I Regret to Say I Really Disliked Season 1 of The Rings of Power

I Didn't Like Season One of The Rings of Power

Though I had no initial plans to watch The Rings of Power, I ended up viewing season one with a friend. I went in with an open mind, knowing that most of the material would be created solely for the show and not based directly on Tolkien’s stories. Even so, I found myself uninterested in most of the characters, bored by the slow pacing, and confused by the gaps in logic and plot. That such a big show would have such poor writing truly baffled me. The main concern of the showrunners seemed to be to tease viewers with potential characters who might be Sauron in disguise–to the detriment of developed character and and story building. Below are my thoughts about various aspects of the show, in more detail.

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Poor Character Building

I had difficulty connecting with RoP from the start because I simply did not care for any of the characters. Because the show chooses to follow several different narratives (that will presumably converge, eventually), most of the characters, when first introduced do not receive enough screen time for viewers to understand who they are, what makes them tick, or why we should root for them. Bronwyn and Arondir, for instance, are reduced to a couple who awkwardly lock eyes from time to time. But I have no idea what Bronwyn’s station in the village is (some sort of healer who makes enough money to wear blue dye when no one else in the Southlands does?), how she met Arondir, or why she cares for him. I still remain uncertain how she ended up the leader of the village when she did not seem to have any standing among her people before the orcs arrived. I really didn’t care if she and Arondir lived or died, and my opinion did not change as the season progressed because viewers only ever receive a few snippets of background information on the two. Yawn. The Southlands portions of the show were some of the most boring.

The Harfoots, meanwhile, have their own character inconsistencies. The show sets them up to be rugged and loyal, chanting, “Nobody goes off trail! Nobody walks alone.” And then they read the book of the dead–all the Harfoots they left behind because they could not be bothered to lend a hand to their friends and neighbors. Why they all tear up at this is unclear. Are they weeping for their own cruelty? Apparently not because when Nori’s father Largo has trouble walking, the Harfoots leave not only him but also his entire family to perish in the wastelands, with never a second thought. But wait! That’s not good enough! The Brandyfoots are viewed as a danger to the group, so some decide that even allowing the group to attempt to migrate is folly. There are calls to take their cart wheels away so they are forced to be left behind and presumably starve or be eaten by wolves. All this makes it really weird for Largo to end the season with a rousing speech about how loyalty and support is what makes Harfoots Harfoots. They have no loyalty, Largo! They wanted to kill you!

And let us not forget the sudden change of heart the Harfoots need to have to welcome and appreciate the Stranger, before lovingly waving good-bye to him and Nori as they set off together. The whole season showed that the Harfoots only care about the Stranger when he helps them, and are willing to turn on him as soon as he makes a mistake. And then his being tangentially involved in Sadoc’s death and the near deaths of three other Harfoots is what makes all the Harfoots appreciate him in the end? I would think they would be chasing him away with sticks and cursing his name (if he had one). I am left wondering if the showrunners are trying to make me admire the Harfoots for their ruggedness, or feel horror and disgust at their callousness.

But while the Harfoots are a perplexing group, I truly did not know what to think about Galadriel. Her introduction shows the famed Commander of the North leading a ragtag band into the freezing cold past their strength and past their orders. She’s fully prepared for them all to die so she can get revenge. Why is she a leader, again? She has zero leadership qualities! Which is exemplified again when she visits Numenor and, instead of politely introducing herself to the court, she insults the whole country before demanding they form an army to follow her into Middle-earth. Please keep in mind that, at this point, they have no evidence that orcs are stirring in the Southlands and not the faintest idea of where Sauron is, so there’s no real tangible enemy she can even ask them to fight. But why all the rudeness? Galadriel may be hot-headed, but she is from a noble family, she is part of Gil-galad’s court, and she is supposed to be a leader of an army–and she has no concept of diplomacy. This makes her later speech about the need for humility all the more bizarre. She doesn’t have any. I kind of hated her, which is not, I think, what the showrunners were hoping for, since she was marketed as the main protagonist.

And why is the show so invested in suggesting that Galadriel is morally gray and could turn evil at any moment, with the right nudge? Is it for drama? Is it because modern audiences are assumed to find actually good characters unrealistic? What am I supposed to think of Galadriel when she spends seven episodes seeking Sauron and then, when she finds him, she lets him go to save her own reputation? I suspect I am supposed to find it all thrilling because one just never knows what Galadriel will do next! Maybe she will even have a little romance with Halbrand! (Ewwwww.) But having a character flail all around the place is not how one makes a character realistically three-dimensional.

Who were some of the only bearable characters? Elrond, Durin, and Disa–not only because their camaraderie is endearing, but because, tonally, they make the most sense. Their characters do not bounce all around, with the showrunners trying to make me like them at some points, and then having them “touch the darkness” randomly just to keep things interesting. If they were going for the vibe that, “Everyone in this show is morally gray and complex!” they failed. A mess is not complexity.

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Illogical Politics

I have no idea what is supposed to happening with the politics in this show, but I have a feeling I’m not supposed to care. I’m supposed to just go along with the spectacle. For example, how did Bronwyn become a leader for her village? Why did Adar just let Arondir go instead of coming up with a plan actually worthy of a villainous mastermind? Why did Numenor decide to go to war in Middle-earth when Galadriel cannot promise them they will even find an enemy there? Seriously, she finds a symbol that references (in the vaguest possible way) a place on a map and a whole island nation that allegedly hates Elves decides it is a good use of public funds to follow a random Elf, sail there, and see what is up? And who is Pharazon? I know who he is in the books, and I know the show finally indicated he is the Queen Regent’s cousin, but why is he running all over the island making speeches? What is his actual job? I don’t know, but he’s probably not good at it since he decided a bunch of strangers should be allowed to sit alone in the dying king’s bedroom and draw him. And is he the one who left all the military ships unguarded, to be blown up by a teenage discontent with no actual skill in espionage? Numenor needs to get it together.

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Cringe-Worthy Dialogue

This show has some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard. The awkward, meant-to-be-inspirational bits are bad enough, like the constant calls that, “The sea is always right!” (Worst catchphrase ever.) Or Finrod’s memorably sage advice that, “Rocks look downward.” (No, they don’t.) But then we have gems like, “Give me the meat, and give it to me raw!” (I don’t know. This sounds nasty?)

The writing also often fails to work tonally or in context. For instance, when Theo asks his mother to say what he used to tell her when he had bad dreams, she answers, “In the end, the shadow is but a small and passing thing. There is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. Find the light and the shadow will not find you.” Apparently, the need to reference Sam’s words in LotR overcame the need for a mother to give a realistic answer like, “Shh. It’s okay. I’m here.” Which is what one might suppose a mother would say to a child with a nightmare!

And then there is the big reveal when Halbrand asks what drives Galadriel to seek Sauron when all others have given up. This was the moment when it was all supposed to come together, when viewers really started to understand Galadriel and her quest. The answer? “I cannot stop.” It almost felt like the writers didn’t know what to say, so they went with vagueness.

I can say definitely that the cringey dialogue is one of the worst aspects of the show. The writers so clearly thought they were channeling their inner Tolkien to write catchy snippets that would inspire and sound deep and, like many who reach for the heights, they fell unusually low.

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Awkward Pacing

Some have indicated to me that the show is a “slow burn” and it’s worth it to wait and have it all start to come together in the end. I find that strategy odd because I was so bored and uninterested by the first two episodes, I wanted to stop watching altogether. I only managed to get through the season because of pressure from a friend. I had zero interest in the characters, since there were too many of them to be developed adequately at the start and, when I tried to sum up the episodes, I was left with random assortments like, “Galadriel floats a boat. The Harfoots walk around. Elrond smashes a rock with an axe.” Good stuff.

The focus on the show seems to be not on plot or character development, but with teasing viewers about character identities and withholding information just for the sake of creating mystery. For instance, the driving force of season one seems to be the questions, “Who is the Stranger?” and, “Which character is Sauron?” and the creators play that up, with characters periodically accusing one another of being Sauron only to be told they are wrong. These puzzles take up more energy than actually developing the characters or the logic of the plotline.

Other random information is also withheld, seemingly just for the purpose of making viewers wonder about it so the showrunners can triumphantly pull out the answers later. This is presumably why we still have no clue about what happened to Theo’s father or why Galadriel randomly announces several episodes in that she has been married this entire time, but her husband is missing and presumed dead. Viewers know Celeborn isn’t dead. They’re just supposed to wonder when he’ll pop up.

Though it has its moments of suspense, Tolkien’s writing is very straightforward, and he never spends time trying to trick readers into thinking characters are not who they thought, or leaving out information just so people can speculate about it. Deliberately misleading viewers just to shock them is admittedly a valid strategy, especially in the age of the internet, when fans can immediately go online to try to puzzle out the mysteries together. It is, however, arguably not Tolkien-esque. Perhaps more importantly, however, the question, “Which character is really Sauron?” does not seem pressing enough to spend an entire season on, to the detriment of actual character and plot development.

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Uninspired Allusions to Peter Jackson’s Trilogy

I am not entirely sure what viewers are supposed to get from the numerous, indeed, overwhelming, numbers of allusions to Peter Jackson’s LotR. They do not often seem to be thematically important. For instance, why should I particularly think of Arwen riding to the Ford of Bruinen when Galadriel is riding a horse? Should the Numenorean charge recall Rohan’s charge? It would make more sense to tie them to Gondor, no? I found the allusions tiresome, as I do not want to play “spot the reference” when trying to immerse myself in a secondary world.

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Thematic Inconsistencies

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the show, for fans of Tolkien at least, will undoubtedly be the decision to make the Elves’ immortal souls fade away unless they can bathe in the light of mithril (said, in the show, to contain the light of one of the Silmarils). This plot point has a lot of logical problems, of course. How did the light of a Silmaril imbue a bunch of random ore? How does that work, precisely? And how much mithril is needed to save everyone? (Answer: three rings’ worth will do because handwavy magic??) If the Elves need the light of a Silmaril, why can’t they just stand outside when Earendil passes by in the night sky? He has one in his ship, after all! And why is this even happening in the first place? How on earth did the trees of Lindon decide to die and indicate the “rise of evil” when, at that point, Sauron is apparently still stuck in the middle of the ocean and maybe/maybe not considering a simple life as a peasant blacksmith? Maybe the leaves should have decided to die at a more pressing time like, I don’t know, when Morgoth was taking over Middle-earth?

The real problem with this plot point is, of course, that no power that is not Eru (the One) should be able to kill an immortal soul. And the power of the Valar should not be able to save a soul. (The Silmarils contain the light of the Trees of Valinor, which were made by the Valar.) It simply is not consistent with Tolkien’s worldview to suggest that a soul can be made or unmade by anyone who is not the God of that world. Honestly, I found the suggestion to be shocking, considering how the showrunners were assuring everyone that they are huge Tolkien fans, and considering how many Tolkien scholars were gathered before the show’s release to Tweet out their approval of this new vision of Tolkien’s world.

I understand the show is almost entirely fan fiction since the rights to the material concerning the Second Ages are limited. I was not expecting the show to be the work of a Tolkien purist. But this whole idea seems rather wild, even for an adaptation. Even if we go with a vaguer explanation about the need to reclaim the light of Valinor to stop the Elves diminishing, I cannot see how implying that an external source can change one’s internal state would ever be thematically consistent with Tolkien’s vision of good and evil. Is it supposed to be like a reverse of the One Ring? As the One Ring tempts one with power until one is corrupted and chooses evil, the Silmaril light inspires one until they start following the Valar again? Maybe? But I think the show needs to develop this further since the entire Silmarillion is about how the light of the Silmarils tempted Sauron to invade Valinor and then lead the Elves to centuries of warfare as they attempted to reclaim the jewels, and turned on their own kin in order to possess them. Clearly just being in the presence of a Silmaril does not inspire one solely to goodness.

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General Inconsistencies

If we really want to get into the nitty gritty of the show, there was plenty to baffle and annoy me. One thing that really struck me was the inconsistency of how Elves experience time. Tolkien wrote that an Elf year is 144 sun years. The show references the idea that time passes differently for Elves when Durin chastises Elrond for not visiting in 20 years, even if that seems like nothing to an Elf. At other times, however, the show forgets this and has Arondir speaking of 70-some years in the Southlands as a long time, when really that would probably seem like six months or so to him. He also speaks of his youth 200 years ago like that’s a long time.

Then there are the strange moments that make no sense. Galadriel, Commander of the Army of the North, chases an enemy to retrieve a powerful object–only to give it away to a random Elf without looking at it or asking questions. The orcs release Arondir for no reason, after killing a bunch of Elves over a tree, as if the showrunners were not sure how to have him escape. Pharazon lets strangers sit in the king’s bedroom without supervision, even though previously no one was allowed to see the king at all for any reason. Miriel reverses her entire worldview in about ten seconds because some leaves fall off a tree–and the anti-Elf sentiment in Numenor that literally caused the removal of the previous ruler immediately vanishes as they all agree to go fight in a foreign land for people they have never seen and know nothing about. A sword is a key that turns a rock that breaks a dam that causes a volcano? (Sorry, I got lost there.) Internal logic in a story is important to me, but I saw very little of it here.

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A Few Things I Liked

As many have said, the CGI looks great. I also enjoyed Elrond, Durin, and Disa. Nori is a fun character, even if the Harfoots seem cruel. And I thought it was a fair choice to make the Elves seem more supernatural/superhuman with some of the fighting skills shown by Galadriel and Ardonir. I also liked the attempt to make the orcs seem more nuanced, with Adar’s insistence that they have souls and deserve a home. (I’m not sure where the show is going with this, though, since it’s hard for viewers to sympathize with orcs creating a home by killing everyone in the Southlands and literally forming Mordor. Expansion on this point is needed.) I also thought pretty much all the actors did an excellent job, even when the material given to them was poor.

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Rings of Power fails for me, not as a Tolkien adaptation, but as a show. I understood going in that the creators only had the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and would be making up almost the entirety of the show. I was not expecting a purist adaptation of Tolkien. However, the lack of character backstories, the flip-flopping of characters from good to evil, the slow pacing, and the logical inconsistencies and baffling politics, would make me rate any show poorly–even if it had nothing to do with Tolkien. I did not enjoy watching Rings of Power, and the show sadly is unlikely to be part of a new beloved fandom for me.

My Thoughts on Galadriel in “The Rings of Power” after the First Two Episodes

Although there were only 8 voters, this is the post that won my Twitter poll when I asked what I should write about relating to The Rings of Power. So here they are: some of my rambling thoughts on how Galadriel has been portrayed in The Rings of Power so far. (All RoP content on the blog is tagged with “Rings of Power,” if you want to see more!)

Spoiler Warning!

Is the RoP Galadriel “Faithful” to Tolkien’s Work?

If you’re a casual Tolkien fan, the first thing to note is that there is no “definitive” version of Galadriel before her appearance in The Lord of the Rings in the Third Age. Tolkien left several versions of how he envisioned her and her story earlier in her life, and they are sometimes contradictory. So there’s no real way to say what the “canon” version of Galadriel in the Second Age would be.

But Does It Bother You She’s a Warrior in the Show???

There are a couple references to the fact that Galadriel competed in great feats of athletics in her youth, and Tolkien once describes her as “Amazonian,” and fans have pointed to these quotes as justification for the fact Galadriel is a warrior in the show, the Commander of the Northern Armies. To which I say . . . meh. I think her great athleticism would describe why she would be a good warrior if she were a warrior, but one can be athletic, muscular, strong, etc. without being a soldier. Obviously.

I don’t 100% hate this interpretation of her character, however. The showrunners clearly draw on the fact the Elves fought Morgoth for a very long time, and Galadriel would have seen the loss, in addition to the loss of her brother. She would have seen how evil Morgoth and Sauron were, and it is canon she felt obliged to see the eradication of this evil through. So who’s to say she didn’t pick up a sword at one point in her life in order to help hasten the defeat of her enemies?

Tolkien doesn’t specifically describe her as spending the Second Age doing wise Elvish mystical acts either, so really anything the showrunners came up with would have been made up. My reaction to her being a soldier is kind of just to shrug at this point.

What Actually Bothers Me about Galadriel

My real problem so far is that absolutely no other character in the show seems to respect her. Galadriel is supposed to be incredibly wise and powerful, plus she comes from a highly respected Elf family. People should be as impressed with and as in awe with her as they are in The Lord of the Rings.

Instead, the show opens with young Galadriel appearing as some sort of outcast mocked by the Elf children, then moves on to show her troops mutinying and refusing to follow her orders. She next appears in Lindon, where Elrond emphasizes their friendship and obviously likes her as a person but also seems to think she’s delusional that Sauron is still alive and stupid for defying Gil-galad. And Gil-galad also implies she’s a fool. Next, we see her on the boat to Valinor, where the other Elves clearly think she’s crazy for not being excited to go to Valinor and clinging to her knife, and then we see her jump off the boat when she clearly is too far from any land to actually swim anywhere without dying.

Tolkien certainly characterizes Galadriel as rash and proud in her youth, as she chose to leave Valinor in the first place and was interested in ruling a realm of her own, so the hotheadness the show is leaning into makes sense. But at no point do I really feel that Galadriel is majestic and wise; her hunt for Sauron comes across as some crazed personal vendetta rather than something she’s pursuing because she’s farsighted and wise and can see the evil that’s hidden while others cannot.

It’s very probable the writers are aiming for Galadriel to have some sort of character arc where she becomes more like the stately Galadriel we know in The Lord of the Rings, but I’m not really asking for her to act stoic and wise and unperturbed at all times. I’m asking for other characters to respect her instead of clearly believing she’s a fool.

What are you thoughts?


TV Series Review: All Creatures Great and Small (Seasons 1 & 2)

All Creatures Great and Small TV Series Review


Fresh out of college, James Herriot arrives in Yorkshire, England to act as assistant to the local veterinarian.  He quickly finds practicing medicine vastly different from what he had expected.  The job requires him to labor at all hours of the night and day, often in bad weather, and healing animals proves difficult, dirty, and sometimes dangerous.  Even so, Herriot grows to love the countryside, its inhabitants, and his work.

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The newest TV adaptation of James Herriot’s classic account of his work as vet set in the 1930s Yorkshire Dales brings all the book’s heart and humor to the screen. Nicholas Ralph stars a young Herriot who arrives at his first job straight out of vet school, only to discover that his new employer Siegfried is rather eccentric and that Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan is home and ready to cause mischief. The job, meanwhile, is more physically demanding than Herriot expected, and the farmers are somewhat suspicious of outsiders and slow to accept both change and the word of a young vet over their own experience. Fortunately, however, the Dales might just offer Herriot a chance at love! It is hard but rewarding to eke out a living in the countryside, and Herriot and viewers will soon find that the Yorkshire Dales has a homey charm all its own.

All Creatures Great and Small is simply the coziest of TV shows, one I look forward to watching after a hard day or when I need a bit of cheer. The episodes are quiet, each focusing on a new veterinary dilemma, as well as the stories of the ensemble cast–Tristan’s efforts to pass his veterinary exams, Mrs. Hall’s relationship with her son, Herriot’s blooming romance, and more. Though some stories end in sadness, the overall tone is that life goes on, always with the support of our loved ones. The show makes it seem as if the Yorkshire Dales is the best place to be–a place of kindness and caring at all times. Truly, I wish sometimes that I lived in Skeldale House!

The title emphasizes the animals, but the characters are what make the show. Their distinct personalities play off each other to create often humorous scenarios, but ones where viewers understand that all the characters have a mutual respect and fondness for each other. Samuel West shines as the eccentric Siegfried Farnon, whose pride in his business and unwillingness to admit that he can be wrong contrasts with the happy-go-lucky nature of his younger brother Tristan, who may be goofy but also yearns to prove himself. Anna Madeley as housekeeper Mrs. Hall works as the glue that binds Skeldale House together, as she skillfully navigates all the strong personalities under her care, and quietly guides everyone to where they need to be. Other recurring characters prove just as integral to the show, from the hilariously excessive Mrs. Pumphrey, who coddles her dog Tricki Woo like her firstborn child, to Helen’s taciturn father. The community is what makes the show–and the Dales–special.

I have loved every episode of All Creatures Great and Small, loved watching the characters grow, loved seeing how they each are branching out and finding their way. I worry about the looming war as season three approaches, but cannot wait to see how the community continues to pull together in times of adversity. This is truly a show not to be missed if you want a heartwarming, feel-good story that will make your day seem a little brighter.

5 stars

Movie Review: The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C. S. Lewis (2021)

The Most Reluctant Convert


Director: Norman Stone
Writers: Max McLean, Norman Stone
Release: 2021


Max McLean stars as an older C. S. Lewis narrating the formative events in his life that led him to convert to theism and then Christianity.

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I am an avid fan of C. S. Lewis and his work, so when I learned that a recent biographical movie had been released, focusing on his conversion story, I was intrigued. My expectations for the film, however, differed vastly from the reality of the film. I assumed that the movie would take the standard approach, filming the events of Lewis’s life from childhood to conversion, with actors depicting various events in story form. This was not so.

The Most Reluctant Convert goes for an artsy approach, beginning with a framing narrative showing actor Max McLean getting ready for his role as an older C. S. Lewis. It then takes the form of McLean narrating C. S. Lewis’s life story as he strolls around local places Lewis presumably frequented, while other actors occasionally pantomime the story in the background. (Sometimes they get to speak.) In the end, I concluded that this story, as told, did not work well as movie. For C. S. Lewis’s conversion story, I would recommend reading Surprised by Joy (on which the film was based). And for those who want it narrated, I would suggest listening to the audiobook.

Truly, I am confused by the existence of this movie since most of it is narration and readers can get that narration by simply listening to an audiobook. I suppose the primary benefit is that there is a visual component, as well, so readers can see McLean walk around England. Personally, however, I’d rather just listen to an audiobook if that is the main experience I am going to get. McLean does a superb job as C. S. Lewis, and I enjoyed seeing Nicholas Ralph, who stars as James Herriot in PBS’ All Creatures Great and Small, as a younger Lewis–though, sadly, he does not have much to do. Altogether, however, I was grateful that the run time was only about an hour and fifteen minutes

Even McLean’s narration of Lewis’s conversion story did not fully move me, mainly because it seems like the type of dialogue that would only resonate with people who already agree with Lewis. Lewis simply drops statements to the effect of, “Only Christianity and Hinduism could be taken seriously,” when one is choosing a religion, and then moves on! Such statements are not, in fact, self-evident to probably the majority of people. If this movie were really meant to make people think about religion and philosophy, I would expect more reasoning and evidence to be given. As it is, however, it seems clear that the film is aimed towards people who are not going to dispute Lewis’s claims and who want a feel-good story about a beloved author’s conversion.

Final verdict? Watch this if you really love C. S. Lewis and his work, but be forewarned that it is not a film in the traditional sense. It’s really just McLean narrating some of Lewis’s thoughts and works onscreen. It didn’t work for me, but others have given it rave reviews, so it must work for someone!

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2 star review

TV Series Review: Marvel’s What If…?

Review of Marvel's What If

I started watching Marvel’s What If…? not really knowing what to expect, but hoping that new, innovative storylines might emerge and that some of the characters introduced might even be introduced later into the live-action MCU. After all, seeing Peggy Carter as Captain Carter is my dream! Ultimately, however, the episodes of the first season prove uneven in quality, and the point of the series only becomes clear in the final two episodes. While I would still be excited to see some of these characters on the big screen, I cannot say that the show What If…? particularly impresses.

The episodes bounce around through different concepts, moving from pure, fan “What if?” daydreaming, to humor, to tragedy, to just plain silliness. Initially, I found myself baffled. I wanted a connecting thread, some reason that I started a show that first answers the question, “What if Peggy Carter took the super soldier serum instead?” but then moves on to seemingly random questions such as, “What if the Avengers fought zombies?” or, “What if Thor had a giant party on Earth?” The question, “What if?” gives room for the creators to do literally anything with the material and all they could come up with is Thor having a party?? I was hoping for more intriguing storylines! The ones that gave us characters like Spider-Gwen. The ones that truly change the story and open up more possibilities for what the characters can be and become and do.

Still, some of the episodes are stronger than others. “What if Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” creates a real sense of pathos, as viewers watch him try to change the past and bring his lover back to life. And “What If Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” raises some interesting ethical questions, as the show goes to dark places, even if it was not my favorite episode (but, then, I have never been very attached to the Iron Man films). The strong moments of the show were enough to keep me watching–as was the hope that the final episode might ultimately tie into the larger MCU. Really, it was that fear, that I might need to know what happens, that kept me watching more than anything else.

Because, really, the premise of What If…? is a little strange– but not because we are asking the question, “What if?” Rather, it is strange because each episode essentially tries to boil down one of the Marvel films into about 25 minutes. So the first episode, takes a 2-hour film, Captain America: The First Avenger, and boils the storyline down to about an eighth of its original run time. That’s not a lot of time. Not to develop characters or relationships. It is just enough time to say, “Hey, look, Peggy Carter is Captain Carter now instead of Steve Rogers becoming Captain America! Isn’t that neat?” and then end the episode. And so on for each succeeding episode. I wanted to feel a real connection to the characters, but any feeling viewers have for them will have to come from prior knowledge of them from the previous films.

Because of the time constraints, some of the sillier episodes actually work better than the ones that rely more on their film counterparts. For instance, Thor throwing a party works as a conceit because that is all that is happening. The episode is not trying to have Thor save the world and not even trying to make Thor a better person who will be worthy to rule. Besides having Thor meet Jane and fall in love, not many parallels exist with the first Thor movie. On the other hand, “What If Ultron Won?” proves a little uneven because it basically has to start with the end of its film counterpart. A voiceover gives all the relevant background information about Ultron and his rise so the episode can jump into Natasha and Clint trying to do something about it. But there is something uncomfortable about having an entire film of tragedy and suffering dismissed into a few sentences of summary so we can get on with the “what if” changes already.

I also found throughout the series that I was a little bothered by how the “What if?” moments were presented. The series is narrated by the Watcher, who observes the multiverse, sworn never to interfere. He likes to drop “deep” statements about how one decision can change everything and one small moment create a whole new world. Sure, maybe in some cases. But a lot of the decisions made are actually ongoing ones. In “What if Killmonger Had Rescued Tony Stark?” for instance, Killmonger rescuing Stark is not the single cause of everything that happens. Tony responds to that moment in a certain way, and then wakes up every day after and makes the same bad choices. And the people around him wake up every day and enable him (hello, Pepper, another silent observer of bad ethics). In the same way, Doctor Strange in “What If Doctor Strange Had Lost His Heart Instead of Hands?” wakes up every day and also makes bad choices, despite the repeated efforts of other people to warn and/or stop him. Reducing characters to one moment in time obscures the fact that they all have agency–and continue to do so. The Watcher would make it seem as if the characters are bound by one bad choice, when, in fact, they are not–as some of them later actually prove.

What If…? proves an interesting thought experiment, but the series is not particularly gripping or memorable. If the series is not going to tie into the greater MCU, thereby compelling me to watch it just for the sake of clarity, I do not think I will continue to keep up with future seasons.

Movie Review: Chaos Walking (2021)

Chaos Walking

I cannot remember the last time I watched a movie as disappointing as Chaos Walking. Knowing that the film is based on the popular teen novel The Knife of Letting Go, I expected an exciting dystopian story about a young man learning that his village leadership harbors secrets. The storyline, however, proves overly simplistic and lackluster, while the characters are undeveloped–as is the romance. Even some fine acting by Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland could not save the film. Chaos Walking is undoubtedly a flop.

Not having read The Knife of Letting Go, I cannot compare the book with the movie adaptation. I can say, however, that the movie made me reconsider my plans to one day read The Knife of Letting Go. Even though dystopian YA books still feel redundant, thanks to the craze for them after the release of The Hunger Games, Chaos Walking shocked me with how simple, unoriginal, and unsurprising the plot is. I knew the big twist about ten minutes into the movie. And what is the point of a dystopian novel if not to surprise readers, along with the protagonist, with some big, terrible truth about the world?

That truth, too, typically says something interesting or important about society, but if there is a message in Chaos Walking, I did not see it. In theory, one should be able to say something insightful about groupthink or mob mentality or even misogyny. But the movie never reaches far enough to provoke thought in the audience. And, in the final moment, it devolves all responsibility for tragedy onto the figure of one man, instead of saying something, too, about the men he led astray.

Chaos Walking is a slow-paced, boring film with a predictable plot and no real depth. I wanted to feel something for the characters, but they are never developed enough for audiences to really sympathize with them, their dreams, and their desires. A half-baked romance/infatuation completes the mess. I would not recommend this film for viewing, nor would I suggest that the producers try for a sequel.

1 star

Thoughts on Netflix’s Shadow and Bone Adaptation (Spoilers)

Normally I do not have a Netflix subscription, but a friend surprised me with a gift card so I could watch Shadow & Bone, so here are some thoughts I had while watching the first season. This comes with the disclaimer that I barely remember reading Shadow & Bone and Siege & Storm, and I never read Ruin & Rising at all. I did read both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.

1. Overall, I Loved the Series

One benefit of barely remembering the books is that I didn’t have a lot of expectations going in to watching the adaptation, either for casting or plot, and I loved most of the choices that were made. I loved pretty much all of the casting choices, particularly for the Darkling and Alina. I was also pretty invested in the story and eager to see what happened next (because I sort of knew but also didn’t know, both because of my memory lapses and because the plot was obviously changed, since the Crows were integrated into Alina’s story).

2. I Agree the Racism Wasn’t Handled Well

I’ve seen a lot of viewers who are not happy the writers decided to make Alina part-Shu and then make it a plot point that she doesn’t quite belong in Ravka and experiences racism because of it. My biggest issue is that I don’t think it was well-integrated. It felt a bit as if the writers were going along, writing their story, and then would suddenly remember Alina’s supposed to face racism and then have a random character shout a racial slur at her and then disappear. A few times Alina tried expand on the point by explaining that she’s used to being Othered because of her race, so being apart because she’s a Grisha with legendary powers isn’t an entirely new feeling for her, but overall it just felt awkwardly done.

3. I’m on the Fence about how the Crows Were Integrated

I loved seeing Kaz and company on screen, and he, Inej, and Jesper were definitely badass. Jesper in particular comes across as having real flair and skill with his guns, which impressed me because he wasn’t my favorite character in Six of Crows or anything, but he’s fabulous in this series. However, I have some reservations about the show writers giving the Crows a task that they, very obviously, are not going to accomplish. As soon as it comes up that their task is to kidnap Alina and bring her back to Ketterdam, viewers know they’re not going to succeed. First, that ruins any sense of suspense. Second, it ruins the idea that Kaz and his friends can accomplish the impossible. Because clearly they do NOT. I’m not sure how they’re going to get out of the mess that failing has put them into in season one, and I don’t know what heists they’ll be up to next, but I do hope they’ll be given more room to actually pull it off this time.

4. Mal Is Way More Awesome Than in the Books

Again, I barely remember the books and I never read Ruin & Rising, but I do remember feeling “meh” about Mal as a love interest while reading. In the show, however, I’m a huge fan. His loyalty to Alina, his deep friendship with her, his protectiveness, and his support are all clear. He also gives her her space to do what she needs to do. If she’s not going to take the hints that he’s in love with her, someone else needs to snatch him up because he’s just incredibly nice!


Netflix’s Bridgerton Might Be a Romance, But It Charmed Me with Its Focus on Family

Bridgerton The Duke and I Discussion Post

Note: I’ve tried to keep this post spoiler-free; however, I do talk about events broadly, so if you prefer no spoilers at all, you probably don’t want to read this.

I’m not a huge romance novel reader. I’ve tried a few romances, and while they were entertaining, I don’t think the genre is really for me. (I’ll spare you a whole description of why; romance fans seem to suffer enough from non-romance readers explaining to them why their preferred genre has no value.) However, I was intrigued by the idea of a romance novel adapted for television, and the previews of Bridgerton‘s lush costuming and dance scenes caught my eye further; I do like a good Regency film. So, as I watched episode after episode, I was delighted to find myself drawn not just into the main story of Daphne’s fake dating turned real dating romance with a handsome duke, but also into the story of the Bridgerton family and all their friends.

To be honest, I think the focal story of Daphne and the duke might be the least interesting part of the series, in spite of the nuance given to the characters: Daphne’s struggle with appearing to be the “perfect” young lady while actually chafing against some of the constraints put on her by society, Simon’s struggle to commit to someone and find love and a family after being rejected by his father for his own imperfections. The actors certainly do well bringing these character traits to the screen, but overall Daphne and Simon still do come across to me a bit too much like the perfect couple (it’s what everyone in society thinks of course, how lovely they are and how enviable their beautiful love story). And while they have their struggles (and a very major fight and breach of trust with each other), it’s still a romance; we all know the happily ever after is coming.

So while the Daphne/Simon romance is fun, I found the show really shone in areas I hadn’t initially expected: in showing the Bridgerton family’s bonds with each other and their friendships with others (especially Eloise Bridgerton and Penelople Featherington). The show opens with chaos, Bridgerton children running about, poking fun at eldest sister Daphne for taking too long to get ready, exasperated that eldest son Anthony is nowhere to be found and is blowing off his responsibilities yet again. But over the course of the show, viewers see how close the Bridgerton children really are, even when they don’t seem to be. Daphne and Anthony fight but also bond over the high expectations placed on them. Benedict and Eloise share secrets. And their mother watches over them all; she has her own flaws, but her love for her family and her fierce protectiveness is charming.

Penelope Featherington is also a delight. While Eloise comes across a bit as the stock “I am opposed to marriage because it will limit me” character, Pen wants to have it all: love and the opportunity to accomplish other things. And she seems to operate on her own moral compass rather than thinking of what society expects of her or even what would benefit the Featherington family as a whole. I think I look forward to seeing in her future seasons most of all.

So, yes, Bridgerton is a romance, and the show sticks in plenty of steamy scenes (which I mostly skipped, so it’s a good thing the Internet informed me of the controversy surrounding one of those scenes with Daphne and Simon because it actually included a major plot point and jumping off place for character development). But the show really develops the characters and puts a larger emphasis on family and friendship than I had initially anticipated, which I really enjoyed.


I Actually Liked Frozen II

Major spoilers for Frozen II ahead!

I waited to watch Frozen II until I could borrow a copy from the library. So, for months, all I heard were cryptic statements from moviegoers that this film was, “Not what people were expecting” and “Very different from the first movie.” No one would say what was apparently off about Frozen II, but, eventually, I started to wonder if anyone had actually enjoyed it. Nevertheless, I put it on hold when it first appeared in the library catalog. And, to my surprise, I found I liked it even more than I had liked Frozen.

In some respects, I can see why some audience members might have had reservations about Frozen II. It is undoubtedly very different the general Disney princess movie. And it is a lot darker than its predecessor. Anna may have turned to ice in Frozen, but that lasted a few seconds, and we all knew she would make it, anyway. In Frozen II, Elsa dies, Olaf melts, and Anna is left all alone to sing a despairing song that suggests she is ready to give up and die herself, rather than face the life ahead of her. Her song is a key part of what makes the film so dark. She gives audiences a taste of what it means to feel real, deep-down grief. She doesn’t quite let them get away with their outsider knowledge that no Disney movie can end so unhappily, right? Surely Olaf and Elsa will come back…right? Even if they can and will, for one moment, Anna makes audiences consider what it would mean if they did not.

Frozen II’s difference from its predecessor is, however, what makes me love it so much. I don’t really need another standard Disney princess film at this point. It was fun to watch Frozen play with Disney princess tropes by revealing how falling in love at first sight can backfire, giving Anna an iceman who likes to “tinkle in the woods” instead of a charming prince, and reminding viewers about the importance of consent in romantic relationships. But, in giving so many knowing nods to past Disney princess tropes, Frozen still feels connected to them. It’s a response to other Disney films, not so much an independent, original film. Plus, it still buys into other Disney princess tropes such as the cute animal sidekick and the happily-ever-after kiss (for Anna, if not for Elsa).

Frozen II breaks away completely from previous princess films, perhaps because it has to. In theory, I suppose it could have given Elsa her own love interest and so remained a typical Disney princess movie. However, that would seem a little repetitive for a sequel. Instead, Frozen II decides to branch out, giving Anna and Elsa an epic adventure–together. (I hated that Frozen is billed as a “sister film” even though they’re not really talking for most of it.) Disney has provided audiences with epic adventures before in films such as Treasure Planet and Atlantis, among others–films that were usually lead by a male character and not part of the princess line. But it feels exciting to have that kind of movie lead by two female protagonists who are breaking out of their traditional Disney princess roles.

I recognize that Frozen II is not a perfect film. Some have pointed out to me that the plotline does not make sense. (Did Frozen’s, though? Really?) I disliked how Anne treated Kristoff, running off without him and seemingly forgetting her existence when she considers there is nothing left to live for with Elsa gone. I questioned why they were talking about marriage when they cannot even communicate with each other on a basic level. However, ultimately, there are a few moments of Frozen II that make it really special, despite its flaws.

Whereas some audience goers seemed uncertain about how dark and how sad the film got, I appreciated the level of emotional depth this gives the film. Anna is overlooked in favor of Elsa and her big numbers, but she is truly the star of Frozen II, demonstrating that one must always do the right thing, even if doing so seems like it could hurt them. Anna decides to work through her seemingly-debilitating grief in order to right a past wrong. And she does so knowing that she will lose everything by doing so. She is truly inspirational and demonstrates a moral courage not many film characters are asked to do.

I also appreciated Elsa’s characterization, however. Even though Elsa is extremely powerful, we see that she continues to struggle with self-doubt. She does not know who she is and she seems unable to accept herself. My favorite part of the film is when, upon searching for someone to give her all the answers, Elsa realizes she is the answer. She already knows who she is and what she can do. All she needs is to is to find the courage to trust in herself, instead of relying on others to giver her confidence. When she accepted herself for the first time, I got chills.

Frozen II has its flaws, perhaps like any story. However, it strengths for me far outweigh its weaknesses. I appreciate the character growth we see in both Anna and Elsa, with Anna choosing to do the right thing no matter the cost, and Elsa discovering her own inner strength. Those are great messages that I can support. And it does not hurt that they are both presented in phenomenal songs.

What did you think of Frozen II?

Klaus (2019 Netflix Original Movie)

I love Christmas movies, and a heart-warming animated film that gets right to the spirit of the Christmas season is an enormous treat.  If you’ve been sitting on the fence about seeing Klaus, I highly recommend it as a movie that will likely be added to the catalogue of films you watch year after year.

The one thing that baffled me a bit about Santa as a child is that there are so many versions of “how Santa came to be,” from movies to books to what random adults are willing to tell you.  Klaus piles on to these versions, even as it’s clearly set in an imaginary world.  So part of me wonders what child me would have done with the idea that Klaus’s version of Santa might not be our version of Santa, while part of me realizes I would likely have been sucked into the story as much as I was as an adult and not overthought the issue.

Because once I got past the fantasy world aspect, a place where postmen are well-trained and apparently venerated (by most people, not all) and where two feuding clans live in perpetual battle in an isolated icy town while a mysterious woodsman lives nearby with a house full of enchanting toys, I was completely charmed.  The world-building is impressive, the plot is engrossing, and the characters easily capture readers’ hearts in spite of any flaws.

Protagonist Jesper starts out spoiled and doing the right things for obviously wrong reasons, but his character arc and his blooming friendship with Klaus make him a character to root for.  And I love that this story is ultimately not just about Klaus or Christmas but ultimately about friendship—the ones that can grow between the feuding families, as well.

Not all of the animated Christmas movies I liked as a kid stand up to rewatching as an adult.  Klaus hooked me first as an adult, and I can imagine myself watching it again and again.