Netflix Moves In New Superhero Directions With The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy is the newest streaming series from Netflix and is that service’s first step away from their Marvel superhero shows. This time, Netflix adapted the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. Both the show and the comic book are a about an eccentric family of superheroes and their dysfunctional relationship. What makes this superhero team stand out is that they were once seven infants who were instantaneously conceived and born back in 1989 at the same time. A goofball billionaire, Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) buys and “adopts” these children then begins grooming them to be superheroes. Eventually they leave him to find their way in the world and away from superheroics.

Flashforward to the present and Hargreeves has died, prompting a reunion by the now-adult children who have gone on their unique and separate ways. Luther (Tom Hopper) is a gentle giant with super strength and lives on the moon in isolation. Diego (David Castañeda) is a rebellious vigilante with extraordinary knife-throwing skills. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is a famous movie star with the ability to manipulate reality by using the Rumor. Klaus (Robert Sheehan) is shiftless drug addict who can communicate with the dead, including the sixth member, Ben (Justin H. Min), who died some time ago. Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) can travel through time and space, while the final child, Vanya (Ellen Page), doesn’t have any powers and is treated as the black sheep in the makeshift family.

When the siblings come together, Luther and Diego quickly argue over whether or not their father was murdered. Meanwhile, Number Five was trapped in the future for several decades and is finally able to return to the present to join his siblings for their father’s funeral. But he is determined to find out what causes a worldwide apocalyptic event in a few days that wipes out humanity. At the same time, he is hunted by mysterious superhuman assassins (Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton) for unknown reasons. These events bring out revelations about each member of the Umbrella Academy and forces them to drift further apart as it becomes clear that they cannot relate to each other.

The Umbrella Academy is a quirky and entertaining family/superhero show punctuated by offbeat characters, inventive editing and show-stopping action scenes. It’s not as great as some critics and fans are proclaiming. It sometimes tries too hard to be edgy and quirky to the point  that it can be offputting. The first episode was a bit of a chore to get through because the premise’s setup was not particularly engaging. But it quickly picks up the pace and grabs your attention after the first episode.

Some characters like Klaus can be annoying and cloy, but overall all of these oddballs are endearing as they grapple with their father’s memory. He was a cold, distant person who treated them as objects and this created damaging trauma that each of them deal with in their own ways. Other members of the Umbrella Academy and their associates stand out like kindly Luther, Number Five with his dilemma of being an adult trapped in a child’s body and Vanya who struggles to find her place in the world as an ordinary person. Obviously this is not your standard superhero TV show and it is refreshing as it is more like Legion than traditional fare like the CW superhero shows.  More importantly, the characters and their interactions, not to mention the exciting fight scenes, are reasons for comic book and superhero fans to watch The Umbrella Academy.

 

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Star Trek: Discovery’s Canon Problem

A major complaint about Star Trek: Discovery is that for a prequel set before the original Star Trek it violates so much of what was established in the original series that it should be thought of as a straight up remake. Everyone always brings up the fact the for a prequel the world shown in Star Trek: Discovery is too advanced when compared to Star Trek or that it violates the established canon of this franchise.

There is legitimate cause to feel this way and the coy remarks by the show’s powers that be do not help matters, they promise us that the show is set in the Prime Universe of Star Trek.  But this has not satisfied many who then online negative posts and videos and proclaim the show is not true Star Trek.

Of course, a lot of the criticisms about Star Trek: Discovery are valid, but we should be careful about using the show’s look and canon problems as a reason to dismiss it as something that doesn’t belong with Star Trek.

One thing to consider is that throughout its 50-plus years Star Trek and its films and spinoffs have many continuity problems. For instance, in the early episodes of Star Trek there wasn’t a United Federation of Planets. Instead there was a United Earth Space Probe Agency, then it was never clear as to when it took place. Remember the infamous misspelling of James Kirk’s name in the second pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before”? The good captain’s middle initial was shown to be R. instead of T.

Then there are the Klingons. In the original show they were basically swarthy humans with actors in brownface portraying them. In the first film and onwards, the aliens were revamped and looked more alien thanks to ridges now showing on their foreheads. This perplexed fans until Star Trek: Enterprise offered an onscreen explanation as to why the Klingons looked so different.

And while people love to complain about Michael Burnham being Spock’s unspoken of foster sister, what about his renegade half-brother Sybok? Until the film where Sybok first appeared (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), Spock’s best friend Kirk didn’t know Sybok existed. It stands to reason Spock never bothered mentioning Burnham. He is a rather private person.

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Requiem For A Dark Knight

ben-affleck-as-batman
The status of Ben Affleck’s role in the upcoming Batman film directed by Matt Reeves has been a source of both interest and mystery ever since Affleck left that film’s role as director two years ago. This mystery was finally solved a few days ago with the article on deadline.com that detailed a release date for the film titled The Batman, which will come to theaters on June 25th, 2021 with a new actor to be cast in the role. This was seemingly confirmed by Affleck himself, who retweeted the article on his Twitter account. This news has brought a reaction from fans that of sadness and regret since he will no longer be playing a role that he has owned since his debut in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The initial announcement of his casting as Batman was met with some skepticism at first, but after the first trailer for the movie, with the image of Bruce Wayne staring at his Batman outfit, consumed with rage, fans were convinced of his ability to play the dual role of playboy millionaire and costumed vigilante, obsessed with stopping what he saw as the ultimate threat in Superman. His excellent performance in the somewhat divisive film cemented his legacy as the definitive live-action Batman. His brief, but well received, cameo in Suicide Squad further excited fans. His last full time appearance as the Caped Crusader in Justice League in 2017 was met with mixed results since he seemed somewhat disinterested. Possibly this was due to reshoots by Joss Whedon and rewrites to the story that changed what the original director Zack Snyder had planned. But, overall, I thought his performance was still a great interpretation of a transformed Bruce Wayne who was trying to live up to Superman’s example and not let his sacrifice in Batman v Superman go in vain. 
I do wish that Ben Affleck was given another opportunity to play the role. However, due to the reaction to both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, as well as his own personal problems with alcoholism and a high profile divorce, this led to his wavering on whether or not to continue the role. Also complicating things was the fact that Matt Reeves wants to tell a story of a younger Batman that takes place maybe 10-15 years before the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There were some rumors that Affleck might play the older version of Batman at the start and end of the movie, but this seems to have been rejected by Reeves.  His vision of a noir-driven detective film does sound interesting and unique, but it would have been great to see Affleck in this type of film as well, since his previous movies as Batman focused on his fighting abilities and strengths. As for who will replace him, there are, of course, lots of rumors on that as well. One is Armie Hammer, who would be a good replacement. Hammer has been rumored to be up for the part of Hal Jordan in the upcoming Green Lantern Corps film, but that movie is still several years away with Geoff Johns writing a new script for it. Another one rumored is Aaron Taylor-Johnson from 2014’s Godzilla and 2010’s Kick-Ass. Whoever is picked should not be so young as to look more like Robin than Batman. Even though Reeves is supposedly looking for an actor in the range of 25-30, this Batman should already be an experienced crime fighter. Christoper Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005 already told the story of the Caped Crusader first starting out. Another origin story is not needed. Whoever is cast needs to have the same presence that Affleck had and be able to show that he will eventually become the force that dominated Gotham’s underworld in Batman v Superman.
If there is ever another Justice League movie or another DCEU film that takes place in present day, one hopes that Affleck will be called on to don the cape again, but that is unknown at this point. If he never plays the role again, his legacy is still cemented in comic movie lore as arguably the most accurate Bruce Wayne and Batman to show up on the big screen. Every role is eventually recast at some point. Look at how many actors have played the role of James Bond over the years. Batman is no exception. The character is over 75 years old and will go on no matter who plays him, so while it’s sad that Ben Affleck is leaving, any hysteria over this is not really necessary. I just hope that whoever takes the torch from him is able to live up to the standard he set and helps Matt Reeves make another great Batman movie.
C.S. Link

Star Trek: Discovery Vs. The Orville, Part Two

Let’s continue comparing two television shows that are similar to each other on the surface—Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. In Part One, we explained how The Orville is an homage to the traditional Star Trek TV show with its set up and characters. Now its time to look at Star Trek: Discovery, which some feel is Star Trek in name only.

When Star Trek returned to the small screen in September 2017 with Star Trek: Discovery, many fans were bitterly disappointed with what they saw. While some criticized the 6th live-action Star Trek show for its flaws, others zeroed in on the fact that this Trek show is not a traditional Star Trek show. They point out that though it’s well done it lacks the essence of what made Star Trek so special. To be honest, they are justified for feeling that way; yes, we all miss the good ol’ fashioned Star Trek with a heroic starship captain (usually a white, male human) and his diverse bridge crew going from planet to planet and solving problems by the episode’s end.

Breaking the Mold of Traditional Trek

While these vocal critics are justified with their objections about Star Trek: Discovery, we must to keep this in mind. Star Trek had to do something different to stand out. By the time the last Trek show, Star Trek: Enterprise, finished its run, Star Trek had run its creative course and fell out of favor with fans who wanted something new and exciting.

During the long hiatus between shows, the return of Star Trek to the small screen was a difficult process as many different ideas were pitched to resurrect the franchise. For a time, Bryan Fuller, a veteran of the previous Trek shows, was the showrunner for Star Trek: Discovery, but ultimately left before it first aired. He did leave his mark with the direction and look of the show which broke the mold of a traditional Star Trek program. On the surface it seems familiar: the adventures of the crew of a starship called Discovery, which takes place a few years before the very first show. But it’s not what fans expected as they found out the newest Star Trek show is a definite contrast to what we think of as Star Trek.

The franchise is known for having an optimistic view of humanity and the future. Discovery instead has a darker, more cynical tone, even more than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which for its time was derided for being too pessimistic. This perception is also reflected in the way the show looks. The sets, despite their futuristic look, appear gloomy and cramped. Not the kind of place we’d want to be assigned to if we were at Starfleet. Dutch angles, lens flares and dim lighting accentuate the overall flashy, but depressing look of the Discovery. While all this makes show seem edgy it comes at a cost to the warmer and more inviting look of standard Trek.

Naturally, being that this is a modern show with state-of-the-art special effects and production values, the show looks more futuristic than even the Star Trek spinoffs from its 1990s golden age. Holograms are everywhere and the show’s technology is incredibly high tech. The special effects are just breathtaking and are movie quality. It’s as if mini-theatrical films are being streamed for us. Being that this is a prequel to the original show from the 1960s, this ultra-futuristic look violently clashes with what was established in Star Trek and adds to the argument that the show is not part of the proper Prime Universe.

This is an unfortunate and unavoidable due to time, advances in special effects and larger budgets. While recapturing the exact retro look of the old show works for fan films it would not for a modern show trying to attract more viewers. Still, the perception remains that this incarnation of Star Trek is so dissimilar to the Trek we know that it is hard to believe that it takes place in the prime timeline; not to mention the contradictory background information that some have spotted.

battle of binary stars

The running arc of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery was of a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The way the enemy race of the Federation was reconceptualized was simply terrible. While the new makeup and ship designs made the Klingons appear more alien and fiercer, it robbed them of the bravado and spunk they were famous for.

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The Orville Vs. Star Trek: Discovery, Part One

The biggest rivalry going on right now on TV is between Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. Technically, that is not entirely accurate since Star Trek: Discovery is only available on the CBS All-Access streaming service while The Orville is broadcast on the Fox network. Still the competition between the two and the fandom generated, especially with The Orville, is quite fierce.

What is fueling the intense rivalry among fans is how similar both shows are to each other, at least when comparing The Orville to general Star Trek, not necessarily Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, The Orville perfectly captures the look and feel of Star Trek circa the 1990s. Meanwhile Star Trek: Discovery has a decidedly different tone than past Trek shows, which has proven to be controversial among fans.

With distinct differences and similarities, it’s an interesting exercise to compare both shows.

The Orville: Bawdry Expectations

When it debuted in 2017, The Orville was one of those programs that suddenly appeared in everyone’s radar. It was first marketed as a flat-out comedy that promised to spoof Star Trek and other sci-fi programs and films and their tropes. But viewers quickly learned that was not the case with The Orville. This could be why the show did not appeal to critics who were expecting bawdry, outrageous comedy in the vein of Family Guy. After all, this show’s creator and star is Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy.

Unlike its early trailers, The Orville’s humor is much gentler and dryer. Although at times it tries to be edgy with its comedy and it doesn’t always work. In fact, at times its attempts at humor feels forced and ill-timed, which throws off the tone of some scenes. Honestly, The Orville cannot be considered a comedy and it doesn’t really spoof Star Trek. Coming off more as an homage, the program’s smart scripts examines relevant social issues and sci-fi concepts like a classic Star Trek show. It’s why the show has resonated with fans yearning for traditional Star Trek and are disappointed by Star Trek: Discovery and the recent films. But it also turned off those tuning in to expect the next Family Guy or at least something along the lines of Galaxy Quest.

While MacFarlane is famous for delivering raunchy and over-the-top humor with Family Guy and his film Ted, many didn’t realize that he is a big Star Trek fan. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in 2011, he confessed that his dream was to pitch a Star Trek TV show. In the interview when the subject of Star Trek came up, Seth MacFarlane said, “But I’d love to see that franchise revived for television in the way that it was in the 1990s: very thoughtful, smartly written stories that transcend the science fiction audience.” Well, he clearly has his chance to do a Star Trek show with The Orville.

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