D23 Expo 2022: A Great Disappointment For Marvel

For some time, fans expected the presentation by Marvel Studios at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) to pale when compared to this weekend’s D23 Expo 2022. The last D23 convention was jammed with exciting announcements about Marvel Studios. Being that D23 is prepared by Disney and devoted to its properties, one would think all mind-blowing announcements and presentations about Marvel Studios would be revealed at D23 after this summer’s SDCC. For weeks, the rumors have been flying fast about pending casting announcements for upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) projects. Supposedly, Deadpool 3 was to be announced with a special appearance by Ryan Reynolds; Henry Cavill, Denzel Washington, Jodie Comer, and numerous actors were to be announced as being cast for several MCU films and TV shows; the cast for the Fantastic Four would be revealed. Did any of that happen? NOPE.

There weren’t any major, new announcements, except that Matt Shankman has been officially announced as the director of the Fantastic Four film, and Armor Wars has been re-confirmed as going into production. The Marvel Studios presentation consisted of films and TV shows that we knew about. We did get some casting announcements such as Ke Huy Quan appearing in the second season of Loki, and that Tim Blake Nelson will appear in Captain America: New World Order as the Leader, With that last revelation does this mean that the Hulk will appear in Captain America: New World Order? The Leader is a Hulk villain, after all.

We did learn that a lot of footage and trailers were presented at D23 about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Echo, Loki, The Marvels, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and Ironheart. Too bad, most of us cannot see them. Based on Twitter and other social media feeds by those lucky enough to have attended the presentation, the footage sounded great, but no one else could see the footage. All we received were TWO trailers. One for Secret Invasion, which has the look of a solid spy thriller, and Werewolf By Night, a one-shot film coming next month on Disney +. It is both surprising and concerning that Werewolf By Night will stream on October 7, less than a month from now, but it is only now we are seeing any footage. Honestly, the black-and-white trailer makes Werewolf By Night look very campy while evoking the mood of an old Universal horror film and a grindhouse film. But it could be good.

Perhaps the most intriguing news coming out of the Marvel presentation was the revelation of the Thunderbolts lineup. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), U.S. Agent (Wyatt Russell), Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), Red Guardian (David Harbour), Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). Basically, the lineup seems like a reunion of cast members from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow, plus a return of a villain from Ant-Man and the Wasp. So, no Abomination or Baron Zemo as everyone expected. Still, just the inclusion of the Winter Soldier is enough to get excited over the Thunderbolts.

As it can be seen, there wasn’t any announcements about other MCU projects. No news on Blade, Deadpool 3, zilch about the X-Men, not even anything on the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, which is supposed to be streaming in a few short months, or Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3. Keep in mind that an exclusive trailer for that film was shown already at SDCC. They could have at least released it to the general public.

Even if Disney could not show exclusive footage to the general public for their MCU projects, at least release an image. Let us see a better look at Namor or Kang! Releasing two trailers does not cut it.

On the other hand, the Star Wars presentation was better, with its highlight being the release of the trailer for the third season of The Mandalorian. With the Star Wars presentation, not everything was shown to the general public, but at least enough was released. Even the Disney animated films presentation from yesterday was more interesting.

Blame it on our unrealistic expectations and for giving in the hype and speculation, but aside from the few thousand people who attended D23, the Marvel Studios presentation was a disappointment for everyone else. This was the first live D23 since the pandemic and the excitement was wild, Disney could have made some exciting and surprising announcements on the level of Avengers: Secret Wars at SDCC, but nothing new was revealed. Overall, the Marvel presentation was almost as disappointing as the presentation by Warner Bros. about their upcoming DC films and TV shows at SDCC. Yes, that bad.

Disney definitely dropped the ball at D23 with Marvel Studios and the MCU. Hopefully, future conventions and presentations will improve, but we should temper our expectations and be realistic.

Star Trek’s Fascination With Prequels

As we approach the 56th anniversary of Star Trek and the mammoth franchise it launched, it is a good time to reflect on where Star Trek is going. Specifically, the franchise’s fascination with prequels.

When Star Trek was at its height back in the ’90s, each new TV show featured new, original characters and situations. For the most part, the premise was basically the same: a starship and its crew exploring the unknown cosmos and meeting new aliens. This premise has continued to this day, but a common wrinkle with the franchise is to look back and dwell on characters and situations that made it so popular. Look at, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, the latest Star Trek series, which won a lot of acclaim from fans and critics for its back-to-basics approach in episodic storytelling and doubling down on established characters like Christopher Pike and Spock. Meanwhile, the biggest buzz going on in Trek circles has to do with a third season of Star Trek: Picard that will reunite the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Strange New Worlds Revisited

There has been a tendency with Star Trek shows, starting with Star Trek: Enterprise in 2001 and most recently this year with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, to serve as prequels to the original Star Trek, which took place in the mid-23rd century. Even the recent films have taken place during this time period, although those films were reboots that officially took place in an alternate universe. Some fans have an understandable disdain for prequels in general for many reasons. Prequels are forced to follow a certain continuity to line up with the original film or TV show. Also, much of the tension is gone with prequels when it comes to established characters and situations. Take the Star Wars prequels. They featured younger versions of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker before he turned to Darth Vader. Going into the films, everyone knew that Kenobi would survive the films and that Skywalker would eventually become evil. This fact robbed the films of some tension if the fate of these characters was preordained. Going back to Star Trek, with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Star Trek: Enterprise there was some uproar over how the alien Gorn looked compared to their appearance in the original Star Trek. The real-world reason for the disparity between how the Gorn looked was due to improved budgets and special effects. The original Gorn was a stuntman in a cheap suit, and recreating that look would lead to unintentional laughter among viewers instead of fear. Still, this lack of continuity has irked some fans.

Another problem with prequels is the implication that the powers-that-be have run out of ideas. This was evident in the early episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, which were usually tired retreads of previous Trek episodes. It was not until its later seasons did the show break free of its worn formula and embraced the potentials of prequels with episodes that neatly lined up with the original series.

If a prequel is done well, it can be an excellent way to evoke foreshadowing and to help develop characters and situations. With Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, an intriguing storyline has it that Pike knows his future, which was a grim one as shown in the original Star Trek. Throughout the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Pike internally debates if his future is set. Can he change his fate? Should he? This dilemma was the basis of one of the show’s best episodes, “A Quality of Mercy”, which explored the result of Pike altering his future. Hint for anyone who has not watched it, things do not end well for a certain other character.

Prequel Flaws

Then again, if a prequel falters or tries to be too different, it will alienate fans. Star Trek: Discovery suffered heavily in that while it was a prequel it strayed too far from established Star Trek lore. The technology and overall look of the show was too advanced when compared to the original Star Trek, though it took place about a decade before the old show. The look of the Klingons was radically different from the established look of Klingons in traditional Trek, although to be fair the look of the Klingons was wildly different from the original Star Trek and later incarnations. Again, improved budgets were the cause for the disparity. There were distinct continuity deviations, notably the fact that the show’s main character, Michael Burnham, was actually Spock’s step sister. Keep in mind, this family relationship was never hinted at in previous Trek shows and films. These deviations might have been overlooked if Star Trek: Discovery was clearly established as a reboot like the recent films or if the show was actually good. Star Trek: Discovery escaped from the storytelling limitations of prequels by having their characters flung into the far future. This was an excellent idea since the show would not be bound by continuity, but thanks to poor scripts the show has become unwatchable. Star Trek: Discovery was doomed from the start not because it was a prequel, but because of its execution.

There is not anything wrong with doing prequels or revisiting characters and situations. Doing so helps explore the many interesting facets of the Star Trek universe. Many of the most popular films and TV shows have successfully pulled this off and will continue to do so. As to whether or not upcoming shows or films will be prequels is not clear, though if one wants to accept Star Trek: Discovery as canon then given its far-future setting, any show or film set before the current episodes of Star Trek: Discovery has to be considered a prequel.

Lost Era Explored

One prequel idea that can be explored would be to set a potential show during the so-called Lost Era of Star Trek. This is the time period set between the last Star Trek film to feature the original cast, Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is a significant time gap of several decades and a show set in this Lost Era of Star Trek could answer some questions. For instance, what happened to the Enterprise-B? What were the early missions of the Enterprise-C? What was the Tomed Incident involving the Romulans? What was the political situation in the Alpha Quadrant? What was the fate of the original Enterprise crewmembers like Chekov or Uhura? The show could explore the early years of Jean-Luc Picard, Kathryn Janeway or Benjamin Sisko. Just recast the roles with younger actors. Other things that could be examined include the occupation of Bajor, Federation conflicts with the Cardassians, Tholians and other enemies, the early years of Noonien Soong, the possiblities are endless with a TV show set during the Lost Era of Star Trek. Such a show would serve as a prequel to the later shows while being a sequel to the original Star Trek. The show could adapt the novels set during this time period or be completely original just as long as the continuity lines up.

Star Trek has demonstrated throughout the years the merits and detriments of prequels. When done correctly, the Star Trek prequels are not just fascinating companion pieces to older shows, but legitimate storytelling vehicles that fully explore the rich world of Star Trek.

The Summer Of 2022: A Golden Season For Genre TV Shows

As the summer of 2022 winds down and the recent permieres of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, The House of the Dragon, and Star Trek: Lower Decks, it can be easily argued that this summer was one of the greatest time periods for genre TV shows.

Usually the summer is a wasteland when it comes to TV shows. In the old days before streaming and cable, viewers had a difficult time finding any original TV shows. The best option was watching reruns or hoping some failed TV show with limited episodes or pilot would turn up. Often the quality of these cast-offs were suspect and they were forgettable. The summer was the time to go to the movies, to travel, or to go play outside. Well that has been noticeably different in recent summers, but especially the summer of 2022. Sure, those activities are still available, but if you want to just stay home, relax and get out of the heat, there are now plenty of original, quality TV shows to watch.

Starting in May and ending this month, we’ve been treated to a rich menu of TV shows to binge and obsess over. Here is a partial list, in no order, of what the summer of 2022 had for viewers:

Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Boys, Ms. Marvel, For All Mankind, Stranger Things 4, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Westworld, Baymax!, Moonhaven, What We Do in the Shadows, American Horror Stories, Primal, Harley Quinn, Resident Alien, The Umbrella Academy, The Sandman, Paper Girls, The Orville: New Horizons, The Walking Dead, Tales of the Walking Dead, and the three most recent premieres, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Star Trek: Lower Decks and The House of the Dragon. But there are more TV shows that will be out by the end of August such as See and Stargirl. Also left off this list were TV shows that debuted earlier this year but their season concluded during the summer, which include Superman & Lois, Fear the Walking Dead, and The Flash.

As anyone can see this is quite a diverse selection of TV shows that caters to all types of tastes. Want some space fantasty? There’s Obi-Wan Kenobi or The Orville: New Horizons. Superhero fare? Choose from She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Stargirl, Ms. Marvel and so on. How about animated shows? There are plenty of choices like Star Trek: Lower Decks, Harley Quinn, Primal, Love, Death + Robots, etc. Whether its comedy or high drama, horror, sci-fi or fantasy, this summer offered them all. Even if anyone was not interested in TV shows, there were some interesting choices running from the I Am Groot shorts to full-length movies like Prey or Samaritan.

Why the sudden interest to fill the summer schedule with can’t-miss TV fare? There are many factors, but most likely the reason is that the television and streaming schedules are very crowded now with lots of competition. Some of the above TV shows might have gotten lost in the shuffle of a fall or winter schedule with many other kinds of TV shows and events like the Super Bowl and major holidays. It could also be due to the pandemic since many people still won’t venture out into the movie theaters and prefer the comfort and safety of their homes.

Whatever the reason, it is worth mentioning that many of these TV shows are high-quality productions that resemble mini-films with big-name stars and topnotch special effects. Many of these shows entered the public consciousness this summer and became must-view events to be discussed either online or in person. These included The Boys, Stranger Things 4, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In fact, Stranger Things 4 helped revitalize interest in the old ’80s song “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” due to the song’s placement in a few episodes. What is heartening is that many of the shows are not new and the fact that they can still generate public buzz is a remarkable achievement.

Will the summer of 2023 and future summer TV seasons match the quality and quantity of this summer’s exceptional genre TV shows? Who knows? Hopefully this trend will continue for a long time!

Prey Introduces A New Kind Of Predator Film

Prey is the latest in the Predator film franchise and it premiered recently on Hulu to well-deserved praise. The film stands out from the previous Predator films in many ways, such as not having Predator in the title, taking place in our distant past, and having a different kind of protagonist. Yet, despite these changes, Prey still has the core elements of a classic Predator film, while bringing forth a fresh, new take for the franchise.

Amber Midthunder stars as Naru, a young Comanche woman in North America during the early 1700s, who is a healer but wants to become a brave hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). While tracking prey with her dog, Sarii, she spots an alien ship entering Earth’s atmosphere, which she interprets as a sign to prove herself as a hunter. After Taabe allows her to join his hunting party, Naru comes across tracks and signs of an unusual creature lurking in the wilderness near her tribe’s location. This nearly invisible creature is revealed to be a Predator who systematically hunts predatory animals until it works its way up to its most formidable targeted prey: humans. Before long, the paths of the Predator and Naru cross as she faces her ultimate test as a hunter while armed only with ancient tools and her wits.

Based on the premise, Prey differs from the typical Predator film not just with it taking place in the past but more importantly with its protagonist. Unlike the other films, the main hero in Prey is a young woman who does not have any modern weapons or any concept of dealing with extra-terrestrials. In fact, the people in the film think the Predator is some kind of demonic entity. Getting back to Naru, what made her situation more meaningful is that she is much more vulnerable to the Predator unlike the bulked-up action heroes brandishing modern weapons in previous films who had some kind of chance against the formidable alien hunter. However, Naru shares the same trait that the previous heroes had in that she uses her wits and physical skills to go up against the Predator, which evens the odds when the two confront each other.

So much of the film relies on the character of Naru, as she not only has to fight the Predato,r but prove to herself and her tribe that she is a brave warrior. Amber Midthunder brilliantly brings her character to life and makes her a sympathetic underdog whose braveness and cunning makes her an underestimated prey for the alien.

As for the Predator itself, despite four previous films (not counting the Alien Vs. Predator films), the creature is still a terrifying killing machine with nasty alien weapons. What is interesting about the weapons is that although they are advanced, they are not as high tech as the ones used by other Predators. This makes sense since this film takes place hundreds of years in the past.

Having the film take place in the distant past was a brillaint idea and something that was long overdue. Ever since the end of Predator 2 hinted that the Predators have visited Earth for a long time, this revelation opened up so many possibilities, but the following Predator films failed to take advantage of this, unlike the Dark Horse Comics series. Having Predator films take place at different times and locations should be fully explored. Who would not want to see a Predator film taking place in feudal Japan? Or having the alien hunter face off against Vikings? Hopefully, if there are more films, they could go in this direction.

On a technical level, Prey is topnotch with beautiful outdoor cinematography (credit goes to Jeff Cutter), tight editing, and minimal use of CG. Director Dan Tractenberg, follows up his 10 Cloverfield Lane with another suspenseful yarn with thrilling fight scenes and genuine moments of tension. To his credit, the director uses his limited amount of screen time to infuse the film with organic character moments, which embellish the humans onscreen.

As mentioned before, it would be great to see more Predator films in this vein. After the previous dismal film, The Predator, it seemed that the franchise was creatively extinct. Thankfully, Prey invigorates it with a simple, tight and innovative film that emphasizes the tenuous relationship between predator and prey.

The DCEU 2013-2023?

It was not supposed to be like this. For decades, DC Comics’ characters ruled the box office and airwaves, especially with Batman, thanks to the backing of their parent company Warner Bros. That all changed starting in 2008 when Marvel Studios successfully launched their interconnected series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which soon overtook DC and Warner Bros. in terms of critical and fan reception and economic success. Warner Bros. did put up a fight and launched their own version of interconnected films, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), with the release of Man of Steel in 2013.

That film, featuring a new, updated version of Superman, had mixed reactions. Some applauded the grounded, grittier take of Superman, while others complained about the dark tone of the film and its over-stylized look thanks to director Zack Snyder. Still, thanks in part to Henry Cavill’s performance as Superman/Clark Kent, the film was the sound basis for an interconnected film universe featuring DC characters, which continued with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016. At last, Warner Bros. had a true counterpart to the DCEU because the second DCEU film greatly expanded its cinematic world as it not only introduced the DCEU version of Batman, but Wonder Woman, and other members of the Justice League superhero team.

But as we all know, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had a negative reaction thanks to its uneven and convoluted storyline and the DCEU never quite recovered with its sophmore film. The DCEU had an uneven track record with its filmography. For every critical and commercial success like Wonder Woman and Aquaman there were failures like Justice League and the Suicide Squad films. The film universe was inconsistent with its tone and output, meanwhile, the MCU churned out hit after hit without any legitimate competition.

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What made matters worse for the DCEU was the fact that Warner Bros. seemed to give up on the DCEU by delaying long-announced films, including a solo followup to Man of Steel. This last issue drove Cavill away from the role as the film studio made announcements about new versions of Superman, which never materialized. Instead of focusing on the DCEU, Warner Bros. turned its attention to projects outside of the DCEU like Joker and The Batman, as well as TV shows that were not connected to the DCEU.

Many of these projects were successful, but they did not do anything for the DCEU. Fans asked for DCEU films featuring Superman and the other DC heavy hitters, but instead Warner Bros. greenlit films featuring lesser known characters like Black Adam, Blue Beetle and the Wonder Twins.

Then there were issues with the pandemic, which delayed film productions and forced Warner Bros. to debut films like Wonder Woman 1984 on their streaming platform, HBO Max. In fact, the parent company of the film studio, AT&T decided to forego or deemphasize film releases in favor of premiering films on HBO Max. This led to diminished financial returns for DCEU properties like The Suicide Squad.

Another sign that implied that the film studio had given up on the DCEU were rumors that the long-delayed DCEU film, The Flash, would be used to reboot the DCEU with new actors. Evidence for this lies with the fact that Michael Keaton is reprising his role as Batman in The Flash. Meanwhile the DCEU version of Batman, played by Ben Affleck and Superman, would be wiped out of existence thanks to the Flash and time travel hijinks. But that was nothing compared to the big changes instituted by new owners.

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