Mischief or music? You decide

Stuart here again. Jake Buckler isn’t available for this week’s Streaming Saturday article. I’m not saying he’s fleeing from the law, but I’m also not saying he isn’t.

Hey, remember just a few months when Disney+ had a musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda that everyone was talking about and HBO Max had the latest installment in their superhero universe? Yeah, those were the days. Now, everything’s upside down. Black is white. Stop is go. Up is down. And it would seem that Disney and HBO have swapped places. Now it’s Disney with the superhero stuff and HBO with the Miranda-tacular.

This week it’s all about your choice of mischief or music, and if you’re like me, you’re queued up for both.

Loki on Disney+

I’ll give it to Disney, they know how to milk a franchise dry. Not satisfied with roughly 25 “cinematic universe” films (I think that’s the number, I lost count), they’ve decided that their massive world needs even more fleshing out. They’ve started running limited series productions to highlight some of the fan favorite heroes that might not be able to carry their own movies.

The first little romp, WandaVision, gave us a sweet, quirky, and funny look at Wanda “Don’t call me Scarlet Witch, until I decide you can call me Scarlet Witch” Maximoff and The Vision, a sort of living robot who, the last time we saw them was not living anymore. The show was a paean to old television shows and was heartwrenchingly sweet when it wasn’t filling our eyeballs up with million-dollar CGI shots.

Their second try, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, attempted to give us some of the connective tissue required to explain why Captain America will look so different in their next movie. It combined classic buddy-cop tropes with some realistic and restrained CGI and a little bit of politics, something rare for Marvel. It was well received but not the hit that WandaVision was.

And now, we have Loki. This is the story of Thor’s (sort-of) brother, who started out annoying the living heck out of us in Thor, and proceeded to annoy, annoy, annoy over the course of five more films. Disney seems to think this is a beloved character that we just can’t get enough of. The only problem, of course is:

spoiler alert

…that he dies at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War.

[collapse]

But of course, there’s always a loophole.

Mini-review

After watching the first episode of Loki, I did go for the funky, early-70s sci-fi look and the burnt-orange palette. I wasn’t such a fan of Owen Wilson, but I will say his normal happy-go-lucky stoner persona was firmly in check here. In my opinion, virtually any other actor could have done as well, though. I thought the first episode was a bit too heavy on exposition, including a Jurassic Park-esque animated sequence intended as a concentrated in-world infodump. The show was fun and didn’t take itself too seriously, but I want to see stuff happen. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is criminally underutilized in this episode but I have a feeling that will change.

Superfans of the MCU will gobble up the story, and regular folks will find in a fair enough diversion in a month when schools are coming to an end but it’s still too early to take a vacation. I just hope that the characters are given a little more to do in subsequent episodes. There are only six hours in this series and they blew one of them with the setup. Time to get it moving.

In the Heights on HBO Max

WarnerMedia’s (now Warner Bros. Discovery’s) strategy for premiering big movies on the small screen is the very definition of “mixed bag.” Tentpoles like Wonder Woman:1984 didn’t fare as well as expected. Godzilla vs. Kong and Mortal Kombat were fun viewing as long as you had nothing else to do. Most of them (which I honestly had to look for, and found here) didn’t really pique my interest. Judas and the Black Messiah was the only one to win any critical acclaim.

Which brings us to this week’s premiere, In the Heights. The film is based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical success before Hamilton, and I think it can be argued successfully that it’s just not as good. But I will say that it’s darn good anyway.

You’ve probably read the reviews. It’s an incredibly massive undertaking that looks as if it was filmed on location. The story centers around a group of folks in the less-successful and less-well-known neighborhood north of Harlem, where dreams are modest but drive, passion, and love are everywhere. At least that’s the way the movie portrays it. The real Washington Heights is… a neighborhood. I can’t say I’m terribly impressed or terribly turned off by it. But that’s reality. This movie is about the fantasy.

Very compact review

At every turn you will be surrounded by lushly conceived production numbers and sharply written characters. There’s a certain echo of Rent, with both being musicals taking place in more marginalized parts of New York City. You get the trademark peppy Miranda sound, and the cast of largely unknown actors brings every bit of heart they can. You’ll spend a little time asking yourself “what do I know them from?” (hint: the answer is “She was on Brooklyn Nine-Nine“) but mostly you’ll just lay back and have fun.

The politics of the film may not be for you. Or they may be. This isn’t that kind of blog. Personally I enjoyed the music as much as I enjoyed Hamilton, and the visuals are of course far better than Hamilton. Rather than being a film of a Broadway performance, this is a real film shot in the real world. I personally let the film take me away, as a Hollywood musical should.

Unlike the musicals of old, it’s a little harder to walk away humming any of the tunes, but that’s Lin-Manuel Miranda for you. Remember that Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs has a potential world-record run for sustained speed-rapping in his song “Guns and Ships.” The words don’t fly out at you quite as quickly here, but they do often fly at you so fast that it’s hard to keep up.

Don’t worry, though. There’s plenty of time to see it over and over in the next 30 days, which you will probably want to do. Just like Hamilton, you’ll learn the words eventually.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.