NOTE: Do you like this piece? Want to see more like it? Please consider a contribution to The MovieBob Patreon.

Did one of these for the old outlet a year ago, figured I might as well put a new one up here and see how the reaction goes. Almost didn’t, because the “venue” I chose to watch the show wound up not actually putting it on the main screen until almost an hour in because a prior sports-event tied and ran long, but I saw what seemed to be the “big” matches so I’m going for it. I feel like there’s a pretty solid crossover between Wrestling fandom and the rest of geek culture, but I also feel like it ought to be even moreso. Anyway, we’ll see.

On the off chance that you’ve decided to read this recap as a non-fan (or casual fan) of pro-wrestling, a brief explanation behind (some) of what’s going on here: Wrestlemania is the WWE’s biggest annual event, and while it’s not a strict rule this is the show where the biggest spectacle match-ups (i.e. “you never thought you’d see these two fight!”) and title defenses are expected to take place and where (some) of the year’s long-running kayfabe (in-ring/in-character) biggest storylines are expected to either resolve or twist in some dramatic fashion.

(More prologue and SPOILERS after the jump)

Last year’s ‘Mania was one for the ages (or, at least, it’s being short-term remembered as such) mainly based on two huge moments: The Undertaker’s 21 year/21 match undefeated streak being ended by former UFC wrecking-machine Brock Lesnar and uber fan-favorite underdog Daniel Bryan (real name Bryan Danielson) becoming World Heavyweight Champion. Those two angles, happening at once, seemed to (and seemed meant to) solidfy Lesnar and Bryan and the new top heel and babyface (villain and hero) of the company, and storyline that could’ve potentially carried through much of the year… but didn’t.

Bryan sustained an (actual) injury that ended up grounding him for months, by many accounts scrambling a good number of intended creative directions, leading to franchise-mainstay John Cena getting thrust back into the top face spot (replacing his then-waning “white rapper” persona with a semi self-aware Superman/Captain America-style implausibly-earnest good guy routine) and endure an utterly brutal squash (re: super-lopsided) match against Lesnar at Summerslam that most suspect was meant for Bryan. The intended (narrative) outcome was the same re: The Championship Belt is now on the waist of the hated “legend-killing” heel who not only enrages fans with his cocky lack of repect for WWE history but also terrifies… well, pretty-much everyone by looking more physically-lethal than anyone else in the business now (seriously, go look up a picture of this guy – he looks like something out of FIST OF THE NORTH STAR.) But it helped supercharge an awkward rift between WWE and it’s own fanbase.

Short version: Present-day WWE is working through what’s being called “The Reality Era.” This is supposed to mean that the kayfabe storylines stick semi-close to either actual reality re: Wrestler’s personalities/life-situations or a semblance of reality in general – no more magic powers, no more outlandish excuses for rivalry. What it actually means, so far, is WWE doing the same storyline stuff it’s always done, just augmented by oddly-arranged boundaries of “realism.” For example: No one is supposed to believe “scary” characters like Undertaker have supernatural powers anymore, but we are asked to believe that they can control the practical special-FX, pyrotechnics and arena electrical-systems used to simulate those powers… and that this is just as dangerous. See also: Big Show (real name Paul Wight, aka “The Giant”) is allowed to roll his eyes and laugh-off the silliness of starting off his professional career billed as the vengeance-seeking son of Andre the Giant (he’s not)… but his most-recent heel-turn into an enforcer for reigning heel-squad The Authority? That’s “real.”

Problem? The “reality” of the business as envisioned by WWE Creative itself (or, if you buy the scuttlebutt, as-envisioned by aging WWE CEO Vince McMahon, with the rest of the company being more in-sync with the fanbase but powerless to change the boss’s mind) is increasingly at odds with fandom. The best illustration of this is Cena, a workhorse perpetual-babyface beloved by younger fans (supposedly he’s resisted a long-expected heel-turn because it might impact his usefulness to charities like Make-A-Wish) but increasingly disliked by older fans weaned on “Attitude Era” (re: WWE’s violent/sexually-charged 90s incarnation) anti-heroes who drive the message-board and podcast side of wrestling fandom. It doesn’t help that he’s also emblematic in general of the “Vince-preferred” superstars (big-personality stars whose skill-set is often second to looking like live-action comic book heroes) that core wrestling fandom views as getting unfair pushes over guys like Bryan (i.e. scrappy multi-talents with real technical grappling chops but who don’t have the “look” the company prefers in champions for marketing purposes.

As such, the REAL “reality” storyline of the last year has been crowds (fairly or not) vocally refusing to support the kayfabe narrative – which, since these shows are live, can derail matches and force Creative’s hand. As a result, fans turned on Cena (hard enough to effectively derail the “Death & Rebirth of Superman” story meant to spin out from the Summerslam squash) and even more harshly on Roman Reigns, a relative newcomer also seen as a “Vince pick” (depending on your frame of reference, he either looks like Cena and The Rock had a baby or if Khal Drogo joined G.I. JOE) which has thrown the face/heel dynamic into utter disarray: Heading into ‘Mania, a good deal of fans are actively rooting against Cena in favor of “bad guys” like Rusev (a Russian-aligned, America-hating usurper of the United States Championship) and even Lesnar – since it’s Roman Reigns who emerged from The Royal Rumble having won the right to challenge the champ.

So what happened? Here we go, match by match (including the ones I didn’t see) with FULL SPOILERS:

Wasn’t able to see either of these (okay Vince, you win – I’ll get The Network) because I was watching the regular PPV feed at my usual hangout for ‘Manias of the last few years (shouldn’t have this year, because of the delays), but it’s weird to see the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal – such a fun event last year – relegated to the two pre-show matches (the other was a tag-team title fight, and WWE’s tag division is dull as hell right now). The change is likely mostly to do with last year’s winner, Cesaro, failing to get real heat off of it, but it still feels like a miss considering they wound up using this match to end the “Mizdow” storyline (Damien Sandow being the “stuntman”/indentured servant to The Miz) and handed the tropy to a dominant Big Show. Now comes the big (pardon the pun) question: Does Show take this opportunity (I doubt he’s going to have a title run again, realistically) and retire into a Legends contract?

LADDER MATCH (Daniel Bryan, Stardust, Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper, Dean Ambrose, R Truth & Bad News Bryan for Intercontinental Championship):
Only got to see snippets of this, because of venue issues, but it’s the one I’m most looking forward to seeing (I’ll update this recap afterwards) because these guys are all damn good performers and it’s being called the match of the night by some folks I trust. Booking-wise, this is the kind of “meta-match” (i.e. the kayfabe storyline is a nod to real-life fan/sport/business issues) that seems set to define the Reality Era: The IC belt has been passed around so much at this point, WWE has essentially thrown up it’s hands and said “fuck it, just hang the damn thing above the ring and let six guys fight over who gets to pull it down.”

The result, of course, was a foregone conclusion: Bryan takes the belt and the title. At first glance this seems like a downgrade, relegating the fan-favorite (of vocal “hardcore wrestling” fans, in any case) to a mid-card title, and maybe it is… but it also feels like a canny move. WWE has been letting the Heavyweight belt become less frequently-contested as it moves to having more and more “superstars” under limited-appearance contracts like Lesnar, so putting a “second tier” belt on a crowd-pleaser like Bryan potentially gives them opportunity to have regular title-stakes matches with at least one guaranteed draw on non-Mania PPVs the rest of the year. Bryan gets another title run, fans get high-profile matches more regularly and the IC Title itself gets some much-needed prestige back.

Shitty venue impediment #2 (last one, I promise), only caught the end of this one. Decent match (these guys are good) that wound up as a Battle of The Special Moves, but lacking heat because Orton has already been allowed to get his revenge on Rollins (he bounced Orton out of The Authority back when they were both henchmen) by brutalizing him on Monday Night RAW the last few weeks. Basically, it was overly transparent (even for Wrestling) that this match only existed to provide a plausible excuse for Rollins to be at the show other than to cash in his Money In The Bank briefcase (a totem won in a yearly contest which its owner can exchange for an anytime/anywhere/no-exceptions shot at the Heavyweight Title) but did we really need a whole match for that?

Okay, a little more history for non-fans who (for whatever reason) might be reading this: Once upon a time, WWE had an equally (for the most part) powerful rival Wrestling outfit in WCW (World Championship Wrestling) which both peaked and ended during the 1990s “Monday Night Wars” (both companies had competing Mondays shows). Big stars used to go back and forth between the two companies based on who was offering better contracts (or hiring guys the other league had kicked out), but not always: Sting stayed with WCW all the way through to it’s eventual conquering and assimilation by WWE and never once changed teams; effectively making him WCW’s equivalent to both Undertaker (eternally loyal to WWE) and Hulk Hogan (Sting has almost-always been one of the good guys.)

Now, he’s making his first ever WWE debut at the age of 56 for what most assume will be a handful (at best) of big Nostalgia Bait fan-service matches to ensure his place as a proper Wrestling legend since – with WCW gone and apart from a stint in the short-lived TNA outfit – he’s been out of the game long enough that a whole generation of fans doesn’t really know him. This is the first of these matches, against Triple H (aka “Hunter Hearst Helmsley” – also not his real name) who was also a Monday Night Wars fixture but has since ascended to being an in-ring part-timer with powerful connections to WWE management (he’s married to Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie, which actually started as an angle and turned into the real thing) that have him playing the role of (kayfabe) Chairman.

Problem: This is a match fans would’ve killed to see… 15 years ago. Today? These guys are both in shape you or I might even in our 50s, but they’re still past prime in terms of physical combat – even partially-staged. So they went and made the match memorable by doubling-down on 90s Nostalgia and old-school rasslin’ silliness. Sting entered via a Japanese drummers’ corps, Triple-H rolled out flanked by Terminator endoskeletons (I don’t get it?) The match itself was mostly a mid-speed, methodical slugfest and exchange of special moves… and then the crazy shit started.

Triple-H’s 90s bad guy team, Degeneration X, came out to help him. Sting got his own backup in the form of his WCW frienemies The New World Order (Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall). Yeah, it was a bunch of old men pretend-fighting for a nonsensical nostalgia pop. But, damn it… DX VS NWO AT WRESTLEMANIA!!! STING GOT HIS BAT! TRIPLE-H GOT HIS SLEDGEHAMMER! HOGAN ACTUALLY TAKES A BUMP! SCOTT HALL (who was near-death not long ago, supposedly rehabilitated by Wrestler-turned-yoga-guru “Diamond” Dallas Page) STING’S BAT CHOPS THE HAMMER IN HALF!!! AND IT ENDS WITH A MUTUAL-RESPECT HANDSHAKE THAT’S TOTALLY OUT OF CHARACTER FOR BOTH GUYS BUT WHATEVER!!! The whole thing was stupid-awesome in the way that only Wrestlemania can be. Sting ultimately lost, which was to be expected – it means he’ll be doing at least one more match (the worst kept secret in Wrestling is that WWE is hoping Sting and Undertaker remain able to move under their own power for a double-retirement match at next year’s ‘Mania.)

DIVAS TAG-TEAM (AJ Lee & Page vs The Bella Twins)
Oy. The Divas (Women’s) Division is the other spot where WWE is having problems with fan-management – in this case, with the divided nature of their own evolving fanbase. The Divas have more cultural cache than ever thanks to the TOTAL DIVAS reality show on E!, but that very show and other (admittedly clumsy) attempts to make the division appeal to an actual female audience has engendered backlash from traditional (male) fans more used to the Attitude Era approach to female wrestlers (read: a smaller stable whose kayfabe characters are carefully-fitted into the “cool athetlic chick” sweet-spot on the tomboy-to-pornstar scale of hawtness).

As a result, the only story Creative seems to know how to tell is positioning whichever Diva core fans are most “okay” with (right now it’s English goth-rock/bike-chick Page, who to her credit is a hell of a talent) as the lone “cool girl” up against the rest of her division as caricatures of annoying (to men) trends in female-skewing pop-culture. It’s a shame, because everyone in this match has good wrestling fundamentals and work hard in the ring (AJ and Page earned their victory), but the division needs an overhaul if they want to stop wasting talent.

RUSEV vs CENA (United States Championship Title Match)
That thing I mentioned in the prologue about Daniel Bryan’s sidelining and fandom mutiny blowing up the heel/face dynamic this year? Big bad Russian (he’s actually Bulgarian, said to be living in Russia) heel Rusev is the guy whose probably both benefited and been hurt by it most in equal measure. His still young career is a case-study in the unpredictability of living kayfabe. WWE has run a perfect playbook of turning him into a Putin-era revival of the Soviet Super-Athlete heels that reigned in the 80s: He (and his girlfriend/manager Lana) trash talk the U.S., beat down patriotic soldiers who rush the ring, wave the Russian flag, deliver monologues in praise of Vladimir Putin and proudly rub Rusev’s ironic ownership of the U.S. Title in the faces of fans…

…but it hasn’t really worked. Putin may be a bastard, but he doesn’t get the kind of “villain pop” from patriotism-susceptible audiences that, say, an ISIS-aligned figure probably would (no way in HELL is WWE touching that again, though); and the in-on-the-joke Millennial “smark” fans who might be inclined to go along with an obvious throwback storyline like this don’t really care about a storyline that’s basically a longform ROCKY IV reference. Finally, without a properly “over” (crowd-loved) face to be the hero, the story doesn’t work. Ironically, this has actually helped Rusev on the non-narrative side: The crowds increasingly love this guy. He’s a tremendous specimen for one thing, sporting a 1920s circus-strongman build with most of his weight is in his barrel-chested torso and propelling himself around on nimble legs with alarming speed for a brute this size; and he’s a great in-ring storyteller with expressive pantomime.

In other words, he’ll probably be the first popular young heel to emerge from a beatdown from Cena better for the experience in the immediate (a similar loss derailed Bray Wyatt’s character for much of last year). There’ll be some reinvention, but properly-managed this guy could easily be a Heavyweight contender in a year or two – especially if they can find a decent opportunity to flip him to babyface since he’s already over with the fans. For now, it can be said that this was a HELL of a fight from a pure physical standpoint. Whatever else can be said about Cena, he works his ass off in the ring, and Rusev has such a unique physicality to his move-set that they couldn’t help but make eachother look good. Finally, much like Bryan becoming IC Champ, Cena having the U.S. belt makes it a major title for the first time in forever and gives WWE a chance to book meaningful title matches more often and with bigger stars (Cena, in particular, will pretty-much fight anyone in any venue The McMahons point him at.)

And now comes the part where you (here meaning the people in charge) put on some heavily scripted business guaranteed to go over huge and leave the crowd shell-shocked because the very next match could potentially go super-bad and you need something to overshadow or at least level-off that for Monday.

So out come Triple-H and Stephanie McMahon (currently known as “The Authority” in a double-act version of Vince’s Attitude Era “bad boss” routine) to piss all over the nice handshake ending to the Sting match by reminding the fans that they’re arrogant bad guys. Then out comes The Rock (presumably this is part of his FURIOUS 7 tour) to “stick up” for the fans. Stephanie slaps him and pulls the “you won’t hit a girl” card… so The Rock goes down and retrieves UFC WOMEN’S CHAMP RONDA ROUSEY from the crowd so she can talk some trash before judo-throwing Triple-H out of the ring and snapping an arm-lock on Stephanie. Oh, and she does so while sporting a Dragon Ball Z tank-top, which suggests she “gets” Millennial gym-culture WWE fanboys better than WWE Creative does.

It’s a ridiculous spectacle (the Reality Era version of stunt-matches featuring celebrity athletes from other vocations) but it kills. This is the Wrestlemania Moment people will be talking out this year. Even if just for this bit, Rousey is a huge “get” – she’s probably the best known Mixed Martial-Arts fighter on the planet of any gender right now – but if this is (as many suspect) a setup for her taking a few event matches (or even a full stint?) in WWE that’s a big damn deal for the sport given how much steam the idea of WWE contracts as an acceptable halfway-point for MMA stars who want to go out healthy but not fully retire has gained in the last few years. If Rousey was wrestling in WWE, it’d be the biggest thing to happen in the sport for years in terms of pop-culture visibility and “real” sports-world coverage.

But what do they do with her, if she does take a run at it? A decade ago, it’d be an easy answer: Work the “world’s deadliest woman” angle, have her qualify for the men’s division, set up some showy victories over impressive-looking male opponents (since she’s UFC, crowds will “buy” that she can put big guys out with head-strikes), put a mid-card belt on her, maybe build up a “sexist” heel (oh man, how good would Miz be at this schtick??) for some Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs business for a PPV. But today? If she was willing to sign for a full stint, Rousey could be the legitimizing force the Divas’ Division has been hurting for – put the belt on her, and suddenly The Divas’ Title is on the cover of every fight/fitness magazine still in print, and any challenger who doesn’t embarrass herself against The Champ can quickly shed the “reality stars pretending to wrestle” stigma unfairly slapped on the whole division. As of now, if she jumps in at all it’ll likely be for an “official” mixed-tag rematch of this gag, but man do I want to see the Divas Belt on her now.

Fun meta-booking with the old and new “scary guy” wrestlers going at it, but tension is pretty-much nil here: Taker needs to win at Wrestlemania to erase the Lesnar-launching loss from last year, Wyatt is a well-booked opponent because he’s a brawler but not a speed-demon so Taker’s age looks like less of an issue than it did against The Beast. The result is a very solid match between two consumate pros, but… let’s get real here: I think most men would give up quite a bit to be in the kind of shape Mark William Callaway (Undertaker) is at 50, especially considering the brutal physical endurance that’s characterized his career… but it’s still increasingly hard to watch him take some of these bumps – or even some of these landings. In-motion it’s one thing, but go look at some of the stills of this match and try not to think “Jesus – that man could cripple himself in that ring right now.”

But! It played out decently, and the point was proved: He’s still got it, and if he can hold his own against a young scrapper like Wyatt he can probably make one more ‘Mania. If the dream match comes together and he and Sting do go at it for Double Retirement at Wrestlemania XXXII, what you’ll likely see is two 50+ men beat eachother to the brink of mutual oblivion, then stand up together for the biggest sustained cheers/tears wave in WWE history.

BROCK LESNAR vs ROMAN REIGNS (World Heavyweight Championship match)
And here it is: WWE’s chance to set right the off-kilterness of the fans’ non-engagement with Lesnar as a villain, Reigns as a hero and THE Championship as a meaningful stake. Fair or not, the crowd just isn’t on Reigns’ side right now. They can’t put the belt on him without risking full-scale mutiny. Maybe he can work a “no, fuck YOU!” heel-turn later, but it makes no sense to start here because while Brock is over with the fans in a big way nobody wants to see them try to make a face out of a guy whose appeal is that he looks like he can end your life in one move.

Straight and to the point: While they’re definitely being douchey about it, “the crowd” is right – Reigns is just too green and underdeveloped to be a top face and Champion right now. He’s obviously got potential to spare, but that he looked better than he’s ever looked here is largely owed to the choreography and pretty good ring chemistry with Lesnar (it makes sense, both of these guys are well-balanced strikers leaning on speed/power combos.) It’s a bloody (for the post-Attitude age) fight, too, but it has to be: Lesnar’s character is “I will kill you with my bare hands,” and we have to believe it to care. You might hate Reigns, but you can’t say he didn’t leave everything in the ring tonight; and by the end of it either guy would’ve earned the win…

…but since this is Wrestling, neither of them did. Instead, Seth Rollins “surprisingly” rushes out (brief history: Rollins, Reigns and Dean Ambrose used to be a three man tag team called The Shield, Rollins violently betrayed the others and joined The Authority as a hench-heel) while both men are injured and cashes in his Money In The Bank contract, transforming this into a three-way match where he gets to go fresh against two guys who’ve beaten eachother into near-unconsciousness. Because he’s the bad guy, you see. The heel swerve is perfectly played: Rollins tries to take out Lesnar, but get’s manhandled easily – so instead, he lets his opponents knock eachother down again, pins the more badly-hurt, less-superhuman Reigns for the win and gets the hell out of dodge with the belt and the Title.

Perfect, perfect, perfect finish… and even better IF they can capitalize on it. Amid everything else, WWE has managed to end Wrestlemania XXXII with the company set up for really strong set of emerging narratives. The Authority now have the Championship under their control for maximum villain heat, Rollins (another workhorse) can defend the title more often than Lesnar could, Lesnar himself gets a boost for his “monster beyond face or heel” persona, Reigns’ “too soon” push has been crushed, now he can be rebuilt into a (hopefully) more likable form while they prime a rekindled rivalry with Rollins. That, plus title belts on their most over face (Bryan) and their most sellable face (Cena) means this should be a really interesting spring/summer, booking-wise.

Overall, good event. Not an all-timer like last year, but lot’s of memorable moments. Dug the hell out of most of it, wish I’d seen the parts I’d missed, but I’ll tell you one thing: I’m sure as hell not missing RAW tonight.

Did you enjoy this piece? Would you like to see more like it? Please consider a contribution to The MovieBob Patreon.

Really That Good: GHOSTBUSTERS

NOTE: Sony has released the copyright claim against this episode. Good on them.

The first episode (“pilot,” if we’re being honest) for my new project: REALLY THAT GOOD, a film essay series based on the radical idea that our most beloved movies probably became our most beloved movies for a good reason; and that just because “everyone” agrees a film is great doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of a serious second look:

A lot of work has gone into this one, folks; and I’m pretty damn happy with how it came out especially for a first try. I hope you all enjoy it.

TV Recap: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D – Season 2 Episode 14: "LOVE IN THE TIME OF HYDRA"

One reason it was rough going getting this up for Wednesday (hence why you’re now getting it on Saturday)? This wasn’t an especially strong episode, and it was hard to find anything useful to say about it other than to recap what happened.

This an episode almost-exclusively about putting various characters into the positions they need to be in for a promised “explosive” storyline next week, buoyed by some character/relationship melodrama that was nice to see but would’ve worked better amid the support of a stronger overall setting. Upkeep-episodes are all well and good (and necessary, given that AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D is now clearly pacing itself with an eye on bulk re-watchings whenever the various future Marvel movies it’s laying foundation for hit) but the word “obligatory” was hanging too prominently over the proceedings.

Full review (with SPOILERS!) after the jump…

The structural theme at play in “LOVE IN THE TIME OF HYDRA” was various character pairings being shaken by the continuing changes to their status-quo. To wit: Coulson and Skye re-solidify their surrogate-family bond amid his decision to remove her from active Agent duty and relocate her to a secret rural safe house. Fitz and Simmons have it out, verbally, over their unexpected divergence on the Inhumans (still unnamed as such) issue; i.e. Fitz wants to treat Skye’s powers as a “difference” to be understood and accepted, Simmons sees them as a dangerous flaw to be cured (or worse?) Hunter finds out that Bobbi (Mockingbird) has been lying to him re: her and Mack being double agents for a second, better-equipped rival S.H.I.E.L.D revival.

Finally, Ward resurfaces, still seemingly in the midst of whatever long-term agenda he’s been working this whole time but now with a smitten Agent 33 (the brainwashed HYDRA spy with the face-changer mask fused to her face) in tow. Their’s is the “new” and more unconventional “Loves” referenced in the title, and I liking their dynamic even if they’re over-telegraphing the “Hey! Remember how Ward pulled this exact same nuturing-crush thing on Skye!?” aspect. Their game-playing with Talbot was also the most entertaining aspect of the episode, re-establishing the tricky edge Adrian Pasdar has to walk with Talbot being not so much “incompetent” but utterly-outclassed as an ordinary General in a world of spies and superheroes.

“The Real S.H.I.E.L.D,” on the other hand, is more of a mixed bag. The setup works: These aren’t (evidently) more “bad” Agents, nor do they seem to be HYDRA (again, which would be lame,) they just represent a much larger (than Team Coulson) consortium of ex-Agents who also want to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D but see said rebuild as an opportunity to jettison the (in their view) failed Nick Fury model of secret-keeping that Coulson (ever the in-universe fanboy clinging to the old-school) and his ownership of Fury’s personal files is standing in the way of.

The problem with this setup? It’s already too apparent (unless one hell of a curveball is on the way, granted) what it’s there for: Real S.H.I.E.L.D’s leader Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) is specifically concerned about Skye’s transformation, Coulson’s alien-infused blood and the proliferation of enhanced superhumans in general; which means that in addition to worldbuilding for the INHUMANS franchise we would now seem to have some infrastructure for the (MCU version of the) Superhuman Registration storyline that’s expected to be the inciting incident for CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

All well and good. But for now, no matter how much “moral gray” AGENTS wants to feign by lampshading how haphazard Coulson’s style of running a covert spy agency would seem if he wasn’t a TV character on an AVENGERS spin-off, the cat is out of the bag in terms of The Inhumans being MCU’s replacement for X-MEN/Mutant characters and storylines. As such, it feels pointless to pretend like “Real S.H.I.E.L.D” is going to end up as something other than variations on Stryker, Gyrich, etc.

Presumably this will all pay off handsomely moving forward, but right now we’re strictly in piece-arrangement territory, and that doesn’t leave a lot to actually think about.


  • Also not a great sign: Ward’s return mainly reminded me how not-interesting his family-issues and undefined “agenda” are. It still feels like the show made a mistake keeping him around as a semi-regular after he’d served his “gotcha” purpose in Season 1.
  • Agent 33 is still more hypothetically interesting than interesting, but it feels like she’d be a better solo wild-card to have onhand than Ward’s counterpart.
  • I get the reasoning (budget and otherwise) but after all the buildup it was seriously dissapointing to have Skye’s “inhibitor gloves” look less like gauntlets than shiny carpal-tunnel bracers. Yes, I’m interested to find out what “drawbacks” Simmons built into them, but still…
  • Fitz seeing Skye as a potential Captain America while Simmons is thinking more on the lines of The Hulk is about as close to not-clunky as the movie call-outs have ever been on this series, so good job on that.
  • We’re long overdue for a return from The Koenigs, right?


At the very least, the ominously titled “One Door Closes” should move things along in terms of who’s going to make a (likely temporary) jump to “Real S.H.I.E.L.D;” though the main attraction seems to be finally get May vs. Mockingbird. Should be fun.

News & Such

Short version: Yes, you’re still getting an AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D recap for this week (between tomorrow and Sunday) and I apologize for the delay. I could pin some of it on work (things are gathering steam, and I should have exceptionally good news for fans pretty soon) but it’s not just that…

The main fact of the matter is that some personal business (even the vaguest details of which are not public in any way yet, so don’t bother looking) came to something of a head, which put some added delay onto my current workload. Since I’m not really ready to share anything about this on The Internet, I can only ask for patience and understanding in that regard. Either way, nothing I’ve been planning or doing has been canceled, just delayed and shifted. Incidentally, along with S.H.I.E.L.D recaps I’m aiming to start movie reviews (video and text) started again in earnest in the near future, i.e. in-tandem with the start of “big movie season.”

More to the immediate: The main (non-personal) thing drawing my attention this week has been finalizing the first episode of REALLY THAT GOOD, which I’m aiming to have up for the weekend (we’ll see.) It’s been a slightly bigger undertaking than I’d anticipated, and perhaps I should’ve started with a less intimidating subject for a pilot than… well, you’ll see; but I’m very happy with how it’s coming together and I’m excited for you all to see it.

As ever, fans and well-wishers who like what’s going on (and/or are excited for what’s coming) are invited to express their enthusiam via The MovieBob Patreon.


Andrew Niccol’s (GATTACA, IN TIME) GOOD KILL is being touted as the first major Hollywood war movie specifically “about” post-9/11 drone warfare, which one can (cynically) assume is coming out now because we’re almost on to the next election and it’s now that much less lightning-rod-y to criticize a war-fighting method that’s seen (fairly or not) as belonging uniquely to the Obama Era rather than as a Bush/Cheney holdover.

Ethan Hawke stars as an oldschool fighter pilot who, with the demand for his actual flight skills waning, reluctantly joins a squad of joystick-jockeys blowing up Taliban/Al-Qaeda/ISIS/etc (it’s unclear what time period/enemy-cycle this takes place in) from the comfort of a stateside cubicle:

What’s interesting about the trailer is that the emotional/moral focus seems to be more about the hero feeling like this detached/no-risk version of war fighting is somehow less “fair” or righteous than doing the same basic thing but from an actual plane, which is certainly a… unique way to go about the “old soldier questions his values” story-arc.

You’ve got to wonder how far (or in what direction) this aims to go: You can easily imagine, from this trailer, the main narrative being that this “Real Soldier” tested/trained by “Real Combat” gradually becomes horrified by the callous cruelty of a new generation that sees this as one big video game and striking back against that mindset i.e. “MY warfare was good because we had real men taking real risks – this is… something else!” (Supposedly that was the basic storyline for Maverick in the once-again stalled TOP GUN sequel.)

OR is this one going the even darker, more difficult route of the impersonal nature of drone-piloting causing Hawke’s character to realize that – removed from the visceral thrill of actual flying and the nominal risk of injury to his own person – maybe the war-fighting he’d dedicated his whole life and being to wasn’t as righteous and good as he’d believed it to be?

I’m guessing it’s the first one – the John Henry vs. The Steam Drill “aging noble hero versus the cold technology replacing him” narrative is a powerful siren’s call, particularly for leading men themselves of advancing age. Early reviews have been mixed, but with Niccol (who could really use a hit at this point) directing it should at least look pretty good.

In Dog We Trust

Below, the trailer for MAX, which answers the question “How do you make a story about an Afghan War veteran recovering from severe PTSD even more wrenching and instantly sympathetic?” as follows: “Well, what if he’s also a dog?”


I’ve got a well-acknowledged “thing” for dog movies, and between this and WHITE GOD it feels like someone in the movie business might actually be trying to kill me. Just the idea of this is so instantly rough I can almost forgive the trailer essentially giving away it’s own third act (a soldier who knew Max’s Marine owner shows up, he’s a bad guy up to bad-guy stuff, Max and teams up with the kids to fight them) – it’s likely a calculated move to let audiences know that it’s not going to be wall-to-wall sad dog business. Oomph.

Seriously, though – this looks like the good version of a movie that get’s pitched as a joke in some THE PLAYER-style satire of predictable Hollywood sentimentalism (“It’s not sad enough! What if it’s a sick dog instead?”). I’m onboard, but damn. And it’s directed by Boaz Yakin, who did REMEMBER THE TITANS (I just made at least one person cry by typing that title – garaunteed) so you know he’s really good at this shit.

MAX is due out June 26, opening as family-friendly counterprogramming against TED 2. I’ll be spending the intervening months learning to steel myself into a sob-proof-state, since I’ll likely have to see it at a press screening.

TV Recap: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D – Season 2 Episode 13: "ONE OF US"

Do you like reviews like this? Consider contributing to The MovieBob Patreon and help keep them coming!

I’m having a serious internal debate as to where to put the spoiler-warning on these things.

The fact is, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D is now more-or-less “out of the closet” as to what corner of the Marvel Universe it’s actually been most connected to all this time (or, at least, midway through Season 1) …if you’re watching it. If you’re not, since the ads aren’t really using a lot of the key terminology yet, it might still be a surprise for the binge-watching crowd. And while I’m not of the mindset that TV critics should neuter their reviews to cater to the watch-later set… I do know a few people personally who’re doing just that with this series, so… I dunno.

For now, short version: “One Of Us” is basically a catch-up episode, keeping the main plot largely in a holding pattern so the show has time to explain lingering questions about where everything stands and partially-reveal the answer to at least one major remaining mystery. It works, especially the welcome presence of Blair Underwood as an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D psychiatrist who also turns out to be Agent May’s ex-husband; but it’s also the first episode in awhile to return to Season 1’s habit of feeling like a “grownups” episode of BUFFY – and not just because it involved a lo-fi superhero battle on a small town high-school football field.

Still, as has been the case with Season 2’s slower installments, the cast and the bigger ideas at play ultimately pull this one out. More details after the Jump…

So where we? Oh yeah – Agent Skye is actually an Inhuman – that is, a descendant of early humans who were experimented on by The Kree (Ronan’s people from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and manifest super-powers (and sometimes monster-like physical forms) when exposed to Terrigen Crystals. Having been thusly exposed, Skye now has the power to create localized earthquakes, but has difficulty controlling them, putting her S.H.I.E.L.D colleagues in a difficult position. More problematically: Her biological father Calvin (Kyle McLachlan), the supervillain Mr. Hyde, has sworn to cause havoc for S.H.I.E.L.D in order to “rescue” her. Also, two of S.H.I.E.L.D’s new-hires, Agents Bobbi (aka “Mockingbird”) and Mack, are actually double agents for… someone else, and as last week’s episode wrapped they’d had to kidnap Agent Hunter to keep it quiet.

The main plot in “One Of Us” is driven by Calvin, whose big plan involves gathering up a makeshift “supervillain” team and driving to Coulson’s hometown in a dumpy RV in order to bait S.H.I.EL.D into a fight. There’s a super-strong guy, a tech-wizard guy, Angar The Screamer (well, that was unexpected) and Drea DeMatteo as a razor-fingered woman sharing a name (and nothing else) with a DAREDEVIL character, so do with that what you will.

The point of all this, in terms of the bigger-picture, appears to be clearing up what the revelation of Inhumans being in the Cinematic Universe mix means in terms of earlier information: In Season 1, we learned that S.H.I.E.L.D kept an active database of people with super-powers called “The Gifted Index,” treating most folks so listed in the manner of a witness protection program but also moving to monitor and “contain” the dangerous ones. Cal’s team have all developed their special abilities second-hand through technology or science (including Cal himself, who despite having married and fathered a child with an Inhuman is apparently a normal man who augments his strength with chemicals – making him much closer to the original Marvel Mr. Hyde than some may have thought), confirming that “gifted” doesn’t necessary equal “Inhuman” – with Agent Simmons even reccomending that the Index split Gifteds into categories of “enhanced” and “…something else.”

In the B-story, Blair Underwood’s ex-Mr. Melinda May does some psychoanalysis on Skye that reveals so little actual information he might as well leave the team with a “My storyline will pay off later” I.O.U. The interplay is decent, but the actual progress made (Skye is afraid of losing Agent-hood, she can sort-of control her powers but not fully) is negligible. The main new detail, that keeping her powers in check is literally making her fall apart inside (this will probably be the in-story reason for her to start wearing a super-suit of some kind) comes about mainly because of the big confrontation on the field.

B-story #2 (C-story?) actually had more meat on it: Mack is keeping Hunter prisoner in his house until bringing him “onboard” is okayed by whoever their superiors are. The reveal? They’re with another, even more secretive re-grouped version of S.H.I.E.L.D – one that apparently considers Nick Fury’s vision of things an abject failure and Coulson’s continuing of that legacy a major no-no. As twists go, it’s clever, but I feel like they miscalculated the reveal itself: “Gasp! It’s… a slightly-different design of the S.H.I.E.L.D Eagle logo!!!”


  • Someone’s going to need to explain to me how DeMatteo’s character is either “gifted” or a supervillain. She has scalpel-tipped fingers she gave herself to fend off an abusive boyfriend, then used to kill some other people. Okay, fine… couldn’t the normal police just arrest her and remove those? Was S.H.I.E.L.D and special S.H.I.E.L.D arm-restraints really necessary?
  • Now that we know Mr. Hyde not only powers-up with chemicals but is still experimenting with them, that means we get to see McLachlan hulk-out sometime before the finale, right? Because that’d be awesome.
  • The Reader teleports Cal to the Inhuman training-room we’ve seen his wife (Skye’s mom) use for helping newly-transformed youths in flashbacks, and implies he has someone to “answer to” while there. I imagine people will be assuming this is Attilan, but I doubt it.
  • What’s “Other S.H.I.E.L.D” up to? Your guess is as good as mine, but if they’re already operating from “Coulson’s group is dangerous” the fact that he (and at least Fitz and probably also May) are intent on harboring a dangerous Gifted is probably not going to change their minds. Incidentally, Agent Ward is supposed to pop up for the first time in awhile next episode, so that’s also in play.
  • Shot in the dark: I wonder if we’ll find out that the government started up a “new” S.H.I.E.L.D of its own almost-immediately, and that this powerful entity has been letting Coulson etc believe they’re safe to get closer to them (we know they want Fury’s “toolbox.”) Either way, however this works out I’d bet on one of these teams changing their name to S.W.O.R.D or H.A.M.M.E.R by the end of the season.


“Love in The Time of HYDRA” promises to reveal the new alternate S.H.I.E.L.D in greater detail, and also to pick up Ward and Agent 33’s (the brainwashed HYDRA assassin with an Agent May mask fused to her face) yet-unrevealed venture. 33’s original actress is back in the credits, so this may involve getting her real face back.

Did you enjoy this review? Consider contributing to The MovieBob Patreon and help keep this and other work like it coming!

Adam Sandler *Literally* Kills Your Childhood in First PIXELS Trailer

Well. Here’s the trailer for PIXELS, a movie based on a viral internet short that won a bunch of praise a few years back:

The premise then? Earth gets attacked by old arcade game sprites in a clever showcase for pixel-block CGI effects. The premise now? Adam Sandler and Peter Dinklage are former rival arcade high-score champs drafted by the President (Kevin James) to battle an army of of evil video-creatures brought to life by invading aliens. Josh Gad and Michelle Monahan are also onhand, for whatever reason.

Chris Columbus directs, which means this is going to be Sandler in family-friendly mode, which I’m sure someone must enjoy since he keeps doing this shit. I’d love to know the legality by which THE Donkey Kong actually appears – did Nintendo okay this? Aren’t they famously impossible to get onboard for stuff like this? Also: Is that really Toru Iwatani? If so, way to spoil a maybe clever cameo, trailer.

The only other thing worth noting is that I think the neon-glow effect on the Pixels themselves feels too visually busy. In the original short they just looked like stacks of various opaque colored blocks, which was a much more stylish effect.


Below the jump, some overdue updates on where I’m at and when you’ll start seeing my web presence kick up again. But first – Did you know you needed this in your life? Because you needed this in your life:

I wonder how many people who’re seeing this in 2015 even know/knew that DINOSAURS was a “thing?” Anyway…

So. Haven’t given a status update in a little while, mostly because we (meaning I) have been in holding-pattern mode for a bit. I don’t have the kind of life, friends, colleagues, family or loved ones that would’ve let me sit around feeling bad for myself while “between jobs” (and I’m impossibly grateful to them for that) which means I’ve actually been keeping/been kept pretty busy – hence the lack of daily/weekly/etc “progress reports.”

Also, what progress HAS been made (and it has!) can’t really be fully announced yet (stay tuned!) But, still, a little update in FAQland never hurt anyone. SO…


I am no longer with The Escapist. You can find some elaboration about that in the original FAQ located HERE.


Coming. When I said that being cut off from my steady gig came at the least convenient possible time, I meant it. This was always going to be a crunch-time period, as I’d already set in motion the end/reboot of Game OverThinker and was already prepping Really That Good‘s YouTube launch. As such, what time I might’ve dedicated via necessity to reviews or Big Picture episodes? Well, that got filled up right quick. I was honestly planning to put up a video review for CHAPPIE, but life and PAXEast got in the way of that one.

Fortunately, the finale of Game OverThinker is about 45% completed and should be up very soon. After that, I expect to have Really That Good’s “pilot” debut ready shortly after.


As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, unfortunately I was not the owner of the IPs to either Escape to The Movies or The Big Picture, so those two “brands” will not be making a return any time soon (at least not with me at the helm, for sure). However, while I cannot share the details as yet, an arrangement is in motion with some old friends which I think will make fans of both Big Picture and the “old-school” Game OverThinker very excited.

As for movie reviews? Well, right now I don’t have an outlet that’s looking to pick up a video review series (do you know of someone who is? By all means, contact!) That doesn’t mean I won’t be producing video reviews, but it DOES mean I probably won’t be producing them on a regimented schedule for now – when I want to do a video review, and I have the time, it will be done (remember, we’re still in the “empty” season!)


Actually, since this is an IP that I own outright, I can afford to spill a handful of beans: When Game OverThinker’s current incarnation ends, it will do so in a way that will effectively see the series’ two components (game-culture analysis and wacky comedy hijinks) into two separate entities. The first of these will be a series very much in keeping with what the show was for its first 50 or so episodes (read: 95% commentary and “overthinking”) while the second series… will be a surprise you’re just going to have to wait for 🙂

Where you’ll see these and other projects end up, either on my YouTube channel or elsewhere? That’s one of those things I can’t talk about yet. Sorry 🙂


The MovieBob Patreon is not going anywhere.

Of all the things that have changed about my outlook following my departure from The Escapist, a certain hardening of my stances on employment, freelancing, etc is the most noteworthy. Simply put: I no longer have any interest in “de-facto” or “in-all-but-name” employment. With anybody. Until such time (which may be never) as you see me as a full-on insured/benefited/bonded employee of somewhere with the protections that implies, I’m a freelancer whose work is going to show up in a lot of different places and/or on my own outlets.

And while that definitely comes with an increase in freedom, it also comes with a decrease in security and stability month-to-month. That, plus my equal lack of desire to ONLY work on things that someone else has contracted me for, means the Patreon is staying right where it is.


Yes, but it is delayed for now. You’ll likely see the new shows find their footing before I’m ready to blow up my existing infrastructure and build anew. Watch this space, though, because there’s a very real chance that I’ll be looking for web design help.






Right now, I can’t make any definite statements re: the con circuit. Many contacts for cons, expos, events etc that I had were handled through an employer I no longer affiliate with, so I’ll need to rebuild/restructure some of those relationships.

That having been said, if you are part of a convention that would like me as a guest/panelist/etc or a convention attendee looking for an extra panelist or event-partner, please feel free (and encouraged!) to get in touch with me about that.


Surf Nutsy

Okay, so the premise to RIDE is pretty cute in a “pandering to the fantasies of an audience that almost never get’s pandered to” sort of way: Helen Hunt is a wealthy-ish NYC helicopter-mom who, upon learning that her kid (Brandon Thwaites) has dropped out of college to pursue surfing, chases him down and resolves to hang around in the surf-culture herself until she can talk him out of it. Luke Wilson and David Zayas are also there, stuff is learned, dreamy/”soaring” indie-pop song, underlit photography and earthtone title-fonts so we know this is Smart Grownup Comedy, etc. Coming soon to a bookstore coffee-bar lunch discussion near you:

Again, looks alright, but midway through I was struck by the unfamiliar sense that I’d MUCH rather watch the “shittier version” of this same premise – y’know what I mean?

As in: The kid actually is sort of a douchey brat, mom’s plan is actually more like entering the Big Surfing Contest (or whatever) to kick his ass and teach him a lesson (maybe it’s a bet? “So if you win, I go back to school?” “…Yes.” “Haw haw! Deal!”), record-scratch-sound-effect-cut-to-overused-James-Brown-track, comedy-training-gags, Slumming Good Actor (Freeman, DeNiro, Nicholson, Murray, etc) as the surf dude whose gonna help mom do her thing, slow-mo reveal of mom lookin’ fffooooiiiiinnnnne in swimsuit with cut to son and comic-relief buds (“Duuuuuude! Isn’t that yer mom?” “Shaddup, not-Stifler!”), end on a gag about something gross in the water or inappropriate drunken tattoo choices? One of those comedies that everyone loves in high school, then hates in College, then decides they like again around 30?

I dunno, just kinda popped in there somewhere around 1:25 somewhere between the innexplicable urge to crack Thwaites across the back of his head with a 2×4 (not to hurt him, just to see if his skull would move independently of that Bieberian gel-job sitting on his head) and “THIS YEAR.” Whatever. My mom will probably like it.