TV Review: Supergirl – “Medusa”

Supergirl - "Medusa"
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Supergirl reviews here.
It’s crossover week in the Arrowverse! And though Supergirl is joining the Flash, Green Arrow, and the Legends of Tomorrow in the “Invasion” event, this week’s Supergirl episode was, for the most part, unrelated. On its own, “Medusa” was a focused and streamlined episode that delivered some unexpected but satisfying payoffs.
The plot of “Medusa” was almost exclusively devoted to Cadmus. That alone was a major step up from last week in that it wasn’t juggling more subplots than it could handle. The absence of Guardian’s screentime-devouring story helped “Medusa” feel tight and purposeful.
Cadmus’s latest evil plan was to unleash a deadly aliens-only virus on National City. What’s interesting about this was Kara’s knowledge of Lillian Luthor’s identity, which allowed her to rope Lena Luthor into the events. “Medusa” cleverly played with the audience’s expectations of Lena’s allegiance, feigning a dark turn only to have her play a crucial role in Lillian’s arrest. I’m glad Supergirl is standing by the decision to have Lena be one of the good guys.
J'onn and AlexLillian’s defeat and arrest is a big development. Will she bounce back quickly, or is Cadmus going to be temporarily put on hold for now? We caught a brief glimpse of seemingly nefarious aliens on the hunt for Mon-El this week—could they be the next major villains for the short run?
Speaking of Mon-El, he has the potential to be a very good character, but as a romantic interest he’s just bland. So I’m glad that it looks like he’s going to become relevant in a major way soon. Because right now he’s nothing more than a love interest that literally fell out of the sky.
I am, however, a bit let down by how quickly J’onn’s mutation into a White Martian was resolved. Though he got a cool moment of would-be self-sacrifice, I don’t like how quickly he was healed from what should have been a more meaty plot development.
“Medusa” also had some heartwarming moments courtesy of Alex, who both came out to her mother, and whose feelings for Maggie were finally reciprocated. The scene where she tried to come out over Thanksgiving dinner only to have her declaration be hijacked by James and Winn was humourous, in a frustrating sort of way.
The cliffhanger of the episode, of course, was the lead-in to the “Invasion!” crossover. Even though I know all the CW shows exist on the same channel and in the same multiverse, it was still incredibly cool to see Barry and Cisco land on Kara’s Earth. And super exciting when the end title card read “To be continued on The Flash“!

Rating: (4/5)

TV Review: The Flash – “Killer Frost”

Flash and Julian Albert
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find my all of my reviews of The Flash here.
At last: Killer Frost.
Caitlin Snow’s metamorphosis into her icy persona took a major step forward in an episode that proved The Flash‘s interpersonal relationships were much stronger than this season’s main plot has been so far.
“Killer Frost” picks up at last week’s cliffhanger, with Wally encased in a cocoon and Barry at Savitar’s mercy. The new villain easily overpowered Flash, dragging him around the city like a rag doll. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before. Because, yes, that’s exactly what Reverse-Flash and Zoom did in the last two seasons.
This highlights a major problem with the continuing use of speedsters as villains: seasons become repetitive. At this point, there’s very little to differentiate Savitar from Zoom, aside from proclamations of godhood and an over-produced armoured suit. Which in my opinion is inferior to Zoom’s simpler but much more frightening, hollow-eyed look.
Killer FrostLuckily, “Killer Frost” quickly moved past the unimpressive villain and focused on a much more interesting, personal, and emotionally significant antagonist: Caitlin Snow herself. This shift was a marked improvement that propelled this week’s Flash to greatness.
The Flash‘s strongest asset has always been Team Flash. So to see Caitlin turn dark and say such venomous things to her friends, to witness the emotional reactions from Cisco and the others, and to put them in a situation where they had to fight her was incredibly poignant.
Now, I will note that I personally wasn’t a fan of the idea that Caitlin’s powers alone would turn her evil. I would have preferred a long arc that saw Caitlin transform into her darker self more organically, rather than a split-personality situation.
Despite that, “Killer Frost” did a great job making Caitlin’s anger and hate believable by laying the blame at Barry’s feet. Killer Frost accusing Barry of selfishness and ruining the lives of people around him was powerful and resonant because there was an element of truth to it. I have been waiting for Barry to get royally chewed out for messing things up so spectacularly since “Flashpoint”, and “Killer Frost” finally made me feel the consequences of Barry’s actions.
More importantly, this finally allowed Barry to truly feel regret for those actions and to atone for them in a meaningful way. First, his acceptance of his guilt when he offered to literally sacrifice himself to Caitlin. Then, his fractured friendship with Cisco, who at last discovered that Dante’s death was caused by Barry. And finally, a tangible loss in the form of quitting his job to protect Caitlin. The shot of him leaving his lab, looking up at the ceiling where the lightning first struck him, was particularly effective.
The emotional conflict of the episode was dominant enough that it’s easy to forget two major developments also took place. First, Wally got his powers and became a speedster. And the episode’s cliffhanger: Julian is Doctor Alchemy. It’s almost disappointing how obvious that was, but at the same time I’m hoping this finally makes Alchemy—and by extension Savitar—an interesting villain.

(4/5)

TV Review: Supergirl – “The Darkest Place”

Supergirl - "The Darkest Place"
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Supergirl reviews here.
Supergirl pushed the Cadmus storyline to the forefront in “The Darkest Place”. Alongside this were several major revelations and developments, which almost didn’t get their due thanks to the episode devoting too much time to a secondary, much less interesting subplot.
The subplot in question belonged to James, a.k.a. Guardian. I was (and in theory still am) in support of this development of James’s character, as it gave him something interesting to do. But this week, he ate up too much screen time for a subplot that wasn’t even very good. It was basically a watered-down, abridged version of a story Arrow did better much last week.
It also hurt that this secondary plot line was totally detached from the main narrative. I’m sure that James’s side quest will become relevant to the primary plot in the future, but until then, the Guardian arc feels like a separate, inferior show intruding on Supergirl.
GuardianIt’s unfortunate, because “The Darkest Place” was a busy and important episode. Supergirl was captured by Cadmus, using Mon-El as bait. She fought with the original Hank Henshaw, who a) was alive! and b) had become Cyborg Superman, the identity his comic book counterpart is known for. She was depowered and had her blood taken by Lillian Luthor, who shed a small bit of light on her motivations. And she was freed by none other than the also very much alive Jeremiah Danvers.
Those were major developments, but they didn’t land with as much impact as they needed to. Mostly because aforementioned unfocused nature of “The Darkest Place” underplayed the importance of what was going on at Cadmus. Still, the bombshells dropped were both exciting and promising for the future of the season, if it can pull itself together.
Elsewhere, J’onn discovered that the blood he received from M’gann was in fact White Martian blood that was slowly transforming him into a White Martian. This led to a strong fight scene between J’onn and M’gann, as well as the latter’s imprisonment. Regretful though she may be, her participation in the genocide of the Green Martians, unwilling or otherwise, couldn’t go unaddressed. So I’m liking where this story is going so far.
We also saw some continuation of Alex’s romantic woes, as she first fought then eventually made up with Maggie after last week’s events. It wasn’t as strong as previous weeks’ material, but then again, she can’t be expected to carry every episode on her own.

(3.5/5)

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World is back in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a delightful and charming if imperfect movie with wondrous creatures, lovable characters, and the same dazzling magic that made us fall in love with the Harry Potter world in the first place.
Fantastic Beasts tells the story of magizoologist Newt Scamander, who arrives in New York with a case full of magical creatures. A case that is accidentally opened, letting its inhabitants loose and sending Newt and his new allies on an adventure to find the titular fantastic beasts. At the same time, a mysterious dark force is wreaking havoc in the city, threatening to expose the magical community and start a war with the non-magical world.
If there’s a flaw to Fantastic Beasts, it’s the dissonance between those two parallel but mostly unrelated and tonally different narratives. The two plot threads overlap and eventually intersect when the magical creatures are accused of causing the dark force’s mayhem, pulling Newt into the other, larger narrative halfway through the movie. But even then they feel like two stories that cross paths rather than coming together seamlessly.
Luckily, Fantastic Beasts manages to make up for its structural issues.
One of the film’s biggest successes is the charming cast of main characters. From the eccentric Newt Scamander, excellently portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, to down-to-Earth ex-Auror Tina Goldstein and her chirpy Legilimens sister, Queenie. Even the magical creatures are characters in their own right, like the clingy Bowtruckle or the adorable and hilarious Niffler that stole every scene it was in.
NifflerBut the heart of the main cast is Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj (a.k.a. Muggle) who is accidentally drawn into the Wizarding World. He acts as the audience surrogate, reacting with awe and wonder at the magic around him, as well as the comic relief. And comedian Fogler nails both the humour and Jacob’s endearing likeability and sweetness.
On the darker side of things, Colin Farrell excels as the charismatic yet menacing Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves. Also notable is Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone, a reclusive boy raised by a zealous anti-witch adoptive mother. With Credence, Fantastic Beasts comes very close to making a metaphor for repressed teenagers and fanatical parents, but doesn’t quite go all the way.
Another one of Fantastic Beasts‘s strengths, and a treat for Harry Potter fans, is its imagination and world-building. The fantastic beasts themselves do not disappoint, not just in design but also in creative magical attributes. I was delighted to see creatures I’d only read about, like the size-changing Occamy, the often-invisible Demiguise, and the majestic, weather-changing Thunderbird. The sequence that takes place inside Newt’s suitcase/natural preserve is a standout.
Fantastic Beasts is also an excellent expansion of the Wizarding World, showing us both a new location and time period of the magical community. It adds elements to the existing mythology, often contrasting them with what we know from Harry Potter. The Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA) is an example of this, drawing comparisons to the Ministry of Magic yet dazzling in its own right. But Rowling also takes familiar elements and puts a different spin on them in this new environment, with ideas like house-elf bartenders or a goblin gangster (played by Ron Perlman). In that regard, Newt Scamander is as much of an audience stand-in for Harry Potter fans seeing this fresh side of the magical world as Jacob Kowalski is to newcomers unfamiliar with it.
Between the rich, detailed world, the creativity, the creatures, the characters’ quirks and even their names, this movie has J. K. Rowling written all over it. Fans of hers will recognize and delight at her trademark voice. It’s also clear that this is her first script, as indicated by the aforementioned dissonant narrative and the slightly uneven pacing. But for a first attempt at a new medium, Fantastic Beasts is a worthy effort by the beloved novelist.
Fans will also find plenty of tidbits to dissect and speculate about in anticipation for the sequel. Though Fantastic Beasts works surprisingly well as a standalone adventure, it also lays the groundwork for the future. By the end of the film the trajectory of this series begins to take shape, reassuring us that maybe five movies isn’t stretching it too thin after all. Time will tell how the story will grow, but for now I am happy to slip back into the Wizarding World like a warm, familiar blanket.

(4/5)

TV Review: Arrow – “Vigilante”

Arrow - "Vigilante"
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Arrow reviews here.
Arrow‘s strong streak is showing no signs of stopping. Season 5 delivered another all-around great episode in “Vigilante”, which featured a compelling antagonist, excellent character work, and solid flashbacks.
Most of the episode focused heavily on the titular Vigilante, a new masked crime-fighter in Star City whose “shoot first, ask questions later” demeanour made him an enemy of Team Arrow.
Thematically, Vigilante was an excellent villain. His existence and effectiveness raised interesting questions for Oliver. Are these new costumed crime-fighters inspired by Green Arrow, or do they exist because Green Arrow hasn’t been doing enough? For the Team Arrow recruits, it’s likely the former. But for Vigilante? Definitely the latter. Considering Oliver just went back to being OK with killing, Vigilante forcing him to question his methods was also well-timed.
Konstantin KovarThematic relevance helped, but Vigilante was also a strong character in his own right, despite never being unmasked. His costume is great, his fight scenes are strong, and his weapons certainly make him imposing. I’m glad he wasn’t dispatched in this episode, either. This is the kind of character you want to keep around.
The major subplot in “Vigilante” involved Thea and Quentin, two characters who’ve truly shone this year thanks to the chemistry and performances of Willa Holland and Paul Blackthorne. This excellent pairing continued to bear fruit, as they dealt with Quentin’s alcoholism head-on.
This subplot was notable in that it directly addressed last week’s cliffhanger. It was yet another sign of conscious improvement on the Arrow writers’ part. Instead of secret-keeping and drawing out the mystery, Quentin told Thea about blacking out and finding Prometheus’s throwing star. Even better, they both dismissed the idea that Quentin could somehow be Prometheus, which was a relief. That suggestion was not believable from the start.
The flashbacks in “Vigilante” were strong as well, mostly thanks to Dolph Lundgren’s Konstantin Kovar. He was both charismatic and powerful, his merciless beatdown of Oliver notably impressive. Plus, the Bratva’s allegiance to Oliver was put into question, introducing some welcome ambiguity.
“Vigilante” ended on a much stronger cliffhanger than last week. I don’t know if Artemis is truly a traitor or if there is more to that reveal than meets the eye. But either way, hopefully with this development Artemis no longer remains the least developec character on Team Arrow.

(4/5)