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The Punisher Season 2 Review The Punisher Season 2 Review

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‘The Punisher’ Season 2 Fails to Justify its Existence

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As a character, Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher, and the world which he inhabits can be made either simple or complicated.

Frank Castle’s journey can be either binary, basking in the ultra-violent remnants of the 80s, or be tugged and prodded at in a revisionist sort of fashion, breaking apart action-movie archetypes to either have the one-dimensional outlook of it all be the point in its raw primal emotions, or to actually explore ideas of trauma, war, conspiracy and violence within the setting of a deeper plot.

I praised the first season of Marvel’s The Punisher, back in 2017, for finding a good balance between the two. It tackled some heavy-hitting concepts that are uncharted territory for a comic book show, especially Marvel. Despite its many flaws and reliance on cop/military drama tropes, how season 1 was able to meaningfully articulate its emotional themes of PTSD and empathy is what left the biggest impression on me.

Punisher season 2, however, falls short of reaching any of that. It’s a show that probably doesn’t need to exist, and maybe on some subconscious level, the showrunners know that.

Punisher

Stumbling around in paint-by-number archetypes of redemption and retribution, it would’ve been a crime enough to make an audience go through the cringe-worthiest dialogue this side of Life is Strange (usually delivered via “Amy”, Punisher’s new teenage sidekick). It hacks away at any form of subtlety as to what characters are feeling and how we, the audience, should feel about their feelings.

Character developments made in Season 1 (and by extension, Daredevil Season 2, where The Punisher’s story first began) are discarded for paper mâché versions of the characters, as they meander after the book has already spelled out “The End”.

Whether it’s the unintentional hilarity of the reconstructed Billy Russo, a.k.a. Jigsaw in his “what a 12-year-old thinks mental illness and therapy looks like” mode, and his arts-and-crafts-project mask, or how the show acts as if though NYC is a small town with just two cops and one support group for veterans, the charges go way beyond the shortcomings of dialogue and plot.

What was unique in season 1 is rehashed in season 2, such as the struggle of veterans dealing with civilian life, but in a much more simplistic and juvenile fashion. Much like a lot of this season, it feels more like a vapid retread than a reaffirmation of existing themes.

Society

The Punisher himself feels cheaply brought back to a story that’s already over, having been given moral conflicts that he has long surpassed dealing with in this particular way. His decisions in the show come off as contradictory and confusing, not because of his mental state, but because of the showrunners’ inability to decide how to portray him. This is laughably obvious during the last few seconds of the final episode.

Perhaps the biggest blunder comes from the handling of season 2’s new antagonist, John Pilgrim, an entirely new character created for the show. With John, the show painfully fumbles in creating Christian fundamentalist character with a past as a member of an undefined white supremacist gang, only using these elements as superficial decoration that tells you very little about him a person.

Any potential of depth with John Pilgrim, of which there is a lot, is squandered when the symbolism and imagery it tries to adorn him with turns out to be meaningless. This would be fine if he was supposed to be a one-dimensional character, but clearly, he’s not, so what gives? It’s like watching a high school student give a presentation on a topic they only researched for half an hour on their phone before class started.

At one point in the show, John is shown in a throw of self-flagellation. Considering that this seems out of place with the kind of Christianity he appears to practice, why does he do this? Is there an actual meaning behind it? Nope! Just throw some darts on a board of crazy Christian tropes and see what sticks!

Punisher

All of this is rather unfortunate as The Punisher, as a concept, is an awesome canvas on which to draw all sorts of imagery and ideas that can reach out in all directions outside of just being a cathartic release for violent emotions.

Punisher Season 2 doesn’t even have the latter to offer, and all you’re left with is a badly written show that feels more like the first draft of an outline for a concept that should have been heavily rewritten–if not discarded–rather than a finished product. It simply fails to justify its existence.

In my review for season 1, I had suspected that the show might be cancelled, saying that it “triumphs over anything else put out under the Disney/Marvel label, and as far as I can tell, it won’t happen again”. I guess I was right, even if we did end up getting a second season after all.

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

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‘The World According to Jeff Goldblum’ is a Quirky and Oddly Engrossing Worldview of Modern Culture

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Disney Plus launched on November 12th to the general public and with it came ten new pilot episodes for upcoming original shows including Star Wars: The Mandalorian and Pixar In Real Life. Out of all the original television series to debut on opening day, one strikingly stands out from the rest: a quirky National Geographic docuseries featuring Jurassic Park and Thor: Ragnarok actor Jeff Goldblum that was initially going to air on the television channel before switching over to the digital streaming service.

In the mouse’s newest selection of shows for their Netflix Competitor, variety can be the key to the foundation of building something successful and The World According to Jeff Goldblum might just hit the sweet spot for what this service needs, but it is still notably something that would never be labeled as a reason to buy into Disney Plus. With that being said, viewing a regular conversation with Jeff Goldblum has never been so engrossing before than in this odd gem of a series.

Goldblum Versus The World

The pilot episode of the series turns Goldblum into a comedic ethnographer who indulges himself in the culture of shoe collectors and creators. Goldblum slowly dives into his worldview of the purpose and significance of the common day footwear, while looking into how the business operates and the passion behind those who proclaim shoes to the highest extent. The pilot episode focuses on a theme of revelation while jumping from different specialists within the culture such as basketball teams, business owners, creators, and even YouTube personalities.

If you are a fan of the actor then you should already except what you are about to watch. Goldblum has his typical quirky and childish mannerisms that make him iconic, while he goes around interacting with a vast selection of people who are widely educated about the subject matter that each half-hour episode focuses on. Despite seeming like a show that can easily become a bore to watch, it never loses steam and becomes an exceptionally well-executed documentary with a flair of humor and spice of knowledge thanks to Goldblum’s mesmerizing appearance.

From the perspective of becoming an ethnographer, Goldblum surprisingly does a good job interacting with an audience he typically would never engage with. He never misses a beat as he proceeds to ask serious questions and of course, make humor out of certain situations when appropriate. Never once does he provocatively attempt to embarrass a group of people for mindless entertainment or make fools out of them like other docuseries on specific cultures have.

In fact, Goldblum goes the extra mile to participate in sneaker conventions, recreational basketball games, and even professional science laboratory visits- taking on the tasks that a legitimate ethnographer would have to engage in. All of his crazy yet conventional doings ultimately pays off into what ends up building a captivating show that may even attract audiences who do not care about anything that is being discussed. Goldblum’s personality will miraculously keep you hooked on his wild journeys through everyday life as he attempts to explain his stance on common objects while plunging into a perspective of life he has never once stepped into.

Science, Psychology, and Style

This is a National Geographic production though, after all. It is no surprise that this series would be injected with a relentless amount of historical knowledge that is slowly seeping into the core of the show. In the pilot episode, Goldblum combines science, psychology, and of course eccentric style to form a captivating presentation that is quite unlike any other docuseries. For example, in the pilot episode alone Goldblum covers how shoes work, why the category of clothing is so popular among shoe collectors, and the different art styles of footwear found throughout shoe brands.

That being said, for a series revolving around such a simple concept, there is a substantial amount of content to actually talk about and the production value here is unnecessarily high- hitting that Disney expected production value to the point where its astonishingly remarkable how much passion was actually put into this series. From the editing to the cinematography, this is certainly something that was not made without passion. On-screen graphics are always welcomely flashy, lighting is constantly up to pristine quality, and the focus always remains on the title actor.

Goldblum’s consistent upbeat pazazz and high energy makes this series not only entertaining and relaxing to watch for his comedic appearance, but for an enjoyable source of overall education- something that most other docuseries tend to struggle with when multitasking multiple genres.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Is The World According to Jeff Goldblum worthy of being called a reason to purchase Disney Plus? Absolutely not. Is it worth watching on an empty afternoon though? Unsurprisingly yes. This is a fun family series that is not only educational regarding subject-matter but educational to learn more about Jeff Goldblum himself. Without the big-name actor though it would be hard to imagine why anyone would ever want to watch this series.

Goldblum’s presence allows this series to become a notable piece of content available on the streaming service, however, without him, it would be nothing but another typical documentary series with no real focus. It is entertaining until the very end and is keen on ending off on a positive punchline to keep you coming back next time. Simply put, it is another great addition to Disney Plus’s colossal lineup that will seemingly never stop producing high-quality content.

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The Mandalorian’s First Episode is an Impressively Lush, Spaghetti Western-inspired Introduction to its World

The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode One Review: “Chapter One”

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The Mandalorian Chapter One

George Lucas famously took inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress when first writing his treatment of what was then titled The Star Wars; it’s pretty much why we spend the first twenty minutes of A New Hope with R2-D2 and C3-PO. He also used many of its shot compositions, but ultimately reconstituted the pastiche through a unique, worn science fantasy style into what we collectively recognise as Star Wars: A New Hope. In the ensuing four decades, the Star Wars franchise has looked well beyond Kurosawa for its cinematic language, channeling everything from gangster movies to political thrillers to survival horror to wuxia through its peculiar galactic design.

Now, to the delight of everyone who has ever wanted Star Wars to be a Western since seeing gunslinger Boba Fett, The Mandalorian is here to satisfy under auspices of director Dave Filoni.

That “Chapter One” is a meditative and deliberate character study where nothing extraordinary happens, and yet is still riveting, suggests that The Mandalorian will be a complex and thoughtful offering.

The first episode, titled “Chapter One,” is a tale of two halves, and within those halves are two different Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. As with that genre, the exposition is minimal; yet, accepting the basic conceit as one does with a Western — in this case, the eponymous Mandalorian (forever the ‘Mando’ with No Name, played by Pedro Pascal) is a gun-toting bounty hunter who goes around chasing renegades — the rest is parsed out. Given the series is so stylistically steeped in that heritage, it is fruitful to analyse The Mandalorian in the context of its spaghetti western influences.

The Mandalorian strides toward town amid a flurry of snow

The opening moments find the Mandalorian checking a transponder on some icy planet amidst a sleet storm, then ambling towards some podunk outpost framed by a wide shot in much the way Stony the gunman did in the beginning of Once Upon A Time In The West. The subsequent scene, in a bar, reflects Once Upon A Time In The West’s saloon confrontation as well — if not for the actual exchanges, then for the chiaroscuro contrast in the set lighting, the cutting to the other patrons’ reaction to accentuate unease, and the close-ups of all involved. Ludwig Göransson even tries for something akin to the famous aching harmonica, but lower-pitched with woodwinds.

Unlike Cheyenne and Harmonica in Leone’s masterpiece, “Chapter One” sees the Mandalorian break the tension by breaking a few heads, as he quickly comes to collect his target fugitive: a blue-gilled alien named Mythrol (Horatio Sanz), who immediately tries to talk his way out of it. This is one of many naturally-lit, seated conversations that frame the episode, with each successively coaxing a little more emotion from the initially silent Mandalorian. It’s a simple but effective technique, providing expositional context for the uninitiated, introducing the other starring actors, and it ultimately suggests a nuanced character beneath that blank helmet.

The affable-yet-blubbering Mythrol’s juxtaposing role in “Chapter One” efficiently emphasises how imposing the bounty hunter is. For example, Mythrol is a terrified wreck as the Mandalorian clinically dispatches a giant, scaly walrus called Ravinak. His nervous yammering in the face of the Mandalorian’s austere silence aboard the starship makes his request to “evacuate a thorax” far more intimidating. And when Mythrol inevitably tries to plan his escape, the Mandalorian appears like a phantom, mercilessly freezing him in carbonite (but not before Mythrol laments that he won’t be seeing his family by “Life Day”…The Star Wars Holiday Remake, coming to Disney+ this December). To his enemies, this Mandalorian is as much of a frigid void as carbonite.

Werner Herzog talks to The Mandalorian

To his employers, however, he is marginally more talkative. Carl Weathers as Greef Carga, a bounty hunter guild-master and form of bail bondsman, along with Werner Herzog (presumably as “Werner Herzog”), have sparse, largely expositional dialogue, but both immediately create an engaging dynamic with the Mandalorian on the strength of their acting. Weathers especially makes the most of deviously trying to pass off Imperial Credits in the aftermath of the defunct Galactic Empire; the mixture of indignation and exasperation when exclaiming, “They still spend!” is perfect. Werner Herzog essentially just has to intone in his distinctive German accent, but clad in black and surrounded by ex-Stormtrooper bodyguards, it’s no wonder that the Mandalorian is unsettled by his new client’s dubious proposition.

However, the fortune he will be paid in Beskar — the metal alloy used in Mandalorian armour that was ostensibly robbed by the Empire from the Mandalorian homeworld — allows him to ignore the obliquely threatening idea that it is “good to restore the natural order of things after a period of such disarray.”

These conversations are interspersed with brief vignettes of the Mandalorian walking about town ignoring roasted and caged Kowakian monkey-lizards, or through dark alleyways and halls, observed by other mute bounty hunters, which serves to distance him from the liveliness of the society. One gets the feeling that he is less troubled in the desolate plains of foreign planets, or in the cold steel of his spaceship.

Leone’s spaghetti westerns were enriched by a masterful, atmospheric craftsmanship that complemented the profoundly beautiful composition of the cinematography; in that vein, “Chapter One” is very much a pensive tonal piece over anything else, happy to leave much to situational subtext while lingering on that inscrutable helmet.

Only once does the episode pierce through the mask to the man behind it, with disorientating flashbacks to the childhood trauma punctuated by the triggering anvil strikes of a newly minted shoulder plate from the Beskar ingot he received as down-payment.

The Mandalorian walks through to the blacksmith

Each interaction — with his victims, his superiors, his equals — makes the Mandalorian slightly more forthcoming, more human, and less robotic, like the droids he so detests. Credit should be given to Pedro Pascal and his doubles’ physical acting. As the Mandalorian’s emotions come increasingly to the fore, Pascal’s physical demeanour and movements become less constricted, and instead grow more loping and loose. Now that his shoulder plate signet is ceremonially fitted onto his ensemble, it will be interesting to see how the rest of this season explores the broken man occupying the armour, and whether it is a protective halo to suppress his nightmares, or a cage for reawakening humanity.

With humanity comes fallibility, and while the second half of “Chapter One” mirrors the beginning of the first — with a transponder held aloft — here The Mandalorian transitions to its second Leone work, A Fistful of Dollars. Almost immediately after he steps onto the planet’s surface, the Mandalorian nearly has his arm ripped off by a bipedal fish-headed monster called a “Blurrg.” He genuinely becomes “The Mando with No Name,” because Clint Eastwood’s “Stranger” in the Dollars Trilogy couldn’t take a punch either, despite being a fantastic gunman. It’s also possibly the first time a feted, cool, masked Star Wars character anticlimactically getting knocked about hasn’t infinitely diminished the allure; rather, it acts as a reminder of the tenuousness of their line of work. It only took thirty-six years, but Star Wars has finally cracked the “Boba Fett Syndrome.”

The Mandalorian is rescued by Nick Nolte’s pig-faced Kuiil, whose facial hair is alike José Calvo’s helpful innkeeper, Silvanito, in A Fistful of Dollars. Kuiil plays a similar role to Silvanito, feeding and resting the Mandalorian, then guiding him to where the bandits are hiding. There is a shot of the two looking down over a ridge to observe the bandits that echoes Eastwood and Calvo watching the massacre of Mexican soldiers.  

Mando and Kuiil talk about the situation

The closing act of “Chapter One,” as one would expect for a Western, is a shootout (heavily promoted in the previews). Things are complicated, however, by the presence of the unintentionally deadpanning bounty hunter murder-bot, IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi), who shoots before he asks questions like whether the Mandalorian is also part of the bounty hunter’s guild. However, the two team up in order to try to kill the bandits and split the reward. In a true sign of growth, the Mandalorian goes from dismissing droid landspeeder taxi drivers at the start of the episode to repeatedly stopping IG-11 from initiating self-destruction. It’s a darkly funny scene, and like most of the episode, is tonally on point amidst gunfire.

In general, the comedic style in “Chapter One” is comparable to the Original Trilogy in its understated and wry sensibility. The comedy is indicative of larger reassuring qualities that the episode possesses: it is atmospherically, thematically, and tonally cogent. This returns us to the discussion at the start of the review, and poses a question: with the variety of genres Star Wars has subsumed, one can reasonably ask, what is Star Wars “supposed” to be? And therefore, does The Mandalorian feel like Star Wars?

Lest this be mistaken for some covert screed about agendas and ruined childhoods, it is an important question, because it is one that Star Wars has been asking itself since at least 1999, when The Phantom Menace first arrived with its diplomatic negotiations and midichlorians. During Dave Filoni’s show-running and development of The Clone Wars and later Rebels, physical and mystical manifestations of The Force were introduced. Rebels even had time-travel! Rogue One had moral turpitude and bleakness.

Relating to comedy, Lawrence Kasdan’s script made The Force Awakens probably the most overtly comical Star Wars film to date. Meanwhile, one of the frequent criticisms levied at the divisive The Last Jedi was that the so-called “gag humour” pushed things too far for Star Wars. So The Mandalorian and “Chapter One” arrives at a crucial, but not unusual moment in helping to set standards for what Star Wars is — or more accurately, illustrating what it could be.

The Mandalorian Chapter One

For that reason, having Dave Filoni direct the first episode of this venture into live-action television was a smart decision. Some shot compositions are deceptively beautiful in their clarity, the mark of a masterful animator who appreciates the importance of artistic staging and creating coherent lines of focus. Furthermore, at this point, Filoni may have contributed more hours to Star Wars canon than George Lucas himself. As Lucas’ padawan, he has a firm grasp of navigating the tonal and shifts within the realm of Star Wars, while still having learnt the core tenets of the series directly from the source.

However, he has frankly executed those ideas with more panache than Lucas managed post-1999. At a time when legions of people are imposing upon the franchise some decades-worth of expectations of what they believe a galaxy far far away should be and represent, The Mandalorian is a nexus of both traditional Star Wars adventure and pushing it towards what fans always imagined the imperfect films to be. That “Chapter One” is a meditative and deliberate character study where nothing extraordinary happens, and yet is still riveting, suggests that The Mandalorian will be a complex and thoughtful offering.

That was a lie about nothing extraordinary happening. There is one revelation at the very end that serves as a brilliant hook for the next episode and has ramifications for Star Wars as a whole. Suffice to say, it brings the Mandalorian’s arc in “Chapter One” to a thematically interesting place that is consistent with his burgeoning humanity. The consequences will surely propel the conflicts for the rest of the season, and it’s the sort of momentous event that gives renewed hope the tumultuous times Star Wars finds itself in won’t be the death of its potential inventiveness as a galaxy-wide lens for exploring compelling concepts.

Other Thoughts/Observations:

The Mandalorian and Greef Carga’s conversation references Star Wars: Underworld, the unproduced live-action series George Lucas had proposed and commissioned purportedly fifty scripts for, and the main reason why he made Clone Wars in the first place — to see if Star Wars was viable on a television budget.

Armourer (Emily Swallow) has an interesting Mandalorian costume that mixes a Viking fur cloak and a cross between a Corinthian and Trojan helmet. Also, watching two Mandalorians sit across from each other, barely speaking with neither removing their helmets, is the sort of awkward visual comedy I hope we see more of amongst these reserved bounty hunters.

Kuiil witheringly chastising the Mandalorian that his ancestors rode “Mythosaurs” and he can barely mount a Blurrg was funny.

Similarly, Brian Posehn’s taxi driver showing up in a spluttering, barely functioning landspeeder was a good joke. They also got a wide-shot landspeeder and screen-wipe in! It’s like poetry!

The CGI for the Bluurgs was generally good, but the combination of the bright daylight and their smooth skin texture made the effect much more obvious than others. Still, we’ve come a long way from staccato creatures incongruously inserted into the Original Trilogy. Also, IG-11 looks so photorealistic!

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Before the Internet

Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own”

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Watchmen Podcast If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own

With its fourth episode, titled “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own,” HBO’s Watchmen examines questions of legacy and inheritance but also leaves the viewers scratching their heads trying to figure out what the series is all about. There are countless jaw-dropping scenes in the fourth episode, but there are also scenes that have didn’t quite work for us. Needless to say, the episode left us somewhat disappointed this week. Tune in and find out why.

Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this fourth episode, Simon Howell, Kate Rennebohm and Randy Dankievitch, take a deep dive into “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” and note some of the more astonishing facts of the episode you might have missed.

And for those of you wondering, in order to keep things simple, we’ve decided to upload each episode to the same feed as our other podcast, Before the Internet.

Listen here on iTunes or listen here on Stitcher. 

You can also catch our show on Pocketcast and on Spotify, or simply listen via the player embedded below.

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