Disappointing Science Fiction and Fantasy 😕
by Kristin Battestella
Sometimes you just want a good science fiction tale, comic book cuddle, or fantasy escapade. Unfortunately, none of these shows, adaptations, or recent films fit the sci-fi action or magical adventure bill. Pity.
Bloodshot – I used to love Valiant Comics such as Eternal Warrior and Timewalker, but their Unity crossover was one of the chases that really put me off collecting comic books and I'm still jaded about shared universe ambitions because of it. Likewise, this 2020 adaptation feels better left in 1994 where tween me wouldn't notice the PG-13 ripoff of Universal Soldier. International locations and exotic looks were for foreign market appeal pre-COVID, and the sun kissed sexy remains tame teen fantasy. The juvenile bad guys in socks with sandals dancing to “Psycho Killer” are terribly hip for a young audience yet the bound torment and physical violence would be for an adult viewer more familiar with an older comic book. Intruding humor and slow credits over the titular revival thirteen minutes in cut any momentum or mystery while voices and dialogue stay low as if to assure we can't hear the script and delivery are sub par. Tough one on one attacks, crunching bones, and personal assaults are real world grim compared to rah rah cool gunfire and grenades, and the successful resurrected realization feels hollow against the seemingly more interesting but unseen Frankenstein trial and error prior. Fast moving conversations leave little time to reflect; the camera is always on the move even when people are standing still, and personnel are defined by their enhancements instead of who they are. The evil organization is cool or screws up as needed, and the quirky IT support are stereotypically Black, Indian, or Asians incompetent for using open source code or geniuses for hacking the system. Aerial views, cityscape transitions, swimming babes, and pointless scenes without our subject break the point of view nightmares and no memories angst, but he can lift really heavy weights and punch through the sand bag so that makes all the trauma super! Serious debates are too brief as uninspired writing and direction place cool over substance – internal conflict and implanted recollections are less important than montages filled with facility tours, cutting edge equipment, biochemical tissues, neurons, microscopic zooms, computer screens, instantaneous travel, downloaded knowledge, and technological cheats. Snow versus fire, colorful red flairs, and overhead panoramas can't save anonymous shootouts, typical action chases, and same old road rage amid impersonal, overly complicated, and poorly choreographed fights that are slow motion banal or sped up in apparent post production compensation. The memory resets get old fast, and the overemphasis on unbelievable CGI and insipid world building matches the surprisingly uninspired Vin Diesel's (Pitch Black) chewing glass graveling. Egocentric doctor Guy Pearce (Brimstone) is fine as usual, but one on one scenes between them feel like they are in two different movies with Pearce standing out enough for us to wonder why this isn't told from the mad science perspective. Choices and consequences or commentary about America making dead soldiers daily when not selling technologically advanced warfare to the highest bidder get lost in the team laughing over the repetitive mission stories and penis jokes, and all the faux revenge to eliminate the competition seems like such convoluted work when the augmented team could have just grown to question the falsified intel. The dead revival revenge isn't as emotional as it should be, and ironically, if this had been a hard R in the nineties sans CGI with Pearce as Bloodshot and nothing to rely upon except the eponymous pain, it would have been sweet!
Cursed – This 2020 ten episode Netflix season based on the Frank Miller comic retelling a young Nimue Lady of the Lake starts with cliché music and styles. The fantasy greenery, ruins, and fey magic, however, show promise as Nimue struggles with her budding powers, fearful village, and running away from her priestess mother. Castles, colorful bazaars, royal courts, and paladins versus fey folk set the scene, but the graphic novel, 300-esque scene transitions are disruptive and unnecessary in a medieval narrative with pyres, full moons, rituals, and magical people. Fiery flashbacks detail corrupt priests and burning violence, but it's tough to tell who or what's important between a drunk Merlin, shouting Uther, convenient powers, and poor action choreography with random running to and fro. Helpful weapons are both ignored or the basis for a mystical quest that doesn't really happen once the focus cuts away from Nimue too soon. Without the redundant bears, wolves, chases, and crap men, this would have been a much shorter four hours or even a Nimue movie. Anonymous henchman and undefined demons go back and forth while pieces of flashback events and everyone talking about what happened make for a sluggish pace and dragging structure. Villains in red and a headhunting Lancelot are defined simply by their garments, and all the fey wear weird brain braids to distinguish their characters as cryptic awe, blood rain, three headed babies, and flashback memories out of Nimue's point of view waste time. Interesting allies and refreshed Arthurian relations don't go anywhere because previous episodes' actions are constantly reiterated. Attention spans aren't that short – especially if we have built trust in the main character – but it seems like the show doesn't trust its lead when she is the best part. The modern, hooded, and emo men are jarring against fey remedies used to heal a paladin who attacked our Lady, a fine character moment lost amid bullies in pubs and who's got the sword hot potato. The first three episodes toil but skipping to Episode Six only begats stereotypical lesbian deaths and heterosexual triangles that again won't let our heroine stand on her own. Parental twists aren't shocking, and there is no attempt at holding the sword properly or training in any kind of skill or magic because the past – where we apparently should have been thanks to sooo many flashbacks – is more important. Rather than a character telling his murderous regrets where there's a chance for growth, the tires just keep treading between gory adult fantasy moments, redundant flashbacks, and young romance that don't go together. Had this not had Arthurian names, you wouldn't even recognize Camelot thanks to this formulaic Netflix mold. I kept watching more episodes than this deserved hoping it would get better but it doesn't.
Underwater – Maps and Mariana Trench headlines with obvious keywords such as dangerous, mystery, and anomaly open this 2020 sci-fi horror thriller starring Kristen Stewart (Lizzie) before an existential narration, contemplation over a spider circling the drain, and sexy camera gazes over her skimpy sports bra. Cluttered interiors, old hospital green, and crummy locker room congestion better set the silent ill at ease isolation before water cascades, structural breaches, and compromised pressure. Hectic running, rig damage, and bulkhead malfunctions are fine; herky jerky camera moments are okay. However both together aren't in media res destruction when we have no idea what's happening. Buckling metals, intercom static, and the frazzled viewpoint of our strung out engineer contrast the trying to sound hip tech lingo, and the poor science underestimates today's informed audience. The “I can't” women are shaky, weak, and coddled, and it's really weird that their tiny panties are one of many Alien imitations here. Captain Vincent Cassel (A Dangerous Method) provides facts on the situation as if he's in a different movie, and the lack of knowledge from the others make them seem like coeds on a tour that must be escorted to safety rather than adults who worked on the rig. Rising waters and airlock apprehension are relatable aquaphobia and claustrophobia, but unnecessary comic relief hampers heavy breathing, distress signals, and growling unknowns – breaking the inside and outside intercut tension before it's started. Repeatedly shouting, “Did you see that?” like this is Ghost Hunters does nothing when viewers can't see anything amid the murky darkness, hectic camerawork, and fast editing. Strange creatures are carried inside sans procedure or even a pair of gloves while they poke at the gooey tentacles. The supposed plan to exit across the perilous sea floor to another station seems forgotten as the survivors somehow stop inside every few minutes to remove their helmets – obviously so we can see the actors compared to something more practical like sliding up or locking down face shields. In 1986 Aliens had their bottom barrel marines outfitted with better gear, but this team has no cameras, infrared, or tracking equipment. Of course, there's time to point out product placement Cheetos and Moon Pies in the flotsam, yet speculation about this being their fault for drilling too far down is a throwaway line rather than true foreshadowing. The camera refuses to stay still as intriguing creatures attack the suit sacred while spins and whooshes divide the team for cliché sacrifices and derivative dangers. Visual suggestions that our emo engineer is cracking amid further separation and radio silence would be understandable except she was already frazzled before the disaster and not because of any ominous discoveries. Any reference to seemingly precious glasses or necklaces is dropped, for wearing elbow and knee pads with your tiny bra and panties is apparently more important than having our protagonist struggle, and having her solo on the trek or having known the creature truth all along would have been better intense. What happens next is left to classified files and cover up headlines as the credits roll, and conspiracies explaining it was all Cthulhu were post-production decisions only realized on the movie's Wikipedia page. This could have been a harrowing tale, but the mishmash encounters, inexplicable characterizations, and poor action amount to a whole lot of nothing.
Couldn't Get Passed the First Episode
Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands – This 2016 thirteen episode British production starring Joanne Whalley (Willow) and William Hurt (Children of a Lesser God) aired stateside on the now defunct Esquire Network of all places. Opening beaches, chases, leather, axes, and swords show promise, but terrible and I mean terrible CGI monsters intrude upon the horses, medieval village, mead hall, and beautiful scenery like a bad cartoon. Rather than seeing the cliché boy hero raised by Hrothgar properly, Hurt is relegated to deathbed and flashbacks as grown up Beowulf returns with a serious chip on his shoulder, clashing with the modern banter and contrived who is who introductions. The court intrigue is frustratingly forced, and dear me oh my the music and opening titles are major, major, embarrassing Game of Thrones copycats. Guyliner ruins the smoke, banners, capes, and effigies while undynamic players struggle with weak dialogue. The setting the scene information dumps are much too much, people we just met get killed, and there's barely room for half the crowded cast. The trying to be suspicious or ominous tone is all over the place, creating villainous people and contemporary women when we already had one of literature's original villains – and his mother. I know students may struggle with the epic in school, but the original is the best gateway compared to this running of a thousand year old story into the ground. If you don't have the budget for CGI, don't base you entire fantasy around it. Especially Beowulf, which I would love to see done without a visual Grendel, only the sounds at the door and the fear in the hall. Then again, why can't somebody just tell the poem like it is before they go and fuck it up? I hate being scathing, but names aside, nothing about this resembles Beowulf.