Star Trek: Enterprise is a very divisive topic among Trekkers / Trekkies. Personally, I'm not a big fan. It was a perfectly adequate space adventure TV show, but just never quite worked as hard science fiction for me, let alone as "Star Trek". There were certainly some stand-out good episodes. The haunted space station of "Dead Stop" and the mirror universe antics of "In a Mirror, Darkly" being among my favorites. The annoying thing is that the show made several mistakes at very fundamental levels before it even got off the ground. I could have lived with the show being a prequel, but the efforts to make the show seem both futuristic to the viewing audience, but also less advanced than the (then 40-year-old) original series put the show in an awkward juxtaposition with established series continuity. The hackneyed time travel meta-plot certainly didn't help.
"Juxtaposed" is an excellent way of describing Enterprise as a whole. It's a show that simultaneously seemed ashamed of its "Star Trek" name (remember, it premiered with the title "Enterprise", and "Star Trek" was only stapled back on in later seasons), while also indulging in needless - and sometimes cringe-worthy - fan service (such as the appearance of the Borg, Ferengi, and the entire episode "In A Mirror, Darkly"). It wanted to distance itself from established Trek tropes, but also brought back many of the same technologies, concepts, and character archetypes (simply renaming many of them). It set itself at the cusp of development of advanced science fiction technologies, but completely waffled when it came to telling hard science fiction stories about those technologies. It wanted to be simultaneously a prequel and a sequel via its contrived time travel premise. It was this lack of confidence and true vision that really killed this show.
The science of future technology
The show made the mistake of trying to present a Star Trek setting that was less technologically advanced, but still went ahead and gave the crew access to stand-ins for all the established trek technologies. They tried to make the Enterprise itself feel more like a contemporary submarine with its confined spaces, but it never really felt different. There was "hull polarization" instead of shields, and "phase cannons" instead of phasers. Different names, but same basic concepts that were used in exactly the same manner. The crew didn't start the show using more contemporary-seeming projectile weapons - not even a futuristic projectile weapon like a rail gun - before transitioning to purely energy-based weapons. The Enterprise didn't have to be equipped with any kind of futuristic chaffe in order to misdirect hostile targeting scanners, nor did it use point-defense to destroy incoming missiles.
"Phase pistols" and "polarized hull" were just lazy stand-ins for phasers and shields.
The only pieces of tech that the show really held off on (and were relevant to narrative) were the universal translator and transporters. The translator was rarely an issue since Hoshi was practically a Babel Fish. The transporter was there, but it was not trusted to reliably transport living things - even though it had been verified as safe by the beginning of the first episode and was successfully used in that episode. So for most of the show's run, the crew used shuttle craft for away missions, but the transporter was always there just waiting to act as a deus ex machina to get the crew out of a sticky situation (which, of course, happened on multiple occasions - including the premiere).
The fact that these technologies were already in place made the show feel too similar to other Trek series, even though it desperately wanted to feel distinct. But it also prevented the writers from exploring some of the more interesting issues inherent to the development of these technologies... [More]
There's a bit in X-Men: Apocalypse in which Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Jubilee are walking out of a theater after seeing Return of the Jedi. Cyclops and Jubilee are arguing about whether Empire was better than Star Wars, and Jean remarks that "we can all agree that the third one is always the worst". This, of course is a jab at X-Men 3: the Last Stand, which I'm sure we can all agree is still the worst of the X-Men movies. It's also the first one that Bryan Singer didn't direct. But what might - or might not - be lost on Singer and his writers is the little bit of irony that Apocalypse is also the third movie in a series: the prequel series that started with X-Men: First Class.
X-2 and Days of Future Past remain the standout excellent films in this particular franchise. I don't think that Apocalypse ever degrades quite to the train wreck that was The Last Stand - not even close. But it does fall victim to some of the same traps that The Last Stand fell into: namely that it perhaps tried to fit too many stories into one, and doesn't tell any one of them particularly well. Much like The Last Stand, this one even starts to fall on its face when it goes into "Dark Pheonix" territory. Thankfully, they avoided turning that into a major plot thread though...
Perhaps the clumsiest storyline here was the Four Horsemen themselves. As per the comics, Apocalypse must recruit four powerful mutants, amplify their powers, and then use them as his own personal bodyguards. Other than Magneto, these characters' introductions and development all had to be rushed through. It seems a bit ironic that in these movies, it always seems to be the characters that we're most familiar with who get the most set-up and exposition; while the new characters receive little-or-no explanation or development. I never really bought into these horsemen though, or why they would be willing to help this obvious villain. I get that he tricked some of them with promises that he would "save humanity from itself", and he earned some loyalty with others by healing them and making them stronger, and that he used Magneto's grief and anger to his advantage, but the moment his plans started shifting away from "destroying corrupt systems and governments" towards outright "destroy the world", I just couldn't believe that none of the others batted an eye! Was there some kind of mind control going on as well? But he doesn't have mind control powers; that's why he wants Professor X.
Aside from Magneto, The Four Horsemen felt undeveloped and lacking in motivation.
Maybe if the movie could have established that Apocalypse had somehow brainwashed them, then I'd be more willing to accept it... [More]
Why is this a "Captain America" movie? Why couldn't Marvel just call this "Avengers: Civil War" or "Marvel: Civil War"? This movie is just as much about Tony Stark as it is about Captain America, and the entire ensemble (minus a Hulk and plus a Spider-Man and Black Panther) is present.
Speaking of Spider-Man, let's get this out of the way right from the start. His presence felt like completely contrived fan service and the tonal shift that he brings kind of hurts the movie. He's pulled out of nowhere for no good reason so that he can participate in the big, fun battle royale; and then he's sent home when it's over and has absolutely no relevance to the movie's plot or themes. Tony Stark has no idea that Cap has recruited Ant Man, and I'm not even sure if he was aware that Hawkeye had broken Scarlet Witch out of the compound yet. Shouldn't Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Black Panther, and Vision have been enough to take down Captain America, Falcon, and Bucky? Did he really think he needed to recruit an innocent, un-involved person and put him at risk?
That being said, this is the best combination of Spider-Man and Peter Parker that has been presented in live-action film to date. I do miss the New York accent of Andrew Garfield and the picture-perfect spider-suit from Amazing Spider-Man 2 (though I like the colors in Civil War better), and I think that the Sam Raimi films had the best supporting cast (outside of McGuire, Dunst, and Franco), but virtually everything about Civil War's Spider-Man was great.
Despite the lack of a New York accent, this is probably the best film of portrayal of Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand
So how does the rest of the movie do?
It kind of reminds me of Serenity (the film follow-up to the series Firefly). Both the Firefly series and the preceeding Marvel films have all been very light-hearted, fun, and energetic. They've been full of charismatic, witty characters, genuine emotion, and exciting action. But Serenity and Civil War are much more brooding. The characters don't really get along, they all seem tired, there's less wit, and much of their charisma is lost. Even characters that we may have loved before now seem somewhat dull and might not be very fun to watch.
The action is still great, the characters are still fine, and there's still some humor and wit in the dialogue. But it feels like the soul that Marvel has built up for its universe has been sucked out. The darker themes of the plot aren't even necessarily the problem here. After all, I loved Winter Soldier (and really regret that I never wrote a review of it), and that movie had a darker edge to it. But it also deviated from the established formula and showed creativity and cleverness that the other Marvel movies didn't have. It felt more like a James Bond or Jason Bourne spy-thriller than the typical Marvel comic book movie, and that was great! Similarly, Ant Man (which I also regret not reviewing) felt more like a criminal heist movie, which was also great! Both felt unique enough that they transcended the tropes and McGuffins that they relied upon.
The characters have less energy and charisma about them.
Civil War, on the other hand, falls back on many of the formulaic tropes that the Marvel films were based on. It's another revenge and McGuffin plot. The McGuffin just happens to be a person this time around, and the entire second half of the movie could have been avoided if the characters would have just let each other talk. It's this formulaic model that conflicts with the dour tone and actually leads to large chunks of the movie actually feeling boring. And much like Age of Ultron before it, this movie feels a bit too bloated for its own good. I'd much rather have seen more screen time and development for Black Panther, and no Spider-Man at all... [More]
Earlier this year, it was announced that CBS will be creating a new Star Trek television series to celebrate the franchise's 50-year anniversary. Very little was known about the series except that it would be under the leadership of Bryan Fuller (a former Deep Space Nine staff writer), and that it would premiere on CBS's All-Access streaming service. As one of Fuller's first actions, he made a lot of Trek fans very excited by hiring Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country director Nicholas Meyer to be the chief writer of the new series. These happen to be my two favorite Star Trek movies (with Undiscovered Country getting better each time I see it).
A leaked poster for the new Star Trek series.
But the biggest questions were when would the series take place, and what would it be about. Many of the previous pitches for show ideas that I had read sounded terrible. Many sounded like really cheap fan-fiction concepts. Like the idea of a series about James Kirk's descendant becoming captain of a new Enterprise to save the Federation from an extra-galactic alien threat.
I avoided talking about the topic previously because I wanted to reserve judgement until something more concrete about the show was announced. Well now, something has, and it has me very excited. According to rumors, Fuller and Meyers are producing a seasonal anthology series similar to the popular American Horror Story. This means that each season would contain its own self-contained, independent storyline that could explore any time period, characters, locations, or concepts from the entire series' canon. I've been saying for years that Star Trek would be a great fit for an anthology series. The canon is large and expansive enough that focusing it on a singular time, place, and characters feels very restraining and limits the types of stories that can be told.
Of course, when I started pitching that idea to friends and anyone who would listen (don't know why I never blogged about it...), I hadn't conceived of a seasonal anthology. I was thinking more along the lines of a true anthology similar to The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. The problem that I was fully willing to point out was the difficulty in establishing compelling characters and relationships within the span of a single hour-long episode. I had, at the time, proposed to resolve this by occasionally re-visiting specific characters and events from specific episodes in order to further flesh out their plots. I had even suggested having a few independent story threads going simultaneously each season, and then maybe tying them together through a uniting theme, plot element, or some other relation. A seasonal anthology is an elegant and easy solution, and American Horror Story has been a fantastic model.
The first season will supposedly take place sometime after the events of The Undiscovered Country.
In addition, the first season is rumored to take place after the events of the The Undiscovered Country (during the gap between the original series movies and The Next Generation). There's a lot of material in that time period that is rife for exploration. The changing dynamics between the Federation and the Klingons could make for some good stories. First contact with the Cardassians occurs sometime during this period. And the end of hostilities with the Klingons meant that Starfleet finally had an opportunity to de-militarize and go back to performing the peaceful exploration that it was founded to do.
But that's not the end of it. The anthology nature of the series means that it won't be constrained to that time period. The following seasons could go anywhere. Subsequent seasons could take place entirely on alien worlds; could show us the formation of the Borg collective; could [finally] explore the Earth-Romulan wars that Enterprise teased but never actually got to; or it could go into the distant future of the series and show us the death of the Federation. Even more, there's nothing to say that an entire season couldn't take place within the mirror universe (like Enterprise's episode "In a Mirror, Darkly", but extended out to a full season); or, a season could even hypothetically take place in the new continuity created by J.J. Abrams.
An anthology could go anywhere and anywhen in the Star Trek canon - even an entire season in the mirror universe!
This new anthology series is one that truly could boldly go where no series has gone before, and it can boldly go anywhere! [More]
I don't care much for DC characters. I'm not going to be able to love or hate this movie as much as some fanboys because I simply don't have as much investment into this universe and characters. I like Batman just fine, I hate Superman, and I'm ambivalent about most of the rest of the characters. Making Superman invincible just sucks any drama away from any conflict that he engages in. The only way to get around that is for Superman to be a complete idiot and to manage to fall for Kryptonite traps every time; otherwise, there's no story. Good writers can find ways to put Superman in situations in which he has to make split-second decisions, and that can create drama for any characters whose fate hinges on Superman's decisions. But there's only so many ways to do that before it starts to feel contrived, assuming that it ever didn't feel contrived to begin with.
So I didn't care much for Man of Steel, and my expectations for Dawn of Justice was pretty low. The only thing that I thought might give this movie any chance in hell was that the trailers made it seem like the movie might actually tackle the destruction-porn criticisms of Man of Steel by framing Superman as a villainous, city-destroying monster. The success or failure of the movie would be contingent on whether or not audiences can buy into the idea of Superman being more dangerous than he's worth.
To the film's credit, this is exactly how it starts. The first half of this movie dives right into the issue of super hero collateral damage, and Superman is criticized for his unilateral, un-supervised actions that put the citizens of Metropolis (and the world) in direct danger. The movie asks questions of whether or not Superman has the right to take actions without the consent or oversight of the people, regardless of whether his intents are noble. There's some superficial allegorical commentary about the threats posed by unilateral action by authorities (whether it's Superman taking the action, or a government). I was really enjoying the movie, especially the early scenes that played around with viewing the heroes actions through different perspectives. This stuff was thoughtfull and heady! We see Superman's actions through the perspective of a thoroughly immasculated Bruce Wayne. We see Batman's vigilante justice through the eyes of skeptical police. And we see both from the perspective of the civilians they are purporting to defend, and even from the media. I was really liking all this...
The first half of the movie user perspective shifts to reframe the actions of both of our heroes.
... And then Lex Luthor blows up the Capitol building, and a lot of the good will that the movie had been earning kind of goes down the toilet. All those themes about acting without the consent of the people, and all those perspective shifts, just go out the window to make room for a battle royale. Literally the entire second half of the movie is one extended action scene with virtually no weight or substance. Other than Batman moving the conflict towards a section of Gotham harbor that is supposedly abandoned, all the political and ideological substance that the movie had seemingly been about in the first half is completely ignored and completely unresolved. I guess we'll just have to wait until Captain America: Civil War to tell us this same story, with these same themes, in a more compelling and enjoyable way.
Dawn of Justice gets criticism for supposedly having weak motivations for its characters. I don't think this is true. I get why Bruce Wayne is so fearful of Superman. It's a bit obsessive, but it makes sense based on the history of the character in this film. After all that Batman has seen and been through, after all the villains that he's fought and all the criminals he's put down, here comes an unstoppable alien who could turn on humanity at any moment. I get it. I didn't buy into Clark Kent's dislike of Batman; although, neither did the movie's writers, since Luthor basically has to pull the whole "kidnap the hero's loved one(s)" cliche in order to threaten Superman into wanting to fight Batman. And just as much as the two's resentment towards each other felt forced, the way in which their fight "resolves" itself is similarly forced and silly.
Did you miss the significance of Robin's old costume? If so, you missed a critical piece of character backstory.
There's also a lot of little, character-informing details that audiences might miss because they're not very well presented by the film. The best example is probably a costume that is briefly shown in the Batcave that is covered with graffiti that reads "Hahaha Joke's on you Batman!" ... [More]
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