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‘American Gods’ Review: Season 1’s Finale Is a Beautiful Sensory Nightmare That Finally Answers the Show’s Biggest Question


For the last seven weeks, “American Gods” has warned us of a coming war. One by one, the gods of centuries past made their way from the pages of global lore into the twisted landscape of this Starz show, where the mortal and immortal co-mingle and their fates are intertwined. With “Come to Jesus,” a grand finale that cobbled together all the disparate elements that made the series compelling viewing, Season 1 of “American Gods” reached its creative peak and paved the way for its cosmic tug-of-war to continue.

Though this season has delighted in its own diversions, crossing national and metaphysical boundaries to bring its infamous cast of characters together, keeping these factions separate for so long made their convergence all the sweeter. Mr. Wednesday, fresh from offing Vulcan, tows Shadow along to the house of Ostara, introducing a perfectly cast Kristin Chenoweth to an already loaded ensemble. While Wednesday tries to recruit the afternoon’s host to his side of the war of his making, Sweeney and Laura have effectively tracked down Shadow. Toss in a surprise visit from Media and its cohorts and it’s the perfect opportunity for Wednesday to pull back the curtain on his true identity.

READ MORE: ‘American Gods’: Neil Gaiman and Bryan Fuller on Fixing The Story’s Most Important Female Character

In true “American Gods” fashion, Ian McShane’s booming invocation of “ODIN!” gets swept into the swirling atmosphere of this ill-fated Easter celebration. Coupled with Mr. World’s exponential choreography, its the show’s biggest example of showing that even with Shadow in tow, this is a cosmic battle that is specifically tied to weapons of its own devising. With this season-capper, it’s established the divide between Old and New and moved the conflict from a sensory, experiential realm to one where its moving chess pieces have clearer intentions.

As a piece of science fiction and a tome about the role that mythology has in informing our view of the world, it wouldn’t be unfair to view this finale through the prism of history and the chapter being written in our modern world. As this finale ventured from Egypt to Tehran, echoing the journeys in this season from Europe to the Middle East and westward to North American lands, it’s hard not to see this whole season as a shot across the bow against isolationism.

“American Gods” lives in a land of artifice, but there’s a value to having this allegorical conflict feature so prominent in its finale. The tools of Wednesday’s destruction are those of time-tested mythology, but the constant question of illusion, delusion and free will that’s woven into each development feels timeless.

“American Gods”

© 2017 Starz Entertainment, LLC

Book readers were obviously privy to some of these plot machinations and characterizations, but for the uninitiated, “American Gods” took an almost perverse delight in shielding both Shadow and the audience from the most basic of information about who these immortal players actually are. Media, Technology, Mr. World, Czernobog and company — all of those individual entities still have some degree of abstraction to them, but having now seen so many of them in a direct face-off opens up a portal to a storytelling world where that caginess won’t serve as much of a purpose.

Even though the season has been drenched in a classic battle between two opposing forces, the divide between old and new doesn’t necessarily mean a simple battle between light and dark or good and evil. The lush vegetation and pastel costumes harkened back to “Wonderfalls” and “Pushing Daisies,” previous Bryan Fuller TV efforts that wrestled with the consequences of the whims and rules of the supernatural making their way into the everyday minutiae of life in North America. It’s a world where familiar tropes and cultural touchstones can be upturned at a moment’s notice, reworked to challenge our assumptions about the traditions that made them into such recognizable entities.

Even as McShane continues to excel at acting like Ian McShane and the cycle of other MVPs come trotting across the screen (only a show like “American Gods” could have Jeremy Davies as Jesus feel like sensible window dressing), Ricky Whittle’s performance and the treatment of Shadow Moon is still the center of the Venn diagram that the rest of the show flows through. But here, in this finale, there’s a sense that as the character begins to understand his place in the universe, “American Gods” finally found a way to take all of the densely detailed individual worlds of these gods and drive them toward a common purpose.

READ MORE: ‘American Gods’: Neil Gaiman’s Guide to The Show’s Incredible Cast

In many ways, Season 1 of “American Gods” has felt like a richly delivered preamble, written on a page in beautifully rendered calligraphy and draped in the wardrobe like that of the inimitable Mr. Nancy. Orlando Jones’ return to this saga was a welcome one, especially when he’s again given a rich story to help bring to life through his narration. The Bilquis origin story, drenched in devotion, sacrifice and carried by an unexpected fall from grace, shows that “American Gods” doesn’t need direct connection between its players to be an engaging meditation on the stories we tell ourselves and the way we connect to the folklore of ancestors past.

But, as Mr. Nancy invokes in conversation with Wednesday and Shadow, “This is all too big. Too much going on at once. We should start with a story.” Now that the show has finally spent its share of time on stories, it’s arrived at a chilling crossroads, ready to bring along with it everything that set its first eight hours apart.

Grade: A-

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‘Black Panther’ Scorches Box Office Records, Sets the Bar for 2018 and Beyond


Marvel’s “Black Panther” (Disney) arrived with a record-breaking bang at the 2018 box office, outperforming pre-opening estimates for its three day U.S./Canada opening.

Check out its all-time records: “Black Panther” bests “Deadpool” by more than $50 million as the best February and pre-March opening weekends ever. It tops last year’s “Beauty and the Beast” as the best pre-May debut of all time. It nearly doubles “Furious 7” as the best opening for a black-directed film. It is triple the best previous record (held by “Straight Outta Compton”) for initial weekend of a film with a primarily black cast.

Those numbers will be re-counted when Sunday’s actual numbers are reported, plus the boost the movie will get from a four-day semi-holiday on Monday. And adjusting to an even playing field still leaves “Black Panther” remarkably (considering the month of release) among the ten best openers ever.

“Black Panther”

Ryan Coogler’s breakout film “Fruitvale Station” did well in limited release and commercial sequel “Creed” marked a decent wide release. But “Black Panther”‘s grosses are seismic and game-changing for the director. The movie is the biggest non-“Star Wars” opener since “Jurassic World” (with a prime June release date) nearly three years ago. Yes, “Black Panther” comes from within the lucrative comic book universe of adaptations, but by those high standards it ranks #4 (adjusted) after both “Avengers” films and “Spider-Man 3.”

There have been 13 Marvel or D.C. Comic book releases since “Avengers: Age of Ultron” opened to (an adjusted) $204 million in May, 2015. A majority have opened over $100 million (including similar game-changer “Wonder Woman.” But no comic book movie since (the best off-season opener “Batman v. Superman” opened to an adjusted $178 million, “Deadpool” $141 million), despite showcasing a who’s who of comic world characters (“Thor,” “X-Men,” “Spider-Man” and the ensemble in “Suicide Squad”) boasted the appeal of this long-overdue all-black cast of heroes and villains starring in an African myth.

The huge initial interest that propelled many fans to Thursday night and Friday shows likely account for a Saturday decline somewhat above some other recent Marvel and D.C. titles. The falloff was 13 per cent (from a higher starting point from most others) for its second full day from the initial totals. “Thor: Ragnarok” dropped  five per cent, “Wonder Woman” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” eight per cent.

But “The Avengers” also boasted an A+ CInemascore and dropped slightly more (14 per cent) on its initial Saturday on its way to a domestic total that was triple its opening (adjusted, its domestic total was just over $700 million).

Can “Black Panther” repeat that kind of long-term performance? There’s no way to judge after two days. The four-day totals will give a hint, but next weekend will be more key to assessing the future.

But even a standard ultimate showing (which would leave this somewhere around $500 million domestic – about 25 per cent above “Wonder Woman”) would change the rules about what American moviegoers want to see. “Black Panther” will elevate a wider range of stories, including Hollywood’s core big-budget action adventures. Yes, there has been a steady supply of black-centered releases going back to blaxploitation in the 1970s, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy lead the way in the 1980s and so on. But these often have come with non-minority creative control, and usually with lower budgets and compensation for many principles based on perceived economics.

"Black Panther"

“Black Panther”

The main excuse for not green-lighting similar films with the $300 million plus production and marketing costs expended on “Black Panther” is the resistance seen historically to black-centered films overseas. The foreign market for top-end productions (though not the “Star Wars” series) is expected to provide roughly two-thirds of the total gross for high end films. “Panther” debuted in a majority of the world, though not the key territories of China, Japan, or Russia yet.

The gross for these initial territories came in a little less than the domestic return ($169 million). What happens in the remainder of them will be important. But it would be reasonable at this point to anticipate at least $400 million overseas, along with at least that much (low end total) domestic. That would put the film at over $800 million worldwide. That total wouldn’t have placed it quite in the global Top Ten for 2017 (it would be about the same as the most recent “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which soared overseas and was similarly expensive). “Wonder Woman” did $812 million combined, with a similar domestic/foreign split. And it’s good enough, to put it mildly, even if the domestic share is higher than usual. It just might take longer for foreign to catch up.

The performance boosted year-to-date numbers, which had fallen below 2017 so far, to a boost of over five per cent (by the time different week day calendars balance out by midweek). “Panther” made up about two thirds of ticket sales (a lower total that the better than 75 per cent share “The Last Jedi” took in its pre-Christmas weekend.)

Early Man

Drowned out by the film was Nick Park’s Aardman animation “Early Man” (Lionsgate), which could only take in an anemic $3,150,000. It was hurt among kids by the draw of the second weekend of the less sophisticated “Peter Rabbit” (Sony), which managed as decent $17,500,000 and a 31 per cent drop.

“Fifty Shades Freed” (Universal), last week’s #1, dropped 56 per cent to fall behind “Early Man” slightly. Buried among the figures during the week though was the film’s dominance on Wednesday (Valentine’s Day). It grossed nearly $11 million, more than half of the day’s business as the clear film of choice to drag men to that night.

Long-running hits “Jumanji: Welcome to the Club” (Sony) and “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox) both dropped around 20 per cent, a bit above their recent average but both amazing holds for films around since Christmas. But they needed company going forward, assuming that “Panther” has decent legs, since they can’t be expected to sustain theaters that much longer.

“Early Man”

The Top Ten

1. Black Panther (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 88; Est. budget: $200 million

$192,023,000 in 4,020 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $47,767,000; Cumulative: $192,023,000

2. Peter Rabbit (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend: #2

$17,250,000 (-31%) in 3,725 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,631; Cumulative: $48,223,000

3. Fifty Shades Freed (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend: #1

$16,940,000 (-56%) in 3,768 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,496; Cumulative: $76,134,000

4. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Sony) Week 9; Last weekend: #

$7,945,000 (-21%) in 2,800 theaters (-336); PTA: $2,838; Cumulative: $377,624,000

5. 15:17 to Paris (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend: #

$7,685,000 (-39%) in 3,042 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,526; Cumulative: $25,433,000

6. The Greatest Showman (20th Century Fox) Week 9; Last weekend: #5

$5,100,000 (-21%) in 1,936 theaters (-437); PTA: $2,634; Cumulative: $154,478,000

7. Early Man (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 68; Est. budget: $50 million

$3,150,000 in 2,494 theaters; PTA: $1,263; Cumulative: $3,150,000

8. Maze Runner: The Death Cure (20th Century Fox) Week 4; Last weekend: #6

$2,525,000 (-59%) in 1,891 theaters (-1,032); PTA: $1,335; Cumulative: $54,005,000

9. Winchester (Lionsgate) Week 3; Last weekend: #7

$2,230,000 (-57%) in 1,471 theaters (-1,001); PTA: $1,508; Cumulative: $21,860,000

10. Samson (Pureflix) NEW – Metacritic: 17; no budget estimate reported

$1,972,000 in 1,249 theaters; PTA: $1,579; Cumulative: $1,972,000

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