The Boys’ Second Season Beats The Sophomore Curse

The second season of The Boys just finished streaming on Amazon Prime a few days ago and its final episode “What I Know” was a tense and satisfying season finale. It concluded many story arcs while paving the way to new directions in the third season. Yes, there will be a deserved third season for this great TV show.

The Boys continues the storyline from the first season of a ragtag group of powerless vigilantes (led by the always-talented Karl Urban as former merc Billy Bitcher) and their struggle against the Seven, a group of superheroes, and the corporate forces that support the Seven.

Based on the comic book series of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, the Seven are actually a bunch of sociopathic and flawed individuals without any redemming qualities…except for a couple of characters. The leader of the Seven, Homelander (Anthony Starr), is the worst of the lot; basically think of him as Superman without the morality to keep him in check.

Part of the appeal of The Boys, aside from its dark and macabre humor, was seeing the desperate plight of the Boys fighting against the odds to expose the Seven and their sponsoring corporation, Vought International. As it stands the Seven are huge celebrities and revered by billions, complete with corporate sponsorships and connections throughout society.

One of the more interesting plots in the season dealt with Stormfront (Aya Cash), the newest member of the Seven, who is actually a former Nazi and a terrifying presence in the show. What made her so fearful was not how her electrical-based powers made her nearly unbeatable but her violent, racist demeanor. What is worse is that Stormfront is able to successfully hide her true self and Nazi past to the general public. After killing a supposed super terrrorist, she quickly becomes the latest media darling, which Homelander sees as a threat to his own popularity. The two eventually join forces, becomes society’s latest power couple, and start spouting dangerous messages and dog whistles about super terrorists and immigrants that echoes our current, dark events.

The paths of Homelander and Billy Butcher cross in that Homelander kidnapped Butcher’s wife, Becca (Shantel VanSanteen), years ago, raped her and forced her to bear his son, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti). Becca is imprisoned in a rural home and tries to raise Ryan to be as normal as possible because the young boy is developing his own superpowers and she does not want him to grow up to be a monster like his father. However, in the second season, Homelander takes more of an interest in his son and wants him to be more like himself. This conflict between Becca, Homelander and Butcher comes to a tense and powerful conclusion in the final episode and is heartbreaking for many reasons.

Meanwhile, Butcher’s gang is trying to expose Vought by releasing information to the public that Vought International is actually responsible for creating superheroes with a substance called Compound V, which was given to infants. The full ramifications of the expose were not as thoroughly explored as it could have been in the season. That is probably because there are only so many episodes alloted to the season, but it did lead to some terrific moments such as in the fifth episode “We Gotta Go Now” when Homelander nearly loses control in front of hundreds of protesters and imagines himself killing them with his laser vision.

homelander loses control

Contrasting the nastiness of the homicidal Homelander and Stormfront are Starlight (Erin Moriarity) and Maeve (Dominique McElligot). Starlight/Annie January is secretly giving information about Vought and the Seven to her boyfriend Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), one of the Boys, and a younger brother figure to Billy Butcher. The relationship between Annie and Hughie form the heart of the show and is fraught with danger as Annie tries to keep her ties to the Boys confidential. Meanwhile, Maeve/Maggie Shaw not only has to fight her own disillusionment with being a superhero, but she was outed as a lesbian by Homelander. Now her privacy is destroyed as she is thrust in the media spotlight. This naturally has a detrimental effect on her relationship with her partner Elena (Nicola Correia-Damude), who doesn’t have powers and Maeve knows Homelander did this to keep her in line by subtly threatening Elena.

While these personal story arcs were well done and were engaging, some characters were short changed in The Boys’ second season. Notably the other members of the Boys, Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), Serge (Tomer Capon) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), a mute superhuman refugee. They do have storylines, notably Kimiko as she grapples with her fear of Stormfront, but so little screen time is given to them. Hopefully, they will be given more to do in the next season.

There is another percolating subplot concerning a cult, called the Church of the Collective, modeled on Scientology, that has strong sociopolitical ties. Two former members of the Seven, A-Train (Jesse T. Usher) and the Deep (Chace Crawford) become members of the church and through them we see its hypocrisy and corruptive influence. It is clear the Church of the Collective will have more screen time in the next season as will Congresswoman Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), an anti-superhero politician with her own agenda. 

Despite its few flaws, the second season of The Boys beats the sophomore curse of many second-season TV shows. Most of its dark humor hits the marks and its gross-out moments are truly squeamish, like the instance with the exploding heads in “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker” or in “The Bloody Doors Off” where Mother’s Milk encountered a superhuman with a prehensile penis that is more of a tentacle! Needless to say the final confrontation between the heroes and Stormfront will leave everyone cheering at the top of their lungs.

What is important is that after watching The Boys’ second season, you are left wanting to see more, and thankfully we will. 

José Soto

 

The Movie Drought Hits The DCEU

The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) hit a severe snag thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As everyone knows the MCU films are now delayed and there won’t be any films released in 2020. Comic book film fans took some solace with the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) upcoming slate. But now they too, are being delayed.

Whereas, 2021 had three films scheduled (The Suicide Squad, The Batman and Black Adam), now Warner Bros. announced that two of those films will no longer come out next year, with The Suicide Squad being the sole DCEU offering from the film studio. In other words, the most highly anticipated superhero film of 2021, The Batman, will now debut in March 2022, well over a year from now. At this point, the film was only about 25 percent completed before the pandemic shut down film productions earlier this year. What added to the delay was that when production started again for The Batman, the film had to shut down again because the film’s star Robert Pattinson tested positive for COVID-19. 

As for fans of Black Adam, that film is now officially in limbo without a release date. Bear in mind this film was announced back in 2014. Expect it to die a quiet death in development hell.

Films scheduled for 2022 have also being shuffled. The Flash, a film forever in development (as well as Black Adam), once scheduled for summer 2022, will now come out in November of that year. Meanwhile, Shazam!: Fury of the Gods, the sequel to last year’s Shazam!, has been bumped all the way to June 2023. By the time they get to filming it will the young kids in the first film be too old to reprise their roles? That would be a shame since they were so wonderful in Shazam! There isn’t any word on the sequel to Aquaman, the biggest DCEU hit, and is scheduled for December 2022. But do not be surprised if it winds up in 2023. Let’s hope Jason Mamoa will still be interested in the film.

The only thing keeping fans going is that Wonder Woman 1984 is still slated to come out in December of this year. But do not be surprised if the Amazonian warrior will have to move to 2021 by the way things are going (the same goes for The Suicide Squad). It’s maddening because Wonder Woman 1984 is already finished and in fact we could have had the film last year if Warner Bros. had not moved it out of its original slot in lat 2019 for a more coveted summer release date. Of course, this is not the fault of the film studio since no one could have predicted this pandemic. Still, this is frustrating. 

On the other hand, the DCEU at least released a film this year, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was released this past February. It was not the best comic book film but it was at least a decent offering for starved fans. 

The best option for the DCEU is to fast track TV shows for HBO Max, in the same way many MCU fare will stream on Disney+ next year. HBO Max will have TV shows featuring DC heroes like Titans and Doom Patrol, but those shows are not set in the DCEU, and the only confirmed DCEU program coming out next year is the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League. A Green Lantern show is coming out on HBO Max but it is still in development. 

Another thing these film studios could do is greenlight lower budget comic book films that do not need to earn hundreds of millions to break even. That way with today’s lowered box office earnings, the films could quietly earn their budget back and perhaps a small profit. Plus, it would keep fans happy. Still the core of the problem is that most people rightfully do not feel comfortable going to theaters and that will not change without a cure or vaccine for COVID-19, which is not expected well into next year. 

For now, there is not anything we can do except hope our situation changes, film studios feel comfortable enough to release big budget films and we can safely see our favorite heroes on the big screen again. 

 

 

The MCU Drought

 

Disney and Marvel Studios threw in the towel a few days ago when it came to releasing any films in 2020: Black Widow was bumped out of its slated November release date into next year. This created a domino effect in that all other scheduled MCU films were pushed back, in some cases to 2022. For the first time since 2009, a year will pass without any offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Face it folks, we are in an MCU drought.

This is quite a downer and is completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and how irresponsible many people have been (wear the damn mask already!). Of course, this is simply a First World complaint and pales to other more serious plights going on, but the lack of an MCU film for fans to enjoy is just more proof that the pandemic has uprooted our lives.

At this rate, who knows when things will go back to “normal” or if it is even possible. If this keeps up will any high profile film be released in theaters next year? It is understandable that film studios are hesitant to release films in theaters under current circumstances, even though some theaters are now open. The problem is that even if every theater re-opened, many people would be hesitant to go attend them, not with COVID-19 lurking around. Sure, some would not have a problem but any released film will not earn its full potential at the box office. Take Tenet as an example. At one point, it was one of the most eagerly anticipated films and thought to be the one film to herald a return to the movies after the pandemic ended. Only the pandemic did not end and the film was shuffled around almost as much as The New Mutants. In the end, Tenet turned out to be a box office disappointment. Even though it has earned over $200 million that pales to what was once expected of Tenet.

As for The New Mutants, the fact that it was eventually released is a small miracle and oddly enough wound up being the sole film released in 2020 that was based on a Marvel Comics property, though it clearly was not set in the MCU. Also worth mentioning is that fans already had a property released this year that was set in the MCU…sort of. That was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Whether or not that TV show was considered part of the MCU is open for debate but on paper it was. Another Marvel property coming to the small screens in a few weeks is the Helstrom TV show which will debut on Hulu, though it is not marketed as a Marvel property.  With all that said, keep in mind fans of the MCU will have at least something for 2020 to get through the MCU drought and that is the upcoming WandaVision TV show on Disney+ later in 2020.

WandaVision may be a consolation prize, but judging from its trippy trailer it promises to be a wildly imaginative treat for MCU fans with its bizarre imagery of a 1950s Middle American TV landscape that morphs into more modern sitcoms. Hopefully, WandaVision will be as mind bending and thought provoking as Legion, but with an added bonus that it’s set in the MCU and is a vital cog that lines up with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

But even though WandaVision is supposed to come out in 2020, Disney+ still has not said when it will stream. It is believed to be in December but certainly after the second season of The Mandalorian has finished its run. It’s just too bad that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was not completed enough for it to have streamed this year on Disney+ as originally planned. But at least we know that WandaVision is still on track to come out later in the year.

Yes, the MCU is in a drought but this will not last forever. The pandemic will pass. Theaters will re-open fully and be safe to attend. There will be plenty of MCU fare coming our way. Next year promises four MCU films (Black Widow, Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and a new Spider-Man film) along with two Sony films, Morbius and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which are now rumored to be part of the MCU. Plus, Marvel Studios and Disney+ promised there will be more MCU shows streaming in 2021, starting with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and then Loki and What If…

So, before long, we will have so many plum offerings to make up for our current MCU drought. Hang in there, be patient and wear your mask!

 

 

A Look Back At Space: Above And Beyond

It has been 25 years since the sci-fi gem Space: Above and Beyond first premiered on television. The show was cancelled after only one season and has been forgotten by many, but is still treasured by a select few for its merits.

Created and produced by Glen Morgan and James Wong, Space: Above and Beyond was a military sci-fi adventure piece that took place in 2063. Humanity has just started to colonize other worlds before being attacked by these mysterious aliens called the Chigs. War broke out between humanity and the Chigs and the series followed the plight of a young group of soldiers hastily recruited into a squadron called the Wildcards to help fight the alien attackers who threatened Earth. The show was unique in that it showed that in the future, although humanity fought as one, Earth still was not united and had separate nations as today with armies from different nations cooperating in their war against the Chigs.

The soldiers making up the Wildcards were themselves very compelling and had fascinating back stories. The young leader of the squadron was Captain Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke), who was a career soldier who wanted to honor the memory of her deceased soldier parents. Tough as nails, yet loyal and caring to her squad, Vansen was one of the standouts in the show. Another lead was Nathan West (Morgan Weisser), who was the heart of the show. Sensitive, introspective yet strong-willed, West only joined the Wildcards after his girlfriend was kidnapped by the Chigs. The other lead in the show was Cooper Hawks (Rodney Rowland), the muscle of the squadron. He stood out from the other recruits because he was an “In Vitro”, a human who was artificially grown. Commanding the Wildcards was Lt. Col. T.C. McQueen (James Morrison, who was terrific in this role), an In Vitro himself. McQueen was a tough and decorated U.S. marine who had been through his fair share of wars and became a father figure of sorts to Hawks. Each episode examined the soldiers as they grew from green recruits into hardened fighters.

Space: Above and Beyond was one of the earliest TV shows to use the modern method of TV storytelling of episodes-long arcs. This contrasted with the norm back then when TV shows produced unrelated standalone episodes. The overall arc dealt with how humanity was fighting a desperate war against the aggressive Chigs. The fact that humanity seemed to be losing the war inspired many gritty episodes that explored the nature of sacrifice, comraderie, determination and loss. On the other hand, the show was not afraid to shine a light on humanity’s ugly side and raised questions about humankind’s conduct during the war not just with the aliens but with the past. Namely, it tackled bigotry with a new twist.

The In Vitroes were considered second-class citizens by humankind and useful only for being cannon fodder. They were developed to supplement human armies in a previous war against A.I.s (called Silicates) and were now struggling for equal rights. Many took up the In Vitro cause, such as West, yet many others considered them to be inferior and were hostile towards the In Vitroes. Hawks and McQueen struggled against the bigotry from others as they fought for humanity. Some of the best episodes focused on the two soldiers and their unique perspective. “Who Monitors the Birds?” was a largely dialogue-free episode that examined Hawks’ past upbringing as he underwent a covert mission behind enemy lines. “The Angriest Angel” focused on McQueen, who carried out a vendetta against a Chig fighter pilot that terrorized human fighter pilots with an advanced Chig fighter ship. The dogfight between McQueen’s fighter and the Chig’s was quite intense and rousing!

Eventually, humanity began to triumph against the Chigs and the final episodes dealt with a planned D-Day-type of invasion on Chig territory. There were many shocking twists about the origin of the Chigs, how the war began and the fate of the show’s characters. The fact that the final episode “…Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best” was open ended indicated that more seasons were planned as the war did not end and the characters were in cliffhanger situations. Some were apparently killed or taken prisoner by the Chigs. It was frustrating but added to a feeling of ambiguity about war and life; so the ending was somewhat appropriate.

Space: Above and Beyond was truly ahead of its time. It was one of the earliest shows to use computer effects which largely hold up today and had a fantastic and rousing military score by Shirley Walker. The show did a great job with its world building and set a template for hard and gritty miltary sci-fi that was further developed in the Battlestar Galactica reboot a decade later. But it was not appreciated or understood by many viewers when it first aired, and it was not a breakout hit that the network that aired it (Fox) hoped it would be.

As noted earlier, Space: Above and Beyond does have its fans and is considered to be an underappreciated gem. Anyone wishing to see will have to hunt for it online as its not currently streaming on Netflix or the other streaming apps, and the DVD boxset is quite pricey. Still, the show is worth seeking out for anyone wanting to see a well crafted military sci-fi yarn.

José Soto

Star Trek: Lower Decks Lacks Humor & Wit

Trek Lower Decks poster

The newest Star Trek TV series, Star Trek: Lower Decks, is the first animated Trek series since the 1970s and while that old show for the most part lived up to Star Trek, this animated show does not, unfortunately. There are many reasons why Star Trek: Lower Decks is just not up to par with Trek standards, but the most glaring is with its humor, or lack of.

Star Trek: Lower Decks, which streams on the CBS All Access app, was promoted as a comedy that takes place on the starship Cerritos, an unexceptional Starfleet ship assigned to mundane missions throughout Federation space . The show focuses on a crew of young Starfleet ensigns who for the most part dream of being promoted to senior officers while burdened with humdrum tasks like cleaning the holodeck, changing carbon filters and so on. The problem is the show just is not funny.

It tries its best, sometimes too hard, to be humorous and slapsticky, but at best the show elicits a few chuckles or wry smiles that only Trek fans can appreciate. The show is saddled with trying to be funny while telling traditional Star Trek stories and the tone winds up being very inconsistent. Some story lines are kind of interesting and could have worked in a normal Star Trek episode but then they gets thrown off with uninspired sight gags and jokes that are not especially witty and ruin the story. Take for instance this episode called “Moist Vessel”. The Cerritos is supposed to tow an ancient generational ship that has a substance that turns inorganic material into organic ones, which would be useful for terraforming purposes. This substance is accidently unleashed on the Cerritos and uncontrolled growths of organic material threatens the ship. This would have worked in a regular Star Trek episode, but in this case the plot is used for cheap laughs, though it did provide a platform for some character study.

mariner and boimler

As for the characters, they are not outstanding except for Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome). Unlike her overeager shipmates, she is more of a disillusioned slacker who complains nons-stop about Starfleet life. This is an interesting way to go for a Star Trek character, except it leaves you wondering why does she still stay onboard the ship? Why not just quit Starfleet? How is it she is still allowed to remain on the ship? For that last question, there is more to her story; her mother is the captain of the Cerritos and she is especially hard on Mariner, but that is about it. Her partner is an overeager and over-annoying Ensin named Boimler (Jack Quaid whose talents are better used in The Boys), who comes off as those petty buttkissers that no one likes, so it he is hard to empathize with. There are a few more ensigns who are alien or enhanced with cybernetic parts, but they do not stand out at all.

Star Trek: Lower Decks would have benefitted with wittier and funnier scripts that went all out and perhaps even meta. Perhaps a different animation style would have served it better because right now the show looks so cartoony that you expect it to be stuffed to the bulkheads with outrageous, LOL moments and jokes or even oulandish scenes that would have been too expensive to film in live action.

The show is not the worse thing out there and some revamping would salvage the endeavor. It does have potential, so it may be worth keeping an eye on. However, if fans want something to tide them over in between regular Trek productions like Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery, they are better off watching The Orville, at least that show has better wit, humor and characters.