New Tales of a Galaxy Far, Far Away

“Star Wars is the greatest modern mythology and we feel very lucky to have contributed to it. We can’t wait to continue with this new series of films.” — Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman

Let’s review… We have Star Wars: The Last Jedi (aka Episode VIII) coming out in a few weeks, Solo: A Star Wars Story (anthology film) due next May, the untitled Episode IX scheduled for Dec. 2019, and a third Star Wars anthology film (probably about Obi-Wan Kenobi) expected in 2020. Very cool!

These films will conclude the saga of and surrounding the Skywalker family along with the originally semi-planned trio of standalones to fill in some details about friends and previously-mentioned events. But, then what? Well, fortunately, Disney (who bought LucasFilm and the SW franchise in 2012) is on record as wanting and planning more Star Wars goodness. Back in January 2016, CEO Bob Iger told the BBC,

“There are five Star Wars films — four more with Episode VII: The Force Awakens — that are in varying stages of development and production. There will be more after that, I don’t know how many, I don’t know how often.”

Then, in September 2016 The Wrap reported the following remarks from Iger at an investors’ conference:

“I had a meeting yesterday with Kathy Kennedy and we mapped out — well, we reviewed — the ‘Star Wars’ plans that we have ’til 2020. We have movies in development for ‘Star Wars’ ’til then, and we started talking about what we’re going to do in 2021 and beyond. So, she’s not just making a ‘Star Wars’ movie, she’s making a ‘Star Wars’ universe, of sorts.”

Beyond Rogue One, it wasn’t clear what the anthology films would be about, until the Han Solo prequel story was confirmed. Now, of course, it has filmed, is currently in post-production, and has an official release date. There have long been suggestions and rumors about the standalone(s) to follow — I wrote some possibilities in “Ideas for Star Wars Anthology Series Films” — with focuses on Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Boba Fett being the most popular. Kenobi seems to have risen to the top, since The Hollywood Reporter reported this past August that Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry was being courted to take the helm of “a Star Wars standalone movie centering on Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

Fett and Yoda fans should not lose hope, though, as THR also said:

“The Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone is one of several projects being developed by Lucasfilm and Disney that fall outside the trilogies telling the saga of the Skywalker family. A Han Solo movie is now in the final stages of shooting under new director Ron Howard and Lucasfilm is also looking at movies featuring Yoda and bounty hunter Boba Fett, among others.”

The latest news, however, has nothing to do with the anthology series. Rather, it seems that Lucasfilm and Disney are so pleased with director Rian Johnson’s work on The Last Jedi that they have handed him the reins to create (in collaboration with producer Ram Bergman) a new Star Wars trilogy with all-new characters and locales “from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored.”

“We all loved working with Rian on The Last Jedi. He’s a creative force, and watching him craft The Last Jedi from start to finish was one of the great joys of my career. Rian will do amazing things with the blank canvas of this new trilogy.” — Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm

Sounds quite intriguing to me. Vague, but intriguing. This may be just what the franchise needs to kick-start the post-Skywalker era. But, not everyone is so sure this is a smart move. In fact, Bobby Houston at CBM has a bad feeling about this….

Houston’s primary concern is of oversaturation:

“Star Wars is not an annual franchise. Star Wars is not the MCU. Star Wars is important. Star Wars has cultural heft and meaning. The last thing the series needs is a ‘cinematic universe’ style of approach because as we’ve seen it doesn’t always work out. Perhaps after episode 9 it would be best to let the franchise breathe and rest for a bit.”

Houston isn’t averse to new Star Wars films eventually coming out and recognizes the abundance of material and that a new trilogy “could go in almost any direction”. (He also said it would be “unhindered by the franchise’s canon and extensive lore”, which I disagreed with, since I thought he meant that Disney/Lucasfilm would not care if new films contradicted established canon/lore. But, upon re-reading it several times, I think he was restating that the huge amount of established canon/lore would allow for a plethora of possible plots and settings. This makes more sense in context.) But, he’s afraid that immediately launching into another trilogy so soon after this latest batch of trilogy + anthology films will diminish the franchise’s appeal. As a fan, though, he says,

“I hope I’m wrong, I hope Rian Johnson knocks it out of the park with this new trilogy and that years from now people continue to lose their minds and go crazy for Star Wars because that’s really special.”

He may have a point. So, maybe after the Kenobi anthology film wraps up, there should be a break of at least 5 years before launching the new trilogy, and then maybe go back to 3 years between films? As the old adage goes, “Always leave ’em wanting more.”

P.S. Oh yeah, there’s also that live-action Star Wars TV series to look forward to, which has reportedly been in the works since at least early 2015 (though George Lucas had ideas for one way before that)….

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Amazon Takes Us Back to Middle Earth

“We are honored [and] thrilled to be taking The Lord of the Rings fans on a new epic journey in Middle Earth.” — Sharon Tal Yguado, new Head of Scripted Series at Amazon Studios

This one’s for real, folks! Honest!

Unlike the April Fool’s Day joke announcement of earlier this year, this deal looks to be entirely legit. Specifically, following a “bidding war” between several networks, Amazon has reached an agreement with the Tolkien Estate and the Tolkien Trust, HarperCollins and New Line Cinema, making Amazon Studios “the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for The Lord of the Rings.”

Rivendell by Alan Lee

To clarify, they aren’t actually going to be re-doing the LotR (or Hobbit) material, which I think is a good thing. What exactly they will be doing apparently hasn’t been decided on, yet, which makes it all that more surprising that the Tolkien people agreed to it. What we do know is that the series will focus on events that occur sometime prior to those in The Fellowship of the Ring. Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins, publicly expressed confidence in the “exceptional ideas” by Tal Yguado and the rest of the Amazon Studios team.

Shaun Gunner, Chair of The Tolkien Society, speculates:

“[T]here is also a lot of excitement about the possibility of exploring the epic saga that is The Silmarillion, or even a series focussed on Aragorn’s background. Christmas has come early for many of us today.”

No cast or premiere date have been set, but the series will eventually stream on Amazon Prime. If things go well, there is also an option for a spin-off series down the line.

This deal comes on the heels of legal issues and a recent executive shake-up at Amazon Studios, as well as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ new mandate that they shift “away from niche, naturalistic series such as “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle” and toward large-scale genre programming with potential for broad international appeal.” Bezos, who is a big sci-fi/fantasy fan, reportedly even got personally involved in negotiations for the Tolkien property’s TV series rights.

Naturally, fans will be concerned that the sets, writing, acting, etc., will be up to par. And, assuming the storylines are adaptations of existing Tolkien works, it needs to be at least as faithful to the source material as the Peter Jackson movies were — some would say “much more faithful!” Re-creating the various lands and peoples of Middle Earth ain’t gonna be cheap, either. Plus, as Entertainment Weekly‘s James Hibberd asks:

“Can a network find writers who can successfully bootstrap a relatively new-ish story set in these familiar fantasy worlds that capture at least some percentage of the original work’s worldwide appeal?”

I haven’t seen anyone else mention this, but I wonder if the talented Robert Kirkman might be a creative resource for the project. If you can’t place the name, Kirkman is the creator/writer of the “Outcast” and “The Walking Dead” comic series, who then went on to work with Tal Yguado (when she was at Fox) on the TV adaptations of those titles. When his special 2-year development deal with Amazon’s Prime Video was announced back in August, Kirkman and Tal Yguado spoke of their mutual admiration and anticipation of working together again. I’m not sure if he can or would work on a licensed property that he hasn’t at least co-created. Don’t know if he’s a Tolkien fan, either. But, if so, that could be an interesting match.

Regardless, all we can do is pray, hope, and wait & see….

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited. Enough so that I may actually, finally re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time in many years, just to get in the mood. Who knows, I might even give The Silmarillion another try and possibly some of the lesser known tales of Middle Earth. I’ve had my hardcover editions of The Hobbit and the LotR trilogy with the amazing Alan Lee paintings on display for awhile, so it’s about time I read ’em!

The Harsh Realities (and Strange Appeal) of Stranger Things

Hey! I wasn’t sure I’d have a post for this week, since I flew home late last night from my vacation and haven’t gotten back to my regular schedule, yet. But, then I came across this review of “Stranger Things”, which I thought I’d share. I haven’t watched the show, but Thomas P. Harmon’s thoughtful and articulate review piqued my curiosity, so I may have to add it to my viewing schedule.

I’m just going to cite a few sections here and there, where Harmon gives some helpful background, observations, and/or assessment of the series. It is somewhat SPOILERish, though no major details are revealed….

“Netflix’s return to Hawkins, Indiana, [for its upcoming second season] should prove a test as to whether the show can maintain what made it a standout in this new media environment: namely that it resisted many of the sentimentalizing or dehumanizing elements of contemporary film and television. It did this without preachiness, without subservience to politically correct pieties or ideological dogmatism. The beating heart of Stranger Things is its moral depth and seriousness, which is the strangest thing about it…. [T]he show stars children but is intended for adults, and [it] neither sentimentally overemphasizes cheap innocence nor wallows nihilistically in degradation, violence, and gratuitous sex….

Stranger Things leans heavily on its 80s milieu. The kids on bicycles, the painstaking attention to period set design, the dated hairstyles, and the 10-hour Dungeons & Dragons sessions are all there. The show slyly cultivates a sense of loss about those things: We have traded the imaginative, social experience of D&D for passive screen time in which the game does the imagining for you. We are also drawn to the unencumbered freedom the children have tearing around the town of Hawkins, and to the preteen-friendly space the boys set up in the basement of the Wheelers’ house. There they can exercise a limited sovereignty appropriate to children on the cusp of adolescence without constant adult intervention and supervision. Still, the sense of loss is not without a healthy critique: We quickly recognize that the children’s freedom is a product of parental neglect….

The show’s fundamental lack of sentimentality is evident when comparing it to the master of self-conscious sentimentality, Steven Spielberg. His films Close Encounters of the Third Kind and especially E.T. were obvious source material for the plot, characters, and look of Stranger Things. The kids on bikes, the realm of children’s freedom away from neglectful adults, the sinister government scientists up to no good, and the elfin visitor from another place who combines touching vulnerability with extraordinary power, are all there. E.T. and Eleven even disguise themselves in blonde wigs and perch on bicycles driven by our boy heroes. But that is where the similarities end. As if they sensed, appropriately, that their Gen-X audience would recoil without it, the Duffer brothers added the realism and perception of modern film sensibility — without the Spielberg touch….

Unlike the scientists in E.T., the adults in Stranger Things don’t characteristically lack feeling or love; they either lack the knowledge of how to act on their love appropriately or the will to do so. They lack virtue, in other words. Their imaginations and desires have been stunted by a soul-sucking suburban existence that demands very little of them outside the very basics. The boys, on the other hand, are capable of helping Eleven because they live more fully relational lives…. [T]heir highly developed imaginations have both prepared them to accept the existence of “stranger things” and to deliberate about what to do in the face of them. They have received an imaginative training in courage, which prepares them to face the dangers of searching for Will in the face of quasi-demonic powers and of protecting Eleven from the adults who wish her harm. This is no sanitized vision of childhood emotional innocence versus the unfeeling reason of adulthood….

Despite the truncation of parenthood we see in the series, it is also true that there are glimpses of better things. When we see fatherhood and motherhood exercised well, it is in remarkably traditional terms…. At the conclusion of the series, even the hapless Wheelers and the distracted Joyce have changed the way they interact with their children. The adolescents’ domain in the Wheelers’ basement is left mostly intact, but now Jonathan Byers appears in it at the end of the evening to find his brother and drive him home. The freedom of the children is fundamentally upheld, but also moderated by the prudent — but not intrusive — attention of their elders.

Stranger Things doesn’t just avoid the sentimentalism and dehumanization of too much popular entertainment; it pushes back against it. The first season was deeply moral without being moralistic. In so doing, it worked against the regular assaults on innocence and human dignity in much of what passes for entertainment today. If this season can avoid those same cheap traps, it will continue to be a standout in today’s “golden age” of serial television.”

I encourage my readers to read Harmon’s full article.

Have you watched any “Stranger Things”, yet? If so, what do you think of Harmon’s review? If not, did this review make you more likely to watch it or less so?

Did Digimon Plagiarize Pokemon?

I knew I would be traveling this week, so I asked my friend Evan (of the “Cerebral Faith” blog) if he had any ideas for another guest post. As it turned out, he had indeed been mulling over something, and he dashed off a new anime-related piece for me — or, really, for you — lickety-split. Enjoy!


Did Digimon Plagiarize Pokemon?

by Evan Minton

“Digimon is just trying to cash in on Pokemon’s success”, “Digimon is just a poor man’s Pokemon”, “Digimon is just a Pokemon copy”. I’m sure you’ve heard these statements and others like them before. It is commonly thought that Digimon is just a copy of Pokemon. This is what many Pokemon fans say about the franchise. However, Digimon fans make the opposite charge; i.e., that Pokemon is a copy of Digimon. As a big fan of both franchises, I have an excellent vantage point from which to judge the validity of these charges of plagiarism, and I can tell you with certainty that neither franchise copied the other.

Why Do People Think One Copied The Other?

First of all, let’s get the question of why people think any copying is involved out of the way. There are, no doubt, similarities between the two franchises that do stick out.

1: They both have “Mon” at the end of their names.
2: The “Mon” in both cases stands for “Monsters”.
3: The Monsters fight each other and evolve to get stronger.

From looking at these similarities, it’s understandable why some would think one copied from the other one.

The Differences Outnumber The Similarities

However, the three things listed above comprise an exhaustive list of the things Pokemon and Digimon have in common. The differences far outnumber the things they have in common.

Pokemon – live alongside humans in the same world.
Digimon – live in a world by themselves and only interact with humans when humans go to the Digimon’s world or when Digimon come into the human world.

Pokemon – are the animals of the Pokemon world. There are no other animal species in the Pokemon world. The Pokemon themselves are the animals. This is why farmers get “Moo-Moo Milk” from Miltanks instead of cows, why Officer Jenny uses Growlithes and Herdiers instead of regular dogs, and why it is stated by Professor Oak at the beginning of the first two games that “Some people keep Pokemon as pets…” Now, in the first season of the animated television series, you do see some real-life animals making appearances (e.g., fish), but this is due to the fact that it was originally intended for Pokemon and Animals to exist side-by-side, but that was quickly rejected and retconned out of the series.
Digimon – They don’t act as the animals of the world. In the human world, real-life animals exist (e.g., Tai’s pet cat), and they have Digimon counterparts in the Digital World (e.g., Gatomon).

Pokemon – Either say their names (the anime) or make various noises/cries (the games). There are a few exceptions, such as Team Rocket’s Meowth in the Pokemon anime, but this is not the norm.
Digimon – Speak human languages.

Pokemon – Are generally amoral creatures, like real-life animals. If they commit crimes, it is only because their trainers commanded them to. This only applies to the games’ canon, though. In the anime, there have been some Pokemon (like Team Rocket’s Meowth) that have a moral compass and choose between good and evil.
Digimon – Can be good or evil, regardless of canon. In fact, some Digimon are inherently evil (like Devimon) and others are inherently good (like Angemon). Others can evolve into evil Digimon via “Dark Digivolution”. For example, a Greymon can become SkullGreymon, and an Angewomon can become Ophanimon Falldown Mode, which is basically a rogue Ophanimon with a Light Yagami mentality. Still others can choose between good and evil of their own free will.

Pokemon – When they die, they die. There are places in the games and anime where trainers buried their deceased Pokemon (e.g., Lavender Tower in Lavender Town in the Kanto region).
Digimon – With the exception of the Digimon Tamers’ universe, when a Digimon is killed, they revert back to Digi-Eggs and are essentially reincarnated.

Pokemon – Pokemon Trainers are given a “Starter Pokemon” and catch other Pokemon by battling them and detaining them in capsule spheres called Poke Balls. In fact, one of the goals of each installment of games is to “Catch Em All”, because catching Pokemon adds their data to the Pokedex (an encyclopedia-like apparatus), and the goal is to have data on each Pokemon currently in existence.
Digimon – People who have Digimon are either called Digidestined or Digimon Tamers. In the former case, because the sovereign ruler of the Digital World drafted them, because the Digital World was in danger. There is no goal for the human protagonists of either the Digimon games or the anime to obtain every Digimon in existence. In fact, in most cases, the human characters rarely have more than one Digimon. There are exceptions, such as Willis in Digimon: The Movie, and the player characters in some of the Digimon World games.

Pokemon – When they evolve, they cannot go back. The only exception is Mega Evolution, which was introduced in the X and Y games released in 2013.
Digimon – The Digimon belonging to the Digidestined can Digivolve on command with the use of a Digivice, and they can go back to their Rookie form after the battle is over. This applies only to the anime, though. With the original virtual pet series, Digivolution was permanent.

Pokemon – Their names are usually a combination of actual words. For example, Venusaur is a combination of Venus (probably referring to the Venus Fly Trap) and the second half of the word “Dinosaur”, because Venusaur looks like something from prehistoric times. Charizard is a combination of “Charcoal” or “Charred” and “Lizard”. This makes sense as Charizard is a fire breathing reptile.
Digimon – usually is a real word with “Mon” attached to end, like Terriermon or Agumon. “Agu” is the Japanese onomatopoeia for biting. Every Digimon has “Mon” at the end of its name, but no Pokemon does.

As you can see, there are many more differences between the two than similarities.

Let’s Hear It For The Boys!

Digimon was actually invented to be the “boy version” of Tamagotchi. Bandai made both Digimon and Tamagotchi, both started out as a virtual pet franchise, but Digimon evolved (pun intended) into a much bigger franchise than mere virtual pets. They noticed that most of the consumers of Tamagotchi pets were little girls, and they wanted to make a virtual pet series that appealed to little boys to make up the difference. Digimon was that virtual pet series. Digimon were primarily targeted at males, so they made one of the first Digimon a fire-breathing dinosaur (Agumon) because what little boy doesn’t think a fire-breathing dinosaur is cool. And they made it to where one boy’s Digimon could spar with another boy’s Digimon by linking the devices together, something Tamagotchi pets didn’t do. So, you could say that Digimon was trying to cash in on Tamagotchi’s success, but not Pokemon’s. And it wasn’t technically plagiarism, since Digimon and Tamagotchi have the same creators (i.e., Akihiro Yokoi, Aki Maita, and Takeichi Hongo).

Conclusion

Digimon wasn’t created to “cash in on Pokemon’s success”. It was actually created to make up for Tamagotchi’s lack of appeal to boys. There are obvious similarities between Pokemon and Digimon, which explain why charges of plagiarism exist, but the differences between the two make charges of plagiarism untenable. If the makers of Pokemon ever took the makers of Digimon to court — I don’t know if they ever did, but if they did –, they obviously lost, as Digimon still exists, and they probably lost because of the reasons I’ve given in this article.

Makes sense to me!

On a Nightwing and a Prayer

“[W]e need to find the perfect person. We need to get the script right. We need this movie to blow your mind.” — Chris McKay, director

I’ve mentioned the upcoming Nightwing movie before, and you may have heard or read other stuff. I’m excited about it, ‘cuz Nightwing/Dick Grayson has become one of my favorite DC heroes. Up until recently, all we knew was that:

1) Warner Brothers announced back in February that it was ramping up development on a live-action, Nightwing solo film based on the DC Comics character;
2) it was planned for release in the next few years (recently set for 2/1/2019, though that is likely tentative); and
3) The LEGO Batman Movie director Chris McKay has been given the helm, with a script from Bill Dubuque (The Accountant).

I just wanted to comment on a few of the latest newsbits….

Those newsbits come mostly from McKay himself, who has been sending out tweets and doing interviews over the past few months. Regarding what attracted him to the project,

“I’m a big comic book fan, and being able to do the story of Nightwing, to do a Dick Grayson story, which is a character that every single person in the world knows, but has never really had a lot of screentime…. I’m a big fan of underdog stories, and he is one of the biggest underdog stories in comics. And he’s a character that I grew up with. I like the arc.”

He continues…

“Robin was there as a window character for little kids like me to understand Batman’s world and see into Batman’s world. There’s no other character in comics that went through this real-time transition.”

Comic writer Tim Seeley thinks that a plot based on or “very similar to” the 6-issue story arc he recently wrote for the character is the way to go. I haven’t read it, but the synopsis I saw does sound interesting. On the other hand, it sounds like the impact of the events depend on Nightwing’s relationships with other heroes, and there really isn’t time to sufficiently establish those relationships on-screen, imo. In other words, there’s too much ‘history’ for it to really work. I’m not saying there can’t be references to known DC people and things, and I truly hope there are. We fans expect and deserve them. But this really needs to work as a standalone feature.

While no plot details have been revealed as yet, we do know that Grayson’s comic-based past will be acknowledged. As per McKay, “Yes. In some form. There will be lots of nods. Lots of nods.” This comment spurred plenty of speculation about what might be referenced in those nods. His youth working as a circus acrobat with his parents and their subsequent deaths? His years working as Batman’s original sidekick ‘Robin’? His time spent with the (Teen) Titans? Past (or current?) relationships with Starfire and/or Oracle? His day job as a cop in Bludhaven? There’s a ton of material to mine there, but we just don’t know what McKay and Dubuque have in mind.

From the beginning, McKay has stressed the intense physicality of the Grayson/Nightwing role and that the actor will need to be fully committed. “Every day. It is going to be gruelling from a martial arts, gymnastics and stunt perspective.” Isn’t there CGI for that stuff? According to McKay, not so much in this film.

“It’s gonna be a [frick]ing badass action movie with a lot of heart and emotion. It’s gonna be a crazy, fun ride. Whoever gets cast as Nightwing, and any of the other actors around, are gonna go through a [frick]ing boot camp experience because it’s gonna be a lot. I’m not gonna do a lot of CG. It’s gonna be all real $#!t. It’s gonna be real stuntwork, and they’re gonna need to do all of the stuff on camera and do it credibly. For the cast and the crew, it’s gonna be a visceral experience, and for the audience. It’s not gonna be like a lot of these movies where there’s a lot of CG and flying and things like that. Everything he does is gonna have to be real. His superpower is being really [frick]ing good, as a human being, at fighting and gymnastics and $#!t like that, so you’re gonna see that on screen. It’s gonna be fun!”

Sounds awesome!

Naturally, there have been a lot of actors’ names thrown around the fan-boards (e.g., Finn Wittrock). But, no one’s been cast, yet, and as per FlickeringMyth’s Jordan James, “according to Chris McKay himself, we shouldn’t necessarily count on Nightwing being played by a well-known actor.” (See also opening quote.) I think this is a great move, one that more superhero movies (and sci-fi/fantasy in general) should consider. In fact, a few years ago I came up with a few potential candidates….

McKay’s exuberance for the project is practically palpable, and he’s already predicting (sort of) an award win in at least one area:

“This movie is going to win a stunt Academy Award. They’re going to make a stunt Academy Award for this movie. I guarantee it. It’s going to be insane.”

I certainly appreciate his enthusiasm and drive to make a spectacular movie. As always, I just hope he does right by the character(s) and the source material, while balancing amazing action with well-developed characters and believable dialogue. It certainly has blockbuster potential, and I’d like to see it realized. “A [frick]ing badass action movie with a lot of heart and emotion,” indeed.

Initial Impressions of “Star Trek: Discovery”

“First Officer’s Log: Stardate 1207.3. On Earth, it’s May 11, 2256 — a Sunday. The crew of the USS Shenzhou has been called to the edge of Federation space to investigate damage done to one of our interstellar relays….” — Commander Michael Burnham of the USS Shenzhou

Immediately prior to the above voiceover are the opening credits and theme music for “Star Trek: Discovery” (DIS or DSC), and I have to say, it’s not bad. Neither the visuals nor the music left me with goosebumps exactly, but they weren’t bad — especially, the nice homage to the original series’ theme at the very end. Many (including myself) would have preferred starscapes and swooshing through space, like the shows prior to “Enterprise” (ENT) had. But, I understand why they went with something different, and I thought it was kinda neat. At least, there weren’t some semi-sappy lyrics to go along with it, since the theme was all instrumental and, I thought, in the same vein as its predecessors.

Well, that’s my opener. Since I have only viewed the pilot, which basically serves as a prologue for the rest of the series, the rest of my review will, of course, be limited to the people and things introduced so far in those two episodes.

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

I don’t have much to say, really, about the casting. Probably the best choices were James Frain as Sarek and Doug Jones as Saru. As much as I like Michelle Yeoh, and she makes a fairly worthy captain, I found her accent distracting. Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Cmdr. Burnham, isn’t bad, but I keep thinking of her character from “The Walking Dead”. She has an interesting character-arc, though, and I hope it allows her to stretch her acting capabilities and provides the audience a well-fleshed out and nuanced character. I suppose Christopher Obi did fine as T’Kuvma, but all he really did was walk around and give speeches in a near-staccato style. The rest of the characters were not seen/heard much or weren’t even introduced, yet (e.g., Capt. Lorca, Lt. Stamets, and the Discovery herself).

I have to say, I’m not thrilled with the Starfleet uniforms. You would have thought they’d be much closer in appearance to those in the original “Star Trek” (TOS), which begins 10 years later. Instead, they look much closer to the blue jumpsuits from ENT. Those wraparound collars look none too comfortable, either. Still, that’s nothing compared to the ornate plating and spikes on the Klingons’ outfits, including what looks like a double-skirted outer jacket. Of course, some of that seems to be specific to T’Kuvma’s house, since the other house representatives had their own styles. (Aside: Why did only 8 of the 24 houses join the conference call?) They all seem a bit overwrought and impractical, though. Even the bat’leth is too ornate, though that might be a ceremonial version. I wonder if the united houses will adopt a less ornate and more homogeneous style….

Same goes for the Klingon ships. The familiar Klingon designs were absent, though that may be explainable from having been a fractured empire, each house developing its own vessels. T’Kuvma’s ancestral vessel, the “Sarcophagus Ship”, seemed particularly ornate, like a cathedral — at least, inside that large room he kept returning to. (I assume that was the bridge, though I didn’t hear or see any obvious workstations or displays.) The real question, and there have been many to point this out, is “Where the heck did he get cloaking technology?!” This series is supposed to take place in the original timeline, and it has long been established that the Klingons wouldn’t get that tech until many years later, probably from the Romulans who sold them warships. That, my friends, is an anachronism, and it’s enough to set long-time Trek fans’ teeth on edge.

T’Kuvma at podium

Another big issue for Trekkies/Trekkers is the appearance of the new Klingons. The “Blingons” from the JJ-Trek films were bad enough, but at least they were (mostly) recognizable as Klingons. This new version, however, is almost a totally new race. Sure, they still speak Klingonese; they’re still a warrior race who sing of Sto-Vo-Kor and honor Kahless the Unforgettable; and they still have pronounced cranial ridges. (This last was an innovation introduced in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (TNG), but they were still recognizable and the “enhancements” were explained in ENT.) But, the elongated skulls, absence of hair, double nostrils, pigmentation variation, and additional physiological modifications, along with the aforementioned uniforms (diversified in color and style), are going to be darned difficult to explain — again, assuming this series truly takes place in the original timeline (as opposed to JJ-Trek’s Kelvin timeline), as producers have told us. I wouldn’t mind them as a totally new race. But, beyond the new writers/producers wanting to make their mark on the franchise (or something like that), I see no reason for this extreme redesign of an established and beloved alien race. This is what sports fans call an “unforced error”.

Allow me to detour briefly and say that the F/X on this show look great! Thanks to CGI and a number of other advances over the years, the show looks light-years ahead of TNG, “Deep Space Nine” (DS9), and even “Voyager” (VOY).

Back to Starfleet…

The Starfleet vessels and technology look fantastic, for the most part. As with the uniforms, though, the ships look much closer in appearance to those seen in ENT (set ~100 years earlier) rather than those in TOS (set 10 years later). This is most obvious from the gray metal exteriors and bulkheads to the blue lighting and displays. (Btw, the Shenzhou has an awefully large bridge for only a medium-sized ship.) The tech appears a mix of more analog-looking stuff, which would fit both ENT and TOS, and some much more advanced-looking, digital stuff. The latter is disconcerting, because it shouldn’t look more advanced than a Constitution-class vessel (e.g., USS Enterprise from TOS), or even its refit decades later.

Another major concern is the anachronistic use of somewhat advanced holographic imagery to communicate long distances, whether between Starfleet ships/stations or from a Starfleet ship to a Klingon ship. As fans of previous Star Trek series know, this technology is not supposed to be so advanced at this point in the timeline. (Not until seen on the USS Defiant (DS9) toward the end of the Dominion War.) Furthermore, more conventional, window-style viewscreens (or “viewers”) were regularly used for communications by the Federation and other starfaring races and unions it had dealings with at least through the late 24th century. Yet, not only did the DIS pilot show Starfleet ships like the Shenzhou and Europa employing this holo-tech, so did the Klingons. So, are we supposed to assume that the holographic method would be universally abandoned for some reason within the next 10 years? Or, do we just ignore it and chalk it up to “This ain’t the ’60s anymore. Get over it.”?

USS Shenzhou

That said, here is an interesting note from Memory Alpha, which I did not remember:

“While it is a subtle effect, the viewscreen seen throughout ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ clearly displayed 3-D images. This effect was created in some scenes by providing multiple angles on the viewer, with the image on screen displayed at a corresponding angle, rather than a flat, single angle shot.”

Now for a few observations and questions about key scenes…

In the opening scene, Capt. Georgiou and Cmdr. Burnham are shown walking through a desert area occupied by the (mostly) absent Crepusculans, whom they intend to save by unblocking their well — once they find it, that is. Now, Burnham is a xeno-anthropologist, so I guess her presence makes sense. (A little less so, since they are trying to avoid the natives.) But, why did the captain have to go on this particular mission, given the danger of being stranded? I’m also unclear on why they couldn’t have used ship’s scanners to find the well and then beamed down directly. As it was, a few Crepusculans — well, at least one we can be sure of — did see them, and that’s even before the USS Shenzhou swooped in from the clouds to beam up the senior officers. So, Starfleet’s well-intentioned Prime Directive — “No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.“ — was once again unceremoniously cast aside.

Based on how many times the Prime Directive is violated by the various ST crews, either intentionally or unintentionally, it really should be renamed something like the Prime Suggestion-Unless-$#!+-Happens-and-You- Need-to-Save-Someone’s-Life-or-Avoid-a-Major-Inconvenience.

Re Burnham’s Insubordination/”Betrayal”: Why was Georgiou so incapable of understanding Burnham’s rationale for what she did, even if she disagreed with it? I and (I’m pretty sure) most of the audience were sympathetic to her reasons, and many of us would have done the same. But, then, I haven’t been trained in a (para-)military organization, which naturally stresses following orders and respecting superior officers. So, in a similar circumstance, maybe I’d feel differently. Thing is, Burnham was raised by Vulcans. Wasn’t her plan the “logical” thing to do, especially given the intel provided by Sarek? Subsequent events seem to have somewhat vindicated Burnham’s efforts, as well.

Re the “away mission” at end of Part 2: In typical Star Trek fashion (esp. TOS), they once again sent the two highest ranking officers on a near-suicide mission. Question: If they intended to abduct T’Kuvma, how were they going to do it? If by slapping a “tracer” for the transporter to lock onto, why didn’t Burnham do it? Was she really so undisciplined that she killed him to avenge the death of her captain/mentor? Plus, she shot him in the back!

Saru, Burnham, and Georgiou on Shenzhou bridge

Other than these incidents, I’m not going to whine too much about the plot and dialogue. I’ve seen some complaints, but I didn’t think either was horrible. It was a decent storyline, and it had some good scenes that were quite reminiscent of previous Treks. So far, I wouldn’t say the Trek-feel was really strong, but it’s there. I also have to remember that, as with previous Trek series, it takes a few episodes for the writers/producers to hit their stride and for the cast to really “inhabit the shoes” of their characters. I’m willing to overlook the annoying aspects (for now) and try to enjoy the show for what it is: new Star Trek!

By the way, the preview of subsequent episodes (the first of which has already aired, at the time of this writing) look to be even better than the pilot, and I am quite intrigued to see where they go from here, as a disgraced Burnham deals with the tragedies of the “Battle of the Binary Stars” and finds herself added to the mysterious Captain Lorca’s crew on the USS Discovery. Fingers crossed, count me in!

Ideas for TNG, DS9, and VOY Crews

“To boldly go where [many] have gone before…”

Yes, I realize this is the TOS logo

Everyone’s talking about the new Star Trek show, but I haven’t watched it, yet. So, instead I thought I’d share my ideas for some familiar “old” faces. A few years ago, I started jotting down where I thought the various crewmembers of the Enterprise-E might go or what they might be doing, following the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. Then I did the same for those from DS9 and Voyager. And, since I was filling out rosters for new ships, I created some new characters, as well. I also came up with a movie plot — well, the basics, anyway — which would bring most of these characters together in a big, sweeping adventure.

Now, I realize that there is a ship-load of non-canonical material — primarily novels and online/computer games — that has provided stories for these characters over the years, including some that are post-Nemesis. Maybe multiple, even conflicting stories for a few of the more popular ones. But, I haven’t read (or “played”) them, and even if I had, they are considered “apocryphal”. So, except for where mentioned, I wasn’t too concerned with my ideas contradicting someone else’s. I have checked a few things via Memories Alpha and Beta, but I never got around to investigating other things, so forgive me if I got some background detail wrong. (Feel free to give me a friendly heads-up in the comments, though.)

Ready? OK, let’s begin with a roll-call….

USS Titan
— Note: As per the end of Nemesis, Riker’s new command is the Titan. But, the movie didn’t establish what class ship it was. There is a Luna-class Titan, but a non-canonical source declared Riker’s ship to be a brand-new Prometheus-class vessel, and I decided that was fine by me. Also, since the scene with the Titan‘s First Officer was deleted, I created my own character for that position.

Captain William T. Riker (Human male)
— married to D. Troi

First/Executive Officer, Commander Suresh Jacobsen (Human male)
— of Indian and Swedish extraction; parents were representatives from ethnically pure conclaves whose lives were threatened when they left their respective communities to marry and have children
— also supervises xenobotany lab
— will eventually learn he is distant cousin of Annika/Seven

Ship’s Counselor, Commander Deanna Troi (Betazoid/Human female)
— married to W.T. Riker

Chief Medical Officer, (Lt. Commander) Dr. O (Oalian male)
— from little-known planet/race (humanoid), just admitted to Federation
— on “loan” to Starfleet, much like Phlox was
— also, he’s a cyborg; unknown to all but Riker, Troi, Chekov, & a couple others on board, the real “O” is actually a tiny, fragile, humanoid creature within the chest-cavity of the “O” cyborg (like in MiB)
— cyborg body looks like a heartier version of the real O and has great strength, durability, and “enhanced” senses

Chief Engineer, Lt. Commander Antonin Chekov (Human male)
— descendant of Pavel Chekov, of course
— generally surly, but with wicked/dark sense of humor

Science Officer, Lt. Commander Ramon Ramirez (Human male)
— doctorates in quantum physics and virology
— suave, Latin stereotype on the outside, but an insecure and tortured soul on the inside

Chief Weapons Officer, Lt. Harry Kim (Human male)
— following Voyager‘s return to the Alpha Quadrant, Ensign Kim was soon promoted to Lt. junior grade; he was promoted again to Lieutenant just prior to being assigned to the Titan in 2380

Chief Navigator (also Second Officer), Lt. Commander Strek (Vulcan male)
— background in astrophysics and astrocartography
— accomplished pilot of many ship classes and expert in ancient weapons from many planets/cultures
— was CWO of another ship, which he left under mysterious circumstances, and has something to do with his taking the Navigator position
— has taken it upon himself to unofficially “mentor” both Harry & Annika, whether they want the advice or not

Chief Communications Officer, Lt. Thelas (Andorian female)
— like many Andorians, still has a semi-racist distrust of humans
— usually civil, but has a quick temper

Chief Security Officer, Lt. Minda N’Gele (Human female)
— martial arts afficionado
— befriends Annika/Seven

Transporter Chief, Lt. Jasad Kell (Cardassian male)
— uncharacteristically shy, like his famous relative, architect/artist Tavor Kell
— very musically talented and well-read
— befriended by Harry Kim

Astrocartographer, Lt. j.g. Annika Hansen (Human female; formerly Borg-designate Seven-of-Nine)
— upon Voyager‘s return to the Alpha Quadrant, Janeway got Annika “Seven” Hansen accepted into an accelerated Academy training program; she began with rank of Ensign (given her experience) and graduated as a Lt. junior grade

USS Destiny

USS Destiny
— Note: Originally, I called this the USS Archer, and it was the prototype for a new Archer-class. But, Star Trek Online has the Excalibur-class Archer (from Nemesis) still active in 2409. There is also a novel that establishes an Archer-class in service since at least the 2260s. So, although I’m not too concerned with contradicting non-canon sources, I opted to change it here. I was going to go with USS Herakles, until my research reminded me of the Sovereign-class Destiny, where Ezri Tigan was serving as assistant Ship’s Counselor, before she became the emergency recipient of the Dax symbiont and was re-assigned to DS9. I thought it would be cool to have her return as Ship’s Counselor, with Sisko replacing Captain Raymer (who was referred to but never seen).

Captain Benjamin Sisko (Human male)
— yes, in my version, Sisko has returned from visiting the Bajoran “Prophets” in the Wormhole

First/Executive Officer, Commander Melia Merridan (Centauri female)
— great grand-niece of Vendik Merridan (see below)
— background in Communications and Astrocartography

Science Officer, Lt. Commander Enrique Takeshi Sulu (Human male)
— descendant of Hikaru Sulu, of course
— primary training as physicist, specializing in warp-drive theory

Chief Medical Officer, (Lt. Commander) Dr. Julian Bashir (augmented Human male)
— just pleased as punch that he and his wife can serve together and under Sisko’s command once again
— married to E. Dax

Ship’s Counselor, Lt. Ezri Dax (Trill, female host)
— though Ship’s Counselors on large ships usually have minimum rank of Lt. Commander, Sisko made an exception when the previous Ship’s Counselor requested a transfer planetside due to family issues
— married to J. Bashir

Chief Engineer, Lt. Commander Talen Vreen (Bajoran male)
— large & muscular (bodybuilder), jovial
— originally a novitiate to the priesthood, until an unknown event during the Cardassian occupation caused him to lose faith in the Prophets; this makes for an “interesting” relationship with Sisko

Chief Tactical Officer (and Second Officer), Lt. Commander Tuvok (Vulcan male)
— offered but refused promotion to Commander (and assignment as First Officer) until such time as he has fully recovered from the “unspecified degenerative neural condition” he developed toward end of VOY; as it is, he is on temporary medical leave and preparing for Fal-tor-voh

Chief Navigator, Lt. T’Vrel Duchamp (Human/Vulcan hybrid female)
— raised on Earth; sometimes tries to be “too human”, which she realizes is an overcompensation & she struggles with it
— uneasy relationship w/ Tuvok, who naturally thinks she should strive to be “more Vulcan”, following the way of Surak

Chief Communications Officer, Lt. Mal-ven Thrasq (Carvinian male)
— lupine humanoid with excellent hearing; affinity for linguistics
— encyclopedic knowledge of pre-Federation Earth history

Chief Security Officer, Lt. Rik McGinty (Centauri male)
— cocky SOB but a natural leader and quite adept at weapons, hand-to-hand combat, and tactics
— drummed out of the Centauri Marines but given second chance in Starfleet as favor to his uncle, an important military contractor

Transporter Chief, Lt. Tamara Applewhite (Fellurian/Human female)
— stunningly beautiful, w/ gentle cranial ridges and long platinum-blonde hair usually pulled back in ponytail
— knows how off-putting her beauty can be; has been burned in the past both by lovers and others who betrayed her or just wanted to be associated with her
— very professional, amiable, but afraid to let anyone get too close

Member of security detail, Lt. j.g. Nog (Ferengi male)
— quite competent but a little too eager to please
— has a crush on Lt. Applewhite

Other Familiar Characters

Chakotay
— independent security consultant for traveling dignitaries & such

Crusher, Beverly
— either Captain of U.S.S. Marcus (a medical research ship) or professor/administrator of Starfleet Medical (which I think was either stated or hinted at in Nemesis)
— a pet project has her consulting with Dr. J. Merridan (see below)

Crusher, Wesley
— according to a deleted scene from Nemesis, he finished at the Academy and had just been assigned as a Lt. j.g. to Engineering on the Titan; for my purposes, though, Wesley is either still “traveling” or assigned elsewhere.

Data
— physically destroyed in Nemesis, though memories & personality matrix were downloaded into his less-advanced predecessor, B-4, who was still struggling to process/integrate all that data
— perhaps it could all be downloaded into a separate, positronic computer network, allowing “him” to function as an independent, interdisciplinary researcher and instructor (e.g., engineering, history of various cultures, philosophy, computer architecture and A.I.), occasionally guest-lecturing (either in a temporary body or as a hologram) at Starfleet Academy and various professional symposia

Garak, Elim
— keeping his eyes-n-ears open and probably up to no good

EMH/Holographic Doctor
— now named Dr. Jonas Merridan (see below), after Dr. Jonas Salk (Human, developer of polio vaccine) and Vendik Merridan (Centauri, pioneer in advanced holography)

Janeway, Kathryn
— Starfleet Vice Admiral in charge of research operations or ???

Kes
— still in energy-state?

Colonel Kira Nerys
— commanding Deep Space Nine (renamed?) station

LaForge, Geordi
— retired from Starfleet
— co-founder & head researcher at Cochrane-Scott Research Laboratories, developing new technologies in engineering and improving old ones
— personally working on joint project with Starfleet Engineering

Merridan, Jonas
— instructor & researcher at Starfleet Medical
— a pet project has him consulting with B. Crusher

Neelix
— married w/ children and running a restaurant on some planet

O’Brien, Miles
— engineering instructor at Starfleet Academy
— wife Keiko teaches elementary school nearby

Odo
— still merged with Founders?

Paris, Tom
— interplanetary, commercial shuttle pilot
— married to B. Torres

Picard, Jean-Luc
— retired from Starfleet and doing volunteer work at an archeological dig on Vulcan

Quark
— still tending bar on DS9 and giving Kira a hard time

Rom
— Grand Nagus, based on Ferenginar
— married to Leeta

Sisko, Jake
— journalist/writer & documentarian
— based on Earth, but often travels off-world
— keeps in touch with his father and Nog on the Destiny

Torres, B’elanna
— working on experimental technology at Cochrane-Scott Research Laboratories
— assisting LaForge on joint project with Starfleet Engineering
— married to T. Paris

Worf
— Federation Ambassador to Qo’noS or Qo’noS Ambassador to the Federation?

Movie(s)?

OK, now… the story idea for a movie is still rather barebones (like most of the above characters). But, I’m thinking it might be expanded into two movies or a TV mini-series. (Well, if this happened in 2005, maybe.) The timeframe is the Earth year 2382 (i.e., roughly 2-3 years after the events of Nemesis and ~7 years after “Deep Space Nine” ended).

Plotline 1: The elderly Ambassador Spock becomes ill and dies shortly before negotiations are to begin for an important peace treaty with a new planetary system. For reasons to be revealed (and possibly connected to events in an old episode), the only “logical” replacement is Jean-Luc Picard, and the Destiny is ordered to pick up & deliver Picard (who, as a VIP, is escorted by Chakotay?), as well as remain nearby as a reassuring presence. Meanwhile, Drs. Merridan and Crusher are kidnapped from a ritzy party for reasons TBD.

Plotline 2: An experimental piece of equipment is stolen from Cochrane-Scott Research Laboratories. Evidence initially points to Klingon involvement (cameo by Worf?), though the group responsible turns out to be composed of members of several races. Other than its primary purpose in a warp core, the only other conceivable use for this particular component is for a particularly nasty WMD. With Torres assigned by La Forge as CSRL consultant, the Titan is dispatched to hunt down and retrieve the stolen device. Meanwhile, perhaps a sub-plot involving Janeway, Paris, and/or Data/B-4?

That’s all I have, for now. Maybe I’ll flesh it out more in the future. (No pun intended.) Thanks for indulging me….

The Greatest American Heroine?

Y’know, when I heard that the newest version of Doctor Who was going to be female, I had a somewhat mixed reaction. On the one hand, it seemed like a bold step, given the character’s long history as a male, and you know how I hate to mess with well-established characters. On the other hand, I don’t know enough about the Doctor to know if his/her/its species — he’s not exactly human, right? — can change genders or have no real gender or… something. So, maybe such a change isn’t unheard of for them. (This is science fiction, after all.) Also, I am a little bit familiar with the actress who will portray the new Doctor — Jodie Whittaker (“Broadchurch”, “The Assets”) — and I’m sure she’ll do a bang-up job. In the end, though, since I’m not a Whovian and thus not emotionally invested in the show or character, I don’t really care all that much, to be honest.

But, this is a different story. “This” being the announcement that the reboot-in-development for “The Greatest American Hero” will feature a female protagonist. Plus, other changes.

“I am open to there being less goofiness and a bit more seriousness, but keep the main elements that made the original successful. OK?” — me, previous post about the reboot

You may remember that I wrote about a planned reboot 3 years ago, wherein I expressed my affection for the original show from the early 1980s and my “cautious optimism” for the reboot. Not much was known (or decided) at the time, but it did sound like the producers were going for something pretty similar in both setting and tone to the original. Aside from wondering why they decided to rename the central character “Isaac”, this was welcome news.

The latest news, however, has me quite concerned….

The first issue is that the main character will now be female. Please, don’t assume I’m sexist or something when I say that I’m not crazy about this idea. It’s just that I generally don’t like drastic changes to established characters, even for reboots or “re-imaginings”. However, I have to admit that the original creators decided to go that way back in the day. The original series was canceled by ABC, and the last-filmed episode was not aired (though it did eventually air in 1986 and is included in the DVD set). Here’s the Wiki summary for that episode, which introduced Mary Ellen Stuart as “Holly Hathaway”, the new G.A.H. (see pic below):

“The aliens tell Ralph to find a suitable replacement for himself when his secret identity is revealed to the world. Much to Bill’s disgust he selects a woman to be his successor.”

It was supposed to be a backdoor pilot for NBC’s planned takeover of the property and spinning off “The Greatest American Heroine”. But, plans fell through.

Stuart in the super-suit (1983)

If 20th Century TV (who own the rights) had gone with this passing-of-the-torch (or “red PJ’s”) idea, keeping a similar tone & format as the original but with a female protagonist, I think I could have gotten on board. But, writer/producers Rachna Fuchbom and Nahnatchka Khan (Fresh Off the Boat), whose Fierce Baby production company will co-produce with ABC Studios, have decided to go a very different direction. (Mandy Summers and Tawnia McKiernan will also be executive producers.)

The new lead will be “Meera”, a 30-year-old Indian-American from Cleveland who “specializes in drinking tequila and singing karaoke. Great skills in the social realm, sure, but not exactly heroic.” Then, of course, aliens give her a super-suit and, presumably, hilarity and awkwardness ensue. Also,

“It will be a single-camera half hour project, and while it is going to have some of the comedic tones of its predecessor, it will also differentiate itself in some big ways.”

I’m not entirely sure if those “big ways” refer only to the “Meera” character or if there’s more, but I am concerned that this will be a complete screw-up of a great, fun concept. Where’s the “odd couple” pairing with a by-the-book agent? Plus, it sounds more like a sitcom than anything. On the other hand, we don’t really know all that many details, and there hasn’t been any casting, yet. It might actually work, I suppose. Let’s just say, I’m not holding my breath on this one.

Review of The Defenders (Netflix)

“It’s been a long week.” — Jessica Jones, “The Defenders”

The much(?)-anticipated “The Defenders” mini-series has finally been released, capping off the first four Marvel/Netflix series. I finished watching it a few days ago, so I have a few thoughts to share….

You probably figured I’d put out some sort of review, right? Regular readers already know how I feel about the actors and these versions of the characters from my earlier reviews, so I won’t say too much on that front. (Too many to link to here; just do a search on “Netflix” or go to the Reviews page linked above.) I assume most people who are interested in the show have already watched it, but I’m adding a Spoiler Alert, anyway.

SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!!

Let’s start with… I liked the opening/closing credits music. It reminded me of a cross between those for Daredevil and Iron Fist.

I also really appreciated the getting-to-know-each-other scene at the Chinese restaurant, after our heroes survived their first team-up. It was reminiscent — probably intentionally so — of the shawarma shop scene at the end of Avengers.

Our heroes all remained very much in character. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones did their usual strong-guy/gal thing, smashing, slamming, punching, and kicking the crap out of The Hand’s lackeys. Nothin’ pretty. Luke also got to play “human shield” on occasion. (I think he actually enjoys it, despite the costs to his wardrobe.) Once he was on board, Matt Murdock / Daredevil re-confirmed that he’s the best fighter of all of them, in my opinion. However, he also takes some chances — specifically, re Elektra — that put himself and others in danger. Of course, the writers can make even foolish decisions turn out to be the “right” ones in the end.

Each of these three, at some point along the way, had their doubts about taking on The Hand, preferring to stay out of the “war” or just not ready to go “all the way”. But, they realized the threat that The Hand represented to the people of New York (and likely beyond), and they stepped up. They knew they might not survive, but they were the city’s only real chance. That’s what makes them heroes.

I would really love to see Daredevil pair up with Cage. That could be an awesome partnership. (Cage and Rand, not so much.)

Not surprisingly, I thought Danny Rand / Iron Fist was quite disappointing. Without the chi-powered fist, his fighting skills are still mediocre — clumsy-looking, even. Good thing The Hand seems to only have mediocre-level soldiers, rather than the ninja-assassins from the comics. (Elektra aside, of course.) He also continued with the part-petulant child, part-stranger-in-a-strange-land bit, while never understanding why people aren’t impressed by his “I am the immortal Iron Fist” claims, followed by tales of dragons and mystical cities. Sheesh! Either give it a rest, or at least show off the “fist” a bit earlier.

Colleen Wing’s presence mostly made up for that of her boyfriend. She’s attractive, passionate, willing to do what needs to be done, and brings some much-needed skill with bladed weapons to the good-guy side. She seems to start many fights by charging at her opponents, which doesn’t seem too smart to me, particularly when it’s a superior fighter like Bakuto. Then again, it’s not like she’s gonna surprise him/them, especially beginning from several feet away. Maybe the head-on approach is best, just to get the fight underway?

Some of the best acting in this series was in scenes with the Colleen and Claire characters, especially the one where Colleen briefly broke down in tears. Well done, Miss Henwick.

Claire’s how-did-I-get-myself-into-this reflections and lines were welcome as usual. She really is the heart of the (non-)team, and not just because she is the acquaintance that they all had in common. She also probably surprises no one more than herself that she is still in the thick of it and, well, not dead, yet. Like Colleen said, Claire’s a hero, too.

It was nice to see Malcolm, Trish, Karen, and Foggy, too, and to find out what they were up to since we last saw them. There wasn’t much for them to do in this story but hide out. But, it made sense in the plot to have them involved, since they were the closest associates of our heroes. However, it still seems odd to have them essentially camp out in the police station, when the cops never really understood what The Hand was or how dangerous they were.

Misty Knight… yowza! (Ahem, sorry.) The lovely Detective Knight returns! Yay! (“Detective Knight” sounds like a twist on a certain Distinguished Competition’s pointy-eared vigilante, doesn’t it?) She continues to be frustrated by our heroes, but she comes through in the end and supports, even aids, them. Yay, again! She pays a dear price for it, though, since she (finally) loses her arm. Triple-yay! That’s right, I’m glad she lost her arm, ‘cuz that means she will probably, eventually, get a super-strong bionic arm, just like in the comics. (I have a feeling her benefactor will be Rand, though, instead of Stark.) Then, she just needs to become a P.I. and partner with Colleen Wing, and I’ll be a happy man. (Especially if they get their own series!)

It sort of makes sense that Stick would be the one to unite — however reluctantly — our heroes. Or, at least, try to keep them together after that initial big fight. (Btw, since we already know these Netflix shows take place in the same world as the films, it would have made sense to have someone say something like, “Why not tell those Avengers guys? Let them HANDle it!” OK, maybe without the pun.) I’m a little surprised that they killed him off, but not real disappointed. For one, he was getting annoying; for two, with The Hand out of commission (thankfully, at least for now), there’s little reason for Stick to show up, and this should help our heroes — well, Matt, anyway… and Elektra — move on.

I hate to say it, but Sigourney Weaver looked… old. But, then I realized she’s 67, so she’s allowed to have a few wrinkles and such. Don’t know that I would have thought of her as a villain for this series. But, as the Alexandra character was written, she was a decent choice. We suspected they would bring Bakuto back, as well as the ever-present and deceptively powerful Madame Gao. The other two new Hand leaders — Murakami and Sowande — seemed formidable at first. But, the latter was too easily defeated, and the former was ultimately not that impressive.

I have mixed feelings about the whole Elektra thing. I mean, we already knew she was being resurrected by The Hand, so she’d probably be involved in another series storyline. And, it makes sense the way it was done and why. I think. Her betrayal of Alexandra was a surprise, which made for a nice plot twist. However, I don’t understand why she suddenly became so cold, amoral, etc. I guess it had something to do with her soul being affected (seared? tainted? infected?) by her brief time on “the other side”. I don’t remember hearing a good explanation for her behavior, but maybe I just missed it or didn’t put the pieces together.

If Elektra survived and if she eventually returns (though hopefully not for awhile), I hope she becomes more the assassin-for-hire that comic readers are familiar with. One with a damaged, yet still present, moral compass and ethical code.

The overall plot wasn’t bad, though it seemed to take a little while to get moving. Definitely room for improvement here and there, which might have been do-able if they had another episode or two to work with. Or, maybe fewer episodes would have forced them to tighten it up and get to the good stuff sooner. For the most part, though, the four heroes’ individual stories came together fairly well. It all flowed OK (though the earlier episodes were a bit rocky), and there was some good character development. (Even Rand.) Most of the interaction between our heroes was good, too, and I appreciated the occasional doses of humor.

Open questions: Why didn’t the NYPD file a report? Why wouldn’t they charge our heroes with terrorism? I’m not saying there isn’t a plausible way around it, with Jeri Hogarth (and Foggy, of course) coming to their aid. (Even “The Defenders” sometimes need a legal defense of their own, right?) But, the “wrap-up” at the end seemed too easy.

Overall grade: When feeling generous, I’m tempted to give “The Defenders” a solid ‘B’. Other days, I might go as low as a ‘C’. So, let’s split the difference and go with a ‘C+/B-‘.

Should Marvel Make a Hulk Movie with Ruffalo?

“Hulk not think. HULK SMASH!” — Hulk

Several weeks ago, Michael Hollan at CBR.com wrote a piece titled “Hulked Out: 15 Reasons Marvel Should Not Make A Hulk Movie”. His analysis was interesting, but I took issue with some of his reasoning. I decided to jot down my thoughts on each point, which I share below. Just providing the “titles” for each of Hollan’s reasons, however, wouldn’t adequately explain them, and I didn’t want to reproduce his entire article. So, you should probably open up his article in another tab or window and toggle back and forth. You could even split-screen, sorta like having a split personality….

Ruffalo as Banner

15) Interesting point, but I don’t think it flies. For one, the character’s (characters’?) inspiration, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, did fine back in the day, both as a book and on-screen, as have other properties with a split-personality character. Second, while not all Hulk comics are equally well-done, many do manage this balance well. It’s just a matter of the having the right story.

14) Just because some of his best fights so far have arguably been those against other heroes (and Loki), that doesn’t mean it must be the case. (The one against Abomination wasn’t bad, btw.) For goodness sake, as soon as someone writes/films a great fight scene against an interesting villain (or villainous army, like the Chitauri in Avengers), this “reason” goes away.

13) This is somewhat valid. Hulk doesn’t have a Kryptonite equivalent. But, there are other ways to out-think or otherwise counter him. Also, it might be cool to have him somewhat reduced in strength for at least part of a solo film, then come back to “normal” (or, maybe, “Hulk-average”?) at the end.

12) The so-called “prequel-itis” is indeed the curse of having such a tightly-linked cinematic universe, especially with guest-stars and crossovers. But, the “lack of true tension” brought up by Hollan is not insurmountable, especially if there are other beloved characters in danger that are more likely than our hero to be injured or killed.

11) Let’s just say that I would not be averse to a Hulk film with either the Joe Fixit persona or the “intellectual scientist” persona. Eventually. But not for the first (or second?) solo film, and (at this rate) probably not with Ruffalo.

10) Fair point, but it seems like a cop-out as an excuse for not having a solo film. Other characters’ films should stand on their own without guest stars.

9) I think there is a concern re the amount of time already “lost” for getting a Ruffalo-Hulk solo film out, but this ain’t it. Sure, Marvel is introducing many other great, popular characters on-screen, but that’s no reason to think that it’s too late for the Hulk, one of Marvel’s most popular and foundational characters, to share in the fun.

8) The reasons the romance with Black Widow didn’t work were a) afaik, there was no basis for it in the source material; b) there was no build-up in Age of Ultron or preceding movies; and, c) there was an abrupt end to it after that awkward scene at Clint’s house. In other words, it came out of nowhere, seemed an odd pairing from the get-go, and suddenly fizzled. This poorly executed attempt should not be taken to indicate that the tragic elements of Hulk’s story won’t work on-screen. They are integral to the character and just need to be handled more… deftly. (And I don’t mean there should be another romance.) Also, I like the comedy, but that should not be an emphasis for a Hulk solo movie.

7) I acknowledge that there would be difficulties trying to circle back to plot threads from the Norton film. Sort of a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t situation, assuming the fans care as much as Hollan seems to think. But, destined to fail? Really?

Ruffalo-based Hulk

6) Completely agree. Well,… mostly.

5) “Marvel has to balance the new characters with their popular, established franchises. Unfortunately, Hulk falls into the middle.” Agreed. This does present a problem.

4) The contract issue could indeed be a major hurdle — again, assuming we’re focused on having Ruffalo be the star, which seems to be the way most people are thinking, given his popularity.

3) Funny, but disconnectedness from the rest of the Avengers-verse wasn’t the main complaint I heard/read re Thor: Dark World. Still, it is something to take into consideration. But, I think a good writer should be able to handle it.

2) Both previous Hulk solo outings did indeed involve being on the run and fighting the military, and it’s a shame that neither one did very well at the box office, which apparently tarnishes the idea of having that in another Hulk solo adventure. But, then, that really is a core part of the character’s saga. The comic Hulk spends most of his time trying to get away from “puny men”, and Banner tries to fly under the radar whenever possible. So, even if the military isn’t a major part of the story, his being a bit of a drifter would still make sense for a solo film.

1) Aaaaaand “political correctness” rears its ugly head…. Personally, I think most of the diversity-based complaints are stupid. But, there they are, and Marvel has to deal with them — hopefully in a way that is both empathetic and doesn’t surrender source-material background needlessly. (I also think 8′ tall green goliaths are in a clear minority on Earth, so there ya go!)

Besides, what’s wrong with straight white guys named “Chris”? I am one, after all! 🙂

With as much pushback as I’ve given, you might think I’d be in favor of a Hulk solo movie starring Ruffalo. You would, however, be mistaken. If they can squeeze one in by 2020, then fine. But, I think Marvel’s best bet is to finish up Ruffalo’s stint as Banner after the Infinity War sequel (currently scheduled for a May 2019 release), when Ruffalo will be in his early 50s. After a few years, bring in a new, 30-something actor and do a string of Hulk solo films with few (if any) Avengers cameos. In fact, I have a few ideas for who the new Banner could be and what these films might be about, which I will share… sometime… later.