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Comics Television

“What If… T’Challa Became a Star Lord?” Review and Discussion

GateCrashers’ coverage of What If…? returns with Amanda and Reagan’s discussion of episode two. Beware – there be spoilers ahead!

What You Missed in Episode One:

If you haven’t seen the memes, then you probably need a bit of a refresh on what the series premiere of What If…? was all about. I can break it down for you in three words:

Captain. Peggy. Carter.

In the first episode of What If…?, Peggy takes the super-soldier serum in Steve’s stead, following a series of what the Watcher identifies as small choices that make a big impact. She becomes Captain Carter, Howard essentially makes Steve an Iron Man suit, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Peggy and Steve never did get that dance.

Now, back to your Episode Two coverage with Amanda and Reagan!

Reagan: Episode Two of What If…? follows a version of T’Challa who was taken by Ravagers and became a very different Star-Lord from Peter Quill. Take for example the first scene of this episode. It’s basically the same as the first scene of Guardians of the Galaxy except people actually like T’Challa. 

Amanda: I mean, I would definitely argue that people liked Peter until we properly found out that Chr*s Pr*tt sucked, ahaha. Unless of course, you meant characters in-universe actually like T’Challa as opposed to Peter, which… very fair, and I love it. Nothing tickled me more than watching the scenes and characters we know so well happening through the lens of T’Challa as Star-Lord. Korath being a huge Star-Lord fanboy? Was so. Good. And also, Drax’s family still being alive? Because of T’Challa? RIP me.

I also really loved T’Challa’s dynamic with Nebula and also Nebula as a character in general. While I absolutely adore the character journey they took Nebula one in the Infinity Saga, it was nice seeing her as someone who was confident and fully in control of her own life (to a certain extent), rather than buckling under Thanos’ thumb. I couldn’t get with the blond hair, though. I was very confused by that. 

The Collector was also super fun here! They made him a lot more bad-ass, which was kind of cool. I don’t dislike the film’s characterization of the Collector, because I like that he’s a little weird and squirrely, but it was fun to actually watch him fight to defend and expand his collection as opposed to letting it all just languish. What’s the point of a collection you don’t use? What a waste. Get with the times, theatrical film releases!

I will say, though, there was a severe lack of 80s music, aka, GotG’s biggest money-maker.

Reagan: T’Challa and Yondu’s relationship is really interesting in that they’re actually like father and son here whereas we didn’t get that between Yondu and Peter until the very end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Amanda: I’m a big ole sap for a good father/son dynamic, so I was absolutely one of those people that fell for Peter and Yondu’s relationship in GotG2 (“He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy” dear god), and it was really nice to see a different side of that dynamic here with T’Challa and Yondu. “I’m not leaving without my kid” HELLO???

So while Peter and Yondu’s relationship had a foundation of animosity that stemmed from a lack of communication (and, y’know… trying to kill each other), T’Challa and Yondu showed mutual respect for each other and actually listened to one another. Honestly, this episode of What If…? goes a long way in showing us the kind of Star-Lord we could’ve had. *Adele voice* WE COULD’VE HAD IT AAAAAAAAAAAALL

Reagan: Let’s talk about Thanos. This Thanos is, like a lot of the characters we see in this, someone who has been changed by the fact that they encountered T’Challa. He’s given up his quest to kill half of the universe with the infinity stones.

Amanda: Yo, Thanos showed up and I SCREAMED I was so shocked. I was flabbergasted. I was ready to rumble. I was like SIR. PLEASE. And then this man was all T’Challa showed me the error of my ways, they’re really just out here hammering the point home. We get it! T’Challa is a vastly superior human being!! We already been knew!!! 

The frequent (and…kind of jarring) references to genocide were perhaps a little on-the-nose for me; I don’t think they needed to say it quite so many times, but also, this is coming from me, a person who was very aware that Thanos committed genocide. I’m also sadly, incredibly aware that there are people on this earth who thought he had a good idea in that noggin of his…to which I say…please…get off the internet…

Reagan: I think the stinger at the end with Peter and Ego could have been removed. The rest of the episode feels like a loving tribute to Boseman and his character and to have what feels like an ending show a scene with two completely unrelated characters feels unnecessary and a little bit jarring, especially when it’s almost immediately followed by an in memoriam for Boseman. 

Amanda: I totally agree with that. So much of this episode was not only just… a fun look at how literally everything is better when T’Challa is around, but also worked as a wonderful reminder that Chadwick really did enrich the lives of everyone around him. (Though, of course, I love Kurt Russell so much that I’m willing to overlook it.) I think it could’ve been a fun little bit after the in memoriam.

And also, as someone who’s watched the first three episodes already, I fully believe that this should’ve been the series opener. While I know episode one has a lot of great meme material and I do love the role reversal of Captain Carter and Steve Rogers, I just think this story has more heft and fun to it. Though I guess I can see why they’d want to start with What If…?’s chosen First Avenger. 

But for anyone who may have gotten through the first episode and said “that was okay” I implore you to stick around for this week’s episode. In my opinion, this is exactly what What If…? stands to bring us more of—a deep appreciation for the stories we already know and love, and an even deeper fondness for the amazing characters and actors who have told them to us.

Categories
Television

Marvel’s What If…? and the Expansion of the Multiverse

What if… Marvel Studios… gave GateCrashers’ resident MCU enthusiast access to an early digital screening of the first three episodes of Marvel’s newest (and highly-anticipated) show?

Yeah—I think it’s pretty wild, too.

As someone who knows the MCU like the back of her hand, I am always excited for new content. Since the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with the groundbreaking Iron Man, I’ve been to many opening nights and a fair few early screenings. I even have some Marvel inspired tattoos—that’s how jazzed I am about this franchise that has swept up the world with its world-saving, blockbuster storytelling.

But as someone who doesn’t also make a habit of reading the comic books and only has a surface-level, passable knowledge of the myriad of other universes, story arcs, character swaps, and origins, a show like What If…? is ripe with the potential to both confuse and absolutely, positively enthrall.

The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) via Marvel Studios

In Marvel’s What If…?, one small choice—as posited by Jeffrey Wright’s Watcher—can change the course of an entire future. So begins the premise of this animated anthology series which takes the characters that audiences both old and new alike have come to know so well and turns them on their heads. Viewers get to watch brand-new stories unfold using the framework of some of the most iconic MCU stories, including Captain America: The First Avenger and Guardians of the Galaxy.

What I think most audiences will appreciate is that each episode starts off with a familiar but relevant scene that immediately grounds the viewer in the story. While some viewers may find this tedious, others will definitely appreciate the brief moment of recall and chance to be immediately immersed in each new story. Paired with Jeffrey Wright’s narration as the Watcher, the beginning of each episode quickly lays the groundwork for the story to unfold without sacrificing precious screen time (especially since each episode is an average of half an hour).

From L-R: Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough) via Marvel Studios

The animation style is also a ton of fun—I absolutely love the way it emulates classic, traditional comic book art and calls back to Marvel’s roots. The characters are delightfully expressive and the colors are vibrant and eye-catching, even in low-light scenes (finally! I can see an action sequence!). And speaking of action sequences—they’re exceptionally well done. All that’s missing is the quintessential BOOM! POW! BANG!

There are also some really fun scene transitions and layouts, lending to that artful, comic book quality that will make What If…? immediately identifiable among Marvel’s other animated properties. Viewers will also enjoy the easter eggs hidden throughout the episodes and in the backgrounds, including nods to the not-so-easily-missed Grandmaster pleasure ship from Thor: Ragnarok.

From L-R: Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) via Marvel Studios

There are definitely some stylistic choices that I question, like some of the fine details of female characters in particular. The eyelashes for most of the human female characters, for example, often make them look raccoon-like and are hardly uniform from scene-to-scene or episode-to-episode. In a similar fashion, face wrinkles randomly disappear and reappear, colors (while, at times, a savior for dark sequences) are sometimes too oversaturated to the point of being jarring, and some of the animation transitions appear jerky and not as clean as they could be.

Additionally, some of the pacing of the dialogue seems very rushed. Whether that’s from the actors’ execution, the cut of a particular edit, or the writing itself remains to be seen and, again, does not seem consistent from episode-to-episode. I also found myself wishing that more experienced voice actors were hired to star as these iconic characters rather than trying to preserve their original actors. A lot of inflection gets lost when performed by actors not as experienced in voice work and, without the ability to see their faces, predominately screen actor performances can sometimes fall flat when translated into animation, which some of What If…? falls victim to.

From L-R: The Collector (Benicio del Toro), Star Lord/T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) via Marvel Studios

Despite this, some longtime MCU fans may still be disappointed to learn that feature film pillars like Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Scarlett Johansson will not be reprising their roles as their iconic characters, but the actors who will be returning is nothing to scoff at. Hayley Atwell as Captain Peggy Carter, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa are just a few of the original actors set to appear in this animated romp through the multiverse.

Like I mentioned previously, I had the privilege of catching an early screening of the first three episodes of what President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige has confirmed will be a ten episode season and I’m excited by the variety that viewers will have the opportunity to experience. I can’t wait to see what they do with the rest of the season!

From L-R: Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) via Marvel Studios

Each episode has its own distinct flavor, which is indicative of the new genre exploration that Marvel has been doing not only with their newest Disney+ shows (WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki), but with previous releases like Ant-Man and the Wasp (a total romcom), Spider-Man: Homecoming (a teen, coming-of-age comedy), and Thor: Ragnarok (a movie that many, I’m sure, would classify as a category of its own making).

What If…? releasing on the heels of WandaVision and the season one finale of Loki brings with it a big and brave new world to unravel. With Spider-Man: No Way Home forthcoming in December and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in March 2022, there’s so much speculation for where the stories and characters we know may end up in the canon that getting a taste of their potential futures through these snappy and thoroughly entertaining one-shots is the perfect primer for that new universe to begin.

Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell) via Marvel Studios

It’s clear that the MCU is committed to broadening their horizons and allowing their creators more room to play, now that the Infinity Saga has reached its end and Phase Four begins.

Readers of the comics will find a lot to be excited about in this new series, including the opportunity to see some of their favorite arcs brought to life on the big screen, even if only for the space of a single episode. Newer and less-immersed viewers, by comparison, may find it difficult to get into the show initially, especially since each episode is a brand-new story with no overarching connectivity.

Nevertheless, once you get acclimated to the singular nature of each episode, What If…? comes as a balm to those exhausted by having to keep up with the connective tissue stringing each feature film together and is pure fun for the Marvel buff and casual viewer alike.

This show will be an excellent addition to your Wednesday night viewing, easily filling the void the Loki season one finale left behind.

Marvel Studio’s What If…? premieres this Wednesday, August 11, on Disney+.

via Marvel Studios
Categories
Film Music

In the Heights (Review)

I saw the Tony award-winning musical, In the Heights, twelve years ago. It was 2009 and I was 16 years old. It was the first piece of media my parents and I could remember seeing that featured people who looked and sounded like us since West Side Story (1957, 1961).

My grandparents were born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York when they were barely twenty, so Lin-Manuel Miranda has become something of a hero to my family in the years since In the Heights opened among the likes of Grammy award-winner Marc Anthony and retired New York Mets outfielder Carlos Beltrán.

In the Heights is a story that knows exactly what it is, and it tells you so in the first ten minutes: “We’re takin’ a flight / To a couple of days / ​in the life of what it’s like / En Washington Heights.” To get to Washington Heights from Brooklyn, where I was born, you take the A train an hour uptown, get off at 181st, and take the escalator.

In the Heights follows Usnavi, a Dominican bodega owner working to survive as he puts his pennies away to hopefully make it back to his island one day. Everything changes for him, however, when he finds out his bodega sold the winning lottery ticket for a jackpot of $96,000 just before a multi-day blackout sweeps the streets of Washington Heights.

Along with Usnavi, there’s Abuela Claudia, the matriarch of the block they live on, who immigrated from Cuba in the 1940s; Nina Rosario, the first to go to college, who’s recently come home from her first year at Stanford with a big secret; Benny, who works at the car service dispatch Nina’s father owns and dreams of attending business school and making it big; and Vanessa, who works at the local beauty salon and is trying to move downtown, with little luck.

As with anything adapted from a popular source material, there have been some changes. Storylines have either been tweaked, condensed, or completely rewritten; familiar songs and some secondary characters have been changed or cut; and the actors’ interpretations of beloved characters (with their own stylized vocals) are much different from what the privileged few who have seen a stage production may remember.

Luckily, Lin-Manuel Miranda (producer), who wrote the music and lyrics for the stage production, and Quiara Alegría Hudes (screenwriter), who wrote the original book, joined forces with director Jon M. Chu to breathe new life into a story that—while timeless in its themes of family, community, and home—needed some updating.

Beyond a few lyrical changes that thankfully stepped away from cheap shots at other marginalized groups for the sake of a laugh (like the Tokyo joke in “96,000”, which was swapped for an Obi-Wan Kenobi pun), Hudes beautifully captures what it means to be Latinx in 2021, a stark contrast to what it meant back in 2008. Along with imbuing characters like Nina and Vanessa with some much-needed agency, Hudes introduces an issue left relatively unexplored in the stage production, but that still plagues Latinx communities to this day: being an undocumented immigrant in our fraught political landscape.

While I won’t spoil who this affects and how they work the storyline into the overall narrative, I will say that it’s an incredible and insightful addition to the journey of a character who, at the best of times, was simply considered comic relief.

Chu—who’s been tapped to direct the screen adaptation of Tony award-winning musical Wicked and who’s success with Crazy Rich Asians skyrocketed him into the public eye—brings his flair for the visually dramatic to Washington Heights, an already colorful neighborhood that they were lucky enough to film on location! But it’s Chu’s experience with the Step-Up franchise that serves him best here.

From its flashy, heavily-choreographed numbers like the titular “In the Heights”, “96,000”, and “Carnaval del Barrio”, to its more intimate and nuanced songs like “Paciencia y Fe” and “When the Sun Goes Down”, Chu doesn’t miss an opportunity to get up close and personal with his actors. All the while, he never forgets that this is a movie-musical adaptation, bringing with it its own set of expectations from newcomers and musical theater buffs alike.

What struck me the most about Chu’s interpretation, however, is his use of magical realism, a staple of Latinx storytelling. While the conceit of a movie-musical is magic in itself, there’s a special brand of magical realism inherent in all Latinx media (particularly its literature–shout out to Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez!) and Chu pulls out all the stops to make sure it’s represented on the big screen. Whorls of fabric unfurl over the rooftops of Washington Heights in Vanessa’s “It Won’t Be Long Now”; hip-hop and Graffiti Pete’s murals come to startling life in “96,000”; and Benny and Nina dance up the walls of their apartment block in “When the Sun Goes Down”, just to name a few breathtaking instances of movie magic.

And while every single cast member poured their heart and soul into this movie, Anthony Ramos—who takes up the mantle of Usnavi from Miranda himself—and Leslie Grace—who plays Nina Rosario—steal the show. Miranda himself has been quoted saying that Ramos is, and has always been, a movie star, and it’s a hard claim to deny. Ramos’ performance as Usnavi is explosive, magnetic, undeniably sexy—a trait the character of Usnavi has never been known for but that works exceptionally well here. A triple-threat if there ever was one, Ramos will have you on your feet.

Grace, in comparison, is a quiet, raw, and dynamic powerhouse as Nina, a character that seems to belong to many first- and second-generation immigrants bearing the weight of their families’ hopes and dreams on their shoulders. Her performance in “Breathe” will leave you speechless and the believability of her romance with Benny in the movie is, dare I say it… better than the musical.

I’d be remiss not to mention the absolutely stunning portrayals of Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), Benny (Corey Hawkins), Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), and Abuela Claudia, played by Olga Merediz, who originated the role on Broadway.

Miranda, who conceived of In the Heights when he was still in college and worked on it through his twenties, has proven himself as a creative force to be reckoned with. From his conception of Heights, to his blockbuster of a musical Hamilton, to his directorial debut adapting Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) for Netflix, Miranda continues to propel himself—and Latinx culture—onto the main stage.

I saw the movie, In the Heights, on opening night. It’s 2021 and I’m 28 years old. Very few of my family members still live in Puerto Rico, having evacuated here, to Nueva York, after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island back in 2017. I am a New Yorker. I am Latina. This show meant so much to me as a teenager and the movie is no exception.

I implore you to go see In the Heights, streaming now on HBO Max and in theaters. You will not regret it. Regardless of whether you’re coming to it as a fan of the stage production or are just looking for a good time, this movie is a grand spectacle that will leave you breathless—I know it left me cheering so loud and raucous, they could hear me across the bridge in East Secaucus.

96,000/10

Categories
Various Media

What a Year! Amanda’s Top Ten of 2020

Hey everybody! Super excited to make a debut on the GateCrashers website. If you don’t recognize my name, fear not—I was only very recently featured in the Pokémon episode at the beginning of the month. Thrilled to be here, my friends.

As you may have guessed, I’m Amanda! I work as a children’s book editor by day and dream of voicing animated characters at night. I read way too much fanfic, play video games almost exclusively to watch the cut scenes, and regularly cry about Tony Stark. I am 90% pasta.

Without further ado, let’s get cracking on that top ten of 2020 (in no particular order), shall we?

Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

A middle grade (ages 8-12) graphic novel by the incredibly talented Aliza Layne, Beetle, and the Hollowbones follows Beetle as she struggles to free her new friend, Blob Ghost, from the force that binds them to their dying mall while coming to terms with the fact that her friendship with her old friend, Kat, might be coming to an end…

All at once sweet, eerie, and delightfully queer-inclusive, I absolutely fell in love with Beetle and her friends. While I had the privilege of reading an early copy, you can grab this 2020 release wherever books are sold. I promise it’ll keep you warm in 2021.

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), directed by Cathy Yan

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see many movies this year (and didn’t get to indulge in my favorite holiday vacation past-time of taking myself to see five movies in one weekend), but what I did get to see was simply pure magic. Birds of Prey was uproariously funny, wonderfully kick-butt, and the exact kind of fun I’m looking for when I walk into a comic film. Margot Robbie is my queen!

Photo Credit: Limelight Productions

Palm Springs, directed by Max Barbakow

Anyone who’s spent five minutes with me knows how absolutely pumped I was about this movie. Time loops??? Irreverent characters who are soft on the inside??? Shenanigans??? ANDY SAMBERG????? That’s all I have to say on that. I’ve watched this movie so many times my Hulu account is comprised of nothing else.

Photo Credit: Republic Records

folklore by Taylor Swift

In a year where I have very few places to travel to, it’s simply a crime that I don’t have as many opportunities to blast this album from my car stereo as it deserves. I am a newly minted Swiftie and this is the album that did it. The first time I heard “the 1”, I transcended from this mortal coil. I go to sleep thinking about this album. I wake up thinking about this album.

Don’t even get me started on evermore. We don’t have all day.

Photo Credit: Nintendo

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

I cannot stress this enough: I have played this game every. Single. Day. It is the ultimate Turn My Brain Off and Have a Good Time game. I’ve demolished and rebuilt my island six times since March. I have logged almost 1,000 hours on this thing. I have destroyed many a sleep schedule. I cannot be stopped.

Please come visit my island: DA-3658-3184-1448

Photo Credit: Marvelous!

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town

If you were one of the many who were obsessed with Farmville on Facebook or Stardew Valley, then you’ll understand why I can’t stop playing Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. It’s a farming sim that is, once again, an impeccable Turn My Brain Off and Have a Good Time game. (It’s also the only other game that comes close to the number of hours I’ve logged on ACNH.)

Photo Credit: Rants Hemlock

Turtle Creek by Rants Hemlock

I must address the elephant in the room: This not a real Netflix series. That’s because it’s actually a fake Netflix series based on a very real book. Told via SMAU (social media alternate universe). Which is just someone on Twitter making fake social media posts to tell a story. Why, yes. I certainly did put a fanfic on my top ten of 2020.

Turtle Creek tells the story of Richie Tozier who, after shooting to fame on a sitcom, joins the drama series Turtle Creek at the last minute, which infuriates the show’s star Eddie Kaspbrak, and leads to love and shenanigans. Yes, these are Stephen King characters. No, I haven’t read or seen IT. I will not be taking questions at this time.

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott

While The Martian did, in fact, come out in 2015, that hasn’t stopped me from replaying this movie over and over and over throughout the year. It has been my go-to comfort film for when my anxiety is spiking. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong are just… very soothing. On top of it is a stunning display of the kindness and empathy that we, as human beings, are capable of, the entire tracklist is simply *chef’s kiss*

Photo Credit: Palm Tree Records

Days Are Gone by Vin Diesel

Listen… Vin Diesel said, “I’m gonna release some music now” and I very happily sat my bottom down and said, “Sing to me, Vin.” The star of arguably the greatest franchise of our time (The Fast & the Furious, for those not in the know) can do whatever he wants! He’s Groot! He’s the Iron Giant!

Also, I just think it’s a bop.

Photo Credit: Borderline Entertainment

The Umbrella Academy 2, showrunner Steve Blackman

I was a big fan of the first season of Umbrella Academy; it was fun and irreverent and had character dynamics that I absolutely loved. But season two blows it out of the water for me. I loved the shift in sibling dynamics and how much richer they felt, especially between Vanya, Alison, and Klaus; I loved watching Five be taken down a peg or two while still maintaining his boyish arrogance and his fraught relationship with Diego; I loved Ben; and they finally made Luther interesting. I’m so looking forward to the third season but, in the meantime… perhaps I’ll go pick up the graphic novels while I wait.