RPG Characters Update

In October 2020 I released an article about all the different RPG characters I’ve played over the years. I doubt anyone cared about it, but I had fun writing it. Well, I’ve continued playing games since then and have new tales and new characters I wanted to share. The past three months in particular have been some of the most active for me in terms of RPGs… which is actually a pretty big contributor for why I haven’t posted anything on the blog lately, I’ve been really struggling to find time between RPG nights, playing Magic: The Gathering or working my way through more Resident Evil games for future Love/Hate articles. However, let’s take a moment to look into the adventures of my RPG characters, new and old alike!

Orome Arrick (FFG Star Wars)

Orome was very much a new character of mine when I wrote the last article, but we’re now more than 40 sessions deep into this story and he’s really had a chance to develop, find some glory and wallow in his failings. This campaign has been grueling, with the party constantly drowning in debt, wanted across the galaxy and struggling to eke out any meaningful victories. However, Orome’s crowning achievement has to be when the party had a mission on Bespin to pull off a massive heist (we were running The Jewel of Yavin source book at the time). As the party’s pilot, I ended up competing in a race to get us entry to an exclusive party where we could influence the bidders in a secret auction (and then fleece them all and steal the titular jewel). The race was incredibly intense, but my expert piloting got us an early lead before half the competition got themselves destroyed. It ended up being neck-and-neck at the end, with the end result coming down to literally the final die roll where our opponent’s engine blew right before the finish line, giving us a victory by the thinnest of margins. The mission ultimately ended with Orome, in pure scoundrel style, stealing a crimelord’s money and wife and then flying off into the galaxy to find his next fortune.

On the other side of things though, Orome’s life has been a total mess. He’s extremely self-destructive, turning to drugs or alcohol rather than facing any problem in his life directly. It has been a legitimate problem on more than one occasion – I can recall at least two instances where the party needed Orome to pilot their ship but he was too high to do it. Hopefully an opportunity comes when Orome can find the motivation to get clean, he has a good heart and I want to see him succeed someday.

G’Dorah Hirose (DND 5E)

Back when I wrote that first article, G’Dorah was still a theoretical character, one that I was waiting to get a chance to play. Well, I was soon thereafter invited to join a campaign playing through Descent Into Avernus, and G’Dorah finally got the chance to come to life. I made a few changes from my original concept in order to make the character work here (she’s a paladin of Bahamut instead of Eldath, which honestly makes way more sense), but she has been everything I was hoping for. She’s a platinum dragonborn paladin of redemption, marching through hell seeking those who can be redeemed and smiting down those for whom forgiveness is beyond reach. Our party in this game consists of a tiefling monk, a human war cleric and a half-giant barbarian and G’Dorah has slotted into a group as a support/damage character. She can put out a ton of damage in a hit – I’ve had her do over 60 damage with just one attack! Her utility abilities are what makes her most interesting though, she can heal allies, buff everyone with +5 to their saving throws or provide support through her warding spells and religious devotion.

Perhaps the most interesting interactions have been between her and the tiefling. She saw that the tiefling had lost several fingers and assumed that he was a thief and treated him coldly as a result. However, over the course of the campaign she’s come to realize that these fingers were lost because the tiefling was making bargains with hags to protect the group and other innocents. G’Dorah has learned that she is perhaps too quick to judge others and has gained considerable respect for her half-devil companion, to the point where she was willing to trust his judgement. The tiefling had discovered that the barbarian had been overcome by evil influences and G’Dorah trusted him enough to side with him to try to save their companion. This ultimately forced the whole party to beatdown the barbarian until G’Dorah could break the chains which bound his mind. At the time of this writing, there are only one or two sessions left in this game and soon G’Dorah will be tied with Ellri as my highest-level character. I’ve really grown to love her, she’s a lot of fun to play and I really hope she can make it out of Avernus alive. I have an ending in mind that I want to get the chance to play out (I’ll edit it in here after the game is over if it all plays out)!

Valdyr Lenya (DND 5E)

A couple months ago, our regular DM decided they wanted to run a Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign, alternating between that and Star Wars every second week in order to get some more variety. By this point I had decided that my next character would be a druid as I was very keen to try out that class, and so Valdyr was born. Like most of my characters, he’s an edgelord with a tragic backstory (which is funny because there are eight other players in this campaign and somehow the druid is the only goddamn edgelord). Valdyr is a young man who has made some major mistakes and is now at a crossroads in life. He’s spent the last half decade with a band of highway robbers alongside his childhood friend and lover, Arianne. However, a few months prior to the start of the campaign, everything blew up in their faces as a heist turned sour and most of Valdyr’s companions were killed in the process, including his love. He’s now very solemn, trying to avoid attention from the authorities while rebuilding his life and figuring out what comes next. We’re still pretty early into this campaign so things are still evolving, but I view the awakening and expanding of his druid powers and developing the skill to wild shape as a sort of visual metaphor – he’s in the process of becoming someone new.

Maria (DND 5E)

Another returning character! Back in the original article I said that I hoped that the campaign Maria originally appeared in would continue. Alas, it never did! However, I was invited to join a campaign for Curse of Strahd and decided that it was time to dust off one of my favourite characters whose journey hadn’t reached its end. Given that this game starts me off at a higher level, I’ve even incorporated the events of the first campaign into her backstory, with her shriveled arm still being there as a reminder of how far she will go to see her task through. This game is also pretty early on so there hasn’t been much development of her character yet, but I look forward to future sessions. That said, I’ve come to realize that Maria’s flaw is a deep-rooted sense of fanatical self-loathing. She sees the evil wrought by vampires on those weaker than them and internalizes it as a failing of her kind, something that she can’t separate from herself. This leads to her being very cold and distant. Perhaps one day she can learn to let someone close to her, but I fear she will destroy herself before that day comes.

Lucatiel (DND 5E)

My newest character may draw their name from my favourite Dark Souls character, but it is more tribute than inspiration. I was invited to join an in-progress game of Out of the Abyss and was told that a rogue would fit the party well. Having never played a rogue, I was on-board and formulated a character from there. Lucatiel is a kenku, DND’s diminutive and untrustworthy crow-like species. He’s getting old by kenku standards, with greying feathers and an unimposing frame. However, his mind is his real weapon and I mean that quite literally – he’s a soulknife rogue, who creates psychic blades he can hurl at enemies at range, meaning that even if he appears to be unarmed he can put a knife in your gut at a moment’s notice. Lucatiel is easily the most skilled character I’ve ever played, with several ridiculously high skill proficiencies which, combined with his sub-class, make it nearly impossible to fail key skill checks. Again, I haven’t had a lot of chance to play Lucatiel yet, but he’s a very interesting and different sort of character for me, plus his class sounds straight-up badass.

15 Years of RPG Characters

Like many a life-long nerd, I have played several roleplaying games over the years and have built up quite the collection of characters in the process. In addition to being a garden-variety nerd, I also happen to be a drama nerd, so bringing a character to life is what really draws me to table-top RPGs. As a result of this, I have several characters that I’ve grown really attached to over the years and, reminiscing about them recently, I decided to document them here for posterity.

As you’ll soon see, they start out pretty simple and grow more complex over time. I often start with a basic character idea and then work from there, filling out details as the campaign continues. I also lean towards characters which are charismatic and competent, although I also enjoy playing meat-headed idiots for a laugh. Hopefully you find these characters interesting or inspirational!

Before we get into the TTRPG characters proper, I need to lay a little bit of groundwork. Many of my characters had their basis in one of two sources. The first is Warhammer, where I came up with the names for many of my heroic characters, which would later be repurposed for my own story or RPG characters. The second source of inspiration was a series of unstructured, narrative RPGs I took part in from 2005 to around 2010. These RPGs might be more accurately described as cooperative storytelling, but many of my characters were introduced and developed here and then later readapted or repurposed elsewhere.

Barloq (DND 3.5E)

My very first TTRPG character was back when I was in high school in a very basic and very short-lived campaign with a couple friends. It was a wild and messy time for several reasons. First off, I had to keep this campaign very much on the downlow because my parents still believed the Satanic Panic was real and that Dungeons and Dragons was a gateway to the occult and I didn’t need them getting on my case about it. To try to compensate for that, I tried to play a melee class and gravitated to Paladin, the perfect class for a conservative youth. To no one’s surprise, I was also kind of an idiot – somehow I didn’t understand relative heights and weights at this point in my life. My only real reference point was the character creators in NHL video games, where I’d max height and minimize weight, my dumb brain thinking that I didn’t want to look “fat”. This would result in 6’10”, 130lbs monstrosities and, being a moron, I applied this to my Paladin as well.

Anyway, I called the gangly knight “Barloq”, the name of my Saurus Oldblood general in Warhammer, and jumped into our first session where he was joined by a spell-caster named Atlas. It was as basic as could be – two adventurers at a tavern, when the bartender asks them to deal with some rats in the basement. Unfortunately, this is where the next big mess came in – the DM accidentally made these rats several levels higher than us and they mangled the spellcaster, nearly killing him. I landed a critical hit with my longsword and, feeling sorry for his mistake, the DM allowed it to kill both rats to get us out of the situation alive. It was incredibly messy and, while we had fun, the game died out right there. It was an early taste of fun for me, but I was disappointed by just how short-lived it was and really had no time to develop any sort of character for Barloq. The basis of the character still lives on within me though, with the name “Barloq” being one I reserve for noble, chivalrous, good-natured knight characters ever since. Perhaps one day he will come back and get a full reimagining…

COMMANDO, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1985, TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

Bruce Phipps (GURPS)

My first real, long-running RPG experience, Bruce is the character that inspired me to write this whole list in the first place because there’s no way that I’m ever going to get to revisit him. He came about as a result of a perfect storm when I was in university. My friend who had played Atlas in the previous entry joined me in a GURPS campaign that was being run on a forum we were part of. My character was motherfuckin’ Bruce Phipps, a chain-smoking, heavy drinking, meathead, body-building bruiser who had a heart of gold, dedicating his life to protecting his young daughter. It wasn’t unusual for me to play a bruiser, especially at this time, but playing a full-on 80s action hero was totally different and something I could only really pull off in an RPG system as flexible as GURPS.

Unfortunately, the campaign itself became a bit of a shitshow. It started well enough, taking part in mob hits and the like, and the game lasted several months. However, the GM started to get a bad habit of introducing characters from movies and TV shows into the story like a bad fanfic. Soon enough, shoehorning Agent 47 and Dexter into the story became more of the driving motivation of the story rather than the characters’ actions and effectively made us unable to deal with a swathe of unkillable, overpowered enemy NPCs.

During one particularly memorable session, one of these cameo characters was trying to get us to all surrender our weapons to them. Everyone else in the party did, except Bruce. I saw absolutely no reason why Bruce would do this and so I stood my ground and kept passing persuasion checks, halting the game for a good half hour due to Bruce’s stubbornness. Eventually I relented just to let the story continue, only for the character to immediately reveal that this was a trap and that we were all now captured. Everyone else let out an audible “WHAT THE FUCK” but I just shrugged and was like “Told ya so…”

The actual mini I made for Andilus Gallich!

Andilus Gallich (Deathwatch)

After the GURPS campaign crashed and burned, I was still itching to play a TTRPG, but this time I wanted to be the GM to avoid any of the issues I’d experienced in my games thus far. I was mulling all this over when I discovered that Fantasy Flight Games had a Warhammer 40,000 RPG that let you play as a space marine called Deathwatch. My nerdy heart went aflutter and soon I had a whole campaign set up and an avatar to use in game, Andilus Gallich. He was initially named after the Wolf Lord of my Space Wolves army, Andilus Greatsword, but over time I started to develop him more as his own character and appended the “Gallich” to differentiate them.

Andilus Gallich was a Space Wolves Assault Marine seconded to the xenos-hunting Deathwatch and put under the command of a mysterious Inquisitor. Along with a Librarian, Apothecary and a squad of tactical marines, they went on a number of action-packed adventures, purging the foes of the Emperor across the galaxy.

Being Space Marines, I was kind of limited in how I could differentiate Andilus Gallich and give him a personality, but he was a mentor figure for his squad, a factor which I would eventually use to allow him to be promoted to the venerable office of Wolf Priest. The Deathwatch campaign went on for quite a while, but scheduling issues caused it to end prematurely on two separate occasions before I finally decided to pull the plug on it for good. The ruleset of Deathwatch itself was also an issue, being very combat-heavy was fairly boring to me, especially because the game was wildly imbalanced – the standard bolter was capable of slaying any enemy with ease, let alone that one of our squad members was armed with a heavy bolter that could liquefy tanks in a volley! I had to introduce rule changes several times to even have a chance of balancing things and while I had a better handle on what worked by the end of the campaign, it was routinely a curb-stomping for the players.

Ellri Hraustr (DND 5E)

After Deathwatch I was out of the TTRPG scene for several years until one of my friends invited me to play a DND 5E campaign he was organizing. While I was tempted to reimagine Barloq again, I decided that I wanted to play a character who was the polar opposite of what I usually play in RPGs (heavy armoured, giant sword-wielding, lawful good fighters). This gave me the basis for the character, a morally-shady spellcaster. I was initially going to make this character a sorceress, even more outside my usual comfort zone, based on Tharja from Fire Emblem: Awakening, but when I found out that there were going to be female characters played by actual women in this campaign I decided to just go with a male sorcerer. For his name, I went back to the well of my WH40k characters for inspiration, taking the name of my Rune Priest (aka, Space Wolves mage), Ellri Hraustr. Little did I know that this character I made to get me out of my comfort zone would end up becoming by far my favourite character I’ve ever created.

In my friend’s campaign, Ellri believed that he was destined to bring about the downfall of the gods. Unfortunately for him, he was also a socially-stunted hermit who caused several of his companions to hate him and who planned on murdering them all on several occasions. That said, given his high Charisma stat, he also ended up being secretly super hot and was seduced by a pirate party member in a hilariously awkward encounter. The group went on several adventures but, just as the story was getting interesting and we were really starting to enjoy the characters, the campaign abruptly died out. However, the pirate’s player and I continued discussing our characters’ adventures and this led to us running a follow-up “one-shot” where they led a treasure expedition. This “one-shot” ended up leading to several other follow-ups, until it turned into what is now an on-going, several year long campaign with hundreds of pages of supplemental character interactions outside of the actual game sessions. During all this time Ellri has grown and matured, enduring tragedy, confronting his own demons and trying to make amends, all while raising a daughter and trying to deal with the numerous threats bearing down on the ones he loves. He’s grown so much in the past several years and become a truly rounded and compelling character. He also been with me as I became aware of my own social anxiety, to the point where I’ve kind of passed it onto him as well, inadvertently. It’s funny, for a character I initially created to be the opposite of what I usually do, Ellri has grown on me, challenged my “normal” for an RPG character, and even changed my view on the world in some respects.

Finn Rand (DND 5E)

If there’s one character class in DND which I’d be least likely to gravitate to, it’s the monk… which ironically made it the class I most wanted to try next. So when a friend asked if I wanted to create a guest character for a one-shot they were running, I knew what class I was going to go with. For further inspiration, I had recently watched Iron Fist season 2 and enjoyed it, so I knew I wanted to play a character who was essentially the Iron Fist. I have this strange appreciation for the show’s version Danny Rand, in spite of the various ways it bungled the character. During character creation I rolled really well, getting above average or great on all but one stat… which ended up being a measly six. Given the character’s reputation, I put this towards Intelligence and thus Finn Rand was born.

Finn Rand was an idiot monk who would was obstinately a pacifist, but had no compunctions about beating the shit out of people with his fists alone (in fact he loved it and the contradiction had probably never occurred to him). The party got into a showdown with a group of giants who he tried to negotiate with. When that failed, he negotiated with his fists, constantly using ki to knock them over. He also passed on little bits of wisdom to the party which, while maybe not appropriate to their situation, were no doubt inspirational. He was kind of fun to play, but very one-dimensional since punching and knocking things over were the only things he was really good at and his abysmal intelligence meant that he was useless outside of combat (and, in fact, could be dangerous if he suggested that they try to talk to the vampire lord and see what he says). As a result, I don’t imagine that Finn will be making any returns, but stranger things have happened.

Maria (DND 5E)

It’s undeniable that Dark Souls and Bloodborne marked a shift in the sorts of RPG playstyle I liked. For years I had always liked a heavily-armoured, slow, greatsword-wielding beatstick with little to no magical ability. This carried over in my first playthrough of Dark Souls 2 (my first Souls game), but eventually I started to gravitate to the playstyle I had developed in Bloodborne – low HP, low-to-medium armour, sky-high attack with some magical abilities to supplement it. I like the trade-off of death after only one or two hits in exchange for high mobility, speed and attack, it means that if I make a mistake I suffer for it and it encourages flawless play to get through. Naturally, inspiration from Souls and Bloodborne would eventually carry over into a TTRPG character.

One of my friends wanted to DM a DND session set in the Magic: The Gathering universe and gave me a guide of some characters I could build. This setting had vampire as a player species and I decided that I wanted to give this a try (the vampires in this setting are FAR less powerful than they are in DND). I also decided that I wanted to finally try my hand with a female character and very quickly gravitated to a character inspired by Lady Maria from Bloodborne. I was going to play a monster-slaying paladin at first but then I found out that blood hunter had been added as a new playable class and it was too perfect to pass up. A stoic vampire who uses blood magic and sacrifices her own lifeforce in order to slay monsters, no matter what the cost? I was stoked and couldn’t wait to play her.

…of course, that game never ended up materializing and I was forced to wait until another friend started a game and said we could bring characters we’d previously made into it. I jumped at the chance and Maria finally was unleashed. Funnily enough, this was in a game crawling with regular DND vampires, so the differences between them and Maria were even more pronounced. She was really fun to play as well, effectively translating that high risk/reward playstyle that I love so much while also being interesting character to roleplay outside of combat. Early in the campaign she purchased a magic rapier which she soon discovered was cursed. She kept this on her the whole time, but in the climactic battle against an evil sorcerer, she finally unleashed it, knowing that she would need its power to overcome the villain, no matter what it would cost her. The blade drained Maria’s lifeforce, but still she held on until the villain was vanquished and her entire arm was shriveled and weakened. It was tragic, but she was stoic about it, simply saying that “It needed to be done.” I really hope I get the chance to play her again – this campaign is on a bit of a hiatus after the first storyline ended, but we all said that we wanted to continue it, so hopefully Maria will be back slaying evil soon!

Hatred Bonefury (DND 5E)

Bards tend to fit within a very specific mold, so of course I wanted to make a “different bard” when a friend suggested that we create weird characters for the one-shot they were running. Being a huge metal head, that meant a half-orc bard who goes from town to town playing heavy metal concerts. I quickly gravitated to a Nathan Explosion-type character, complete with the death growl voice (which seriously screwed up my voice for several days every time I played this character… but worth it). This also meant that I was playing an idiot once again, so we got moments of heavy metal badassery where Hatred summons a tree to life to play in his concert, while also believing that the monster ravaging the town is a potato and therefore needs to be turned into chips and french fries to be defeated. He was also, in true Nathan Explosion form, only concerned about the monster because it was killing his fanbase off while they still had money to spend on merch. Again, he was a one-dimensional joke character and my voice suffered in the two sessions this one-shot lasted, but goddamn if he wasn’t a blast to play. I hope that Hatred gets to go on tour again someday soon.

Orome Arrick (FFG Star Wars)

Back when The Force Awakens came out I bought the Force & Destiny rulebook for Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPG line. Unfortunately, I never really got a chance to get a game together until this past month when an old acquaintance suggested we get a game going. I quickly gravitated towards a pilot and scoundrel character in the vein of Han Solo, while also trying desperately not to just be a bargain-bin copy. I came up with the name Orome Arrick – like many of my characters he was named after a character I created during the cooperative storytelling RPGs I took part in ~15 years ago. Orome is a young, cocky flyboy, a very capable pilot forced into the life of an outlaw. I was inspired by Netflix’s The Business of Drugs, which shows how cartels exploit desperate people at every level of their business in order to enrich themselves and wanted to reflect that in Orome’s backstory. As a result, the Black Suns criminal organization has manufactured a situation where Orome owes them a crippling debt and has become addicted to booster blue, providing them with a dependable and convenient revenue stream which enriches them several times over. Orome dreams of a life where he can break free of these obligations and explore the galaxy at his leisure, but most of his time is preoccupied navigating the seedy underworld he finds himself in and doing whatever he can to get ahead. We’re only a couple sessions in so far, but I’m really enjoying Orome as a character and can’t wait to see where his adventures will take him.

G’dorah Hirose (DND 5E)

My latest character is one that I haven’t gotten the opportunity to actually play yet, but which is an interesting concept I have wanted to try for a while now. I’ve always found Hannibal‘s portrayal of prosopagnosia fascinating and have thought that it would be interesting to roleplay a character who cannot see the faces of those around them. There’s an delicate balance to strike here – obviously I don’t want to be disrespectful to people who actually suffer from prosopagnosia, turn the condition into a dumb joke, or make it a trait that completely defines the character. I’m relishing the challenge though and think that I will be able to portray it respectfully when the time comes.

Drawing back on the very earliest days of my character creations, this character is a dragonborn paladin (similar to the Lizardman general who kickstarted all of this). I came up with the name G’dorah Hirose for two reasons: as an obvious tribute to King Ghidorah and the actor who portrayed him in the Showa era, and as a “Dorah the Explorer” joke (hey, I said I wasn’t going to make fun of her condition, not that I have to be completely straight-faced). Dorah is a holy warrior of the goddess Eldath and suffered a serious head injury fifteen years ago against a demonic foe which caused her prosopagnosia. She believes that the condition is a result of demonic scarring upon her soul and it has caused her to become even more pious in an attempt to cure her affliction through atonement. I’ve always loved fanatical characters (Maria fits within this mold as well) and G’Dorah is poised to give me even more opportunity to explore this fascination. Even if this potential campaign falls through, I can guarantee that G’Dorah will be getting used sooner or later!

My 10 Favourite Movies of the 2010s

It’s the end of the decade, so you know what that means – big retrospectives of the years that were the 2010s! We’ve already done a list of my favourite albums of the 2010s and today we’re moving onto my favourite movies of the decade. It was so hard narrowing this down to only 10 films (plus a couple honourable mentions) – at the outset, I had over 70 films listed that I had to whittle down until only 10 remained. As before, this is purely my opinion, although I’m much more confident that these picks should be less niche than my favourite albums are. So with that in mind, let’s get on to the list.

Honourable Mentions

The Witch (February 19, 2015)
While it wasn’t quite good enough to make my top 10, The Witch is one of those films which sticks with you and just gets better every time you see it. The film is rich with themes of family and religious devotion which give you many different ways to interpret it. There’s also a slavish attention to detail as director Robert Eggers tries to make the film as authentic as possible to the time period. For that matter, the film is basically a straight adaptation of the sorts of stories Puritans would have been telling each other in the 1600s, to the point where I consider this movie equal parts a Christian movie and a Satanist movie, depending on how you read it. This can make the movie a bit dense, particularly if you’re not into Puritan history or constant discussion about religion, and the scares are few and far between, but if you aren’t turned off by these then The Witch is a truly engrossing, unforgettable experience.

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc (February 4, 2012 – February 1, 2013)
Okay, this one might be slightly cheating since it’s a trilogy of animated films, but it’s my list so here it is. Berserk is one of those stories which has been indirectly influencing me for years, through all of its many imitators. The Golden Age Arc is what got me into the franchise and makes for a great introduction to the story (and, in some ways, streamlines the manga for the better). Part 1, The Egg of the King, isn’t great, with rough CGI, some strange choices in direction and a plot which is clearly just set-up for the next 2 films. However, Part 2 (The Battle for Doldrey) and Part 3 (The Advent) are both top-notch. The Battle for Doldrey is one of those rare battle sequences which manages to be both cinematic and clever, since the heroes actually win the day through fairly sound tactics, while giving us some fantastic character growth in the process. The Advent is the crown jewel of this trilogy though – if you’re like me and went into this trilogy essentially blind about what was going to happen, it’s a shocking, truly horrific turn of events that have been set up since the very first film in the trilogy. All-in-all, The Golden Age Arc is just a solid adaptation of an already-fantastic manga and I heartily recommend it to anyone for the compelling characters, as long as you think you can stomach a very dark fantasy story.

10) A Quiet Place (April 6, 2018)
A Quiet Place tickles so many of my fancies that it feels like it was practically made for me. You’ve a horror movie about cool monsters hunting people, you’ve got Emily Blunt in top-form and you’ve got some extremely tense direction from John Krasinski making the most of the monsters’ gimmick. While I certainly would have love this movie at any time, its release also happened to coincide with me preparing to become a father myself, so the film’s themes about family and protecting your children really hit hard for me. You can certainly argue that A Quiet Place is just a very standard monster movie, but it’s made with such high quality that it manages to stand on its own.

9) The Raid 2: Berandal (March 28, 2014)
As good as the John Wick franchise is, the premier action franchise of the 2010s is undoubtedly The Raid. While the first film was basically just a bunch of incredible fight scenes strung together around a very basic plot, The Raid 2 ups the ante by having not only incredible fight scenes, but is also anchored by an engrossing mob story which is every bit as compelling as the fights. We not only get the return of the martial arts expert protagonist Rama, but also are introduced to a colourful cast of new characters, most notably Uco (or, as I like to call him, the Indonesian Bruce Campbell) and a pair of assassins who kill people with a hammer and a baseball bat. The previous film’s “Mad Dog”, Yayan Ruhian, even returns in an extended cameo role where he gets to take on an entire building full of people. All-in-all, these characters and this story make The Raid 2 so much more than just a bunch of amazing action sequences (but, fret not, they certainly did not skimp on the jaw-dropping action choreography either). If you haven’t seen it yet, do it – it is without a doubt one of the most insane action spectacles of all time.

8) Kubo and the Two Strings (August 19, 2016)
Kubo is, put simply, a gorgeous film. Laika Studio (of Coraline fame) has crafted some of the most ambitious and phenomenal stop-motion animation ever put to film, which makes the simple act of just watching and appreciating the sheer talent on screen enjoyable. Still, the animation wouldn’t matter if the story wasn’t up to snuff, but luckily Kubo is stellar in this regard as well. The film explores themes of family, identity and the power of storytelling, while very self-consciously playing with the traditional hero’s journey. There are moments of elation and moments of terror and it’s just such an emotional and well-crafted story that you can’t help but fall in love.

7) The Founder (December 16, 2016)
The idea of a biopic about the guy who turned McDonald’s into a corporate empire sounds incredibly boring, but The Founder surprised me with just how engaging it is from start to finish. Led by an incredibly dedicated performance from Michael Keaton, this film manages to avoid many of the usual pitfalls of a biopic – instead of just going through a checklist of highlights of Ray Kroc’s life, the film weaves these together to tell a story about a down-and-out entrepreneur who stumbles across the opportunity of a lifetime. The film plays the difficult balancing act of having you root for Ray and then having you actively despise him by the ending, while questioning the merit of what he did and whether he always planned on usurping control. It feels so contemporary and indicative of how we got to modern day America – the film also came out before Trump’s presidency, but you probably wouldn’t realize it considering how many parallels you can draw. Even exposition scenes are done in a fun way, such as when the McDonald brothers explain their fast food method and it’s demonstrated to us visually at the same time. It just makes for a fascinating and extremely compelling film, which is all the more delightful considering how dubious I was going in.

6) War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14, 2017)
The Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy is arguably the best trilogy of the 2010s and War is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch (which is no mean feat considering how incredible Dawn is as well). War takes the trilogy into a much darker and more introspective direction, putting Caesar into a violent and dangerous headspace which puts the lives of himself and the apes in peril. Andy Serkis once again absolutely kills it as Caesar and this time we actually get a strong human villain with Woody Harrelson’s ruthless Colonel. Being a Planet of the Apes film though, the evils at the heart of humanity are the ultimate villain and there are some truly bleak moments in this entry. Some may feel shortchanged that the “war” promised by the title doesn’t really materialize in the way you would expect, but given the overarching premise of the series, it’s pretty fitting how it all plays out and Caesar’s story arc comes to a satisfying conclusion. It does my heart good to see one of my favourite franchises get such a resurgence and I can only hope that the inevitable continuation can continue to be anywhere near as good as this film.

5) Silence (December 23, 2016)
Oh hey, look, a Martin Scorsese movie made this list and (spoiler alert) no Marvel movies did! DUN DUN DUUUUUN!!! In all seriousness though, Avengers: Infinity War just missed the Top 10, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Scorsese’s religious epic, Silence. With incredible lead performances from Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson, Silence can be a rough watch at times, considering that it depicts persecution, torture and execution of Christians in Japan during the 17th century. The film also probably won’t resonate too much if you don’t have interest in religion or theology yourself, but luckily the questions this film asks are right in my wheelhouse. The film asks several questions, but ultimately leaves it up to the audience to decide the answer: do outward expressions of faith ultimately matter? Can you snuff out the church by doing this? Is Kichijirō is wrong for denying his faith, or is what is held in his heart what matters? Should Rodrigues deny his faith to save the lives of others? Even the ultimate conclusion of the film is somewhat up for interpretation, although Scorsese has certainly pushed you towards an answer here, unlike the much more open-ended book the film is based on. It’s certainly not the easiest film to watch, nor is it the most efficiently paced, but Silence is a fascinating film which tests your very assumptions about faith and God in a complex and mature manner.

4) Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15, 2015)
Fury Road is one of those films that reveals that you can take a B-movie premise and turn it into something incredible if you know what you’re doing and put in the effort. In fact, Fury Road was so good that it effectively won the 2015 Oscars (even if it didn’t take home the Best Picture or Best Director awards, although looking back it probably should have). That’s right, a movie about weaponized cars, kamikaze psychos in fetish gear and a guy in a skin mask playing a flaming electric guitar was so incredible that even the Oscar crowd had to bow down to it. Seriously though, Mad Max: Fury Road deserves all the praise it gets. It’s expertly directed, with some of the coolest, most creative and most death-defying action sequences this side of The Raid. Much has been made about how the action actually enhances and moves the story forward, which is where much of the film’s accolades have come from. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron’s performances, which are crucial to the film’s success. Fury Road is just… it’s basically perfect, what more is there to say? The Road Warrior was already a template on how to make a sequel better than the original film, but Fury Road went and blew it up by being even better and I don’t think anyone could have seen that coming.

3) Sicario (September 18, 2015)
You had to know that Denis Villeneuve was going to be making an appearance on this list. While literally any of his movies from this decade could have made this list, Sicario is ultimately my favourite of the bunch. Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro all in top form, this film is a brutal, harrowing and eye-opening look at the War on Drugs, its toll on Mexico and America’s unethical response to it. It’s a truly thrilling film with some of the best constructed and tense suspenseful sequences I’ve ever seen. In particular, the sequence where a convoy of US forces cross the border to pick up a target and then bring him back is perhaps the most intense sequence I’ve ever seen, as the tense just keeps ratcheting up and up until it finally spills over. Everything about this film is just firing on all cylinders, from the direction, to the story, to the cinematography, to the acting – it’s basically perfect and never, ever dull.

2) Nightcrawler (October 31, 2014)
Nightcrawler is like a modern-day Taxi Driver, a character study about a morally-bankrupt protagonist which shines a light on the seediest elements of modern society. Jake Gyllenhaal is spell-binding as Lou Bloom, a young entrepreneur and burgeoning psychopath who will do anything to get ahead in society. Watching this unfold is absolutely enthralling from start to finish and it rings so true about how modern society has been established and the levels one has to go to in order to be a speedy, self-made success. I don’t want to spoil the film too much because it really is that good, but trust me when I say that absolutely everything in this film is on-point, it’s basically perfect.

And, with that we come to our #1 pick…

1) Star Wars Episode XI: The Last Jedi (December 15, 2019)
…okay, I’m just kidding, I couldn’t pass up such a golden opportunity to be a troll though. Legitimately, I do really like The Last Jedi and believe that it was exactly the sort of breath of fresh air that the franchise needed to move forward into the future, but it’s certainly not without its rough points. Hell, it’s not even my favourite Star Wars movie of the decade (that would be Rogue One) so it wasn’t really even in consideration for the Top 10. With that said, my real #1 pick is…

1) Whiplash (October 10, 2014)
A movie that you could describe as “intense” doesn’t come along very often, usually relegated to brutal war dramas like Saving Private Ryan or gory horror films like Evil Dead. However, Whiplash manages the hitherto unthinkable feat of being an intense film about freaking drumming. I’m serious, this film just keeps escalating and going to crazier heights until literally the last second. This largely comes down to stellar direction and fantastic performances from J.K. Simmons and Mile Teller. The film shows you what it takes to be “the best” without glamorizing it – in fact it’s pretty much actively discouraged from the start when it eschews all our expectations by having protagonist Andrew Neiman dump his perfect girlfriend because she’s going to distract him from his dream – a dream which he acknowledges is going to destroy his life. He’s ultimately a psychopath in his own right, but J.K. Simmons’ Trence Fletcher is an emotionally abusive monster who believes he can be the push to drive his students to the next level. Whether that’s worth it is for the audience to decide, but there’s no doubt that it is amazing to watch these two men play off of each other. I had a hard time picking between Nightcrawler and Whiplash for this spot, but Whiplash was such a unique film for me and I can’t say that I’ve seen anything else quite like it since.

Love/Hate: PS2


  • Built-in DVD Player – Having a CD player in the PS1 was a nice convenience, but the DVD player in the PS2 was huge. For many people (my family included), the PS2 was our first DVD player and was the reason that we jumped ship from VHS tapes. At the time, the PS2 was a very affordable DVD player and it was a key factor in the success and wide adoption of the format. Hell, my younger brother has a PS2 and still uses it as a DVD player, which says a lot about the importance of this feature.
  • Backwards Compatibility – Another major factor of the PS2’s success is its backwards compatibility with both the hardware and software of the PS1. You could use PS1 controllers with no issues and PS1 memory cards could be used as well (although these memory cards only worked with PS1 games). The fact that you could carry over your collection to a new console generation made the transition more attractive and basically allowed the PS2 to immediately surpass its predecessor.
  • Huge Graphical Improvement – The graphical leap between the PS1 and PS2 era was one of the biggest improvements of any console generation. PS1 games were very blocky and low resolution, but PS2 games were able to smooth things out and start to approximate realistic graphics. Hell, stylized games like Okami and Sly Cooper still look quite good to this day.
  • 3D Gameplay Improvements – By the mid-to-late point in the PS2 era, developers were finally starting to get 3D gameplay under control. Camera issues still plagued a fair few games at the time, but gameplay was finally getting refined and control schemes were starting to become standardized in a manner familiar to the games that we play today. This, of course, makes PS2 games much more playable and easier to go back to today.
  • High-Profile Exclusives and New IPs – Exclusives and new-IPs ruled the roost during the PS2 era, perhaps to a greater degree than in any other era since, making it a truly exciting time to be a PlayStation owner. Games like Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, IcoShadow of the Colossus, God of War and Final Fantasy could only be played on the PS2, many of which were high-profile third party exclusives.
  • My Favourite PS2 Games – Again, this isn’t a comprehensive list of the best PS2 games (not by a long shot), but my favourite games of the era include: Splinter Cell (especially Chaos Theory), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Freedom Fighters, Star Wars: Battlefront I and II, Twisted Metal: Black, Shadow of the Colossus, Sly Cooper 1-3, Bully and James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing.
  • Underpowered Hardware – I’m putting this under mixed because it didn’t really matter, but the PS2 was clearly underpowered and missing features compared to its competition. This becomes very clear when you compare the PS2 port of Resident Evil 4 to the Gamecube original, or the PS2 ports of any of the Splinter Cell games to the Xbox originals. Still, the games worked and the PS2’s impressive library basically made this a moot point, because the PS2’s popularity made it the most successful console in history regardless.
  • Legacy Hardware Issues – In many ways, the PS2 lives up to its name: it’s a follow-up to the PS1, but the system itself doesn’t make any major innovative leaps forward, a fact which really stands out when you look at its competition. For example, the Xbox was built around online gaming, whereas PS2 owners had to purchase a separate ethernet adapter which was expensive and under-utilized (although this did allow couch multiplayer to last for another generation at least). The Xbox also had a built-in HDD, making the necessary purchase of pitifully tiny, 8MB Memory Cards on the PS2 look embarrassing and archaic in comparison. A HDD was made available as an add-on, but it was once again an expensive, under-utilized peripheral which was only really used in Final Fantasy XI. The PS2 also had only two controller ports once again, making couch multiplayer games harder to manage.
  • Glut of Shovelware – The PS2 era might have been the height of cheap, crappy licensed games, as they were very prevalent at the time, as this was an era where the install base was huge and games cost just enough to make that it was worth the investment to make a quick turn-around. In subsequent generations the mobile gaming scene would kill off this market trend (although it carried on over to the Wii as well), but when you go back to the PS2 you’ll notice a plethora of awful games which were shovelled onto the system.

The “Other” Cinematic Universes

When it comes to cinematic universes, we all know the story: Marvel’s only getting better as they go, DC has struggled to get any sort of consistent quality going, etc. However, with as much attention as these franchises get, it’s easy to forget that they’re not the only ones making their mark on the cinematic universe trend. There are actually quite a few current cinematic universes out there now, some several films deep, that have continued to grow without the attention and scrutiny that Marvel and DC seem to inspire. There are also many more on the way (keep an eye out for Hasbro, they seem to be pushing the hardest), but even after 10 years of Marvel dominance, most have failed to actually get underway. With that in mind, let’s look at the less-appreciated landscape of cinematic universes.

Note: I’m only going to be looking at franchises which are still ongoing. To determine if it constitutes a cinematic universe, I’m only looking at major releases (for all I know, The Asylum has a Mega Shark cinematic universe, but I’m sure as hell not going to go digging for turds like that). I’m also looking for franchises which aren’t just following a normal, linear progression from film to film. Spin-offs don’t necessarily constitute a cinematic universe either, although if there are multiple spin-off films in a franchise then it could apply. Oh, and goofy cameos and tongue-in-cheek jokes don’t count either (so no, Transformers and Friday the 13th aren’t in the same universe). Ultimately, it’s all down to my discretion. Got it? Great, let’s buckle in.

Honourable Mentions:

Star Wars (image source): Again, this is down to my discretion, but I don’t feel like Star Wars is quite at “cinematic universe” level yet, at least in the way that that label gets applied anyway. For the most part, Star Wars in the cinematic landscape consists of films which follow on from one another (whether as prequels or sequels). Even the spin-offs we’ve had in Rogue One and Solo were just prequels to the events of the main stories and given less prominence, so I’m struggling to really count these on the same level as, say, your average Marvel or DC solo film in their respective universes. Now, with the groundwork laid by The Last Jedi and Disney’s desire to milk this franchise forever (…those are mutually exclusive ideas, I swear), we might actually be getting to a point in the next couple of years when Star Wars is an interconnected universe of various divergent characters and storylines, but until then I have a hard time viewing it as more than a very epic saga.

Alien vs Predator (…vs Blade Runner???) – I’m only not counting this one because there has been basically no official word on whether these franchises still are, or ever were, truly linked in the first place. Basically every Alien and Predator film since has ignored the continuity established by the AVP movies, although they have never completely separated. To make matters even more confusing, the Alien prequels went and made it official that Blade Runner takes place in this universe as well. Considering that all of these separate franchises take place nearly 100 years apart from one another, it makes the continuity pliable, but it would be awesome if we could give AVP another shot at greatness.

The Tarantinoverse(s) – Yes, these films all technically take place in the same universe (click the image on the side to see the entire, complicated breakdown as to how), whether as actual events (Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, etc) or as films within that universe (Kill Bill, From Dusk Till Dawn, Death Proof, etc). There are also a number of characters who are related (most notably, Vic Vega aka Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs and Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction). Here’s the thing though: none of these connections really matter. I mean, is Vincent affected in Pulp Fiction by Vic’s death? No, it’s just an easter egg for fans, and that’s what everything in the Tarantinoverse is – there’s no actual crossover or overarching plot (especially when you can just say “eh, it’s a movie in that universe!”), so I’m not counting it. Like I said, my discretion.

And so, let’s move onto the actual cinematic universes, shall we?

5) The Dark Universe – Is there any surprise that this is the worst of the current crop of cinematic universes? I mean, let’s look at the situation: Universal had the first successful cinematic universe back when they were releasing their classic monster films. For almost 20 years now they have been trying to recapture that success with failure after failure. The Mummy laid a decent groundwork for this, but then Van Helsing failed and scuppered that idea. Then they tried once again to set up this universe with The Wolfman, but it was a commercial and critical failure (although I love it personally and feel like its reception will improve over time).

After so many false starts, suddenly Marvel’s cinematic universe model began getting successful and Universal decided that they wanted a piece of that pie. As a result, Dracula: Untold was produced with the explicit intention of aping Marvel’s formula to finally get the Universal monsters on screen again. The resulting film was just plain dull – the source material didn’t fit a PG-13 summer action tentpole treatment and the resulting universe it was selling (PG-13 grimdark anti-heroes facing some nebulous ancient evil) was unappealing, so once again Universal was left in a lurch with a stillborn franchise.

With yet another failure under their belts, Universal almost immediately jettisoned Dracula: Untold from memory and then got to work on what was arguably the most seriously committed effort to reboot their monsters properties: The Dark Universe. Universal clearly went all-in this time, snatching up some major star power with Russell Crowe as Dr. Jeckell and Mr. Hyde, Javier Bardem as Frankenstien’s Monster, Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man and Tom Cruise as (ultimately) this universe’s version of The Mummy. Since The Mummy was the only reboot Universal had any success with, perhaps it is natural that they’d try to launch their universe with it, along with the consistent quality that comes along with Tom Cruise. Unfortunately, despite the huge marketing push and the big talk about how this was going to be Universal’s big shared universe, The Mummy proved to be a rare Tom Cruise misfire which single-handedly put the future of the entire franchise into question. Things have been quiet on The Dark Universe front, with many assuming it is dead since its two main producers have departed the project, but there have been some occasional rumblings to suggest we haven’t seen the last of it.

I feel like the issues with The Dark Universe were twofold. First of all, I don’t think that aping Marvel’s formula and attempting to reboot the Universal monsters as quasi-superheroes is ever going to work, nor is attempting to shoehorn all of these movies into the PG-13 summer action blockbuster template a good idea. I understand that a smaller, more traditional horror series would not make as much money if The Dark Universe had met its ambitions, but at least it would not be competing with the juggernauts, would be carving its own niche in the cinematic landscape and would be a considerably safer investment. Dracula: Untold had already failed in part because of this. It doesn’t matter how much money and star-power you throw at a project, if the concept is rotten at its core, then it is going to have a very hard time gaining traction.

Secondly, I feel like The Dark Universe was hamstrung from the start by its two main producers, Alex Kurtzman (also director of The Mummy) and Chris Morgan. Both are blockbuster scriptwriters and producers, with Kurtzman being known for the modern Star Trek films, the first two Transformers, Cowboys & Aliens and the Now You See Me franchise, and Chris Morgan being known for the Fast & Furious franchise, Wanted and 47 Ronin. They’re both involved in big, successful action franchises, but none of those franchises are really known for their great scripts. To make matters even worse, Guillermo del Toro was originally asked to helm The Dark Universe, which could have been incredible if Universal would allow him to lean into these characters’ horror origins. There is some hope for The Dark Universe still: it’s being rumoured that renowned horror-producer Jason Blum is being given the reins of the franchise. However, as it stands currently, The Dark Universe is little more than a cautionary tale in franchise building.

4) The Monsterverse – This is the universe that inspired this list, because while Legendary hasn’t been subtle about the fact that they want to bring Godzilla and King Kong together once again, they haven’t been hammering audiences with their world-building (unlike, say, The Mummy or Batman vs Superman). In fact, you could easily be forgiven for not realizing that Kong: Skull Island was a part of the same universe as Godzilla, outside of the subtle references to Monarch and the post-credits scene. I feel like this will probably be emphasized more by the end of the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but at least it’s refreshing that Legendary isn’t counting their chickens before they’ve hatched.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Monsterverse is that, like the Universal monsters, it’s building on a foundation that originated the shared universe concept in film in the first place. The Toho Godzilla films had their own colourful cast of monsters that would feature in each others’ films and the original Godzilla vs King Kong was one of the earliest and most notable major franchise crossover films (also, while I may not prefer the direction of this incarnation of Kong, I can’t deny that it’s a part of the character’s roots). Unlike the Universal Monsters, Legendary is succeeding by keeping the Monsterverse true to the roots which made them successful in the first place. Also, Legendary has been killing it in terms of direction and cinematography thus far – Kong: Skull Island is downright beautiful at times and Godzilla has some of my favourite direction of all time (seriously).

The Monsterverse has also had some pretty decent quality thus far, with both entries being quite fun, if disposable, entertainment. Granted, giant monsters are much easier to fit into a dumb action blockbuster mould, and neither Godzilla or Kong: Skull Island had much ambition to be anything other than that. Considering that they’re giant monster movies, they don’t really need to do much more, but some more interesting human characters would go a long way. Godzilla: King of the Monsters could theoretically improve this one aspect, but we’ll see. If Legendary can keep the quality up, the Monsterverse could easily move up a slot in this list.

3) Cloverfield Universe – This universe could have easily topped the list if not for the release of the absolutely putrid The Coverfield Paradox, which has soured the franchise’s name overnight and turned it into a punchline. That said, the quality of Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane can’t be denied, and the chance for more cool genre films with genuine surprise to them is too much of an allure to pass up after one misfire (even one as disastrous as Paradox).

Cloverfield was a very intriguing Hollywood experiment, forgoing a huge budget and star power in favour of an ingenious and mysterious alternate reality game (ARG) marketing campaign. I got caught up in the Cloverfield hype leading up to its release and had a lot of fun with the ARG, looking for clues and speculating on what the monster was going to be. Cloverfield was also one of the earliest modern found footage films and, I would argue, one of the best utilizations of the concept. Oh, and lest we forget, Cloverfield was also the film which brought us Matt Reeves (far and away one of the most ambitious and consistently good blockbuster directors in Hollywood). The film left plenty of unanswered questions and for years there were rumblings of a sequel, but nothing materialized (even though it looked like Super 8 was going to fulfil that promise).

Then, suddenly, franchise producer J.J. Abrams had an idea to use the Cloverfield name to promote smaller, quality genre films and loosely tie them together. The first film they tried this on was 10 Cloverfield Lane, which was originally a stand-alone film that underwent reshoots to make it fit into the concept of a “Cloverfield movie”. The film was announced quietly and with minimal marketing, relying on word of mouth, a couple teasers and a release date 3 months away to build hype. There was some talk about whether this strategy would work, but work it did – 10 Cloverfield Lane was another success for the franchise, in part because the film was so damn good that the cynical nature of its creation didn’t really matter. It didn’t really connect to the previous film in the franchise, but it didn’t need to: if Cloverfield was a signifier for a type of quality genre film that you could expect, then bring on more Cloverfield we all said.

Of course, it’s important to understand that this is the sort of goodwill which was paramount to the firestorm of hype that exploded upon announcement that the third Cloverfield film had secretly dropped on Netflix during the Super Bowl… and the resulting disappointment when it turned out that that film was utter shit. Like I said, when your shared universe is only loosely connected between films, Cloverfield becomes a mark of quality. Releasing a bad film taints that reputation. Worse, releasing an awful film throws all confidence in that franchise into the wind. Who knows, another Cloverfield film could be good, but it might take years of good films to get the bad taste of Paradox out of our mouths.

2) The Conjuring – The Conjuring universe is remarkable for a few reasons. One, it’s based primarily on the stories of one real-life family (although the veracity of those stories is suspect, naturally). Two, these are all full-on R-rated horror films, whose considerable success should put Universal’s attempts to reboot their monsters to shame. Three, this franchise’s shared universe it at a point where it’s becoming comparable to the MCU. Seriously, The Conjuring is the beating heart of this franchise, but Annabelle is almost on par in terms of box office success, and The Nun has just released with the franchise’s biggest opening yet, purely off the success of the character in The Conjuring 2.

In terms of quality, the films are generally solid. The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 are both classic horror films in the vein of The Exorcist (I personally preferred The Conjuring 2), which do a good job of making the supernatural seem plausible and which are buoyed tremendously by solid direction from James Wan and the performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The spin-offs have been more of a mixed bag, with Annabelle: Creation being generally considered quite good, while Annabelle and The Nun have been met with a negative reception. That said, as spin-offs in an explicitly niche shared universe, they seem to still have an audience who are interested in them. With smaller budgets and this built-in audience, The Conjuring universe manages to find success by marketing to its own niche, rather than going for the mass audience and viewing $800 million as a failure, such as Justice League. If more studios would realize this and try to find other genre niches, we might have more successful shared universes out there.

1) X-Men – And finally we have the other, other superhero shared universe, the long-running X-Men universe. In fact, thanks to the Disney-20th Century Fox acquisition, this universe is almost certainly reaching its death-knell with upcoming release of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, after 19 years of ups and downs.

Back before the MCU took the world by storm, X-Men was the superhero franchise of most consistent quality (next to Spider-man, anyway), and for a long time it was just that – a franchise, not a shared universe. But then the Wolverine spin-offs happened, which turned into a trilogy of its own with Origins, The Wolverine and Logan. And then Deadpool and Deadpool 2 were released, and suddenly X-Men had become the full-on cinematic universe it was so well-suited to become. Hell, you could even argue that the franchise’s main timeline fits in the shared universe idea, with two different eras of X-Men interacting in Days of Future Past (the best X-Men movie, in my opinion).

X-Men has had some major lows (The Last Stand and Origins), but it has also had considerable heights (X2DoFP, Logan, Deadpool) which have allowed it to succeed for so long, and it was always good to have a serious competitor to the MCU. Lest we forget that this shared universe has also gifted us with one of the best superhero castings of all time in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, not to mention the Ryan Renold’s Deadpool or Michael Fassbender’s Magneto. I don’t have high hopes for Dark Phoenix, but I can only hope that it does this franchise justice and allows it to go out on a high note.

Let the Past Die

Solo: A Star Wars Story is out this week and for the first time since 2008’s Clone Wars animated movie, it seems like Star Wars fans could just not give a shit. Some of this can come down to the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi – for my part, I really liked it and feel like it will be looked upon very fondly in the future, but the fury with which many people have derided it makes any sort of dialogue on it very tiring. Some of the antipathy can also come down to the perception that, at least anecdotally, no one really seems to want a Han Solo origin film, nor do they really want Star Wars spin-off films. I also feel like Disney’s annualizing of the Star Wars franchise is dangerous to the franchise’s long-term health. Star Wars used to be a big event every 3 years (or more!), but we now are getting a new one every year. It’s hard to say that that doesn’t dampen the hype somewhat and if this is going to continue indefinitely, then who knows whether the franchise’s popularity will burn out in time.

Now, to be fair, this is probably all down to perception – Solo is still expected to break records (EDIT: well so much for that) (ANOTHER EDIT: OH SHIT**), which suggests that your average Star Wars fan is part of that silent majority who don’t participate in public dialogue. Similarly, I unfortunately can’t find the link anymore but I saw a poll on starwars.com recently where The Last Jedi was actually voted 2nd best in the series after Empire, followed thereafter by Revenge of the Sith (!!!), suggesting that the popular opinion is actually way more favourable to The Last Jedi that the Internet would have you believe (on a similar note, I’m not surprised that Revenge of the Sith is so well-regarded either, since it would be seen as the big, epic culmination of the series for many people when they were growing up).

I’ve been wanting to write about Star Wars and The Last Jedi for quite a while now, but what finally prompted me to write up a post was this rallying cry I’m seeing in the, shall we say, dark side of the fandom which calls for Disney to fire executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. This, to me, is just such a strange situation. I mean, how many executive producers get blamed for franchise woes? Hell, how many could your average movie fan be even expected to name? I mean, Steven Spielberg doesn’t get shit for Transformers, nor does Christopher Nolan get shit for the DCEU. So what is the difference here?
I feel like the answer to this has to be Youtube, right? I mean, where else is this common narrative that there’s a single architect who is destroying Star Wars from the inside going to be originating from? Just look at the most popular results that show up when you search her name on Youtube:

It’s either news, or overwhelmingly negative. Kathleen Kennedy is pushing a PC/SJW agenda. Kathleen Kennedy needs to go. Kathleen Kennedy is destroying Star Wars. On and on and on. I checked the Star Wars Reddit, which also tends to be a bastion for negative sentiments like this that could brew up, but it seemed pretty quiet on the Kennedy front and was actually less fractured than I was expecting on the whole. Obviously, I can’t prove that Youtube is the big influencer when it comes to the brewing anti-Kathleen Kennedy sentiment, but it seems incredibly likely. There are other sources as well of course, such as clickbait news sites (including this one which calls for Kennedy’s firing and says that Star Wars is in trouble because of a 71% tomatometer for Solo*, and claims that every Star Wars film Disney has made has gotten progressively worse, which is demonstrably false if you look at the audience scores, especially when compared to the prequel trilogy). That still leaves a question unanswered though – why does Kathleen Kennedy get all the flack while Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, among other producers of discontented high-profile franchises, get off scott-free? Hell, if you really think that the Star Wars franchise is getting worse with each film, why not rage against Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Force Awakens and Solo: A Star Wars Story? Well, let me lay out my theory…

One of the big complaints about Kennedy and The Last Jedi is that they have been forcing politics into Star Wars, an assertion which is, in my opinion, frankly absurd. I mean, how is The Last Jedi any more political than any other Star Wars film? Decrying rich people, keeping the spark of revolution alive… these are certainly political statements, but they’re hardly pointed at any specific modern context, nor is are they more pronounced than what has come before in Star Wars. I mean, if Revenge of the Sith had come out in 2018, these alt-right types would have had an aneurysm.

Similarly, probably the most common complaint against Kathleen Kennedy is that she forces “politics” into Star Wars, and by that the complainants mean that she pushes for diversity in gender, race and sexuality in the franchise. That’s right, people are getting all riled up about “social justice warriors” again and it is, quite frankly, sickening. We’re well past the point where being staunchly anti-political correctness is an acceptable stance, ever since that mindset gave birth to the alt-right. Hell, it has gotten to a point where anti-PC types are arguably even more annoying than the actual SJW types that they rail against, having falling into this mirror image of the very thing that they oppose so vehemently. So yes, I believe that we’re seeing a micro version of the larger social zeitgeist playing out within the Star Wars fandom, with diversity being opposed by those who are calling for a return to the “purity” of what Star Wars should be. That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate complaints about the direction of Star Wars outside of a racist/sexist/homophobic angle – there clearly are, but I feel like the more unsavory side of the fandom is co-opting that discontent to draw people to their viewpoint.

Hell, this shouldn’t really be considered news: at the time of The Force Awakens, there were people whining about there being a black lead in the film. When they then found out that a woman was the new hero of the franchise, the whining happened again. Similarly, people complained about how Rogue One was being led by a woman again (oh noes!) and that many of the leads weren’t white. This anti-diversity bent has been rumbling within the fandom for years now, the only difference is that now these people aren’t just being laughed off and shouted down. Now, they seem to be building in steam, which can only really be explained to me as a combination of the resurgence of extremism in society, and the growing sense of discontent within the Star Wars fandom in general. Now we’re looking at boycotts for Solo: A Star Wars Story, not because of anything in the film itself, but because alt-right types want to reclaim Star Wars for themselves:

“‘Disney continues to shove down their SJW feminazi agenda down our retinas.’
You mean creating characters, such as Daisy Ridley’s Rey, meant to empower women is a bad thing? Women holding an equal place within the Star Wars universe is bad? I don’t know where you get your delusions, laser brain.
Gabriel even claims that he’s not sexist.
Um, yes you are. News flash: if you use the term ‘feminazi’ you’re a sexist.”

Now I’m waiting to see what happens when the alt-right gets wind that Lando Calrissian is pansexual.

I don’t think George Lucas intentionally made Star Wars a predominantly-white franchise intentionally, it was just the reality of the business at the time and he didn’t think to change that up. Kennedy is clearly more aware of this and has the ability to push forth for more equality and so I’d say that it’s good that she tries to. Now, she could certainly go too far one way or another, but for now at least the diversity doesn’t feel like tokenism, nor are we looking at a “white genocide” by any means (I mean, just look at Solo, which seems poised to become its own white-male-led franchise here under Kathleen Kennedy’s rule).

For my own part in all this, I feel like Disney can’t mine the legacy of Star Wars forever. When I first heard that Disney was purchasing the franchise, I was hoping that they would be moving beyond the original trilogy and going forwards or backwards in time. Star Wars is a phenomenon and anchoring yourself to existing success only limits the creative expression you can have sooner or later. At some point, they have to push forward and make it their own thing if they want the series to last (and according to their claims, they plan on making them for the next hundred years at least), a reality which is going to alienate some long-time fans. I feel like The Last Jedi did this successfully, especially after the far-too-safe The Force Awakens. I read an article recently where a Star Wars fan basically agreed, saying that the film would have been fine if only Luke didn’t die at the end: “The most pathetic aspect of all of this is that Luke died because Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and Rian Johnson wanted to make way for the new characters. They didn’t want them to be overshadowed. This isn’t what Mark Hamill signed up for. It’s ridiculous. Rey is a fantastic character, but Luke Skywalker defines Star Wars. It won’t be the same without him.” But that’s my point – a time would be coming regardless when Star Wars would be without Luke Skywalker. In a decade’s time, the Skywalker saga might even just be a starting point in the Star Wars franchise. Really, the sooner we cut that tie to the past, the easier it will be to expand Star Wars on to future generations, including those who may not have had heroes to identify with before, and to keep the saga from being stifled. As my home-boy Kylo Ren said, it’s time to let the past die.

*Because apparently angry Star Wars fans put their faith in the tomatometer all of a sudden, and despite obviously not understanding that the tomatometer is an aggregate of how many critics gave it a 6/10 or higher, not an actual score for the film… wait, is the writer of that article equating a 71% tomatometer with a 7/10 for a video game? Because film critics aren’t as awful as video game reviewers and a 7/10 is actually a good score… bloody hell.
**POST-SCRIPT: I feel like Solo is failing in part due to people who were burned by The Last Jedi not showing up, but probably more in the general disinterest in a Han Solo movie, the negative buzz that has been dogging this film, and probably most importantly, the diluting of the Star Wars brand and “event movie” status.

Quick Fix: Meme-o Kylo Ren

This probably shouldn’t be a super controversial statement, but I rather like Kylo Ren. In my mind, he’s the Star Wars equivalent of John Maguire – a very confused kid who gets caught up with the wrong people because he never had any proper guidance and then, before he can really realize it, he’s in a terrorist organization. This is a rather fascinating, timely and even untraditionally tragic characterization to give to a villain, one with plenty of amazing opportunity to either make him double-down on the villainy and become something truly monstrous or (and I’m hoping that this is what happens in Episode 8) have him begin to mature and realize that “holy shit, what am I doing with my life?” and attempt to make amends.

Naturally, with that sort of setup, the whole conversation about Kylo Ren has devolved into “emo”, angsty, whiner kid. This wasn’t the case immediately after release, but as soon as Emo Kylo Ren occurred, suddenly it was his defining character trait and people began harping on it. I’m gonna be honest, I’ve seen The Force Awakens four times now and I don’t really get where this is coming from. He only ever angsts once in the whole film, and that’s when he gets confronted by his father (who he doesn’t particularly like). Oh, and he breaks stuff twice, but is that really enough for people to label him as “whiny”? If nothing else, he is considerably less whiny than Anakin was in the prequels, and infinitely less insufferable and more understandable even when he is angsting.

There’s got to be some sort of word for this, where the public conversation ends up colouring the perception of a character. It’s sort of like a cognitive version of Flanderization; Memefication might be the most accurate term for it at the moment. We saw the same sort of thing happen last year with Jurassic World, an incredibly flawed movie which people couldn’t legitimately criticize without wasting all their time on Claire’s heels. I didn’t notice or give a shit about the heels while watching the film, they’re really inconsequential and hardly that unusual in these sorts of silly action movies. However, that’s what the conversation gravitated towards, so by God we’re going to beat this meme into the ground.

This seems to be something that’s only getting more prevalent due to the Internet allowing petty little complaints or skewed perceptions to echo throughout popular culture. That’s not to say that it didn’t exist before that though – arguably the absolute best example is Batman & Robin, since every time it gets brought up someone will go “oh yeah, that one is terrible, I mean they put nipples on Batman!”, as if that alone is some sort of signifier for why the movie was awful (that’s putting aside the actual problems of poor/overly-hammy performances, crass self-commercialization, bonkers directing, etc which make Batnipples look cute in comparison). Obviously this is not something super important in and of itself, but it is something worth paying attention to as you can perceptibly see how the conversation about a piece of media changes as the memes solidify.

…and to end on a completely unrelated topic, check out my badass Kylo Ren cosplay!