Star Trek Discovery: “Choose Your Pain” Review – An Ode to the F-Bomb

To Boldly Fucking Go

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It is official: Trek has entered the age of the modern tv show. F-Bombs and all.

This is not to be meant disparagingly. Quite the opposite. It just occurred to me why Discovery continues to feel slightly off to me: the character feel tangible. They feel human. Alive. It’s something the best of Trek has in common: the TOS characters and DS9 crew (and latter day Enterprise, but we apparently aren’t allowed to mention them…). There is an easiness through which the actors can slip into their characters, how much they are at ease with living in the future. The original crew did it really well, as did DS9. They were relatable. They got angry, they loved, they mourned, they laughed. And now they curse. I’m not saying the F-Bombs were absolutely necessary to the dialogue, but as anyone who knows me, I can swear like a fucking sailor. People love to swear and the fact that Trek has never gotten away with it so far made the universe so sanitized. Though at least that’s better than coming up with ersatz-curses like ‘drell’, ‘frak’ and ‘kree’.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah. Discovery. I still like the show. Lorca continues to impress me as a character, as does Saru, who form an effective triumvirate with Burnham. Stamets is also growing on me, clearly written as a jerk with a heart of gold and, dare I say it, Sheldon Cooper done right. Also Robert April is now canon. Yippie! …That’s pretty much it for this week.. Is there more to say?

Okay, yeah: The episodes have now established a routine: issue of the week and driving the main story arc forward. Much like pretty much every serialized show out there, there is the issue that we won’t see what is going to happen until all the episodes have aired. Some might argue that this is why Netflix should have insisted on airing everything at the same time. And while that would have been nice to shut up a lot of the detractors, since I’m now pretty sure where the series will be heading, it would have also ruined the viewing experience.

Ever since Netflix brought out its first originals, binging has become the norm for television viewing. I’ve argued in a past article that it has ruined many a good show for me. For the next few months I will be able to watch an episode Monday morning and then go on Facebook and talk to friends and acquaintances about how the show will turn out. This is television for me. It’s a communal serialized adventure we can all engage with, speculate with. Binging kinda ruined that for all of us. I am glad that we can rediscover this now, no pun intended.  

And now for word or two from Jessica “The Angriest Fangirl” and Chris “The American”.

Jessica’s thoughts:

Well we finally had onscreen confirmation of our first gay couple – and got slammed with the But Not Too Gays, darn. Would have really loved it if they had given each other just a quick peck on the cheek or something.

I actually cried in happiness when they set free the tardigrade. And earlier out of sadness when it lost all it’s water and curled up in a ball. Okay, Acting Ensign Water Bear, join tiny non-anthropomorphic robots, non sentient holograms, amorphous blobs of goo and murderous lava monsters in the ever growing list of esoteric things Star Trek has made me weep over. Continue reading “Star Trek Discovery: “Choose Your Pain” Review – An Ode to the F-Bomb”

How To Fix The Wonder Woman Script

A script rewrite for the new Woman Woman movie adding historical credibility and grey morality.

Spent a good long afternoon this week critiquing Wonder Woman and pointing out historical inaccuracies. Now it’s time to fix the movie without becoming “too dark” for all the precious comic fans and general audiences who can’t stand a war movie about trenches and poison gas to be too dark. With that said, let’s begin.

In this version we will keep the main story as is, because it actually works. We will, however, change some of the elements: Wonder Woman goes to Europe to fight Ares. Let’s go from there.

Act 1:
Pretty much as is in the movie. With the character being as unknown in much of the world in terms of actual characterization rather than brand recognition we need to set up the Amazons.

Once Trevor moves into the story, things change. Since the German Navy, as portrayed in the movie, cannot be the ones that hunted Trevor across the Mediterranean and Atlantic (the fleet was boxed in after Jutland in its native harbors and the foreign squadrons were destroyed) we will have to change the location of Themiskyra into the Mediterranean and change the ships used to either Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian. Same difference since both were part of the Middle/Central Powers. This immediately broadens the conflict and makes the villains of the piece much more diverse than simply being the Germans.

The main villain of the piece is also changed from Erich Ludendorff to Hans von Hammer, aka Enemy Ace. An anti-hero in the comics, he serves an army colonel in this version responsible for weapons development. If you need Ludendorff in this have him be von Hammer’s superior/benefactor. He can still work with Doctor Poison, but it places some distance between real historical characters and superhero antics.

Wonder Woman and Trevor still make their way to London and the story continues as is, but in London we meet more members of the Entente, with possible cameos by Lord Kitchener, Prime Minister Lloyd George, and maybe General Blackjack Pershing as Trevor’s superiors.
Trevor delivers the plans, but many see no reason to continue the mission. The war is almost won after all, there is a rebellion in Germany. Social-democrats and sailors are mutinying. There are talks of abdication of the Kaiser and the proclamation of a German republic as per the insistance of President Woodrow Wilson that the Entente would only open peace talks with a German democracy. (In real life all of these actions took days so there is some wiggle room to fit in the story of the film as it takes place over the course of half a week tops). Queue talks about hypocracy for democracy being a necessity when half the Entente are empires and kingdoms.

While in London we see the effects war has had on the public and the returning veterans. The movie as is was a bit too studio-backlot-y in its depiction. Too few amputees and maimed victims running around. Wonder Woman and Trevor still put together their team and move on.

Act 2:
Enemy Ace and Doctor Poison get the stand-down order from General Ludendorff who has recommended an armistice to the government and currently he and Field Marshall von Hindenburg are waiting for the response from Wilhelm II in regards to abdication and the future of the country. They are pretty much resigned and as much as they want to win, it is pretty much impossible now. No supplies, no men, no time, a rebellion behind the lines, the end of the empire has come. Enemy Ace and Doctor Poison, fervent imperialists and patriots in this version, believe otherwise and manage to create the new version of the gas, going “rogue”. The quotation marks are necessary in this case because even while the armistice is hammered out, the fighting does continue. Both sides want to be in an advantageous bargaining position. Ludendorff and von Hindenburg don’t encourage their actions but also don’t condone them. After all, all they need is a demonstration to dangle over the enemy.

Wonder Woman and team continue their mission through France on their way to the border and after von Hammer and Doctor Poison. They see the horrors of the war as in the movie, but we also see the conditions of the troops in the trenches much more detailed, rather than a simple line of “been here for a year”. We see Brits, ANZAC, French, American, and especially colonial troops from Africa, India and around the globe. They are all fighting over centimeters on the ground.
It would, of course, be more poignant to show longer periods in the war, but for the sake of that precious PG-13 and the general audience we must remain with the Disneyland version. Still, we make it as graphic and as hopeless as we can get away with. The rest of the act continues unchanged even until we come to the castle.

In the castle, the changes made include the interaction Wonder Woman has with Ludendorff, in this version Enemy Ace. Hans von Hammer is less of a jerk than Danny Huston’s caricature of Ludendorff, an aristocrat who sees his country disappearing in-front of him. A former fighter ace, he saw dozens of comrades shot down, the glory disappear from the battlefield. For good measure he talks about the glory of the war of old and laments that he was too young to witness it himself. Wonder Woman now has little doubts that he is Ares, the God of War.

The gas rounds are fired into the freed village as Entente troops are moving on, obviously wanting to move onto the nearby castle where von Hammer, Doctor Poison, and a bunch of German VIPs are still hanging out. So the order is giving to shell the area. A few civilian casualties don’t really matter after all. The reaction from Wonder Woman is still the same after, in this version, she managed to actually save a few dozen people, though hardly all or even a majority between the town’s population and an entire battalion of troops. She is pissed that Trevor stopped her from killing von Hammer and Doctor Poison. In this version though, Trevor is actually able to somewhat seduce Doctor Poison, getting his hands on the new gas formula. He doesn’t like the idea of this new gas or other super weapon Poison has been dreaming up, but better both sides have it than simply one. Wonder Woman is disgusted from finding this out and after seeing the hundreds of dead in the village. even though she managed to save a few dozen, going after von Hammer and Doctor Poison.

Act 3:
The scene on the airfield. Wonder Woman is thoroughly pissed and curb-stomps von Hammer in his signature plane and also kills Doctor Poison for good measure. They are mass murderers, they don’t deserve better. If you really want, you can give them a motif rant, but at this point it’s pretty clear where they stand. They consider themselves soldiers in a war to defend their fatherland. And yet, the empire they tried to save is gone because it didn’t deserve to live at all after all the killing and maiming that’s been going on. Wonder Woman is shocked that the fighting in the distance continues as the two main villains lay dying. Not Ares after all.
Trevor still sacrifices himself to stop the bomber in this version, he needs to redeem himself. For good measure he takes the formula he stole from Doctor Poison with him. It’s a bittersweet situation. (Making it von Hammer also allows for some parallels in this act with him and Trevor as opposites: flying aces and patriots with questionable morals stuck in a bad situation). In the last moment Wonder Woman can save him though.

We cut to Versailles a bit of a year later. Germany, defeated, signs the treaty ending the war with the Entente. Wonder Woman sees it a bit clearer now for all the talk of Ares. She looks around and sees the faces of the people on both sides. No one is really happy with it. Some say its too lenient, like Ferdinand Foch. Some say its too hard, like John Maynard Keynes. This is no peace. This is an armistice for twenty years.
In the end, her mother had been right. Ares was dead. And yet he lived on in the hearts of everyone. If anything, the bloodshed of the 20th century that had happened and was still to come might as well lead to a new god of war coming along from all the sacrifices made in his name.
Wonder Woman retires from the world, but there are changes for the good. Civilians have lived, Trevor lives and is a better man for it, as is the team. A superhero cannot change a world that hasn’t learned its lesson yet. But a few good men and women remain. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

Superhero Hyperbole: If All Are Great, None Are

Just a short little post because, frankly, even I can churn this into a full-blown essay. Just a small observation I have made.

I was doing nothing serious today, just lazily reading a couple of articles and I stumbled upon this “gem” reporting on Mark Hamill’s very reasonable wish for better storytelling in superhero movies. Having just finished railing against Wonder Woman’s lack of history cred, I happen to agree. Until I came tot his little passage by the “reporter”:

Though there have been a lot of pretty great comic book movies this year,

Okay, that’s the second sentence, but that goes to show you the monumental nonsense at work here. To be fair, it is not just the author of this piece, but superhero fandom in general. Have you noticed how every film is the greatest ever? I mean outside of BvS, Suicide Squad, and Fant4stic, but those are the exceptions that proof the rule. Every single time a movie comes out it immediately gets placed on the top 10 list, it’s the new greatest hit, the best example of the genre yet.

And while I thought for a while that it was just an example of the youth of the genre, with five to eight movies every year being superhero-themed and the genre having been the mainstream blockbuster for a good decade and longer, it is time to stop and be more discerning in regards to what we consider good, great, bad, and every other element of the quality spectrum. We have good and bad figured out in regards to superheroes, but now it is time to stop with the hyperbole regarding the quality of these movies. If we want the genre to be taken serious, we need to treat the films in a serious way as well. That means being honest with the quality. Continue reading “Superhero Hyperbole: If All Are Great, None Are”

Wonder Woman: Review – The Historian’s Perspective

Wonder Woman is a great superhero film battling with a terrible disservice to the First World War

I spent a good hour after I came out of Wonder Woman thinking about how I would begin this review. As a history grad student with focus on the first world war and as a fan of comic book superheroes, this is probably the hardest film to process my thoughts on since Captain America: The First Avenger. I wanted to like this film a lot, partially because I didn’t want to waste more money on a mediocre or bad superhero film, and partially because I didn’t want the first serious effort behind a female superhero film to become another bomb. Much was riding on this film. Did they pull it off?

Cautious yes.

In many ways my thoughts mirror those about The First Avenger. But where Captain America faltered to merge superheroes and World War 2, Wonder Woman surpassed my expectations. Yet both are terribly distorted views on their respective world wars. And yet this managed to pull it off.  Continue reading “Wonder Woman: Review – The Historian’s Perspective”

Arrow Series Retrospective: After 5 Years In Hell

Comic book sacred cows: 1.) that you do not change anything about the source material, except when it’s okay, and 2.) you do not have non-lethal characters suddenly kill people, except when it’s okay.

As of yesterday, the CW series Arrow, based on DC’s Green Arrow line of comics, has finished its fifth season. It marks the end of the show’s five year story line. Maybe now, more than ever, is it time to look back at what the series did right and where it, eventually, started to faulter.

The series started when I was at an interesting point in the autumn of 2012, just as the superhero bubble had reached its peak with the back to back hits of The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers, giving us two very different interpretations of the superhero formula. A lot of people in comic fandom back then, myself included, were riding high on the ultra shiny Avengers bandwagon, grim and gritty was out, we said. It would still be a while until I soured on the whole genre myself, and eventually came to peace with simply liking a good story, regardless of whether or not it was dark or light-hearted.

Arrow’s first season is pretty much all we need to discuss in regards to whether or not people like this series, because much of the backlash against the series hasn’t really changed since. There have been ups and down in storytelling throughout the first five years, with seasons 1 and 2 still marking a personal highlight in superhero television for me, unrivaled by anything on network television and only surpassed by the excellent web material put out by Netflix in sheer size and quality. Season 1, from the very first frames, divided the audience up in people who liked and disliked the series, so much was clear from the internet groups and back chatter I participated back then. It’s easy to see why, the series very much changes up the entire Green Arrow mythology to fit it into a TV series format, cherry picking from a lot of older material from the 80s, inventing new characters, changing motivations, often combined with a main cast that was probably chosen because they fit the CW mold of being young and hot. And let’s get down to where a lot of people immediately called it quit: Green Arrow wasn’t called that and he killed people. Brutally so.

Regardless of whether or not you know comic book fandom, there are some pretty sacred cows, two of which are that you do not change anything about the source material, except when it’s okay, and you do not have non-lethal characters suddenly kill people, except when it’s okay. Another rule of thumb: no comic book character has ever had more old-school die-hard fans until the day his live action series/movie is announced. Far be it from me to say who counts and doesn’t count as a fan, but I needed to get this off my chest, because these little points have been the main points of contention for the first three or so years of the show’s existence before people started to ignore the series. In many ways it follows Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and DC’s own Gotham in that regard. Maybe it wouldn’t annoy me so much if people didn’t actually ‘get’ what the show was about and how it, slowly, went off the deep end.  Continue reading “Arrow Series Retrospective: After 5 Years In Hell”

Star Trek: Discovery Trailer And Thoughts On The Franchise

Somewhat optimistic thoughts on Discovery but mostly hating on the classic show again.

Last week a trailer was released for Star Trek: Discovery that actually showed us some footage that wasn’t spaceship porn. Weird, right?

Much has since been written about the new Star Trek series. If it will take off, if it will be a good TOS prequel, what kind of stories they can actually tell, and whether or not it will actually be good. Neither of these questions can be answered by a simple trailer. All we know about is that our new main character is called Number One, who will be the first officer of the Discovery, which wasn’t shown in this trailer but instead we got Michelle Yeoh and her ship, which totally doesn’t mean that she will bite the dust two episodes in so we can transfer all the characters over to the Discovery, no sir, totally not going to happen.

And aside from the trailer showing glimpses into Number One’s past where Sarek tells her that as a human she will never fit into Vulcan society, and some Klingon stuff, because isn’t there always, that is pretty much it. I’m actually okay with that. I don’t need to know that much about the project going in, I just need to know what it will be about in order to be a valid piece of advertisement. This is a compelling trailer in that regard, it shows us that we will get some classic Star Trek adventures on a ship on the edge of space with some Klingon shenanigans. That’s the classic formula that pretty much every series has conformed to, even DS9. Many other elements, however, are different: the POV being on a first officer instead of a captain, who is also a human expat living on Vulcan from what I can tell, multiple ships being the focus of the series with a much bigger cast, a grander scope that will probably include arcs, it gives the show a feeling that you don’t often get from Star Trek: the fact that they might know what they are doing.  Continue reading “Star Trek: Discovery Trailer And Thoughts On The Franchise”

Alien Covenant Review – The David Series Part 2

It is closing in on 2 am as I write this, I just came home from the cinema, and I am in a mood to talk about Alien: Covenant. Consider this a review of sorts. Spoiler-free, because that’s what the internet likes and I’m predictable.

Ever since Prometheus came out five years ago, I have gone back and forth on what I should think of the film. It really didn’t work as an Alien prequel, the characters were way too dumb and unlikable, and many questions about the Alien mythology which we didn’t need were either answered or raised. And yet there was one half of the movie which worked, the story of David and the story of creation and creator. It was an incredibly strong story, but sadly remained a story beat between all the horror cliches and padding. Alien Covenant is part two of that exact same story.  Continue reading “Alien Covenant Review – The David Series Part 2”