The Mandalorian Season Two Premiere Review

As the sophomore season of the Disney+ flagship show lands in a sitting room near you at lightspeed, the weight of high expectations and fan theorizing rests heavily on the shoulders of lead creatives Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, as well as every other creative in front of and behind the camera. If the season two premiere is any indication, it looks like they may have just exceeded each and every one of these expectations in effortless fashion.

In broad strokes, the first few minutes of this episode play out in similar fashion to those of the initial season one premiere. Our protagonist, the titular Mandalorian known as Din Djarin, is on assignment in an alien environment, using nothing but his wits and his personal arsenal of advanced weaponry to survive. The key difference is that whereas before he was operating as a bounty hunter chasing his mark, this time around he has the fan-favourite Child in tow and is seeking information on where he might find other members of his warrior culture. A few world-building moments and fight sequences later, Mando is then on his way back to Tatooine to chase up a lead on a fellow mystery Mandalorian who he hopes can help him repatriate his green and diminutive adopted baby.

While it feels like a logical progression from the season one finale when the Armorer gave him these orders, proceedings are swiftly turned on their head when it transpires that the sighted Mandalorian is hiding out in Mos Pelgo, a township far from the infamous Mos Eisley and absent from any official maps.

Mando and The Child, the father-son duo that the galaxy far, far away didn’t know it needed, but is now grateful to have

Upon arrival he soon encounters the man he seeks, a man acting as the town’s marshal and wearing Mandalorian armour – which franchise fans will immediately recognize as the set previously owned by Boba Fett. Except, Boba Fett is not the person hiding underneath the helmet – it is Cobb Vanth, a character who originally appeared in the Aftermath trilogy of books and is now using the armour as an authoritative uniform. After demanding that he return the armour to a true Mandalorian, but before things can turn hostile, a gigantic Krayt Dragon causes havoc in the township. This encourages both men to put aside their differences and work together for mutual benefit – if Mando saves Mos Pelgo by helping to take out the leviathan along with rival Tusken Raiders then Cobb will voluntarily hand over the armour.

Cobb Vanth, marshal extraordinaire

The premise of the episode is daring in scope when ties to previously-established canon are considered, yet simple in nature when the basic idea of ‘monster hunter saves town’ comes to the fore at the end of the first act and then drives the rest of the episode’s narrative.

Sitting comfortably at over fifty minutes in length this is by far the longest episode of the series to date, and this goes a long way to allow certain moments to breathe and run their course naturally rather than having to be rushed along for the sake of plot. In many respects it is comparable to a mini-movie rather than an episode of television, and that is definitely a large feather in the cap of all those involved behind the scenes – particularly those responsible for the jaw-dropping change in aspect ratio during the climactic Krayt Dragon fight.

The very inclusion of the Krayt Dragon is itself a love letter to Star Wars fans, harkening back not only to the infant skeleton of a mysterious creature in the opening act A New Hope, but also a plethora of other references to the species in the franchise’s expanded media.

The Krayt Dragon and an explosive-wrapped serving of Bantha lunch

However, this being the first time it has been seen onscreen, in all of its destructive and dazzling special effects glory, is just the latest in a long line of inclusions in the series which have rewarded long-time fans of the franchise for their diligence. From a model of storage container first seen on Cloud City in Empire Strikes Back being used to transport Beskar steel, to a Lothal cat hissing from underneath a table on the forest planet Sorgan, the writing team behind The Mandalorian have been careful to include just the right amount of minute details and larger subplots that only an überfan will fully appreciate. Thankfully, this process has been practised to a fine art and while not every detail and inclusion is fully appreciated by everybody, the series can still be watched in a vacuum and no enjoyment or context is lost. This is fan service done right.

“One more episode, barkeep, as quickly as you can!”

From a technical standpoint the series is even more impressive now than it was last season, with the set design, character wardrobes, and prosthetics being as impeccable as ever. The world(s) that are inhabited by this cast of characters feels truly lived in, and even on a familiar planet things still feel brand new.

Part of the commendation must deservedly go to the VFX artists working with The Volume, the on-set technology being used to produce digital backgrounds and special effects in realtime rather than using jarring green screen. As with last season, this has allowed them to continue making CGI look more realistic than ever before, with some of the set pieces during the climax of the episode even putting parts of the franchise’s theatrical outings to shame.

The cherry on top of this spectacular episode is the return of Temeura Morrison as Boba Fett himself, seen watching from afar as Mando rides off into the sunset with his armour in tow. What this means for the future of both characters is open to speculation, but in the meantime fans can rejoice in the knowledge that the character behind everyone’s favourite action figure survived his apparent death in 1983.

A scarred Boba Fett, confirmed in live-action to be alive after he was last seen tumbling into the maw of a Sarlacc five years before the events of the series

In conclusion, from script to director’s chair Jon Favreau has delivered an impeccable opening episode to the new season of The Mandalorian. By any metric, be it technical prowess, plot progression, pacing, longtime fan satisfaction, sound design, and anything in-between, this premiere episode was a roaring success. The stage has now well and truly been set for what is surely going to be a rollercoaster of a season, especially with it being all but confirmed that another fan-favourite character, this time of the animated variety, is on her way to making a live-action debut in the coming weeks. If anyone is still undecided on whether or not they should join the masses and follow the adventures of The Mandalorian and The Child, then just know that this is the Star Wars you spent your childhood daydreaming about while playing with action figures.

Final Score: 10/10

Stargirl Season One Review

The first live-action outing from the DC Universe streaming service to be classed as “child friendly,” Stargirl proves that you don’t need strong violence, gratuitous swearing, or body horror to tell a compelling superhero origin story.

When a television series based on Courtney Whitmore, a.k.a. Stargirl, was announced in the summer of 2018 it was met with some confusion. Namely, how it would gel against the otherwise-mature content being produced on DCU. Thankfully it purposely does not gel, and instead finds its own tone, niche, and balance of wholesome teenage superhero shenanigans versus nefarious adult supervillain machinations. Although it benefited from a next-day broadcast on American network The CW, Stargirl takes a leaf out of its fellow streaming series’ playbook and consists of just 13 episodes compared to a network standard of 22. But just how well does it utilise a concise runtime?

Where the likes of Titans and, to a lesser extent, Doom Patrol stumble and sometimes spend too much time flashbacking to the past, this series strikes a perfect balance between supplying the audience with all of the context they need regarding the Justice and Injustice Societies of America while also setting up the successors to these mantles in a satisfying way. By the time the season has reached its halfway point the stage is set, the second incarnation of the JSA has been established and developed, and the ISA have already committed enough atrocities to make us want to see each and every one of them suffer a beatdown from the ever-impressive S.T.R.I.P.E. mecha.

Stargirl and her Cosmic Staff

Speaking of the invention of legacy sidekick Pat Dugan, the CGI budget and SFX wizardry present throughout the series is something to behold. Be it the emotive Cosmic Staff, the chilling villain Icicle, or the stunning action set pieces, it can never be said that Stargirl does not impress on a visual level.

That is not to say that the actual drama and emotional punch found here is lacking in any way, as nothing could be further from the truth. What many comic book-based series fail to do is convey a sense of risk, with the audience generally safe in the knowledge that the hero will triumph in the end and the status quo will be reinstated. Without giving away the plot of the finale, what can be safely revealed is that throughout the series enough tragedies and pitfalls dash the hopes of our young cast of heroes to assure the audiences that the gloves are off and as far as Season Two is concerned, no one is safe.

There is also enough emotional baggage associated with our heroes that you would need S.T.R.I.P.E. itself to carry it all. From dead parents to invasions of privacy to teenage angst, they’ve got it all.

The new crop of Blue Valley JSA heroes do justice to their predecessors

Hourman is haunted by the deaths of his parents, initially thought to have died in a regular car accident. It is revealed throughout the course of the series that the accident was in fact caused by Solomon Grundy on the fateful night which eradicated the original JSA, a revelation which motivates him to take down the ISA. Wildcat regressed from a sociable, straight-A student to a forced recluse at the behest of her parents after intimate pictures of her were leaked by her then-boyfriend’s jealous ex. In one of the series’ many plot conveniences, both of these teenagers are the children of ISA members. Dr. Mid-Nite, meanwhile, is more or less just along for the ride and is enjoying getting to know the AI replica of her predecessor which inhabits her high-tech goggles. Last but not least, Stargirl herself is determined to vanquish the ISA after learning that her father, supposedly the original Starman, was also killed alongside the parents of the new Hourman.

The real superpowers of the Injustice Society of America members are their anti-aging techniques

On the other hand, by comparison the vast majority of the Injustice Society members are disappointingly one-note, with the exception of scene-stealing Icicle and Brainwave who are determined to brainwash the American population and force them to conform to their ideals.

Nevertheless, stereotypical moustache-twirling villains aside, every episode in the series adds another piece to the puzzle that is the mysterious happenings in Blue Valley, with not a minute of screentime wasted. By the time the final confrontations take place in the two-part finale large dollops of vindication and justice are dished out to the audience’s glee, while also laying an intriguing foundation for Season Two.

In conclusion, Stargirl is a wonderful antithesis to the grimdark standard which has been set by other live-action series on DC Universe. Its main star is a delight to watch navigate the superhero realm, her co-stars are suitably fleshed-out and grounded in reality, and the classic superhero action is second to none in the television arena. While some of its villains hold it back from being the perfect series, their comeuppance will have to satisfy audiences for now before the survivors return to plague the JSA next year.

Final Score: 9/10

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Season One Review

Riding high on the brand-recognition coattails of its predecessing original series, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels had a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, thanks to a sprawling plot which rarely satisfies, it fails in admittedly stunning fashion.

One thing is plain for all to see even just a couple of minutes into the series premiere – this show is beautifully made. From its direction, to its production design, to its creepy atmosphere bubbling just beneath the surface, on paper it should be a giant feather in Showtime’s cap to be applauded. For all its flash, however, the substance leaves a lot to be desired.

What connects a Chicano gang, racial tensions, a German war veteran, a would-be Los Angeles demagogue, and rocket science? Not a whole lot apart from Natalie Dormer and a proposed freeway, despite what this show would have you believe.

If three’s a crowd then four’s a celebration of Natalie Dormer’s acting

Playing each of her parts expertly well, Dormer is the common thread in this web of narratives. Primarily portraying Magda, the fictional sister of Mexican deity Santa Muerte who is an original creation of this series, she takes on several mortal guises as she stokes the fire of fury and discontent in a variety of different groups. But to what end?

The first handful of episodes are spent setting the scene, building all of the different pieces of this series into a house of cards so that they can be later knocked down in spectacular fashion. In hindsight this is a logical tactic, but in practice it made for boring television as a handful of irrelevant-to-each-other dramas play out in front of the audience with Dormer being the ever-present manipulator. Were it not for her impressively diverse acting these episodes would have been enough to turn away any viewer who was expecting a true spin-off to the Eva Green-led original series.

The poor unfortunates who become locked in Magda’s crosshairs

It is only around the halfway point of the season that any sort of traction is made, and by the time any significant action gets underway it is the season finale. What, then, was the point?

The fictionalised world that has been created in 1938 Los Angeles seems to have been done so to provide a social commentary rather than a pre-WWII gothic horror. Replace any of Natalie Dormer’s characters with a regular, ill-meaning human being instead of a malevolent entity and the results would be the same. Mateo Vega would still be enticed by the gang lifestyle after the assault of his sister. Councilman Townsend would still become increasingly power-hungry. And otherwise-caring father Peter Craft would still be nudged towards the ideals of the Führer. Granted the scheming Elsa and her hellspawn, the source of the only real horror in the show, do not so much nudge as they do recklessly shove, the message is the same nonetheless. People, no matter how noble their intentions, will go to the extreme when they and their loved ones come under threat.

The audience is treated to terrific performances from Daniel Zovatto and Nathan Lane as our buddy cop duo, as well as from Kerry Bishé, Jessica Garza and Adriana Barraza who portray televangelist Sister Molly, the young girl who runs away to join her temple and the Santa Muerte-worshipping mother who disapproves of such things. Were it not for these fine actors, along with Dormer herself, and the high production value of the series then the whole thing would be a write-off.

The overarching story may be interesting in the abstract and well-executed in some places, but a spinoff from Penny Dreadful carries with it certain expectations. Take out the supernatural element and replace it with ordinary people and there would be the makings of a fine television series. Instead we have a Frankensteined show which fails to thrill fans of horror and disappoints fans of character-driven drama.

The kids are not alright

Visually stunning and thought-provoking in places, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels makes big promises and then sadly fails to deliver. The applause-worthy performances of its main cast and headline star counteract some of the damage done by its conflicted identity and make it more than just passable – but not by much.

Final Score: 5/10

Harley Quinn Season Two Review

After a critically-acclaimed freshman season and the lovable villain now back to the forefront of pop culture thanks to the recent Birds of Prey movie starring Margot Robbie, Harley Quinn unfortunately fails to recapture the magic that made Season One so special.

After the first season of the successful animated series came to a shocking conclusion in February of this year, fans were delighted to discover that they would not have long to wait for more hilariously rude and violent escapades from Dr. Harleen Quinzel – a mere six weeks, in fact. With the Justice League incapacitated, Batman presumed dead and Gotham now in ruins, the scene was set for Season Two to take the metaphorical ball and run with it now that there were no more expectations as to what a ‘Harley Quinn show’ should be about. What unfortunately happened instead is a drawn-out narrative which takes twice the amount of episodes to tell its story than it should have to remain fresh and interesting, while also discarding most of the elements that made Season One so unique and popular in the first place.

The season goes on to spend its front half dealing with the villains who have now divided Gotham up into factions in the absence of any superheroes, while its back half revolves around the burgeoning romance between Harley and Poison Ivy and the unholy alliance which has been struck between Dr. Psycho and Darkseid.

While this all sounds suitably wacky and zany in nature, the show manages to resolve all of these issues with very few long-lasting impressions left on the viewer. Barring a satirical cold open in the Harley-free fifth episode which pokes fun at haters of Star Wars’ The Last Jedi and lovers of Zack Snyder, the second season is for the most part devoid of the key ingredients which made the first so delightful to sit down and watch every Friday.

Part of the charm of Season One was the gang haphazardly working together and gelling as a unit, but now their antics are a rarity rather than a regular feature of each episode. Dr. Psycho takes center stage this season as he returns to his truly supervillainous roots, but of Harley’s five male lackeys he is perhaps the most hated.

By the time this season starts to return to former glory in the last three episodes it is unfortunately too little too late, however, making the majority of the season wholly forgettable. With Season One remaining a hit and Season Two resembling a miss, hopefully a potential Season Three can carry on the momentum of the course-correction we were treated to in recent weeks.

Final Score: 6/10

Star Trek Picard Season One Review

Now that the season finale has aired and Trekkies once more have to play the waiting game for their next Starfleet fix, was revisiting Jean-Luc Picard worth the effort?

One thing is for certain about the first season of Star Trek Picard – it is stylish beyond belief. Clearly a great deal of care went into the visual side of making this television series a reality, but the more pressing question is did the same amount of thought go into conceptualisation and screenwriting? What started off strong, grew weaker, and then eventually came around again towards the finish line, indicates that perhaps this latest outing from CBS would have benefited from another round of revisions in the writer’s room.

Jean-Luc prefers to have man’s best friend for company in sunny France

When we meet (former) Captain Picard for the first time since Nemesis it is 2399 and he has retired to the vineyards of France. A synth-related catastrophe on Mars has brought taboo to the existence of such beloved characters like Commander Data, and Starfleet’s handling of the destruction of Romulus in 2387 has made intergalactic relations a little frostier than they were before.

It was surprising to see the recent trilogy of movies referenced in such a way, as fans of the franchise will no doubt remember seeing the aforementioned destruction of Romulus on-screen in the J. J. Abrams-helmed Star Trek over a decade ago. The first episode does well to introduce the audience to an aged Picard, haunted by the sacrifice of his synthetic friend (the death of whom we do not see, and for good reason by the time the finale rolls around) and also of the tragedy resulting from billions of Romulans around the universe suddenly lacking a homeworld. It is not long, however, until we meet Dahj, and from here a hint of action is injected into the otherwise slow and methodical narrative.

Dahj is a synth, identical in almost every way to her sister Soji, pictured right. Although we do not get to know her for very long once her killer instinct is activated and faces off with some very angry Romulans, it is Soji who captivates the audience for the remainder of the season.

Soji, the latest fan-favourite synthezoid

Making Soji a scientist on a repurposed Borg Cube, with no knowledge of her true origin until it is crushingly revealed to her an episode or two later than would have been preferable, is a classic The Next Generation B-plot, and it is wonderful to see another side to the terrifying Borg. ‘The Artifact’ as it is known by its inhabitants is more a rehabilitation centre for former initiates into the Collective, and while we never quite get to see it in all of its former glory the presentation of this battle station is testament to the visual effects department at CBS. Taking a deep-dive into The Next Generation‘s history books and having Hugh, or Third of Five, be in charge of the station is a nice connection to the franchise’s past as it forges a new future for itself.

The friendliest Borg you could ever meet

Unfortunately, this particular B-plot ends up dragging the show down somewhat. Serving little to no purpose for the remainder of the show after Soji’s epiphany, ‘The Artifact’ feels more like the show runners making use of an already-built set rather than actually advancing the plot.

This seems to be a running theme with Picard – spending a little too much time fleshing out the world around us and not enough actually getting on with the main story. Already shorter than the two seasons of Discovery that have graced our screens, Picard might even have been easier digested had it been eight, or even six episodes instead of the sometimes-dragging ten that it took to reach its conclusion. When your B-plot spawns a C-plot, and maybe even half of a D-plot, then you have a problem. Still, if it wasn’t for the Borg then we would not have been treated to the best use of indulging in fans’ nostalgia than making Seven of Nine a recurring character.

Not missing a beat from the last time she showed up in Voyager, this particular member of the Collective is still quite capable of kicking ass, taking names, and lending a sense of gravitas to any scene she steals.

Seven of Nine is still ten (out) of ten on the ass-kicking scale

Although brief, her stint as friendly Borg Queen will surely go down as one of the show’s most iconic moments, making it all the more tragic that nothing of note actually came of it. Another victim of fan service overpowering the show’s narrative.

Riker still rocks a Starfleet uniform even all these years later

That doesn’t mean that all of the show’s fan service is bad – far from it. When ex-commander William Riker takes the captain’s chair in the USS Zheng He in the finale to come to Jean-Luc’s aid, fan service is finally used in a way that is serviceable to the plot. It’s just a shame that it took ten episodes to do it.

What really makes the show shine, however, as with all entries in the Star Trek franchise, is the crew. The very definition of rag-tag in the beginning, by the finale viewers will have fallen in love with each member of the crew aboard the La Sirena for a variety of reasons. Be it Raffi’s past trauma, the gruff, Han Solo-esque nature of Rios, Elnor’s delightful use of absolute candor, or even Agnes’ amazement at even the most mundane elements of spacefaring, what will keep viewers waiting for next season is not the CGI or the space battles, but the people. People who, by the looks of things, have a lot of romancing to do after the high-stakes season finale if the hand-holding between Raffi and Seven of Nine and the long-teased kissing between Agnes and Rios is anything to go by. If this means more time can be spent developing Elnor and Soji as individuals then all the better for it. Even the final death of Data, more human and emotional than anything which could have been attached to his off-screen sacrifice, reminds us that you don’t always need fast-paced action to keep viewers glued to their screens.

Ready to boldly go into Season Two

Was Picard perfect? No. Far from it, in fact. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worthwhile. With a plot revolving around synthetic life learning what it means to be human being reminiscent of other recent media such as Blade Runner 2049 and Westworld, the story being told in this short season of Trek is ambitious to say the least. While it might miss a step here and there, when it lands it does so in captivating fashion. Whether or not the omnicidal synthetic overlords briefly seen in the finale will tie-in to Control in the time-hopping third season of Discovery is yet to be seen. However, for the time being fans can rest easy knowing that Patrick Stewart is just as impressive as Jean-Luc Picard now as he ever was.

Final Score: 7/10

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