This review might be a little shallow. The Pokémon franchise is huge. Starting with the video game Pocket Monsters: Red and Green on the Nintendo Game Boy in 1996, there have been twenty-two games in the main series, easily more than that with spin-off games, mobile games for smartphones, a trading card game, an anime series with just under 1150 episodes, and several movies, including the live action Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Twenty-five years of Pokémon is a lot. Pokémon is the biggest media franchise.
The general idea of games in the Pokémon franchise is to become a Master Trainer, catching, training, and evolving Pokémon to use in fights against other Pokémon trainers. In the anime, Ash Ketchum is on a quest to do just that, starting in the Kanto region before going off into the world with his army of Pokémon, all trapped in Pokéballs except for Pikachu. The pika-style Pokémon doesn’t like being confined, but still travels with Ash and his friends as they confound Team Rocket.
The video game, Detective Pikachu introduces a new character, Tim Goodman, who arrives in a different city, Ryme City, to search for his missing father. The first being he meets in a Pikachu in a deerstalker hat. The Pokémon greets Tim, introducing himself as Detective Pikachu and Tim understands him. However, Tim is the only one who does. Tim also can only understand Pikachu. The first case they tackle, as a training mission for the player, is to track down an Aipom that has stolen a necklace from a little girl. As Tim and Detective Pikachu follow the trail left by the Aipom, they discover that something is amiss among the Pokémon.
While looking for Tim’s father the duo discover the existence of a drug called “R” that was meant to be a miracle drug. However, the creation of R involved genetic material from Mewtwo, not the Mew that was intended. The Mewtwo genetic material causes Pokémon to rampage. The investigation leads to the detective duo tracking down all of Mewtwo’s cells to return, finding the culprit responsible for R, and preventing the release of R from a large machine. Once done, Tim and Pikachu head off to continue to look for Tim’s father.
Naturally, something popular will be adapted as a movie. The live-action Detective Pikachu debuted in 2019, starring Ryan Reynolds as the title character, Justice Smith as Tim Goodman, Kathryn Norman as Lucy Stevens, Bill Nighy as Howard Clifford, Chris Geere as Roger Clifford, and Ikue Otani reprising her role as Pikachu when others need to hear the character. Detective Pikachu is Nintendo’s first live-action film since Super Mario Bros. This time around, Nintendo had, via The Pokémon Company, had more control over the film.
The movie starts similarly to the video game, with Tim travelling to Ryme City. When he was younger, Tim wanted to be a Pokémon trainer, but could never get one of his own. His dreams faded, and he became an insurance adjuster. News of his father’s death, though, hit him hard as he travelled. Tim’s first stop after visiting the police for details, where he finds out his father died after a car crash. He then heads to his father’s office where he finds a vial marked “R” which gets opened. Tim tosses the vial away after inhaling the gas. He continues to explore the office and sees motion. Being careful, Tim arms himself with a stapler and calls out the intruder. The intruder is a Pikachu wearing a deerstalker hat, who tells Tim to drop the stapler. It takes a bit of work to convince Tim that he isn’t hearing things, that Pikachu is talking to him. Pikachu is as amazed as no one has ever understood him before.
Outside, several Aipom are around where the vial lands. The Aipom begin a rampage and head up to the office. They break in, and chase Tim and Pikachu out of the office and up to the roof. The rampage doesn’t last long, but is long enough to force Pikachu and Tim to dive into a garbage chute to escape. However, a discussion afterwards between Tim and Pikachu leads Tim to believe that his father may still be alive, as Pikachu was also in the car crash.
The search for Tim’s father leads to meeting Lucy, an intern at GNN, and her Psyduck. While Lucy’s main duties are the network’s social media and puff pieces like, “Top Ten Cutest Pokémon”, she senses that there is a deeper story happening. She and Tim follow a few leads that point to a lab owned by Clifford Industries. The remains of the lab still have some of the Pokémon being experimented on.
The clues come together and the villain’s plot is revealed. The R gas will be released during Ryme City’s anniversary, fusing Pokémon and their partners together. Only Tim and Pikachu can stop the plot and finally find Tim’s father.
The Pokémon in the game are rendered to appear three dimensional while still resembling their original appearance. The opening credits show the Pokémon as being integral to the setting, with a herd of Bouffalant corralled in a farm and Pidgeot flying over fields. Pikachu is easily identified, as is Psyduck. Having Ikue Otani reprise her role as Pikachu’s voice is a nice touch.
The movie leans heavily on Pokémon lore. The “R” on the vials of R gas is the logo for Team Rocket, though they don’t appear. Mewtwo is specifically mentioned to have been retrieved from the Kanto region, the setting for the early seasons of the anime and for Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back. Pokémon Detective Pikachu is effectively a sequel of sorts to Mewtwo Strikes Back. However, Pokémon Detective Pikachu can stand alone; the movie explains things along the way for the Pokémon rookie.
Adapting mystery and horror works have their own tightrope to walk; the audience is there for the hidden. It is possible to adapt a mystery faithfully; Mystery on the Orient Express is a good example. Brannagh was faithful to Agatha Christie’s novel, but the novel is considered a classic. The Evil Dead remake used the same beats as the original, but threw in new twists to keep the movie fresh. Pokémon Detective Pikachu uses a similar method as Evil Dead; the elements are there, but with twists to keep anyone in the audience off-guard from knowing the ending during the opening credits.
Casting usually makes or breaks a film. The movie’s cast is solid. Ryan Reynolds is believable as Detective Pikachu, portraying the Pokémon as a determined, caffeine-addicted character. Justice Smith holds his own against Reynolds, showing his chops during the questioning of Mr. Mime. The two have chemistry despite Reynolds doing voice work as Pikachu.
Because it is a mystery, Pokémon Detective Pikachu isn’t an accurate adaptation of the video game. However, it does keep the beats from the game. The movie also uses the Pokémon franchise to both fit in and expand the setting. Unlike Super Mario Bros., Pokémon Detective Pikachu made an effort to reflect the original work, and the effort pays off.
Remakes and reboots tend to come after about a generation after the original, typically about 30 years. Prior to the invention of affordable home entertainment, such as televisions, VCRs, and DVDs, the time allowed for a new generation to grow up and the previous generation to forget details about the original. With VCRs, DVDs, and streaming, the only limitation in getting an original work is availability. Studios may remove a work from being available, but while that may affect streaming services, physical media can still be played.
The remake is still a viable approach today, though. Breakthroughs in technology all for a new look at a work that is generally available in one for or another. Actors aging up or getting popular and thus more expensive does happen. No studio is going to get Tom Hanks for what he was paid when he starred in Bosom Buddies.
In 2002, Jason Statham starred in the French-produced film, The Transporter; his Frank Martin, the title character, was a breakout role for him. The movie was written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen and was directed by Corey Yeun and Louis Leterrier. Frank, in the movie, is a getaway driver for hire who calculates his role precisely. He has three rules; 1) once a deal is made, it is final; 2) no names; and 3) never open the package. The opening scene, where Frank is the getaway driver demonstrates the professionalism and preciseness he has. Three bank robbers need him after a robbery, but they break the deal by bringing a fourth. Frank refuses to leave until the fourth is dealt with. Once the fourth is gone, by being shot by his comrades, Frank begins his getaway.
Of course, a movie where nothing goes wrong will get dull. Frank breaks one of his rules during a job and opens the package. Turns out, he was transporting a young woman, Lai Kwai, played by Shu Qi. Frank still makes the delivery, but the guy who hired him, Darren Bettancourt (Matt Shulze), tries to eliminate loose ends. The explosion destroys Frank’s car, but not Frank, who was out of it at the time.
Since Bettancourt broke Frank’s first rule, never change a deal, by trying to kill him, Frank heads back to get vengeance. Bettancourt is out but his henchmen aren’t. When Frank is done Bettancourt’s villa, he has left behind broken and dead henchmen and taken Bettancourt’s car, where Shu Qi just happens to be. The action escalates as Bettancourt tries to kill Frank and Frank tries to get away. Car chases, martial arts sequences, including a fight on an oil-filled concrete floor where Frank is using bicycle pedals as skates, and gun fights lead to the breathless climax.
The plot of The Transporter is thin, but serves to deliver on the action. Audiences who saw the trailer came in with the expectation of an action flick, and that’s exactly what they got. An action flick with the stakes at the personal level. No threat to destroy the world, no corporation trying to upset democracy, just one man versus another and his henchmen. The movie would go on to have two sequels.
As mentioned above, remakes take about a generation. A remake of The Transporter would be expected anywhere between 2022 and 2042, but in 2015, Luc Besson, along with Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, penned The Transporter Refueled. Released by the same studio, the new film introduced a new Frank Martin, this time played by Ed Skrein. Joining Frank is his ex-spy father, Frank Sr, played by Ray Stevenson. The Refueled Frank has the same rules as the original. It’s when the rules are broken when things get interesting for Frank.
Frank’s latest job involves three women all dressed the same, all wearing the same wig. They need him to drive them away from a bank robbery, leading to a car chase that leaves several French police cars broken on the streets of Nice. The client, though, changes the deal by getting Frank’s father involved. Frank Sr is interested beyond just the need to get an antidote to a poison he was given. Frank Jr isn’t, sticking to his professional rules. Eventually, Frank Jr does involve himself, first for his father’s life and, when the poison turned out to be a hoax, to be able to live with himself.
Much like the original’s plot, the plot of Refueled is thin, an excuse for the action. The client is responsible for most of the motive behind the action, with Frank along for the ride, though once he decides to get involved, he has his own agency. Frank is given more background, from having a family member with him to hints of being a mercenary before becoming a getaway driver for hire. The antagonist has ties to Frank, having a shared past.
Skrein bring to the role of Frank the same energy Statham did in the original. Bioth portray Frank as professional in his dealings as a contract getaway driver. Skrein’s Frank also does not pick up a gun during the film, becoming a problem in a climactic fight. Frank, though, has no problems with picking up pipes, hoses, ropes, or axes when his opponents are armed. Frank is unique in the film in not using firearms; he’s the driver, not the muscle, though he can defend himself when needed.
Adding Frank Sr allowed the film to include a chemistry that was sparse in the original. While Statham’s Frank could sit down with Inspector Tarconi to talk, Skrein’s had a good relationship with his father, humanizing Frank and giving a contrast to his professional persona. The chemistry between Skrein and Stevenson works on screen to emphasize the relationship between the characters. Indeed, a film about Frank Sr would be interesting to see, either before his retirement as a spy or what he does after Refueled.
With Besson on board, Refueled has an anchor to the original. The plot would fit with Statham, even if some details would have to be changed. Skrein’s portrayal of Frank fits in with the previous films. Refueled isn’t deep, but it does deliver on the promise of action. As a reboot, The Transporter Refueled adds to the character without skimping on what audiences are expecting. Despite being an early reboot, the movie succeeds at being one.
Apologies for the lack of review. Real life interfered, mostly work-related. Lost in Translation will return next week.
Giant monsters have existed in film ever since King Kong fell in love with Fay Wray in 1933. Japanese cinema has been the prime producer of giant monster, or kaiju media, from Godzilla in 1954. The Godzilla franchise has produced a rogues gallery of kaiju, including Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. Godzilla isn’t the only kaiju; Gamera has his own franchise and gallery of fellow kaiju. Other nations have tried making their own kaiju works; the 1961 Danish film Reptilicus is such an example. Giant robots are also a mainstay of Japanese media, through live action sentai works and anime. The mecha can range from large but still human scale, such as in Armored Troopers: VOTOMS and Bubblegum Crisis to towering units such as those from the Gundam franchise.
Naturally, works will inspire creators. Guillermo del Toro was inspired by the various kaiju and mecha productions, including Godzilla and Neon Genesis Evangelion, and HP Lovecraft’s At the Moutnains of Madness, leading to the 2013 film, Pacific Rim. The cast includes Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, Idris Elba as Marshal Stacker Pentecost, Charlie Day as Newt Geiszler, Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau, and Burn Gorman as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb.
In the film, the Earth is under assault. Kaiju are coming through a breach in the the Pacific Ocean, wreaking havoc and destroying coastal cities. Conventional weapons are ineffective and the use of nuclear weapons would destroy more than just the kaiju. To combat the kaiju, giant mecha called jaegers were developed, capable of standing toe-to-toe with the monsters. However, the jaegers are too much for one pilot to handle. Two pilots must mesh in the drift, a merging of minds, and each handles one hemisphere. The nature of the drift means that a pair of pilots need to be close. One of the jaegers, a Mk III called Gipsy Danger, is piloted by brothers Yancy and Raleigh Becket and is dispatched to stop a Category-3 kaiju codenamed Knifehead from destroying Anchorage, Alaska. Gipsy Danger‘s victory is Pyrrhic; Knifehead is stopped, but Yancy is pulled out of the cockpit, leaving Raleigh to finish the fight on his own.
Five years later, and the battle isn’t going well. A new defense is in the works, known as the Life Wall. The idea is that with the Life Wall in place to stop the kaiju, the jaegers would no longer be needed. Raleigh, though, is already out of the service, his brother dead and Gipsy Danger too damaged. He’s now one of the labourers working on the Life Wall in Alaska. Before his latest shift begins, a military helicopter arrives with Marshal Pentecost. Pentecost has an offer for Raleigh, a return to action.
In the Shatterdome in Hong Kong, the last four jaegers are waiting for their standdown orders. Three have crews – Crimson Typhoon piloted by Chinese triplets, Cherno Alpha piloted by a husband and wife team, and Striker Eureka, piloted by father and son Herc and Chuck Hansen. The fourth, Gipsy Danger rebuilt, has no pilots but Pentecost is hoping that Raleigh can find a partner. After testing several potential partners, Raliegh chooses Mako Mori, a survivor of a kaiju attack on Tokyo.
The Shatterdome is also the home to kaiju researchers. One, Newt, has figured out a way to drift with the hindbrain of a kaiju. After a somewhat successful first drift, he discovers that the kaiju are planning on moving to Earth en masse, to destroy all life here and then to find a new home to invade. Pentecost is informed of the breakthrough and tells Newt to get in touch with Hannibal Chau, a black marketer dealing in kaiju organs and parts. It’s Chai that realizes the problem with Newt drifting with the kaiju brain; the kaiju have a hive mind. What Newt knows, every kaiju knows, including the plan to use a nuclear bomb to seal the bridge between the kaiju‘s world and Earth.
Two more kaiju attack, the target being Hong Kong. All four jaehers are sent to stop the Category-4s. Both Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha are destroyed in the attack. Herc in Striker Eureka is injured, but the attack is stopped, with one kaiju laying dead in Hong Kong. Newt grabs the opportunity to get more information and, with Hermann as co-pilot, drifts into the the dead kaiju‘s hindbrain.
The plan to seal the bridge between worlds is still a go, though. Gipsy Danger and Striker Eureka are repaired and re-armed. Since Herc is out of commission, Pentecost steps up to co-pilot with Chuck Hansen. The Marshall had been a pilot of a Mk I jaeger, having been the one to stop the kaiju stomping through Tokyo. The two jaegers head out to sea, marching underwater to the breach. During the trip, Marshall and Newt return to the Shatterdome to pass along new information – the bridge won’t open unless there’s kaiju DNA.
Fortunately, a third kaiju attacks, a Category-5. Gipsy Danger barely survives, but with damage to oxygen tanks. Raleigh hooks his oxygen supply to Mako’s, then sends her up. He then pilots Gipsy Danger into the breach. Once through the dimensional barrier, Raleigh sets the time on the bomb, then escapes himself.
Pacific Rim delivers on the promise of giant robots fighting giant monsters. The effects show the mass of both, with plenty of collateral damage. Del Toro’s influences are obvious, but don’t get in the way of the story. Pacific Rim remembers that the key in a work featuring giant mecha is the characters. The audience is given a reason to root for the mecha over the kaiju. The worldbuilding is set up in the first fifteen minutes. Everything else is a visual feast with depth that one wouldn’t expect in a movie with giant robots and giant monsters.
Pacific Rim was popular enough to get a sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and a mockbuster, Atlantic Rim. There was enough interest that Netflix produced an anime series, Pacific Rim: The Black in conjunction with Polygon Pictures and Legendary Television. The work began in 2018 with the series released in March 2021.
The series begins with Australia under attack by kaiju. The Pan Pacific Defense Corps, or PPDC, orders all coastal cities are evacuated and the inhabitants moved inland away from the Pacific Ocean. The last of the evacuees are students, including Taylor and Hailey Travis. Their parents, Ford and Brina, are jaeger pilots who are covering the evacuation; they also trigger The Black, a way to try to stop the kaiju from going beyond Australia. The bus with the last of the survivors is able to escape to a hidden base. Ford and Brina, though, need to leave to fight kaiju and find more survivors.
Five years later, Ford and Brina have not returned. The base has grown into a community, with farms to feed the inhabitants. Scouts are being sent out to various locations to look for other survivors. Taylor, though, isn’t one of them. He is still waiting for he and his sister’s parents. Hayley is the more adventurous one. She explores and during one of her explorations of the base, she finds a jaeger, Atlas Destroyer that had been left behind when the base was evacuated. Activating Atlas and its AI, Loa, Hayley begins a very quick training. The activation of the jaeger also summons Copperhead, a Category-4 kaiju. Copperhead destroys the settlement, leaving only Taylor and Hailey as the sole survivors. They only survived because they piloted Atlas to fight the kaiju, but the jaeger is set for training and is unarmed. The fight is a draw.
With no home, the siblings decide to look for their parents and begin a journey to Sydney. The trip is dangerous. A stop to get a new energy cell for Atlas leads to finding Boy in a lab in an abandoned PPDC facility. Hayley insists on rescuing him, breaking him out of the glass tube holding him. An encounter with more kaiju leads to meeting a black marketer, Shane, and his right hand woman, Mei. Shane has his own designs on Atlas, but his machinations leads to Mei questioning her own memories. Taylor and Hayley escape and continue on towards Sydney, with the threat of Shane behind them. The final battle against Copperhead reveals more secrets, ones that have no immediate answers. The season ends with a victory, a loss, more questions, and another group of humans watching the siblings. A second season has been announced.
Like the original film, the animated series has several themes. Some it shares with the original; including not letting the past hold you back. The series also introduces the idea that humanity can be more dangerous than the kaiju. The story in the series is also personal, like the original. While there are battles between Atlas Destroyer and kaiju, the characters are the ones driving the story.
Taylor and Hayley are young, and their inexperience does lead them to make rash decisions. Loa provides a sober second thought, sometimes through snark. The supporting cast is three-dimensional; their motives dictating their actions. Even Boy, whose secret is foreshadowed through the series, has an arc.
Overall, the series adds to Pacific Rim, expanding the world laid out in the film. Animation allows for a lighter budget, especially on a streaming service, which then provides for more time spent on exploring the world. Pacific Rim: The Black builds on what came before, leading to a fuller experience of Pacific Rim and the dangers of the kaiju.
Pacific Rim: The Black expands the setting, showing more of the world introduced in Pacific Rim and the effects of the kaiju invasion on people. The core characters are young, venturing out from their safe home into the wilds of Australia, already a dangerous place to wander in even before giant monsters are added. The series adds to the overall setting of the film, expanding it, adding another layer of worldbuilding on top of what the movie provided. The animation style may not work for everyone, but that’s true of all animation. The result is a series that is worth watching for Pacific Rim fans.
Lost in Translation will return next week with a new review. Enjoy the long weekend!
Five years ago, Lost in Translation reviewed the animated adaptation of Watership Down. The film’s limitation was length, unable to get everything in from the original novel by Richard Adams. The art was gorgeous and the film covered most of the beats.
Watership Down, of course, is the story about a group of rabbits who search for a new home after their original warren is destroyed by men. The journey is hazardous, with weather, predators, man, and other rabbits providing dangers along the way. Hazel, the rabbit who gets the survivors together, does get to found Watership Down, the new warren.
In 2018, Netflix and the BBC co-produced a mini-series based on the novel, using CG animation. The cast includes Ncholas Hoult as Fiver, James McAvoy as Hazel, John Boyega as Bigwig, Freddie Fox as Captain Holly, Olivia Colman as Strawberry, Gemma Arterton as Clover, Rosamund Pike as the Black Rabbit, Peter Kapaldi as Kehaar the seagull, and Ben Kingsley as General Woundwort. The four-part mini-series is CG animated, with the rabbits given details to tell them apart beyond just voice. As with the the 1978 animated adaptation and even the original novel, the mini-series is not for young children; Netflix shows the rating as TV-PG.
The four parts of the mini-series break down logically. “The Journey” covers Fiver’s visions of the old warren’s destruction, the escape by a handful of rabbits, their encounter with a warren that has forgotten the old ways, and the founding of Watership Down well away from man. “The Raid” picks up with the problem the new warren has, a lack of does, and the work done to rectify that; Hiver going off to rescue hutch rabbits from a farm and another group going to a large warren to see if any it can spare any does and even bucks, with both enterprises failing. “The Escape” picks up with Clover, Fiver, and Bigwig finding a wounded Hazel, and Bigwig going to the large warren to rescue the Watership Down rabbits from General Woundwort. “The Siege” ends the series with General Woundwort’s assault on Watership Down and the valiant defense by Hazel and his rabbits.
The first thing the audience sees is a CG field so real, it triggers hay fever attacks. The animation is lush, the rabbits detailed with expressive faces while still being rabbits. Members of the Owsla, like Captain Holly and Bigwig, and characters injured in the run of the story all have scars appear. General Woundwort shows a lifetime of battles on his body. Like the animation in the 1978 film, the mini-series’ is lush and adds to the tone of scenes.
Casting is also well done. Ben Kingsley when he phones in a performance is worth watching; he is not phoning in his performance as General Woundwort. He provides a menace to the character without having to yell. The rest of the characters are also well cast, with Boyega bringing out Bigwig’s hotheadedness, McAvoy shows Hazel’s growing weariness with life as chief rabbit, and Hoult brings out Fiver’s nervousness and hesitation. Capaldi’s Kehaar sounds like the brash seagull the character is.
With a combined runtime of 203 minutes, the mini-series has more time to delve into the rabbit culture, from their beliefs to their day-to-day lives. The result is a more intense story, with the fate of Watership Down and its inhabitants unknown to audiences who haven’t read the book. The mini-series does cover the novel, keeping the perspective to what the rabbits know of the world, just like the original. The worldview presented is from the rabbits.
In the end, the series adapts the original well. The quest of the surviving rabbits from Stableford to find a new home remains intact, the highs and the lows. Richard Adams’ tale makes the transition from print to television intact, with the characters unchanged. The cast, crew, and writing staff of the mini-series put in an effort to keep true to the original novel, and the results show it.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been successful with characters that the general public is mostly unaware of, including Iron Man, Ant Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Wildly successful despite licensing their heavy hitters – Spider-Man and the X-Men – to other studios. The early successes came from recognizing that each character had an implied style; Iron Man fits naturally into a techno-thriller while Thor is epic fantasy and Black Panther is ideal for Afrofuturism. Marvel Studios is willing to give lesser known characters a chance as a result, allowing the mixing of superhero with another genre.
Doctor Strange first appeared in Strange Tales issue 110 in 1963, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Doctor Stephen Strange was a top surgeon in New York City, with the arrogance to go with it. However, with pride comes a fall, and the greater the pride, the greater the fall. For Strange, he had a long drop. After a car accident where he drove off the cliff, Strange found his career ended thanks to hands too damaged for even the second best surgeon to heal fully.
Unable to accept his fate, Strange exhausted his wealth to find a way to heal his hands. When Western medicine provided no hope, he switched to Eastern and learned of Kamar-Taj in Tibet. Spending the last of his wealth to get there, he scoured Tiber until he found the Ancient One, the master of Kamar-Taj. The Ancient One refused to heal Strange’s hands and instead offered to teach the doctor about mysticism, which he turned down. However, thanks to a freak blizzard, Strange couldn’t leave. He discovered that the Ancient One’s apprentice, Baron Mordo, was trying to take over Kamar-Taj. Mordo discovered Strange knew about his plans and restrained him with magic. The Ancient One was too powerful for Mordo to overcome, though.
Having witnessed the power of magic, Strange changed his mind about learning mysticism, reasoning that the only way to stop Mordo was to learn magic himself. After years of study, Strange mastered magic and became the Ancient One’s successor to being Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
Strange returned to New York, his hands healed thanks to his mastery of magic. He settled in the Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village along with Wong, whose family line served the Ancient One during his six hundred year lifetime. As Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange fought such beings as Loki, the Dread Dormammu, Satannish, and the Undying Ones, along with more terrestrial threats like Baron Mordo and Kaecilius, defending the Earth alone and along side teams like the Avengers and the Defenders.
In 2016, the character got his own film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, Doctor Strange also starred Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo, Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, and Benedict Wong as Wong. The film acts as Strange’s origin story, showing how he went from arrogant surgeon to Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
Strange’s fall is straight from the comic, updated to reflect today’s technology. He is still the top surgeon, he still is arrogant, and he still has a car accident that destroys the function in his hands. This time, the reason for the crash is him trying to use his smartphone while driving. Strange spends his wealth and uses his research skills to try to find a way to heal his hands so that he can return to work. Western medicine again fails, leading Strange to seek out Kamar-Taj.
The search leads to Kathmandu, where Strange meets Mordo. Mordo leads him to where the Ancient One awaits. Strange is hesitant, not believing in mysticism, and gets kicked out of the Ancient One’s building. However, the doctor is persistant, staying outside day and night until let back in. The persistance pays off, and Strange is taken to Kamar-Taj. Strange is put through training, having to learn to accept the idea that magic is real. But once he gets past that hurdle, his learning accelerates.
Kaecilius is the main problem. While the world is unaware, Kaecilius is working with the Dread Dormammu to weaken the mystic shields protecting Earth. His first attempt to weaken the shields failed; the Ancient One is very capable of self-defense, and decapitation is difficult against a master of the mystic arts. Kaecilius is aware of another way to bring down the shields. There are three Sancta Santorum – one in London, one in Hong Kong, and one in Greenwich Village. When Kaecilius strikes in London, the Ancient One, Strange, and Mordo arrive too late to stop the destruction. During the fight, Strange gets flung through a portal and winds up in the Greenwich Village Sanctum Santorum.
Strange has some time to recover and explores the building. He is somewhat surprised to see that he is back in New York City but takes advantage of the time he has. When Kaecilius and his minions arrive, Strange is somewhat prepared. One of the minions winds up stranded in the Sahara Desert, and the Cloak of Levitation breaks free to help Strange fight the invaders. Kaecilius does wound Strange before leaving.
Thanks to his new knowledge, Strange is able to get to the hospital he used to work at and convince a former co-worker to begins surgery to save his life. He even helps by astrally projecting to give pointers. Kaecilius’ other minion, who was left behind at the Sanctorum, manages to follow Strange to the hospital. There is a fight on the astral, but when Strange begins to flatline, his co-worker shocks him. The electrical energy passes through the astral and into the minion. Strange works out the implications and tells her to up the amperage. The next shock kills the minion, which causes Strange to question himself. While he was arrogant as a surgeon, he did believe in the Hippocratic Oath, particularly, “Do no harm.”
Strange isn’t given time to work things out. The Hong Kong Sanctorum is under attack. By the time Mordo and Strange arrive, it’s too late; the building has collapsed. Strange, not wanting to kill anyone and not wanting Earth open to the Dread Dormammu, uses forbidden sorcery, temporal sorcery, through the Eye of Agamotto. The destruction starts to reverse, but Dormammu, coming from a timeless dimension, is not stopped. Strange decides to take the fight to Dormammu, bringing along time. It doesn’t matter how many times Dormammu kills him, Strange keeps looping in time. Dormammu finally bargains with Strange and Earth is saved.
The mid-credits sequence sees Strange talking with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about being extra-dimensional beings and asking when he will go home. Thor replies that he and his brother, Loki, are searching for their father, Odin. Once Odin is found, all three will return to Valhalla. The post-credit sequence has Mordo beginning a crusade against sorcerers, especially those who break the laws of magic.
Casting for Doctor Strange is perfect. Cumberbatch has the proper look for the character, and the costume doesn’t need as much CGI or skintight material as characters like Spider-Man and Deadpool, Cloak of Levitation aside. Even with a lesser known character, accuracy does help sell the adaptation. As an origins story, things are being set up, so what is shown at the beginning isn’t what Doctor Strange is during the run of the titles he appears in. His most obvious magic items, the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto, are there.
There are some changes made to the background, though minor. Mordo and Strange aren’t rivals at Kamar-Taj, but break apart because of Strange’s use of forbidden sorcery. Strange’s hands aren’t fully healed, but he’s working on strengthening them. The key element of Strange’s background, though, remains intact – the pride, the fall, and the atonement, all done with a fantasy backdrop.
Marvel Studios is well aware that their success has been from being able to adapt titles from the comic page to the silver screen without compromising the characters. Fans and the general public alike can enjoy what’s onscreen. Doctor Strange is no different. The changes are minor and the film delivers a spectacle.
There are cars that can catch the eyes of people who see them. Some, such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis, use sleek lines and raw power to gain attention. Others, though, use are nowhere near that league. The Volkswagen Beetle is the classic go-to here, but there is another, the Austin Mini Cooper.
First released in 1959, the Mini Cooper and the Mini Cooper S were a new approach to vehicle design after the boats of the Forties and Fifties, a compact car before the concept was known, using front wheel drive to save interior space for passengers and cargo. The car became an icon in Britain. While the engine didn’t produce much horsepower compared to larger vehicles, the Mini was also lighter. Tuning the engine and removing weight improved the power-to-weight ration even more, leading to the Mini winning the Monte Carlo Rally three times in the Sixties.
Naturally, when something becomes an icon, studios will want to use it as a draw. The Italian Job, released in 1969, featured three Minis in the climactic scene, leading a merry chase from the Italian police. The film starred Michael Caine as Charlie Crocker and co-starred Noël Coward as Mr. Bridger, a crime lord running his criminal empire while in prison, Benny Hill as computer expert Prof. Peach, Raf Vallone as Italian mob boss Altabani, and Maggy Blye as Charlie’s girlfriend Lorna, and featured music by Quincy Jones. The film begins with a leisurely drive through the Italian Alps as the credits appear, with Roger Beckermann (Rossano Brazzi) on his way home to Britain from Turin. However, Altabani and the Italian Mob has other ideas and place an much heavier bulldozer at the exit of a tunnel. Beckermann has no way to avoid the bulldozer and is killed in the resulting explosion.
Beckermann, though, had sent the key part of his reason to be in Turin ahead of him. He has a plan to steal $4 million in gold from the Italians, and Charlie Crocker is the lucky guy chosen. Charlie, though, has just left one of Her Majesty’s penetentiaries and is being watched, not so much by a parole officer but by Bridger’s people on the outside. When Charlie reads over the plans, he first approaches Bridger looking for a crew. Bridger isn’t as impressed, mainly because Charlie broke back into prison to talk to him. However, Bridger is convinced to help out when he realizes that there is pride involved; Fiat will be using the gold to pay China to open a factory.
There are several elements to the plan. One is getting a new program into the traffic control centre in Turin. Since it’s 1969, breaking through ICE with a Chinese virus isn’t in the realm of possibility. Instead, Charlie recruits Prof. Peach to go in and set the tape up. With traffic tied up to the point where the armoured car carrying the gold can be stopped where the crew wants, a means of getting in is needed. Fortunately, explosives do exist, though overkill is a risk. Finally, with traffic tied up, especially when there’s a football game happening, the escape route needs to be done in a way that can carry $4 million in gold bars is needed. Thus, the Minis, three of them, with drivers, going where no car has gone before.
Charlie has his crew run through the plans, making sure that any errors can be corrected before going live. The plan is intricate, but doable, and the crew sets off to Turin. However, the Italian Mob has caught wind and has arranged a greeting at the tunnel where Beckermann was killed. Charlie was going to have three fast cars, his Aston-Martin DB-4 and two Jaguar E-types. Altabani makes his point by crushing the Jaguars and having a bulldozer push the DB-4 down the cliff, then tells the Brits to leave.
Setbacks are setbacks, not a reason to abort the plan. The fast cars were a backup plan. The primary plan still involves the Minis, and now the heist is personal. Altabani only stopped four of the crew, including Charlie. The rest arrived in Turin and began their prep work. Charlie arrives after sending Lorna home to be safe, then gets the plan into gear. Prof. Peach gets the program going at the traffic control centre. Everyone is in place. The gold begins its trip.
When the time comes, the program causes mass traffic chaos. The police escort, including an armoured fighting vehicle with water cannon, gets cut off from the gold, and the crew strikes. The truck carrying the gold is hijacked, the gold transferred to the Minis, and the escape is on. With the traffic chaos, the larger vehicles can’t give chase. The police Fiats, though, can try. The escape route involves getting through the city through back alleys, shopping arcades, the Fiat factory’s rooftop test track, and Turin’s landmarks before heading into a sewer pipe before escaping the police.
The crew meets up again, with a modified bus waiting to pick up the Minis while on the move. The gold is removed from the cars which are then tossed out the bus one at a time down the mountainside in the Alps. However, the bus driver is taking the corners too fast, and the film ends on a literal cliffhanger, with the bus delicately balanced, the front end over the road with the crew providing counterweight to the gold at the rear over the drop down.
The Italian Job was a comedy heist movie. The focus is on the job, but Jones’ music provides a light tone to the film. Sure, things get dark a few times, but the goal was a light comedy. Little details stand out. The protagonists all use British vehicles; the opposition uses Italian cars. The one exception, Beckermann, was driving a Lamborghini Miura when he was killed by Altabani. Michael Caine is the star of the film and the centre of attention. The crew is there to fill roles but there’s not depth given to any of them other than Prof. Peach.
The typical time between an original film and its remake is about one generation, about 20 to 30 years. The popularity of the original movie and changes in the technologies used in film making tends to lead to a remake. It’s not a hard and fast rule, though. The remake of The Italian Job came 34 years later, a little on the outside of a generation. The impetus, though, wasn’t a change in movie technology but in the design of the Mini. In 2001, BMW acquired the Rover Motor Group, the British company that was producing the Mini Cooper lines. BMW’s goal was to get lines of SUVs and compact and sub-compact cars. The Mini was kept in its own subdivision, separate from BMW’s main automotive production, but the vehicle was given a revamp, updating its style to reflect modern sensibilities. The result was a compact car that could still perform. The update, though, did make the new Mini a little larger than the older models.
The 2003 remake starred Mark Wahlberg as Charlie Crocker, Donald Sutherland as John Bridger, Charlize Theron as John’s daughter Stella, Jason Statham as “Handsome Rob”, Mos Def as “Left Ear”, Seth Green as “Napster”, and Edward Norton as Steve Frazelli. The movie begins in Venice, as the crew – Charlie, Bridger, Rob, Left Ear, Napster, and Steve – begin a heist. The goal, $34 million in gold stolen by Italian gangsters. The heist is precisely planned, down to where the safe is, thanks to Napster creating a 3-D model on his laptop. Explosives are set and blown, and the safe holding the gold falls several stories down to where the crew is waiting.
Handsome Rob leads the mobsters on a chase through the Venetian canals, with a safe in plain sight on the boat. The safe, though, is underwater beneath the mobster’s hideout. Bridger, the safecracker of the crew, opens the safe and the gold bars are transferred to underwater sleds. Rob evades the mobsters and the police, and Charlie, Bridger, and the gold slip out underneath the investigating police boats. The crew gathers back up at the Austrian border in the Alps and celebrate.
The celebration is cut short when Steve turns on the crew and kills Bridger. Rob drives the getaway van off the bridge into the freezing water. Steve’s men open fire. Seeing no one coming up for air, Steve and his men leave with the gold. He forgot one detail – there’s still SCUBA gear in the van. The crew shares the air tank and wait for the bullets to stop, then a bit longer.
A year later, Charlie learns that Steve has changed his name and has started selling off the gold. Steve has a home in the LA hills, lavishly appointed. Charlie calls the crew back together. The only problem, the crew is lacking a safecracker. Bridger had been the only member of the crew with the skills. Enter Stella. Stella is working in LA as a professional locksmith specializing in cracking modern safes, the ones using electronics. Her rep is such that the police will call her in to open the toughest safes. Charlie, unaware of who Stella is, recruits her. She accepts, seeing the job as a way to avenge her father.
With the full crew, Charlie begins gathering the information needed to pull off the theft. Stella, being the only person that Steve won’t recognize, is the lucky one to go into the mansion.. To get her in, Handsome Rob charms a cable company tech out of her van and shirt for Stella to use. Left Ear cases the outer security and finds the security booth and the dogs. He also finds the weak point in Steve’s Internet connection, the junction box for all cable services for the subscribers in the neighbourhood. Left Ear opens the lock and unhooks the cable. Steve discovers the outage quickly; even his TV screens are the colour of the port over Chiba City. Stella goes in with a body cam hidden in a pin, checking out the problem like a tech would. Steve hits on her and, despite her revulsion, accepts a date. The idea is that with him out being stood up, the crew can break in and liberate the gold.
No plan survives contact with the enemy. What Charlie is unaware of is Steve is trying to liquidate more of the gold. Steve’s middleman makes too many connections and realizes where the gold is from, but as he’s denying, gets shot for his effort. The middleman is the brother of the head of a Ukrainian mob in LA. The night of the heist, one of Steve’s neighbours is holding a party. The crew aborts the heist; the explosives they were going to use would be heard and get attention.
It’s not long before a new opportunity appears. Steve needs to skip town, fast, and he needs the gold with him. The only way to do so is to truck the gold out in an armoured car. The crew is ready to adjust their plans. Napster already has access to the LA traffic control. Left Ear has the explosives he was going to use in Plan A. Even the Minis are ready to go. All they need to do is wait for Steve’s gold to leave his mansion.
Steve, though, knows how the crew works. He’s ready for what thay could throw at him and counters by having three armoured cars, each with an escort. All three leave following the same route into LA from the hills. What Steve didn’t count on was Napster’s control over the traffic cameras. Napster determines which truck has the gold before they split up and starts changing traffic patterns in LA to direct the one with the gold to where the crew’s trap is. In the stalled traffic, with the escort separated from the truck, and Steve unable to see through a building, explosives go off, much like the Italian job at the beginning. The armoured car falls through to the subway where Stella breaks into the safe, an older one with a tumbler. The gold is stolen and the Minis go off.
The chase is on as Steve gets the other escort riders to chase the crew’s Minis through the subway, then out through a sewer drain into the Los Angeles River. While even the new Minis can go where most cars can’t, motorcycles can do the same thing. Charlie, though, was prepared and the Minis give the escort riders the slip. Eluding a helicopter is another problem; Steve gets his pilot to follow from above. Charlie realizes that he’s pursuing still and breaks off from the others. Steve chases Charlie, blocking him in a garage before Crocker finds an escape route to the rendezvous.
At the train yards, the rest of the crew have driven into a the getaway rail car. Charlie joins soon after, with Steve not too far behind in a stolen pickup truck, the helicopter having been damaged during Charlie’s escape. Steve finds the rail car and, with some of his armed men, confront the crew. Charlie has one last twist, though, and the crew is able to escape with enough money to retire on in the manner they want.
The remake of The Italian Job could have gone the grrity reboot direction. To the credit of the writers and the director, it didn’t. The tone is not as light as the original, but there is humour, American instead of British. Charlie’s crew isn’t as big in the remake, but there’s more depth to them. The reason for the heist went from national pride to revenge. The titular Italian job was at the beginning instead of being the big scene at the end. There are differences, but the differences aren’t that important. A lot can be chalked up to the difference in storytelling in the 34 years between original and remake.
The remake did get the key scene right. The chase with the Minis followed the same beats as the original, with the Minis going through a shopping concourse, down into the subway, out through a sewer drain, and even across a field. The sewer drain sequence was almost identical to the original’s, with the main difference being the model of Mini used. There was even a nice touch with Stella driving a classic Mini in the red and white of the one used in the original. The main heist even kept the same beats. Hacking into traffic control, separating the truck with the gold from the escort, rival criminal mob, all are present in both films. The difference is technology, something that the remake used without having the new tech be the solution.
Casting was strong for the remake. While Mark Wahlberg is no Michael Caine, who really is? Giving depth to the rest of the crew allowed for byplay between the characters. The motives for the entire crew is laid out. The cast played to their strengths and looked like they were having fun on the set. The remake is very much character driven, even if it’s heading to the Mini chase.
The 2003 version of The Italian Job manges to be its own film while still being a remake. Charlie Crocker is recognizable in both and the key element, the escape in the Minis, is preserved. Even with the change of location, the new version keeps to the tone and fun of the original.
William Gibson’s Neuromancer is a major work in the Cyberpunk movement. While he didn’t create the genre, he coined the phrase cyberspace, the collective hallucination representing data abstracted from memory of every computer in the human system, accessed by millions. Neuromancer is the first of Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy, and is followed by Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. The novel has one of the best first sentences in literature, let alone just science fiction; “The sky above the port was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel.” The one line alone sets up the tone for the entire story.
The main characters of the novel are Case, console cowboy and artist of the crooked deal; Molly, the archetypal street samurai; Armitage, ex-special forces and leader of the team; and Peter Riviera, creator of holograms. As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that each of these characters are inherently broken. Molly has issues in her past and is looking to avenge the death of Johnny. Armitage is a personality construct built on top of the remains of Colonel Corto, the commanding officer of Operation Screaming Fist, where the special forces team was shot down by the Russians leaving Corto as the sole survivor. Rivera gets off to betrayal and is a drug addict, using hypos instead of the more common dermal patches. As for Case, he stole from the wrong people and, when caught, had the talent burned out of him. He turns to being a minor league fixer in Night City, along Ninsei in Chiba City and he still has the problem of not knowing who to not steal from.
Case gets recruited by Armitage and Molly; they need a hacker and they were given his name by their employer. The carrot for Case is being able to punch deck once again, return to cyberspace. The stick, installed while repairing his nerves and replacing his pancreas, is a number of toxin sacs that will dissolve unless he’s given the counter agent, after the job is done. The details of the job, though, are on a need to know basis, with Armitage deciding on who needs to know.
The first part of the job involves the retrieval of the memory construct of McCoy Pauley, aka The Dixie Flatline. The hacker earned the handle after surviving brain death after brushing up against an AI. He’d go one to suffer brain death two more times before finally dying of a heart attack when his artificial heart finally failed. Before that, Sense/Net offered a sum of money to Dix that he couldn’t turn down to make a full recording of his brain and memory. To retrieve the construct, Case runs on the cyberspace matrix, dealing with Sense/Net’s digital defenses. Molly, with the help of the anarchist Panther Moderns, handles the physical security and grabs the construct. The run doesn’t go smooth; Molly winds up with a broken leg. Case, though, is back in his element.
The job leads to London, to Istanbul, and to Freelight Station. Along the way, Case starts digging into the job, trying to find out who is paying and what the end goal is. Wintermute is more then happy to fill in the details, though the AI isn’t telling Case everything, just enough to keep stringing Case along. In the L5 Lagrange point, more help is recruited, this time from the Zion cluster, founded by Rastafarians who never returned to Earth after constructing Freelight Station. Freelight is the home to Tessier-Ashpool SA, a conglomorate that formed when two families, the Tessiers and the Ashpools, merged their family businesses. T-A, the corporation, has holdings in Berne and Rio, where they have AIs.
The run into Villa Straylight, home of the Tessier-Ashpool family, goes wrong. While Case and the Dixie Flatline are guiding a military-grade virus into the T-A system, home of the AI, Molly is in the villa and runs into the Ashpool founder, who managed to live a couple hundred years thanks to anagathics and cryogenics, being thawed out everyone once in a while to help the corp. He slows Molly down, though she winds up speeding up his death. After that, she finds Peter and Lady 3Jane Tessier-Ashpool, the current scion of the family. Peter has betrayed the team to 3Jane and her thawed ninja, turning the tables on Molly. This leaves Case to come in to finish the job.
Case, though, is dealing with his own issues on the righteous tug Marcus Garvey. The Armitage construct finally crumbles, leaving Corto on the bridge of a yacht docked to the Garvey reliving his escape from Russia to Finland during Screaming Fist. Corto ejects the bridge from the yacht, leaving him forever in orbit around Freelight. Wintermute gets in touch with Case, lays out the problem, and insists on having Case along with Garvey and her captain Maelcum to be the backup plan. After some convincing, Maelcum brings out an ancient shotgun, the sole weapon for the sole vessel and sole member of the Rastafarian Navy, ready to storm Freelight and Villa Straylight.
On board Freelight, Case checks in on Dix and the virus. The virus has merged with the AI’s boundaries, meshing with it and slipping inside. Then Case tries to flip back, only to find himself on an island. Who he expected to be Wintermute turns out to be a different AI, or, rather, another side to the T-A AI. Wintermute’s goal was to merge the two sides of the AI, bringing together the id and the ego of the two. The other half does not want the merger to happen, being unsure of what the result would be. Case breaks out of the AI’s trap.
Case does manage to get the information, help Molly, and force 3Jane to provide the AI’s true name, allowing the two parts to merge. Payment is made to the survivors Case and Molly; Peter was hunted down my 3Jane’s ninja but was already poisoned via his drugs by Molly. The Dixie Flatline even gets his wish; his construct is wiped. The toxin sacs in Case are neutralized thanks to the rage he experienced during the run; a flushing and replacement of his blood removes the threat completely. On returning Earthside, Case and Molly are together for a few days before she leaves, not wanting to have a repeat of what happened with Johnny. Case returns home, only to find that it’s not really home anymore. He stops at his old watering holes, but then disappears.
Neuromancer was groundbreaking in 1984. Gibson wove noir/crime with science fiction, with neither feeling like it was tacked on. The heist relies on the cyber, and the cyber on the heist. There are details that may not work as well today, such as the opening line, but other little details are still in the future for us. The cryogenics the Tessier-Ashpools use are still in development today. The Mercedes in Instanbul is a self-driving car that’s long out of the early development we’re seeing by Tesla and Google. Cybernetic limb replacements, as seen used by Ratz in Night City, aren’t available today, but 3-D printing of prosthetic limbs may be paving a road in that direction. Neuromancer doesn’t read like a story from the Eighties, despite being influenced by the the era.
In 2002, the BBC produced a two-part radio drama based on the book. The drama starred Owen McCarthy as Case, Nicola Walker as Molly, James Laurenson as Armitage, John Shrapnel as Wintermute, Colin Stinton as the Dixie Flatline, David Holt as Peter, and David Webber as Maelcum. The drama ran under two hours total and that’s the adaptation’s main problem. To get as much of the plot in, parts of the book had to be cut out. Gone are the parts set in Chiba. While on first glace, the opening part in Night City might be seen as not needed, not having the part takes away from the emotional impact when Case is on the island created by the other AI. Dixie’s laugh is also not quite right; while Stinton does provide an annoying laugh, it’s not electronic. Also gone is most of the run on Sense/Net, though it is there, and the trip to Istanbul to pickup Riviera. Other parts are glossed over.
Also gone is the drug use. Granted, there may be restrictions about the portrayal of drug use, but it is a key element in the story. Case’s use of drugs started when he tried to find a replacement for the thrill of punching deck in cyberspace. Riviera goes even further, using hard drugs that were available in the Eighties. Molly is on painkillers after breaking her leg inside Sense/Net’s HQ. It’s a sign of the characters being outside the law and society and how broken Case is. Even when Armitage upgrades Case’s system to make most recreational drugs useless, the hacker manages to score something that can bypass the lockout.
That said, other than the loss of the Chiba parts, the radio drama proceeds much like the novel, with the focus on the heist. Case becomes the narrator for the story, allowing Gibson’s prose to come through. Details get lost, but the key beats of the story are kept. A listener unaware of the original novel would not notice what is missing. To that degree, the adaptation is good, with a cast that can handle the roles well.
The drama’s main problem falls to two areas, a small cast and a short run time. The novel has a number of characters that do reappear during the run on Straylight, especially when Case flatlines. Their appearances are important to the story. The run time leads to the dropped parts mentioned above. If a radio drama has to cut key parts, it doesn’t bode well for any possible film adaptations[https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/deadpool-director-tim-miller-adapt-neuromancer-fox-1028185]. Gibson packs a lot into Neuromancer‘s 287 pages.
BBC’s adaptation of Neuromancer should have been longer, but what it does keep stays faithful to the novel. Is it perfect? No, but it is a good effort hampered by limitations imposed on it.
I didn’t mean to have one after coming back, but the planned review is taking longer to get done. It should be ready for next week. My sincerest apologies.