a few different obstacles (either “stairs” or blocks, more gaps, or long stretches of land with enemies to bump off) distinguishing them, but you’ll also venture into underground areas somewhat reminiscent of caves (which tend to be a bit more claustrophobic had have more elevator platforms) and also underwater a couple of times. Here, you’re completely defenceless without a Fire Flower or Super Star and must rapidly tap A to swim ahead; you don’t need to worry about air, which is helpful, but there does seem to be sections where you’re pulled down towards the bottom of the screen (and your death). Although there’s a score counter in the game, it’s more for bragging rights than anything else and doesn’t seem to award you extra lives, though these are awarded for consecutively defeating enemies. Furthermore, while there are no mid-World checkpoints, you can save and end your game at any time from the pause menu and you’re given three save files to play with, and the game keeps track of your lives and completion progress on the new (albeit limited) overworld screen.

Graphics and Sound:  
Super Mario Bros. Deluxe appears to be an exact recreation of the original title, so it’s Super Mario Bros. as you know and love it and in all its 8-bit glory, though there are a few graphical additions to the water and lava to make them more lively. This means, of course, that animation frames are low, and the presentation is quite basic, but the game is still a colourful and pretty ambitious title, with Mario and Luigi’s sprites being the obvious standout. Sure, they have no idle animations, but they can grow and shrink and change colour from power-ups, do a little slide/turnaround pose when you quickly change direction, perform a breaststroke underwater, and have a little death animation when you stupidly run into an oncoming Koopa shell. Enemies receive even less animation but remain memorable simply because they’re so quirky and weird; mean little mushrooms, hammer tossing turtles, and pouting fish fill the screen, with all of them popping out from the backgrounds thanks to their unique colour palettes, and there’s never a question of not being able to see where you’re going or what you’re doing (as long as it’s not too high up or below you).

Some minor improvements and new additions bolster the classic 8-bit graphics.

The game also seems to pop a little more and run a little smoother, potentially because of the better hardware, and all the classic Super Mario Bros. tunes are here to settle in your ear for the rest of the day. There’s no many, granted, with only a handful of different tunes playing in the game’s different areas, but they’re all chirpy and catchy and help keep everything very whimsical. Sadly, there’s really not much variety in the Worlds; the Mushroom Kingdom stages sometimes have more pipes or blocks or platforms, or slightly different hills or even mushroom platforms at some point, but the closest they get to actually looking any different are the rare occasions when they receive a minor palette swap to simulate night or have brick castle walls in the background. The underwater levels are very visually appealing with their bubbles and seaweed, but are few and far between, same as the underground sections, but the game does impress with its end of World melody and jingle (a little flagpole raises and fireworks go off when you clear Worlds) and in the lava-filled stone castles you must conquer to clear each World. There’s no in-game story offered at all, but a Toad will tell you that the princess is in another castle at the end of every World and there’s fun little animations of the castle crumbling on the new overworld screens, so that’s a nice touch.

Enemies and Bosses:
Naturally, all the enemies you’ve come to know and love from Super Mario titles appear and made their debut in this title. The first enemy you’ll come across are the Goomas (pretty unthreatening sentient mushrooms that wander about and can be flattened with your jump) and the Koopa Troopas. These come in two colours (red and green) and a flying variant that can either catch you off-guard in mid-air or act as a temporary jump boost. When you defeat a Koopa Troopa, you can hit their shell to send it flying into other enemies for a score and life bonus but be careful as it’s just as likely to ricochet back at you. You can do the same to the Buzzy Beetles, but these guys are smaller, harder to hit, and are immune to your fireballs. Also of great annoyance are the piranha plants to pop out from pipes, usually when you least expect it, the squid-like Bloopers (who erratically swim about underwater), and Cheap Cheaps (who often dive up out of the water as you run over bridges).

You’ll be dodging past many enemies and fake Bowsers in you quest to take out the real Koopa King.

By far the worst regular enemies you’ll encounter, though, are Lakitu and the Hammer Bros. Lakitu hovers overhead (just out of reach) and drops Spinys across the stage , though you can take both of these out if you have a Fire Flower. The Hammer Bros usually attack in twos and from higher ground, tossing hammers in a tight arc that can be tough to jump over and even tougher to land with your jump as the window where they’re vulnerable is incredibly small. As for bosses, there’s technically only one in the entire game but you must battle him eight times and each time you have to endure a lava-filled obstacle course and/or pick the correct path to reach him, and this is, of course, Bowser. While seven of the eight Bowsers are actually his minions in disguise, each one attacks just like the real thing; perched over a bridge, Bowser moves back and forth, hops up and down, and spits fireballs at you. Some castles include a moving platform overhead for you to use to get behind him, and the fights become tougher as the amount of projectiles he spits increases, he adds a load of hammers to his arsenal, and Lava Bubbles will pop up from the magma below. However, the strategy to defeating Bowser remains the same every time: either blast at him repeatedly with a Fire Flower until he’s done in, or hop over him (or pass through him after taking a hit) and jump on the axe to remove the bridge beneath him and send him to the lava below.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Coins are scattered all throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. Collecting these adds to your score tally and will net you an extra life once you get one-hundred of them, after which the counter resets to zero. Your Coin counter carries over between Worlds and you’ll often find bunches of them hidden away beneath pipes or along higher paths. You can also grab a 1-Up Mushroom for an extra life as well, or a Super Mushroom to grow bigger and become Super Mario/Luigi. This lets you take a hit without dying and allows you to smash certain blocks by hitting them from beneath, which can uncover secret routes. A Fire Flower lets you throw bouncing fireballs with the B button, which is great for taking out most enemies (and Bowser) from a safe distance, but you’ll revert to you basic, smaller form if you take a hit in either of these states. Finally, there’s the Super Star, which grants you a brief period of invincibility from all onscreen hazards except bottomless pits and lava pools; consecutively defeating enemies in this state will net you extra points and, eventually, an extra life.

Additional Features:
One of the primary reasons I was actually able to finish the game this time around was due to the additional features offered by the Nintendo 3DS, most notably the save state feature, which lets you create a save point wherever you want so you can recover from mistakes much faster and easier, though the base game includes a number of additional features, too. Although you initially can’t backtrack to previous Worlds, you’ll be able to select which World to revisit on your save file after clearing the game. This also unlocks a new, far more challenging adventure, which you can play by selecting the star option when loading your save file. This replaces all Goombas with Buzzy Beetles, speeds up the enemy’s walking speed, reduces the size of elevator lifts, adds more fire bars, and removes the power-ups from the game. New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe also includes a ‘Challenge’ mode that sees you exploring the game’s Worlds once again, this time in search of Red Coins and Yoshi Eggs to unlock content in the game’s Toy Box.

The game’s additional modes and unlockables add a great deal of challenge and replay value.

Once you accumulate 100,000 points in the main game, you unlock ‘You VS. Boo’, a race against a Boo across rejigged Worlds hitting new blocks to clear the way so you can get ahead of the ghost, which can naturally pass through walls. Once you beat the Boo, it’ll get replaced by faster and faster different coloured variants to test your high score. When you earn 300,000 points in the main game, you’ll unlock Super Mario Bros. for Super Players (indicated by the Luigi face now on the main title screen), which is a remake of Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (Nintendo EAD, 1986). This game gives you only one save slot and provides thirteen new, much tougher Worlds, a new item in the injury- (or death-) dealing Poison Mushroom, alongside palette swaps of enemies and a wind that makes jumping even trickier. You can also partake in a ‘VS Game’, which is a two-player challenge mode that’s exactly the same as ‘You VS Boo’ but pits you against another human player, a Toy Box that offers a variety of toys for you to unlock and use, and a Fortune Teller mini game that awards you extra lives on a new save file. Every time you defeat each of the eight castles, a Toad will be added to the Mystery Room which will show you animations or artwork to print out on the Game Boy Printer, you’ll receive medals for clearing the different game modes, and there’s even a calendar included if you want to keep track of the days of the week.

The Summary:
I’ve carried the shame of never having beaten Super Mario Bros. for most of my life; to be fair, I didn’t own any of Nintendo’s home consoles until the Nintendo 64 so I didn’t really play any Super Mario titles that weren’t on the Game Boy or played through emulators, and my attempt to play it on the Nintendo Wii was largely just me messing about rather than actually sitting down and trying to finish it. Knowing that the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console wasn’t long for this world, I jumped at the chance to get Super Mario Bros. Deluxe while I could can give it a go and finally achieved that long-elusive goal of finishing this classic platformer, and I was mostly happy with the results. The game is fun, bright, and full of a steady challenge; while it can be too simple at some times and a little frustrating at others with its obstacle placement, it’s fun hopping about and using the skills you’ve mastered over the course of the game to dash past and jump around the later Worlds. While there’s not a lot of variety to the Worlds and the graphics are very basic, I can excuse that since it was an 8-bit title from the mid-eighties and it still holds up as an entertaining little adventure to keep you busy for a long afternoon. While it’s a shame that a version of Mario Bros. (Nintendo R&D1, 1983) included as well, I won’t hold that against it as the additional features added to this game, including mini games, The Lost Levels, and extra challenges, really make Super Mario Bros. Deluxe the definitive 8-bit version of Nintendo’s classic platformer.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy Super Mario Bros. Deluxe? What did you think to the additions made to the game and how do you feel it compares to the original videogame? Did you play Super Mario Bros. as a child and, if so, what are some of your memories of the game? Did you ever find all the Warp Zones and complete the new challenges introduced in this version of the game? Which of the classic Super Mario titles is your favourite? Are there any retro videogames you didn’t complete until later in like? Whatever your thoughts on Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, feel free to leave a comment below by signing up or drop your thoughts on my social media, and be sure to check back for more Mario content this March!


Stitchface, Stitchface, comin’ to get’cha!
Stitchface, Stitchface, comin’ t’kill yah!
Mind your manners,
Mind your elders,
Say your prayers and leave on a light
‘Lest Mr. Stitchface come-a-callin’ on Halloween night!

For thirty years, Jenny Carpenter has lived in fear of “Mr. Stitchface”, the local bogeyman who attacked her on Halloween night when she was just a teenager. She’s so traumatised by these memories that she refuses to celebrate the season, much less let her own daughter, Dottie, go trick-or-treating. However, just as Jenny is prepared to relent, her worst nightmare threatens to come to life when Mr. Stitchface grabs his trusty pickaxe and comes calling once more…

Author’s Spotlight: The Mark of the Damned: The Vorelian Saga #2

Author: C.D. McKenna
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: 3 March 2023
Pages: 492
Available As: Paperback, hardback, and e-book

The Synopsis:
Following the drastic events of The Blood of the Lion, the dark and thought-provoking epic high fantasy continues with more world building and far more magic. War is on the horizon and a new empire is rising.

King Morei made the ultimate sacrifice to win the battle against Diemon, but the consequences are more than he is prepared for. A plague has struck the city of Geral, but its cause is diabolical, and the consequences are devastating. The citizens are desperate for an answer, but when rumors ensnare Morei in the cause for the city’s downfall, the king’s control slips further.

Syra has one goal: to reach the Infernol, a secret organization committed to preparing the Vorelians against the resurrection of the Lirallian Empire, once ruled by the most powerful Energy Harvester in history, capable of manipulating volatile forces. But destiny has other plans and Syra must face the truth of her heritage, even if it costs her everything.

Across the Ashen Sea, Cyrus finds himself in East Razan, the ancient city of Eiyrặl. He’s promised answers by the king himself, but curiosity forces Cyrus to question what he is told. What he finds will force him to make a choice: become the Dragon Rider he is destined to be or continue to run.

The Gods are growing restless…and the dead will rise.

The Review:
As you can probably guess from the title, The Mark of the Damned is the second in C.D. McKenna’s high fantasy epic, The Vorelian Saga. If you haven’t read the first book, The Blood of the Lion, then you absolutely should as it’s quite the thrilling fantasy piece and basically every character, event, and plot point of The Mark of the Damned builds upon what happened in the first book and directly references it. While the book doesn’t contain a dedicated opening chapter to catch new readers up on the first book, the omniscient narrator and the characters recap key events throughout the story, especially in catching others up with what happened and explaining how they got to where they are, so I’d say it’s conceivable that you could start here if you wanted to but you’d be missing out on a really good fantasy story if you did that. I’ve read a fair number of indie books and C.D. McKenna is easily the most impressive in terms of her scope, enthusiasm, and presentation; like its predecessor, The Mark of the Damned features gorgeous artwork, an absolutely stunning hardback edition, and is bolstered by maps of the fictional regions of Sorréle, Diyrặ, and Eiyrặl, which is frankly above and beyond the call of duty for an indie publication. The Mark of the Damned also includes a helpful addendum that explains certain terms used in the book to help readers pronounce the name and learn more about the locations, Gods, and mythology of The Vorelian Saga, which is a fantastic addition.

If you’re a fan of epic, high fantasy books then you’re in for a treat here! The Mark of the Damned is split into two distinct parts and clocks in at around thirty titled chapters, which is already massively impressive. Luckily, the chapters are very easy to digest and, as much as it’s a cliché to say, the book is a real page turner; at no point was I bored and finding myself getting lost or frustrated or confused and this is a big deal for me when it comes to fantasy. The author continues to do a wonderful job of fleshing out this fictional fantasy world, touching upon terms and mythology and describing locations in a concise and imaginative way. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, this is a world that has “moved on” somewhat; magic, to use layman’s terms, exists but is sporadic, harnessed only by those who are particularly attuned to different elemental and supernatural “energy”, and the world is largely comprised of God-fearing people. Our three main characters are all able to manipulate energy in some way, but they’re either poorly trained, confused by it, or on the precipice of being consumed by it; they’re also all largely agnostic or have reason to curse the Gods and each discovers throughout this story that the Gods are not only real, but are playing an active role in shaping their destinies. Indeed, while the book skips over a central battle that ended the first book and reflects on the ramifications this has on the troubled “Demon King” Morei, there’s a definite sense that a larger conflict is looming, one which the three main characters will play a central role, and the focus of The Mark of the Damned is exploring how the characters react to being swept up by their unavoidable fates.

As ever, we follow three main characters: the aforementioned Demon King, Morei; the Dragon Rider, Cyrus, and his trusty winged companion Sozar; and Syra, a young woman cursed to defend the legendary “Demon Killer” blade. Each are compelling in their own right and embark on entirely separate adventures in this book; their quest lines converge in a thematic and tangential way, but they’re not directly interacting with each other just yet as it’s clear that the author is building towards a dramatic conflict between the three. Cyrus still edges the other two out as my favourite; a loner by nature, persecuted for his silver eyes and unique bond with Sozar, he flees to a new land in search of answers to his heritage and finds himself the guest of King Kyllian. The kingdom of Razan are in awe of him and his dragon and treat him as a treasured guest, but not only does this make Cyrus almost as uncomfortable as his self-imposed isolation, there are strange things afoot in Razan. Cyrus finds his welcome strained when he becomes close to Kyllian’s daughter, Princess Zorya, an outspoken young woman who is torn between her duties to her father and kingdom and wanting a life of her own where she’s not forced to marry some dimwit prince. A natural recluse and wary of strangers, Cyrus is immensely uncomfortable in Razan and his suspicions that Kyllian is hiding things from him about his past and his people only increase as his story progresses, leading to some startling revelations and him having to choose between a life on the run, hounded by all, or living up to his stature as a Dragon Rider. As much as I enjoyed Cyrus’s arc, I was a little disappointed by how little Sozar factors into this story; the dragon spends almost the entirety of the book resting in the courtyard and conversing telepathically with Cyrus rather than taking an active role, but that’s just a me thing as a big dragon fan and I still really enjoyed their relationship and trust in one another.

Like Cyrus, Syra is also on the run; she really went through an ordeal in the last book, being betrayed and watching those closest to her die, so she’s naturally quite guilt-ridden and burdened by her losses, similar to Cyrus. Syra is surrounded by a handful of allies who assist her, though she constantly fears for their safety and keeps them at arm’s length to avoid hurting them by association. Her paranoia is only exacerbated when her party is joined by Zarek, one of the mysterious and semi-supernatural Guardians of Death, an order who assisted and then betrayed Syra in the last book and who are duty-bound to protect her since her destiny is irrevocably tied to their home, the chaotic “Soul Realm”. While Cyrus is inclined to run away from his destiny, Syra actively denies and decries it; she feels an immense sense of obligation to safeguard the legendary Demon Killer but is constantly cursing the Gods for putting such a burden on her. Her only choice in this second book is the stay on the move and under the radar to avoid attention, but she cannot outrun the gaze of the malevolent Dark God Sekar. Sekar was an ominous and elusive figure in the first book but steps to the forefront here, especially in his interactions with Syra that not only fundamentally change her forever but also reveal him to be a complex individual. Until now, we’ve only heard his name being cursed, his image being stricken from idols of the Gods, but here we learn a lot about him from his own mouth and see that he’s as much a victim as any of the other characters. It’s fascinating stuff and adds to Syra’s harrowing arc in this book; Zarek is unrelenting in his training of her, and she really has to go through a lot of physical, mental, and emotional abuse to prepare her for her greater destiny as the fabled “Light Bringer”.

Sekar’s influence also extends to Morei, my second favourite of the main characters. Morei was already regarded with fear and suspicion after murdering his parents but the kingdom of Geral are even more suspicious of him after he gives in to his destructive “Dark Energy” to defend the city and then a deadly plague, Cu’cel, sweeps through Geral, afflicting and killing countless people. Even Morei is infected, which doesn’t help his standing, and he’s both distraught and enraged to find that the people he’s fought so hard to protect regard him as nothing more than a monster. Morei’s story is mainly centred on him desperately studying old texts to find a cure for the plague and win back the favour of his people, his passionate and tumultuous relationship with Queen Emerald, and him being forced to name a successor and step into a background role so that Geral has a hope of surviving. There’s a real sense that Morei genuinely cares for his people; he goes out amongst them, is deeply pained by their suffering, and is willing to step aside from an official position all to keep them safe and is constantly infuriated by the way his council treats him and that people always assume the worst of him. There is precedent to this, however; while Morei is a complex character who resists his dark temptations as much as possible, his rage is legendary and he is often cold and threatening towards even his closest allies if it means shielding them from harm or if they question his power. Morei is easily the most conflicted and volatile of the three characters and the nexus point through which they’re all connected as he met Cyrus once and regrets treating him so badly and learns of Syra and the blade she carries, which I’m sure will be important in a future story. He’s the living embodiment of a scapegoat for his people, who blame every atrocity on him not matter what he does, yet he does everything he can to see Geral prosper, even if it means unleashing his destructive Dark Energy and inherent bloodlust. While Morei doesn’t leave the confines of Geral, his surroundings are noticeably different thanks to the plague and his descent into darkness is a crucial element of the book; the author is going to great lengths to humanise and justify Morei’s turn to the dark for a greater purpose, I’m sure, and it’s really engaging seeing him walk this fine line between politics and outright tyranny.

The Mark of the Damned really is an epic, sprawling tale and yet the writing is so crisp and so refined that it never feels overwhelming. This is a very character-driven story; there are sporadic bursts of action, gore, and spicy sexual encounters throughout the book but it’s very much focused on expanding upon the three main characters and edging them closer towards their seemingly preordained fates. In this regard, it’s not necessarily bigger than the last book (though the author does expand the lore out to encompass new lands and people) or more action-packed, but instead maintains the same commitment to character, plot, and lore building. There’s so much that is touched upon and not dwelled on, creating a sense of mystery and sowing the seeds for future stories, and other elements that are told to us but through unreliable perspectives. Stories of the Soul Realm, Sekar’s narrative, even the tales spun by Kyllian are all largely subjective and this perfectly ties into the book’s themes of trust and fate. Each character shares a lot of similarities, more than they would care to admit, but has vastly different core personalities that make their chapters distinct and engaging in their own way while still tying into the overall enjoyment of the plot. Make no mistake about it, this is a hell of a tome but don’t be intimidated; C.D. McKenna is a beautiful wordsmith and I was engaged with the story from page one so I would absolutely recommend stepping back into the world of The Vorelian Saga and strapping in for an epic ride!

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


If you’re interested in checking out The Mark of the Damned: The Vorelian Saga #2, and to learn more about C.D. McKenna and her journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.

Author’s Spotlight: Miranda Armstadt Interview

Miranda Armstadt, author of Cut Back to Life

1. First, introduce yourself a bit. What is your name (or pen name) and where are you from?

My name is Miranda Armstadt. I was born a US citizen in Europe, when my father was with the US State Department, and primarily grew up in New York City, but I’ve lived all over the US.

2. Next, tell us a bit about your most recent work. Is this your first published book? What is it about and what genre would you classify it as?

My debut (and currently only published) novel is Cut Back to Life —it’s Romantic Suspense/Contemporary Romance, with a very adult twist. It follows a celebrated L.A. neurosurgeon and an A-list actress whose long Hollywood career has just about peaked. They meet when she requires back surgery, and a dark tale of her past unfolds along with their relationship.

3. Tell us a bit about your main character; what are they like, how did they come about, and what are some of their strengths and weaknesses?

The two protagonists are Anna Porter, the movie star, and Dr. Mark Scofield, a revered neurosurgeon who has many of Hollywood’s elite as his patients. We also have the antagonist, Roger Niles, a British personal trainer with a very dark side, who is Anna’s live-in boyfriend/trainer as the story begins.

Anna is a survivor, first and foremost. She has defied all odds to become a star and remain at the top of the Hollywood food chain for five decades. She is also quite fragile—both emotionally and physically—and we find out more about that as the story progresses.

Mark Scofield is a very disciplined, talented surgeon. He’s never rocked the boat or defied society’s rules—until Anna Porter shakes his world to its core. He comes from a very staid background, and now, late in life, has to decide if he wants to remain on the straight and narrow path, or find his personal joy. There’s a lot at stake for him in making this decision.

Roger Niles has also survived a tough and lonely childhood. Being a trainer, he’s very buff and good-looking and has learned to take advantage of his clients’ insecurities. But his own inner demons will meet him head-on as the story progresses.

4. What was your hardest scene to write in this (or any) book?

I don’t want to give away the plot, so I won’t say. But because we are dealing with complex characters and their difficult backgrounds, a lot of painful situations come to light as these three find their lives entangled.

5. Did you go the traditional route when publishing your book or did you choose to self-publish?

I self-published Cut Back to Life.

6. What would you say is the most difficult part of your writing journey and what advice would you give to other writers?

For me, reviewing the final proofs of the formatted galley were excruciating, and I worked as a news editor and am used to paying attention to detail. But knowing this was it and that any mistakes overlooked would be there forever, that’s a lot of pressure, and you are looking at minutiae ad nauseum.

As far as advice: you have to want to do it for yourself. Not for money or glory or fame. If those things come, fantastic. But it’s like show business (which I also have a background in): maybe one percent reach those heights. Write because you have a story you want to tell, and then tell it the best way you know how.

7. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I am now at work on my second novel—it’s historical fiction, so not even remotely related to my first novel. I don’t preclude the possibility of doing connected works down the line, but not at this time.

8. Who are some of your favourite authors, what are some of your favourite books, and what inspired you to become a writer in the first place?

I was raised largely on classics, from Shakespeare to Tolstoy to Austen and Dickens (who all certainly rank among my favorites). Although I always wrote, I never saw myself as a fiction writer. I was a news editor for many years. Cut Back to Life was inspired by a major personal life event, and now fiction writing is my full-time career.

9. What would you say has been the best way to market your books?

I don’t think there is one way to market. It’s very competitive out there now—more so than at any time in history—so you need to be creative, multi-pronged, assiduous, patient, and mostly: realistic.

10. Are there any tropes, clichés, or writing styles that you dislike and, if so, what are they and why?

I am not a fan of rules of writing, other than to use grammar correctly, unless it’s dialogue or perspective of a character in your story who you consciously create with a particular regional, educational, or cultural articulation.

11. Do you read reviews of your book and, if so, how do you handle negative feedback?

I have read my reviews, yes. And overall, they’ve been four and five stars. But I don’t think reviews, and the way in which Amazon’s policy allows for “ratings” without reviews, are reflective of the writer’s work. Neither good nor bad reviews are the absolute truth. So honestly, you have to take it all with a grain of salt, in my opinion.

12. What are some of your quirks as a writer? Do you like to plot everything out or do you prefer to just “wing it” and see where the story takes you? Do you listen to music when writing and, if so, what do you listen to?

I am, it seems, a rare writer who likes to create in absolute silence. I don’t like any distractions when I am writing, so no music. As far as plotting vs. pantsing (as they call it, namely, winging it): to me, it’s like a road trip. Have some hotel reservations and destinations mapped out, but don’t be afraid to go off-road or change directions as you travel. With a major epic novel like the one I am now in my fourth year of researching and writing, you can be sure there have been many changes along the way. All for the better, I hope.

13. What is the best advice you’ve ever had when it comes to writing and what advice would you give to new writers?

Writing is like singing: you need to have an inner ear for it. To how words flow, to phrasing, to storyline, all of it. If you are entirely dependent on outside feedback as to whether or not your story or writing is “good,” in my mind, anyway, you are in the wrong line of work. Writing is a very solitary profession. Of course, we all need constructive criticism and input. But you also need to know when not to look for input.

14. What’s next for you? Are you currently working on any new books or stories?

Yes, as I mentioned earlier, I am now working on a historical fiction novel. It’s a World War II/Cold War thriller, based loosely on my father’s time with the US State Department in Central Europe during the early to mid-1950s. But it’s about much more than espionage and intelligence. It spans a century of a Jewish-American family’s secrets and struggles, which come to light when a third-generation newscaster discovers many things she never knew about her predecessors.

15. Finally, feel free to plug your social media, website, and links to Amazon, GoodReads, and other relevant sites below, and detail any current offers available for your book/s:

Talking Movies [PokéMonth]: Pokémon 3: The Movie: Spell of the Unown

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, and watching the feature-length movies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day”, which I expanded to an entire month of Pokémon this February.

Released: 8 July 2000
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Distributor: Toho
Budget: $3 to 16 million
Stars: Veronica Taylor, Eric Stuart, Rachael Lillis, Amy Birnbaum, Dan Green, and Ikue Ōtani

The Plot:
Professor Spencer Hale (Green) is transported to a chaotic dimension by the mysterious Unown (Various), leaving his young daughter, Molly (Birnbaum), devastated and alone. Her grief causes the Unown’s power to rage out of control, manifesting an illusionary Entei (Green) and transforming her home into a crystal-like palace. When Entei kidnaps Ash Ketchum’s (Taylor) mother, Delia (ibid) to appease Molly’s wish for a mother, Ash and friends must brave the danger to break the Unown’s unruly spell.

The Background:
Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) was an absolute phenomenon when it came over from Japan: it swept through playgrounds as kids played the videogames, collected the trading cards, and were mesmerised by the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). This fantastic marketing strategy was all it took for the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998) to become a box office success and kick-started a whole series of feature films designed to expand upon the anime and promote both the newest Pokémon videogames and showcase the franchise’s most powerful and elusive beasts. Although it earned less than the blockbuster first movie, Pokémon the Movie 2000: The Power of One (Yuyama, 1999) still made over $130 million against a $30 million budget and Pokémon was arguably at its peak thanks to the anticipation around the newest games in the series. The third feature-film was afforded a much smaller budget than its predecessors and was the first Pokémon movie to premier in IMAX cinemas. Unfortunately, the film’s $68.5 million box office meant that it was the least successful of the first three Pokémon movies and it was met with largely negative critical reviews; however, it has amassed something of a cult following and is regarded by some to be one of the best Pokémon movies.

The Review:
Pokémon 3: The Movie opens in the beautiful town of Greenfield, a lush and verdant town in the Johto region that is knowing for is sweeping hills, windmills, and fields of flowers. It’s also home to the Spencer Hale and his daughter, Molly, who live in a luxurious mansion that overlooks the entire town. Every evening, Spencer reads to his inquisitive and loving young daughter from a picture book that imagines what some Legendary Pokémon look like; although she’s particularly taken with Entei, she also highlights the mysterious Unown, a group of interdimensional, Psychic-type Pokémon who have long been the subject of Spencer’s extensive research. However, while Spencer and Molly have a very close, loving relationship, it’s clear that there’s a void in the lives and their household due to the disappearance of the Spencer matriarch, who mysteriously vanished one day while helping Spencer with his research, leaving Molly without a mother and Spencer to carry the burden of guilt.

Molly is devastated when her father disappears, and overjoyed when he “returns” as Entei.

Spencer has doubled down on his research; aided by his assistant, Schuyler (Ted Lewis), Spencer has been conducting an in-depth investigation into a site of ruins where the stone walls are covered in carvings that resemble the Unown. Unfortunately, after discovering a chest full of small stone tablets engraved with the different alphabetical shapes of the Unown, Spencer is also whisked away to the cosmic void of the Unown Dimension, a swirling place of mystery while the Unown constantly rotate around and sing their names. Schuyler is left dumbfounded at Spencer’s sudden disappearance, and Molly is left absolutely heart-broken and alone; with both of her parents gone, she’s left only with the Unown puzzle pieces and the heartfelt wish to have her father returned to her. Her tearful plea summons the Unown and, while she is delighted that they’ve come to “play with [her]”, their true intention is slightly more malicious as they apparently feed off of her grief-stricken wishes in order to become stronger. Fuelled by her dreams of a crystalline home, the Unown transform the mansion a piece at a time until it represents pictures from Spencer’s book, and their power is so great that they’re able to answer her desire for the return of her father by conjuring an illusion of Entei, whom Molly believes is her father’s spirit returned to her.

Ash risks everything to rescue his mother, who is captured and brainwashed to be Molly’s “Mama”.

Quite coincidentally, Ash, Pikachu (Ōtani), and former gym leaders Misty (Lillis) and Brock (Stuart) just happen to be passing by and run across a trainer native to the area, Lisa (Lisa Ortiz). After Brock strikes out with her (with one of the film’s most amusing lines, “I’m Brock, from Pewter City! And I want to be your boyfriend!”) and Ash is able to beat her in a surprisingly evenly matched Pokémon battle during the film’s opening credits, Lisa guides them to Greenfield so that they can rest up at the Pokémon Center and take in the town’s much-lauded beauty. Suffice it to say that Ash is unimpressed, and the group is horrified, to find that the once stunning landscape has been almost completely overtaken with the Unown’s bizarre crystalline wasteland. Even perennial bothers Jessie (Lillis), James (Stuart), and wise-cracking Meowth (Maddie Blaustein) of Team Rocket are stunned to find Greenfield in such a state, and it’s not long before a news crew (Kathy Pilon and Roger Kay) arrive to try and restore order and report on the strange events. Back in Pallet Town, Delia Ketchum, Ash’s mother, sees the news report and is distraught at the continued suffering of her old friend, Spencer Hale, and she and Professor Samuel Oak (Stuart Zagnit) resolve to travel to Greenfield to get to the bottom of the what’s happening, and to check on Molly. While others are alarmed by the startling transformation of Greenfield, Molly revels in her crystal palace; she delights in playing with her “Papa” and seeing her wishes literally spring to life before her eyes, but her longing for her mother remains. Seeing Delia on the news broadcast reminds her not only of her own mother, but also of the times when Delia and Ash would visit her and her family in years past, and she wishes for Entei to bring her a “Mama” to complete their little family. This adds an interesting personal wrinkle to the film’s plot that has been absent from the previous two films as Entei boldly introduces itself to our heroes by subduing and kidnapping Delia right before Ash’s eyes and holding her captive in Molly’s crystalline palace. Ash is horrified when his mother is kidnapped, and immediately leads his friends on a rescue mission to get her back, literally putting his life at risk to brave the crystal wasteland and scale the tower and reach her.

Entei is the Unown’s avatar and determined to do whatever it takes to protect Molly, regardless of the morality.

Although Entei’s powers are formidable enough to render Delia a mindless drone who fully believes that she’s Molly’s “Mama”, its spell is broken when Delia sees Ash in danger, but she’s smart enough to quickly realise what’s been going on and to play along with the deception in order to try and reach Molly. Delia recognises that Molly has been very alone for a long time, even before Spencer went missing, and sympathises with her pain, but cannot condone Entei’s enabling and the disruptive influence of the Unown. It’s important to note for Poké-enthusiasts out there that the Entei seen is this film is not the Legendary Pokémon whom it resembles. Rather than being a reincarnated Pokémon known for its blazing Fire-type attacks, Entei is a creation of the Unown and more akin to a Psychic-type Pokémon. At the time, I considered this an odd decision as it kind of wastes the natural characterisation of this creature as one of a trio of Legendary Pokémon, but it actually goes a long way to supporting the deeper themes of the film surrounding grief and a child’s desire for love and affection. Born from Molly’s memories of her father, her love for him, and her idolisation of his strength and loyalty, Entei is granted incredibly powers by the Unown that are contrary to those it has in the games; it can teleport, control the minds of others, create crystalline structures at will, and spit out a powerful aura blast in addition to its durability and strength being theoretically inexhaustible. It is as strong and as capable as Molly wishes it to be, and as long as she believes in it, it can accomplish almost any feat, regardless of whether that action is morally right or wrong. A constant companion and guardian to Molly, Entei fully accepts her belief that it is her beloved “Papa” and goes to any lengths to keep her happy and to protect her, even battling against its out of control masters.

The Unown’s power is virtually limitless, and directly fuelled by Molly’s innermost desires.

So devoted is Entei to Molly that it not only bows to her every wish, but also encourages her to wish for more and to believe that she can anything she desires. When the authorities try to breach the crystal formation, Molly throws a temper tantrum and demands that they be kept out but, when she spots that Ash and the others are Pokémon trainers, she quickly wishes to engage them in Pokémon battles. Thanks to the Unown’s near-limitless power, the interior and environment of the palace constantly changes, and also allows Molly to conjure unbeatable illusionary Pokémon and even age herself up to be a more competent Pokémon trainer. Of course, thanks to the Unown’s power, she’s easily able to best her more experienced opponents with the likes of Teddiursa (Erica Schroeder) and Phanpy (Megumi Hayashibara) even when she should be hopelessly outmatched. She’s even able to flood the area with water, and allow her and Misty to breath underwater, so great are her powers, are she becomes so lost in her fantasy that Entei is empowered enough to battle even Ash’s stubborn and formidable Charizard (Shin-ichiro Miki), which arrives not only to help its former trainer but also to pit its strength against an opponent such as Entei. However, the battle proves destructive, wrecking much of Molly’s new home and leaving the heroes’ Pokémon hurt, and Charizard in danger of being killed by the furious Entei; the only hope for the heroes is for Delia, Ash, and the others to help remind Molly of her real family, both those who are gone and the family she could have by forming a bond with real Pokémon, which causes her to finally snap free from her fantasy and demand an end to the fighting.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of issues I had with Pokémon the Movie 2000 was that it tried a little too hard to raise the stakes in comparison to the first film; while Pokémon: The First Movie was reconfigured into more of a worldwide threat in the English dub, the second film explicitly put the entire world at risk, so it’s a nice change of pace to see the third film tell a far more grounded, more personal story. This is most obvious in Delia’s larger role; up until now, she’s merely been a cameo or a bit-player in the films, but she’s a pivotal inclusion in this film and the driving force behind Ash’s excursion into the crystallised Greenfield. Indeed, he is driven to an uncharacteristic anger at her abduction, which is focused entirely on Entei and transforms into a battle of wills as Ash regards the beast as a mere illusion and Entei adamantly seeks to prove its reality and defend Molly by any means necessary.

Molly’s desire to have her family back means she dreams up her own fantasy world free from sadness.

Of course, it’s Molly’s sadness and grief that is at the heart of the movie’s story; already struggling after the loss of her mother, she was left despondent when Spencer disappeared as well and unable to properly process her anguish. When the Unown respond to her dreams and wishes, she finally feels that hole in her heart has been filled and is easily convinced that everything she is seeing is “real” and that she can be and have whatever she wants “as long as that is her wish”. It’s a powerful, emotional aspect of the film, and easy to forget that Molly isn’t some malevolent or mean-spirited antagonist. She’s just a frightened, lonely little girl who desperately wants her beloved “Papa” and “Mama” back, and is overjoyed to see her father returned in the form of Entei and her every wish brought to life by the Unown’s power. Similarly, Entei is not a necessarily vindictive entity; it’s simply acting out Molly’s wishes, whatever they may be, but bolstered by such vicious and formidable power that it transforms the once beautiful crystal tower into a hazardous landscape of spikes and battles Charizard with such an unmatched ferocity that it’s even posed to kill the helpless and outmatched creature. While Entei seems to fill the void in Molly’s life and heart, Delia and Ash and the others try to convince her that it’s merely another aspect of the Unown’s illusionary power; a false reality she’s conjured to shield her from facing the real world. Through them, she sees that real relationships can be forged through friends, partners, and make-shift families that can be just as fulfilling as having her every wish granted.

Probably the darkest and most personal Pokémon movie despite the odd changes to the source material.

I have to say that, given the trajectory of the Pokémon movies, I was surprised that a Pokémon as unremarkable and weak as Unown be such a focal point of this film, especially considering the next most obvious choice would have been to focus on Ho-Oh and the Legendary Beasts. Instead, though, Entei, Raikou (Katsuyuki Konishi), and Suicune (Masahiko Tanaka) were split up across specials and movies and it would take quite some time for Ho-Oh to actually make a real movie appearance. I guess this helped to make the movies a bit more unpredictable, and it certainly helped to make the Unown a surprising threat in this film, but I can’t help but feel like it was a missed opportunity. Still, the Unown are given an unexpectedly malicious edge in this film; while ostensibly appearing to be somewhat mischievous and aloof, their ability to read people’s minds and alter reality based on their wishes and dreams quickly makes them a threat to all of Greenfield. Not only do they transform the landscape, but they but many lives in danger through their quasi-avatar, Entei, and the strength of Molly’s tumultuous emotions soon sends their Psychic powers into overdrive. By the time she’s ready to leave behind her dreamworld and return to reality, the Unown have exerted so much power and thrown into such chaos by Molly’s emotional state that they’ve lost control of the illusion and the crystalline formations threaten to trap, or kill, everyone within. Their only hope is Entei, whom Molly pours all of her hopes and dreams and belief into to break through the Unown’s protective barrier and undo their magic, dispelling itself in the process. Although distraught to see her father-figure unmade, Molly has learned the value of friendship, co-operation, and family from Ash’s example and her story ends on a happy not when the Unown return not only Spencer but also his wife from their dimension. Thus, Greenfield is restored, Molly regains her true family, Delia is rescued, and Ash and the others continue on their Pokémon journey.

The Summary:
As much as the first two Pokémon films were a spectacle that released right as the franchise was at its peak, Pokémon 3: The Movie opts to tell a far more personal and emotionally-charged story by focusing on a little girl’s loneliness and despair and having Ash’s mother be caught up in a chaotic situation. This is easily the best part of the movie’s appeal, beyond the brutal and unrelenting battle between Entei and Charizard, and definitely makes it a worthwhile watch and worthy follow-up to its predecessors. It’s a very different movie from the last two, which placed the most powerful, mysterious, and elusive Pokémon at the centre of their stories and kind of slapped action set pieces around them, such was the allure of the Legendary Pokémon they featured, whereas Pokémon 3: The Movie fundamentally alters the characterisation, abilities, and role of Entei and the Unown in service of its story. As much as I appreciate the effort put into crafting a more poignant story that tackles the grief felt be the loss of a loved one and reinforces Pokémon’s overall themes of friendship and partnership, I still can’t help be disappointed by the depiction of Entei in this film. For me, splitting the Legendary Beasts up for so long as a major misstep and deprived us of seeing them make a proper, big screen impact. Still, this doesn’t dilute the story we’re given here and Pokémon 3: The Movie remains a unique entry in the Pokémon movie series since it keeps the stakes grounded and personal; while the literal world isn’t at risk, Molly’s dreamworld is and so is Ash and Delia’s (since they mean the world to each other), which really helps to make for a much more relatable and focused narrative. The Unown’s limitless and unpredictable powers, coupled with Entei’s mounting ferocity, make for a surprising threat against the heroes, who are constantly outmatched at every turn and only triumph by appealing to a frightened and hurt little girl’s heart, which definitely helps the film to make an impact even if I would have preferred more focus on the actual Legendary Pokémon.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Pokémon 3: The Movie? What did you think to the more personal grounded focus? Did you like the depiction of Entei and the Unown or would you have preferred to see them portrayed closer to the source material? What did you think to Delia’s larger role and the focus on Molly’s grief? Which Pokémon game, generation, and creature is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Pokémon Day today? Whatever your thoughts, sign up to drop them in the comments below or feel free to leave a reply on my social media.

Talking Movies [Age of Ant-Man]: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania [SPOILERS!]

In 1961, Marvel Comics readers were introduced to Doctor Henry “Hank” Pym, discoverer of the “Pym Particles” and who would soon gain notoriety not just as Ant-Man, founding member of the Avengers, but also a deeply disturbed and volatile individual. Over the years, the Ant-Man mantle has been assumed by a variety of other would-be heroes, with Scott Lang being one of the most beloved thanks to Paul Rudd’s performance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With his third movie finally due out this month, this seemed like a good time to revisit some of Ant-Man’s debut appearances.

Talking Movies

Released: 17 February 2023
Director: Peyton Reed
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Michael Douglas

The Plot:
After aiding the Avengers in saving the world, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd) has become a beloved celebrity now focused on making up for lost time with his daughter, Cassie (Newton). However, when Cassie inadvertently sucks Scott and his family into the mysterious Quantum Realm, Ant-Man faces his greatest challenge when he comes face-to-face with the maniacal Kang the Conqueror (Majors), a tyrannical despot from beyond time!

The Background:
In his first comic book appearance, Doctor Hank Pym/Ant-Man wasn’t the unstable, garishly-costumed hero who would form the Avengers, nor was he the only character to take up the Ant-Man mantle. Perhaps his most notable successor was Scott Lang, a reformed criminal created by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Byrne, who assumed the role in 1979, and both characters eventually featured in the first live-action Ant-Man (Reed, 2015) film. Ant-Man’s impressive $519.3 million gross and largely positive reviews led to a sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp (ibid, 2018), which outperformed the first at the box office but was met with more mixed reviews. Although the core cast returned to the film, Emma Fuhrmann was disappointed to learn she’d been recast; Kathryn Newton replaced her as Cassie in a decision apparently motivated to better highlight Cassie’s coming-of-age story. Having been established as one a pivotal hero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), the third film sought to further explore the Quantum Realm and the complexities of time travel through the inclusion of Kang the Conqueror. Returning director Peyton Reed was excited to pit Ant-Man against such a villain as part of his wish to produce a pivotal entry in the MCU rather than a simple palette cleanser, and Majors was equally excited about exploring the multiple facets and iterations of Kang in this film and beyond after previously portraying an alternative version of the character in Loki (Various, 2021 to present). Following numerous delays, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania finally released last week; as of this writing, it has grossed nearly $290 million and the box office and been met by mixed reviews; critics have expressed disappointment with the pacing and content of the film, though Jonathan Majors’ performance was met with unanimous praise and that there were some visually impressive sequences to be found amidst the jumbled plot.

The Review [SPOILERS!]:
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Ant-Man; I’ve never been the biggest fan of the character, especially as his characterisation and relationships can be a bit dated, hokey, and inconsistent, but framing it as a superhero heist film and focusing on Scott Lang as this flawed, but loveable, reluctant hero, a dad just trying to make amends, was a really refreshing idea and helped contrast the MCU’s cosmic scope with a nice grounded adventure. I remember not really being too impressed by Ant-Man and the Wasp; I really should revisit it sometime, especially as it laid a lot of the foundation not just for a major plot point in Avengers: Endgame but also for this film, which takes Ant-Man so far away from a quirky, sci-fi action comedy and into the absolutely batshit realm of other dimensions and timelines. Scott is a great character to thrust into these situations; despite all of the abilities the Pym Particles give him, he’s still just a regular guy, someone who reacts realistically to the crazy events happening around him, so he makes for a charismatic and relatable character to help focus these mind-bending concepts through.

While there’s surprisingly little for Hope to do, Scott and Cassie’s relationship is a focal point of the film.

This is immediately emphasised in the opening scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania; Scott is now a recognised and celebrated personality who remains awestruck at the fantastical things he’s seen in his adventures. However, as much as he enjoys the limelight, the abilities afforded to him by the Pym Particles, and the experiences he’s had alongside his fellow Avengers, Scott is now content to focus on promoting his inspirational memoirs and making up for lost time with his family. Hope van Dyne/The Wasp (Lilly) has now taken control of her father’s company, renaming and restructuring it in her image and to help displaced families following the Blip. She and Scott are seen to have a loving relationship and are no longer at odds with each other like in the previous film, but the two spend a surprising amount of time apart considering both of their names are in the title of the movie, so Quantumania is less a story about these two pint-sized heroes/lovers saving the Quantum Realm and more focused on developing the relationship between Scott and his daughter, Cassie. Cassie is now a somewhat rebellious teenager; she’s getting arresting and causing Scott headaches because she wants to follow in his example, “look out for the little guy”, and help others, and is disappointed in him giving up his superhero duties when there are still people that need help. Her arc throughout the film is both learning the value of patience and how to control her own shrinking/growing abilities, and understanding that the life she is so enamoured by is dangerous. While Scott is proud of her moral compass, her ingenuity, and her moxie, he also wants to protect her first and foremost; thankfully, while this is a point of contention between the two, the film doesn’t portray her as a cliché sulky teenager who acts without thinking or unreasonably lashes out at her father and they still have an adorable bond, she just wants his respect.

Janet’s stubbornness and fear cost the characters valuable time.

As part of this, Cassie has secretly been spending her time working with Hank (Douglas) to research and map the mysterious Quantum Realm. Despite Hope’s repeated efforts to find out more about the time her mother spent trapped there, Janet (Pfeiffer) remains stubbornly tight-lipped and this was a real issue for me in the early going of the film. Because Janet refused to talk about the Quantum Realm, the characters had no idea of the dangers that lurked there; her warnings came too late to prevent them all being sucked down there and, once they are stranded in the Quantum Realm, she continues to refuse to tell them anything for no real reason at all when that knowledge really would have helped them be better prepared once the source of her fears, Kang, inevitably showed up. Instead, Janet leads Hank and Hope on a merry tour of the Quantum Realm, now expanded into a strange alien environment full of colourful beings and bizarre creatures, most of whom, like the enigmatic Lord Krylar (Bill Murray), know Janet from her time as a freedom fighter. Hank, who has spent his entire life researching the Quantum Realm, is understandably fascinated by the ecosystem and society that dwells there, and equally stunned to get a glimpse of his wife’s tumultuous life amongst these beings. Both characters receive more screen time this time around and are certainly more of a focal point to the plot than Hope, and Hank’s demeanour is now noticeably far more relaxed; he’s lost a lot of his edge and is now portrayed as a quirky scientist with an unhealthy obsession with ants, whereas Janet is shown to be unreasonably cagey and to have fought against the all-powerful Kang during her time trapped in the Quantum Realm

With his nuance performance and incredible power, Kang was the undeniable highlight of the movie.

Although we get a glimpse of his arrival in the Quantum Realm in the film’s opening moments, Kang is a mystery throughout most of the film; he’s talked about with a mixture of awe and fear by the colourful freedom fighters Scott and Cassie hook up with and Janet is so terrified of him that she goes out of her way to keep her family in the dark just to try and avoid catching his attention. This is a shame as, once Kang arrives onscreen, he is unquestionably the most interesting and charismatic character, eclipsing even Scott with his nuanced performance. A cold, calculating, driven individual, Kang is a man from beyond time who was betrayed by his own alternate selves (or “variants”) and banished to the Quantum Realm because of his destructive nature. I know a little bit about Kang from the comics but am by no means a Kang expert, and Quantumania decides to keep his exact backstory and motivations a bit vague, presumably to explain them in further productions. It’s not really explained how or why he has the powers he exhibits or what his limits are; at first, he’s weak and helpless and needs Janet’s help to repair his ship, then he regains his fantastically comic accurate suit and shows an ability to stop characters in their tracks with a thought and swat his pint-sized adversaries out of the air. Yet, though he appears unstoppable and has built an empire comprised of (literal) faceless stormtroopers and advanced technology, Kang can still get down and dirty in a fist fight. Yet, for all his imposing menace and the captivating allure of his unhinged psyche, Kang is very much a desperate man; he’s clearly been broken by some unknown tragedy and is fuelled not just be a need to conquer and avenge himself, but a desperate desire to bring a twisted order to the multiverse, regardless of who he has to torture, enslave, or kill along the way. He’s not just some maniacal villain, though; he seems to genuinely value Janet’s friendship and is driven to violence only as a means to facilitate his escape and seems to regard himself as a necessary evil n the face of some unknown future threat.

The Nitty-Gritty [SPOILERS!]:
There are a few themes at work in Quantumania; you might think that it’s a movie about Scott and Hope as surrogate parents and the dynamic of the Pyms and van Dynes co-existing as this superhero family, but it’s sadly not. You might also think that it’s geared towards showcasing Cassie’s journey into her own superhero persona and, while that certainly is a development in the movie, the focus is more on Scott learning to accept that her daughter wants in the life (which he’s happy to do, he just worries about her) and her learning to walk before she runs (perfectly exampled when Scott has to teach her how to properly make use of the Pym Particles in a fight). The film does shed a bit more light on Janet, a largely mysterious character who clearly has been through some stuff and seen some things down in the Quantum Realm, but it, like her, is unnecessarily coy about the specifics and we’re left with only the briefest, vaguest mentions of her as an inspirational fighter in the war against Kang. Like the other Ant-Man movies, Quantumania leans heavily on the comedy; mostly, this is demonstrated through character’s being awestruck by their surroundings, struggling to adapt to the Quantum Realm’s bizarre society and characters, and riffing off each other. For the most part it works, though the absence of Scott’s more comedic supporting cast is felt in the movie and there’s one scene in particular where the dramatic tension is completely undercut by unnecessary forced comedy.

While the visuals generally impress, others are a bit cartoonish and disappointingly realised.

This would be the death of Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who’s revealed to have survived the ending of Ant-Man but been left a misshapen and embittered troll of a man; rebuilt by Kang’s technology into the ultimate cybernetic killing machine, he chases down Scott and his family with a vengeance as the MCU version of George Tarleton/ Mechanised Organism Designed Only for Killing (M.O.D.O.K.) M.O.D.O.K. is one of the most bizarre villains of Marvel Comics and one I never thought we’d ever see translated to screen, so it’s pretty amazing to see him flying about shooting lasers and missiles and sprouting buzzsaws, but then the face plate lifts up and we’re forced to look at this really unsettling, cheap-looking CGI face and listen to Darren spouting pithy declarations and the character loses a lot of his menace. It’s a shame but, for the most part, Quantumania looks really good; it’s naturally a very CGI-heavy film and as far removed from its more grounded predecessors as you could get and goes to great lengths to expand upon the Quantum realm, while also handwaving a lot of the specifics. Humanoid characters like Jentorra (Katy O’Brian) and telepath Quaz (William Jackson Harper) exist alongside anthropomorphic houses and surreal alien creatures like the protoplasmic Veb (David Dastmalchian) and a robot with a laser for a head! These characters, while visually interesting, aren’t very well developed, though; I barely caught most of their names and their single characteristic is wanting to oppose and dethrone Kang, but they do help to show how versatile the Quantum Realm is. Before, characters couldn’t survive in the Quantum realm without special suits or suffering severe time dilation; that is now no longer a problem as they’ve conveniently travelled to a part of the dimension where they don’t need their helmets to breath and suffer no consequences of lost time once they return. The world is colourful and alive, but also feels strangely restricted; I also can’t help but feel like exploring the Quantum realm should’ve been a sub-plot in Ant-Man and the Wasp and that maybe it would’ve been better if Quantumania had take place entirely in Kang’s city, Chronopolis, to avoid the slow start to this movie. Everything also just feels a bit too cartoonish and intangible, and it’s again far too obvious that many actors aren’t actually in the same shots in some scenes, which really took me out of it.

There’s an intriguing conflict and looming menace lurking amidst the bombardment of spotty CGI sequences.

Yet, there are still some exciting and bonkers action scenes on offer here; any time M.O.D.O.K. shows up the screen I filled with explosions and frantic action, and seeing Scott, Hope, and Cassie come together in their small and giant forms for the finale was exhilarating, though it was difficult to appreciate Giant-Man’s scale from the framing. One really inventive scene in the film sees Scott shrink further down to reach the core of Kang’s ship; there, he splits into an infinite number of variants and they must work together to get him closer to the core, literally evoking the image of an ant colony working together. Cassie later has a cool coming-of-age moment where she inspires the people of the Quantum Realm to rise up against Kang, and even Hank gets to have a moment to shine by leading his army of technologically advanced ants into battle, though the same unfortunately can’t be said for Hope, who spends most of the film sporting a ridiculous haircut and being understandably annoyed at her mother’s stubbornness before swooping in to aid Ant-Man in reaching the core and in defeating Kang. After Scott retrieves his ship’s core, Kang sets about escaping his confinement using an elaborate set of spinning rings, which will bring him and his army out of the Quantum Realm and allow him to get back to conquering the multiverse. Giant-Man storms his citadel and, despite all of Kang’s vaulted and incomprehensible time powers, a fist fight breaks out between Scott and the conqueror that sees Ant-Man absolutely decimated. Scott frantically gets his family to safety and chooses to stay behind and sacrifice his freedom to prevent Kang’s escape, only for Hope to show up and help fend Kang off, presumably killing him or banishing him to a further sub-sub-atomic dimension. The film then teases that Scott and Hope will be trapped in the Quantum Realm but the Cassie just immediately saves them and everything’s fine…save for Kang’s troubling warning of an oncoming danger and an entire legion of his variants turning their attentions towards the MCU following Kang’s defeat. Personally, I think it would’ve made more sense for someone in the core cast to die or even have it be Hank and Janet who make the last-minute save and end up trapped in the Quantum Realm; that would’ve been quite fitting given Hank’s obsession with it and small things and Janet’s past there but, instead, things wrap up in a nice little bow and I’m left wondering which version of Kang will return to fight the Avengers and how his threat will be restored after being easily overwhelmed by an army of giant ants despite boasting about how many Avengers he’s killed!

The Summary:
I had high expectations for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania; knowing full well that Kang was set to be an Avengers-level threat in the future and having had some knowledge of the character, I expected this to be a little darker, a little more high stakes, and to have serious repercussions for the MCU going forward. Hell, there was the suggestion that Ant-Man might not live through the tale, let alone be victorious, and it seemed like this could be the shake-up the MCU needed to start seriously working towards their next big team-up movie. Instead, it was just lacking in a lot of ways; I get the idea of exploring and expanding upon the Quantum Realm, but it felt like it took way too much time and I just wasn’t that interested in what was happening there as it felt somewhat inconsequential. It tied in nicely to Cassie’s arc of wanting to help people no matter where or who they are, but a lot of the new characters were forgettable, despite being visually interesting. There was next to no onscreen chemistry or development for Scott and Hope; she could’ve been entirely absent and it wouldn’t have mattered all that much as Cassie could’ve easily done everything she did. Paul Rudd continues to shine as Ant-Man but he’s bogged down by all this CGI mess and protracted world-building, and the environment really didn’t give his unique powers a chance to stand out. The sole saving grace was Kang; Jonathan Majors did an excellent job of portraying a nuanced villain, one who is filled with regret for the evils he must do, and he stole every scene he was in. sadly, though, we really don’t learn anything about him; I have no idea where he’s from or why he’s compelled to be the way he is, meaning a lot of the connection I felt to him came from inference, which is fine but I would’ve liked to see some of the early runtime focused more on him so we get a better sense of his motivations. I think Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will land better on repeat viewings, especially once Kang returns to the MCU in future productions but, for now, it was a bit of a let-down for me and definitely a case of style over substance.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania? How did you think it compared to the other Ant-Man films? What did you think to the exploration and expansion of the Quantum Realm? Did you enjoy seeing Cassie develop into her own heroic role and the relationship between her and Scott? Were you disappointed by M.O.D.O.K.’s portrayal and the effects used to bring him to life? What did you think to Kang and his motivations, and are you excited to see him return in the MCU? Whatever you think about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, drop your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check out my other Ant-Man content.