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]
Deadpool tries to make a big deal about how this is "a different kind of super hero movie". He backs this up by pointing out how he just turned a bad guy into a bloody kabob, and by dropping F-bombs and explicit sex jokes every other line of dialogue. True it isn't exactly the typical super hero movie, but it wasn't anything that we haven't already seen in the larger field of comic book movies. Adaptations of graphic novels like Watchmen, Kickass, Sin City, and 300 are loaded with plenty of gratuitous, graphic violence, foul language, sex, and even some impressive glowing blue penises. Heck, even within the subset of Marvel superhero movies, there's already the R-rated Blade.
So I thought it was a bit pretentious for Deadpool to make his movie out to be "unique" for its hard-R rating. It isn't. And it certainly isn't that unique in its plot, which is a pretty standard, cliched origin story with love interest female lead, complete with the hero trying to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend from an arrogant villain. Nothing new there. It is a little bit more unique in its sense of humor though. If you didn't already know, Deadpool is pretty infamous for being a fourth-wall-breaking meta character. In his appearances in comic books, he routinely jokes or comments about being in a comic book, and his appearances in video games also usually include references to comic books or to video games.
So this movie is trying to sell itself on its wit, and it both succeeds brilliantly, and fails miserably. The opening credit sequence and other digs at the studio system (including a dig at the studio being too cheap to afford any other X-Men cameos) work very well. Other pop culture references fall a bit flat and will only serve to date the movie in the future. I was also very disappointed that Deadpool didn't comment on the absurdly cliche plot twist of the villain kidnapping the hero's girlfriend. That's like a violation of cardinal rule #1 for movie supervillians: don't kidnap the hero's girlfriend. Unless her name is Gwen Stacy, then I guess you've got a case for the kidnapping.
Ryan Reynolds pulls the character off with pitch perfect execution, and his performance isn't hurt at all by the occasional poor joke. He inhabits the role with the same dedication as Robert Downy Jr. in Iron Man, and Reynolds and Deadpool will likely be inseparable from each other for the future.
Despite the cliche plot, Morena Baccarin's character is surprisingly relevant to the protagonist's development.
The villain is pretty lame though, with paper-thin motivation that really does prevent the cliche plot from really transcending the banality of the genre. And really, that's probably the greatest weakness of the movie. Despite taking [what the studio apparently perceives as] risks with the R-rating and over-the-top violence and sex, the actual plot is so "safe" and cheesy. It probably would have worked a bit better for me if it had stuck to being a revenge movie, but once it became apparent that the bad guy was going to kidnap the girlfriend, I kind of sighed and sunk back into my chair, "Oh, another one of these."
At least the romance is much more integral to the movie's plot than in other super hero movies in which the love interest feels tacked on and just there... [More]
So where do I start ...?
... With the Mary Sue protagonist?
... Or the McGuffin plot device?
... Or the uncomfortably rushed pacing?
... Or that the uncomfortably-rushed plot was a complete rehash of the first movie's plot, starting with hiding a secret document inside a droid and culminating in a trench run to blow up yet another Death Star?
... Or how about the other fan-service?
... Or the shallow character arcs?
... Or the completely throw-away characters like Phasma?
... How about the weak, forgettable original score?
... Or even how the lack of the 20th Century Fox fanfare made the title crawl feel weird?
Yeah, I came out of the movie with a very sunken, disappointed feeling. Heck, at first, I wasn't even sure if what I had just seen was even better than the prequels. But I'll give The Force Awakens some credit and say that it is better than the prequels. Despite Rey coming off as a Mary Sue, and despite that all the other characters have arcs that are completed within the first ten minutes of the movie (if an arc exists at all), the characters and performances are much better than what we got in the prequels. I thought that the friendliness and camaraderie between the heroes felt a bit forced, but that was partly the result of the rapid pacing of the movie. The Millenium Falcon seems to warp back and forth across the galaxy three times over the course of the movie, and hyperspace seems to allow virtually instantaneous transit now (another problem that Abrams carried over from Star Trek). Is travel instantaneous, or did these characters spend days or weeks bunking on the Falcon?
Rey feels like a Mary Sue character who fulfills a multi-film development arc in the span of a few minutes.
Rey is a Mary Sue character whose entire development occurs in the couple minutes that she's strapped into an interrogation chair; although I loved the witty subversion of the "damsel in distress" trope in the beginning of the film: "Stop holding my hand, I know how to run!". LoL. Fin's arc is basically complete within the first ten minutes of the movie. Kylo Ren has a shallow arc that is left unresolved so that it can be further explored in the subsequent films (I'm assuming he's probably going to have a redemption arc similar to Vader's in Return of the Jedi). Han and Leia don't have arcs, as they just have backstory. All their character development happened off-screen in the thirty intervening years. And I'm OK with that. I didn't expect Han and Leia's relationship to work out anyway. They had nothing in common except the fight against the empire. Once that was over, Leia was likely to go back to being a diplomat or politician, and Han would have to turn his back on the life of crime and mercenary work that he's good at in order to find a respectable job and avoid being a source of scandal and controversy. That wasn't going to happen!
So all the backstory made sense to me, and was all pretty much what I expected. That is, until the political situation came up... So there's another republic now (makes sense), and that republic is the dominant governing power in the galaxy, right? And then there's this small, Cult of Darth Vader that calls itself the First Order. The First Order isn't the empire (or even the remnants of the empire), but they use the empire's stormtrooper armor, TIE Fighters, and Star Destroyers out of reverence for Vader. And they hold no actual power or influence, right? They don't even recruit soldiers from the general galactic population. They either kidnap children, or grow them in test tubes to be raised to fight as stormtroopers (and maybe even as officers, as suggested by the youthful General Hux). The only sympathy or cooperation that they receive is from fear and intimidation, which for some reason, the republic is either unwilling or incapable of doing anything about?
And then there's this resistance that Leia is supposedly in charge of, and that everyone in the galaxy seems to know about. What are they resisting? They're not resisting the republic. They seem to be resisting the First Order, and that they are sanctioned by the republic but not an official part of the republic. Well why not? Why are they still a small, ragtag group of former rebels that are apparently hiding away in secret bases? Why isn't the "resistance" just the republic's army or some sort of special operations unit? I'm sure that this sort of stuff will be explained (and hopefully make more sense) in the follow-up movies (or maybe it's already been explained in official books or whatever), but that doesn't change the fact that it made no sense in this movie. It's just another example of J.J. Abrams seeming to have no comprehension of the size and scale of the universes that he's working in.
The political situation is very poorly explained. Who are the "Resistance",
what are they resisting, and why aren't they part of the new republic's official military?
The overall plot works well enough for the first two-thirds of the movie. [More]
I treated myself to a double-feature at the cinema this weekend. On Sunday, I finally got out to see The Martian, which I've been wanting to see for a whole month. But on Saturday, I also went to see a newer release: the latest 007 James Bond film Spectre. Casino Royale still stands proud and tall as my favorite Bond film. Spectre did little to change that. The movie is entertaining, but its attempts to retroactively tie together the previous Daniel Craig films felt very forced and unnatural. Christopher Waltz worked fine as a re-imagined Blofeld, but the ham-fisted half-brother back story seemed silly and unnecessary. I was tolerant of the Bond backstory from Skyfall (which I very much enjoyed), but Spectre goes a bit too far.
I admit that I found the first half of the movie a bit hard to follow. I didn't think to re-watch the other Bond movies prior to going into this one, so when names and references from the past movies start getting dropped left and right, I had trouble remembering who was who, what was what, and why I should care. Was the guy in the white suit in Mexico a recurring character? How did old M know about him, and why did she think Bond should bother attending his funeral? Heck, I wasn't even sure it was his funeral, as I half thought it was supposed to be M's funeral. Who were the Spectre leaders trying to replace? Was it the guy killed at the beginning of the film, or somebody from one of the previous movies? Who was Mr. White, again, and why does Bond meet up with him? I'm almost ashamed to admit that I had so much trouble following this movie's script. The first half just moves so fast, glances over certain important details, and pushes forward.
Spectre is basically just another version of Quantum of Solace, with a similar "Bond gone rogue for revenge" kind of set-up. The writers just replaced Quantum with the original Spectre, and made Spectre a parent organization of Quantum. The film's attempts to tie the villains of all the previous films to this single Spectre organization just completely fell flat for me, and in hindsight Quantum of Solace might even have been a better movie (but don't quote me on that until I've had a chance to re-watch it).
Spectre plays up many references to old Bond films and their primary antagonist.
The highlights of this film were probably the encounters with Mr. Hinx (Blofeld's henchman played by Dave Bautista). In a movie that leaned very heavily on the classic Bond films, Mr. Hinx worked very well as an amalgam of classic Bond villains Jaws and Oddball...
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