The Quicksilver Conundrum

quicksilver and petersThere has been a bit of a combination of both a cold and civil war when it comes to movies based on Marvel Comics characters. But lately things are heating up between movie studios and that’s best seen with the character of Quicksilver, the mutant superhero with superfast powers who is slated to appear in two competing movies: X-Men: Days Of Futures Past and The Avengers 2.

Here’s the background: before Marvel was acquired by The Walt Disney Company, Marvel sold the rights to many of its popular characters to different movie studios like 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures, who co-produced them with Marvel Studios. That was the main reason characters didn’t crossover into other films. For example, in the Spider-Man films, you wouldn’t see a shot of Thor flying by the Daily Bugle’s windows.

Over time, Marvel Studios began regaining the rights to several characters, most notably the Hulk and Daredevil. These efforts kicked up into high gear after Disney acquired Marvel. The few remaining characters Marvel Studios doesn’t have the film rights to are Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.

singer x

The studios holding the rights to those characters know a cash cow when they see it and are fighting to retain the rights to the characters. Just recently Sony Pictures adamantly swore that they will never give up the rights to produce Spider-Man films, while Fox toyed with the idea last year to give back the rights to the Silver Surfer and Galactus–two Fantastic Four mainstays, in order to keep the rights to Daredevil.

Trying to get the X-Men characters will be a big problem, which is why Marvel seemed content to let Fox continue making X-Men films. That was until director Bryan Singer’s announcement last week. As the director of the upcoming X-Men: Days Of Futures Past, Bryan Singer stated that he had cast Evan Peters to play Quicksilver for the movie. Fans were excited with this idea, mainly because Joss Whedon announced weeks earlier that the same character will be in the sequel to his blockbuster hit The Avengers.

whedonAt first, it seemed as if this was to be some kind of crossover between the two film franchises but no so fast. Both studios are denying this is an attempted crossover. In fact, while Peters will play Quicksilver in X-Men: Days Of Futures Past, Joss Whedon, after confirming last week that Quicksilver will appear in The Avengers 2, said that he is still casting the role. If any of the two announcements were meant for the other side to blink, well it didn’t work. So the feeling for now is that both studios will just have to share Quicksilver.

The reason for the ability of both studios to use Quicksilver is that while Fox owns the X-Men film rights, Marvel does have the right to use Quicksilver and his sister, the Scarlet Witch, in their films just as long as there isn’t any mention that they are X-Men foe Magneto’s children. Meanwhile, in the X-Men films it cannot be stated that the mutant siblings are members of the Avengers (as is the case in the comic books).

This is a real treat for fans who clamor at the idea of a shared universe of all the Marvel characters. They can enjoy two different incarnations of the same character and imagine that both films take place in different time periods. For now, a completely shared cinematic universe is impossible but this casting conundrum brings that dream one step closer to reality.

Lewis T. Grove

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A Town & TV Show Called Defiance

defiance pic

Syfy recently premiered its new sci-fi epic series Defiance, a complex, baffling TV show about aliens and humans trying to get along in a ruined Earth. It’s a bit too complex and not for casual viewers, but it has some potential.

Much of the background for Defiance is never explained onscreen. In fact, I had to go online to its official website to learn it, which helped explain a lot of the show’s lore. It’s a very detailed but regrettably most of it is never mentioned or shown and doing so would help immerse viewers to this intricately crafted world that the show’s creators went out of their way to assemble.

nolan and irisaA few years from now, several, huge alien ships arrive on our planet carrying refugees made up of seven different alien races. Together they’re called the Votans, but the show concentrates on two of these races: the Irathient and the Castithan. The Irathient are vaguely cat-like with their bright irises and slightly bulging eyebrows. They’re very spiritual and independent minded with little regard for traditional law. The Castithan are a race of albinos with shocking white hair and skin. They come off as arrogant and disdainful of other races, including humans and try to preserve their caste-based culture.

The Votans were seeking a new world after their solar system was destroyed. This, of course, led to conflict with the humanity. After a brutal war, both sides reached a ceasefire and chose to share the Earth. One nasty side effect of their arrival is that the world was accidently and partially terraformed, leaving most major cities and landscapes destroyed or unrecognizable. Bizarre, hybrid plant and animal life emerged and mass social and political upheaval threw the world into chaos. The survivors now struggle to make it through the day, while trying to at least tolerate each other.

Defiance takes place in what was once St. Louis, Missouri. The ruins were resettled by a mix of humans and Votan races and renamed Defiance. It’s essentially a crowded Wild West backwater town mixed with elements of Farscape, Firefly and The Road Warrior.

mayor and rivals

Despite a crowded lineup of characters, Defiance revolves around five characters, with three of them taking center stage. Running the place is the new mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz), who tries to keep things running smoothly and getting all the human and alien factions in town from killing each other. She’s insecure about her position and is trying to earn the townspeople’s respect; at the same time Rosewater has to face the harsh reality of backdoor deals and maintaining composure.

At the end of the pilot episode she hired a drifter, Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler), as the sheriff or rather lawkeeper of Defiance. Nolan is your typical Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds type, who looks like Christian Slater’s older brother. He’s a cynical war veteran first seen roaming the countryside with his Irathient adopted daughter Irisa nolan and mayor(Stephanie Leonidas). After passing through Defiance, Nolan went against his bitter nature and decided to stay in town and bumble his way through many dull police cases. His daughter Irisa, who was a war orphan rescued by him, can’t understand why he wants to plant roots in the town and wants to reach Antarctica, a supposed paradise on par with Tahiti. She is exotically pretty and a hothead with a troubled past.

The other two prominent characters are Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) and Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene). Tarr is a nefarious Castithan businessman who runs the town’s underworld. His ambition for political power is surpassed by his cunning wife Stahma (Jaime Murray), who gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money. McCawley is a rival businessman that owns a nearby mine and can’t stand Castithans, namely Tarr.

defiance charactrsEpisodes deal with Nolan trying to keep the peace, while Tarr and McCawley vie with each other and Rosewater. Some of the bland drama comes straight from routine Western dramas. Tarr and McCawley feud, while their children are romantically involved with each other; Nolan has a fling with the town prostitute (Mia Kirshner), who happens to be the mayor’s sister; one episode even borrowed heavily from Stagecoach. On the whole, Defiance has a richly detailed world with an exhaustive backstory, and tries to emulate Firefly or Farscape but it cannot. While the trappings are eye catching, the show’s stock characters and predictable stories hamper it. That is surprising considering that the show’s creators are Rockne S. O’Bannon (Farscape), Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica) and Kevin Murphy (Reaper, Caprica), who all created, produced or wrote some terrific genre shows.

Still, while Defiance isn’t captivating it does have a slow burn quality to it and seems to be carefully building up its storylines. Some stories and developments did hold my attention. It should toss out the uninteresting cop procedural stuff, or go into more detail about the world of Defiance and not leave it up to viewers to track it down.  Or jettison some of the trappings to make viewers want to learn more about the show.

Some TV shows take a while to get its bearings before reaching their potential. Defiance could go either way, hopefully it will find its footing because it’s one of Syfy’s better original offerings of late.

Lewis T. Grove

Star Trek Into Darkness Continues J.J. Abrams’ Vision

trek 12 posterA valid criticism about the last Star Trek film was that it was too much like Star Wars with its emphasis on flashy special effects and high-octane action. This same critique is applicable to Star Trek Into Darkness, the latest entry in the long-running film series. But at least more of an attempt is made to make this film seem more like Star Trek.

How so? Concern is brought up on more than one occasion that Starfleet is becoming too militarized and that they should be explorers. By the end of the film, the main characters wholeheartedly embrace that concept based on their experiences throughout the film. In some ways, Star Trek Into Darkness is a battle for the soul of Star Trek and to try to go back to its roots. The film doesn’t always succeed in getting that point across, since it wants to revel in the big-action scenes that define the J.J. Abrams era of Star Trek. In fact, it’s best to think of this film as Abrams’ audition tape for directing the next Star Wars film.

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Star Trek Into Darkness opens on an alien planet where angry, primitive natives are chasing Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) after Kirk insulted them.

As the two men flee to their hidden starship, the Enterprise, the ship’s Vulcan first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is trapped in an active volcano. He was trying to keep it from erupting using a cold fusion process. Once Kirk and McCoy make it back to their ship, Kirk orders a rescue of Spock. The ship is able to rescue the Vulcan but violates the Prime Directive when the natives see the advanced starship rise out of its hiding spot in the ocean.

kirk pike

When the Enterprise crew returns to Earth, Kirk is called to Starfleet’s headquarters by Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Expecting a lucrative assignment, instead, Kirk is berated for being too reckless and thinking rules don’t apply to him. Kirk is stunned to find out that his command is taken away for violating the Prime Directive and for not being ready to be a starship captain. This was based on Spock’s accurate report about the incident on the planet.

Kirk is justifiably incensed at his friend and starts berating Spock later before they attend a high-level meeting with Starfleet brass. This meeting is to discuss a recent terrorist bombing in London by a Starfleet operative named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has gone rogue.

The meeting is interrupted when Harrison shows up outside the building where the meeting is held in a fighter craft and fires weapons at the attendees. Kirk is able to stop the attack but Harrison beams away and one of the casualties is Pike. Investigations reveals Harrison’s current location: Kronos, the Klingon homeworld.

An enraged Kirk asks Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to be reinstated as captain of the Enterprise so he can pursue the terrorist. Marcus agrees and tells Kirk to go to the border of Klingon space and launch several long-range, prototype photon torpedoes at Harrison’s location to kill him.

photon torpedo

Later, the Enterprise has to drop out of warp space near their destination due to a malfunction. Kirk then takes a shuttle to Kronos with Spock and other crewmembers and are saved from Klingons by Harrison himself, who quickly surrenders to him.

Now a prisoner onboard the Enterprise, Harrison reveals to Kirk that his name is really Khan and that he is a genetic superman who was in cryo sleep for three hundred years in kahnsleeper ship along with 72 other superhumans. Starfleet discovered their sleeper ship and only Khan was revived. Marcus, anticipating an all-out war with the Klingons, wanted to utilize Khan’s superior intellect to develop advanced weapons and is holding hostage the other superhumans as leverage. Furthermore, Marcus wants to use the Enterprise and Harrison to instigate a war with the Klingons.

Kirk’s suspicions about Marcus are soon confirmed when a massive starship arrives armed to the teeth. It’s commanded by Marcus, who demands that Khan be turned over to him.

Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the most exciting films in the series thanks to J.J. Abrams’ directing. Like its main character, the film is brash, bold and in your face with wild and intense action scenes. Highlights include a thrilling chase of Khan in San Francisco by Spock that culminates in a heart-pounding fight, where Spock nearly loses his control. Another is when a crippled Enterprise falls towards Earth, the special effects of those scenes are just brilliant and dazzling. Expect an Oscar nomination for special effects.

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek

“Punch it”

Captain Christopher Pike’s order to take the Enterprise into warp space

posterDon’t worry readers, the review for the new Star Trek Into Darkness is coming right up. But first, let’s look at its predecessor, the eleventh Star Trek film. After Star Trek: Nemesis became a box office failure in 2002 and the series Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled in 2005, the franchise seemed to have died. Paramount Studios realized they ran Star Trek into the ground and so it went on hiatus. The fortieth anniversary of the original TV show came and went without any fanfare and implied that no one cared about Star Trek anymore.

However, J.J. Abrams, the man behind the classic TV show Lost, was brought in to rejuvenate the franchise. It was decided to bring Star Trek back as a film series rather than a TV show and so Abrams and his team rebooted the franchise, resulting in the 2009 feature film Star Trek that went back to the beginning. The film was a rousing success but sparked controversy among stalwart fans.

Star Trek begins with a dizzying, close up shot of the starship Kelvin gliding past the camera as it investigates a lightning storm in space. This storm turns into a black hole and from it emerges a gigantic spaceship shaped somewhat like a squid with sharp mechanical kelvin2tendrils. This ship immediately opens fire on the Kelvin with advanced weaponry. The Kelvin isn’t a match but puts up a gallant fight. The attackers demand that the Kelvin’s captain, Robau (Farin Tahir), go to their ship to discuss a surrender. Right away these scenes signaled that Star Trek was reinvigorated with wild, kinetic battle scenes.

Robau leaves First Officer George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) in command and is killed in the enemy ship by its crew, a group of bald, tattooed Romulans. Kirk orders a shipwide evacuation and covers it by setting the Kelvin on a collision course with the attacking ship. One of the evacuees is his pregnant wife Winona (Jennifer Morrison), who goes into labor in an escaping shuttlecraft. Kirk is unable to join her because he has to manually fly the Kelvin into the enemy ship. He is able, however, to hear the first cries of his newborn son James Tiberius Kirk moments before the Kelvin smashes into the Romulan ship.

George Kirk’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain, the enemy ship is crippled, giving several shuttlecraft an opportunity to escape…

shipyard

Years later, Kirk’s son grows up to be a rebellious, angry young man (Chris Pine) without any direction in life and living in Iowa by a shipyard that is constructing the Enterprise. After a bar fight, he meets Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who sees some potential in James Kirk. Pike is able to convince the young man to join Starfleet.

During his training Kirk meets many people who will become important parts of his life, notably Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). Ironically, Kirk and Spock do not get along at first. Spock is a by-the-book officer who cannot abide Kirk’s brash and reckless demeanor. Things come to a head after Kirk takes the Kobayashi Maru simulator test, which Spock developed to train cadets, and is caught cheating.

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Kirk is under inquiry for his actions when fate intervenes. Starfleet receives an emergency distress call from the planet Vulcan and all available ships on Earth are dispatched. Among them is the new U.S.S. Enterprise commanded by Pike with Spock as its first officer.

With McCoy’s help, Kirk is able to get onboard the Enterprise as it joins the armada. The ship is unable to jump into warp space with the other ships thanks to an error made by the helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho ). It turns out that this delay and Kirk learning of a lightning storm reported by Vulcan helps saves the ship. Kirk guesses that the Enterprise will be facing the same fate as the Kelvin and tells Pike. When the time the Enterprise drops out of warp space near Vulcan,  the crew finds a floating junkyard of destroyed ship parts.

shipwrecksThe other Starfleet ships were easily destroyed by the same Romulan ship that destroyed the Kelvin. The ship had launched a long, tethered drilling platform to Vulcan’s surface. When the Enterprise is discovered, the Romulan ship’s commander, Nero (Eric Bana), orders an attack on the Starfleet vessel but stops when he realizes it’s the Enterprise. The Romulan demands that Pike go to his ship just as was done with Robau. Pike agrees, but before leaving, he promotes Kirk to first officer and leaves command of the Enterprise to Spock. He has Kirk, Sulu and a redshirt accompany him in Pike’s shuttlecraft. Before Pike turns himself in, the trio are clandestinely launched via parachutes to the drilling platform to disable it. After fighting off  Romulans on the platform, Kirk and Sulu are able to disable it. But they’re too late, the drill already reached the planet’s core. The Romulans release a substance called red matter that creates a black hole in Vulcan’s core, dooming the world.

kirk sulu

In a desperate move, Spock beams down to Vulcan just in time to save his father Sarek (Ben Cross) and a few others but not his mother (Winona Ryder). Shortly after, he and the handful of survivors are beamed back to the Enterprise as Vulcan is destroyed from within.

Spock struggles not displaying emotions over the death of his mother and world and Pike’s capture. He decides to regroup with the fleet but Kirk tries to convince him otherwise. The Romulans are heading to Earth and Kirk demands that they try to stop them. After they argue for several minutes, Spock has Kirk removed from the bridge and ejected from an escape capsule to a nearby planet, Delta Vega, and orders the Enterprise to resume its course to rendezvous with the fleet.

old spockAfter the capsule lands,  Kirk breaks out and finds himself in a frozen world filled with predatory animals out to snack on him. He is saved from one huge animal by a mysterious Vulcan who turns out to be a very old Spock (Leonard Nimoy). This Spock mind melds with Kirk and he learns that Spock is from the future as are the bald Romulans. In the late 24th century, the Romulans’ homeworld was destroyed by a supernova that threatened other worlds. From his own ship, Spock launched a sample of the red matter to destroy the supernova by creating a black hole. As he tried to escape the black hole, he encountered Nero and his ship. The Romulan was enraged at Spock because the Vulcan promised the Romulans he would save their world, now his wife and family are dead. Before anything could happen, Nero and Spock’s ships fell into the black hole, which was a doorway to the past. Nero had Spock abandoned on Delta Vega so that he could witness the destruction of Vulcan and experience the pain that Nero felt in the future.

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek: Nemesis

“To absent friends. To family”

Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s toast for his deceased friend Data

nemesis posterThere is a superstition among Star Trek fans and others that the odd-numbered Star Trek films are bad and do poorly at the box office, while the opposite applies to the even-numbered films. Star Trek: Nemesis disproved that belief, at least when it came to box office returns. As for its quality, well it’s not a bad film at all. It has its flaws but as the last film to feature the characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) it’s actually underrated.

The beginning takes place on the planet Romulus, the heart of the Romulan Empire. The Romulans are an evil offshoot of the peaceful, pointy-eared Vulcans and are bitter enemies with the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. In the Romulan Senate, a coup d’état occurs where the praetor and the Romulan government are killed by a device that emits an energy field that turns everyone in the Senate into ashes.

ash romulan

Next, the film jumps to Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), who is on Earth giving a best man toast. He and his fellow Enterprise-E crewmembers are at the wedding reception of the Enterprise-E’s first officer Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the ship’s counselor weddingDeanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). We learn that Riker has been promoted to captain and is about to take command of his own ship. Deanna will be joining him there while the android officer Data (Brent Spiner) will become the new first officer of the Enterprise-E.

The ship departs for Betazed, Troi’s home planet, so the newlyweds can have a traditional Betazoid wedding. As the senior bridge crew joke about the prospect of appearing naked in the Betazoid wedding as per custom, the Klingon tactical officer Worf (Michael Dorn) gets an alert that the ship picked up a positronic signature from a nearby system. That is the same kind transmitted by androids like Data, which is a rarity. With his and Data’s interest aroused, Picard orders the Enterprise-E to divert to the planet of the signature’s origin.

Picard, Data and Worf arrive on the desert planet. These scenes on the world looked otherworldly thanks to the harsh, washed out lighting from the planet’s sun. They find scattered pieces of an android who is a replica of Data and take him back to the ship.

He is assembled and activated. This android is B-4 and is a prototype android created by Data’s “father”. B-4 has no memory of how he wound up on the planet and in fact seems a bit slow. Data decides to download his own memory into B-4 in the hope that his added memories and information will help B-4 grow and become more productive.

janeway

As this is going on Picard receives a message from Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew reprising her role from Star Trek: Voyager) and is ordered to go to Romulus because the new praetor has requested a Federation envoy. Both are surprised that the praetor is a Reman.

remanThe Remans are slave caste members of the Romulan Empire. It’s never explained if they are in fact of the same race as Romulans because they look so drastically different. They seem more like the vampiric Nosferatu with their bat-like ears, fangs and pale skin. The coup d’état at the beginning of Star Trek: Nemesis was orchestrated by Shinzon (Tom Hardy) in order to liberate the Remans and seize control of the empire.

The Enterprise-E arrives on Romulus and after a long wait, this huge, hideously designed war craft de-cloaks in front of them. It’s the Scimitar, a ship secretly built by the Remans but looking more like a demented Lego toy. Picard and his senior staff are invited to beam aboard to meet Shinzon.

meeting shinzonOnce on the Scimitar, Picard and his Away Team are shocked when they discover that the new praetor is actually a young, bald human with a striking resemblance to Picard. Shinzon is gracious if a bit off–he is obsessed with Deanna, having never seen a human before, even though she is half Betazoid. He tells Picard that he wants to open peace negotiations with the Federation and offers a sample of his blood to Picard and the others.

Back on the Enterprise-E, the ship’s doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) examines the blood sample and confirms Picard’s suspicions: Shinzon is Picard’s clone.

The next day over dinner, Praetor Shinzon explains to Picard what happened. Years ago, the Romulans took a sample of the captain’s DNA and cloned him in order to have the clone replace Picard and infiltrate Starfleet. This plan was eventually abandoned, as was Shinzon who was exiled to the Remans’ homeworld to work in the dilithium mines. A Reman (Ron Perlman), who is now Shinzon’s viceroy, took pity on young Shinzon and took him under his care.

Shinzon again proposes peace with Picard. The captain politely turns him down saying that trust must be earned but leaves the door open for more dialogue.

At the same time, B-4 receives a mysterious signal and begins working on a nearby computer to access information. The crew learn of this subterfuge and takes action.

Meanwhile, Shinzon, with the viceroy’s help, forms a telepathic bond with Deanna and tries to mentally rape her through her husband when they’re in bed. Shinzon is interrupted when he gets word picard shinzonthat B-4 is ready. The android is beamed aboard the Scimitar and downloads confidential Starfleet information. After this is done, Shinzon forcibly beams over Picard in order to have a medical procedure done.

Before this can happen, B-4 turns out to be Data, who gave Shinzon the wrong information, and frees Picard. Then the two escape from the Scimitar.

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