The Disney/Fox Speculation — Welcome Home X-Men & Fantastic Four?

Xmen-Avengers-Fox-Marvel-Studios

The big news for the past week has been about Disney in talks with 21st Century Fox to buy a bulk of its film studios and its intellectual properties. While the initial news had it that talks have stopped the possibility remains that both parties will resume negotiations. What is driving Disney’s desire to expand its entertainment empire is the need to bolster its upcoming streaming service when it is available in 2019. The film studio 20th Century Fox has a huge film library with many viable franchises such as the Alien films, Avatar, and Planet of the Apes. But more importantly, Fox still has the rights to the original Star Wars films and the missing pieces in Disney’s Marvel films: the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.

The following I wrote back in September 23, 2017 for another site that is going defunct soon. It’s related to the current situation and illustrates how wildly things have changed from just a few weeks ago. I decided to repost it here and will add some final thoughts afterwards.

What rankles many fans of Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is that two of Marvel Comics’ top properties, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four are not part of it.

The obvious reason for this is because the film rights for both properties are being held by 20th Century Fox, who is determined to hold onto them. Long before The Walt Disney Company brought Marvel Comics, the comic book company sold the film rights of its characters to many film studios, including Fox. Over the years, even before the success of the MCU, Marvel Studios sought to regain the rights to its characters. For the most part they have succeeded and the top prize for the studio was getting to share the film rights to Marvel’s top character, Spider-Man.

But the only major hold outs were the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Fox has had great success with their X-Men films even though some of them were reviled by fans and critics for not being faithful to the source material and being downright terrible. Meanwhile, their efforts with the Fantastic Four never took off. The most recent failure being the DOA 2015 reboot that buried director Josh Trank’s career.

Given the poor track record with their Fantastic Four films, one has to wonder why Fox would want to continue making them. Despite the negative reaction from their reboot, the film studio is still trying to develop more films based on the superhero team and even spinoffs featuring Dr. Doom and the children of Reed and Sue Richards. Naturally the reaction to the news is one of despair and anger. Most fans see that the Fantastic Four would fit naturally into the MCU and their villains are some of Marvel’s greatest. Marvel Studios cannot use Galactus in their films because he is a Fantastic Four villain, the same thing goes for Magneto. While the X-Men films did a terrific job with their presentation of Magneto the same cannot be said for Dr. Doom and Galactus. In fact, in his onscreen debut, Galactus was just a giant space cloud!

what-it-takes-for-fox-to-give-up-the-fantastic-four-x-men

There were rumors that after the reboot debacle, Fox was ready to sell back the rights to Disney/Marvel but a snag in negotiations derailed that idea. Many were hopeful that after Marvel allowed Fox to start making TV shows based on the X-Men properties that perhaps the deal was that the Fantastic Four would go back to Marvel. But that does not appear to be the case.

Right now, there are only vague allusions to Marvel being allowed to use the two properties but in far off terms. One curious thing is that Marvel Studios still has not announced what the Phase 4 MCU films will be. This gives hope that maybe the Fantastic Four could make a splashy debut. It is possible; when Spider-Man joined the MCU it was a surprise.

What it took for Spider-Man to join the MCU was the failure of his recent films and the shaky status of Sony Pictures. Fox does not have the same financial problems of Sony, so they can afford to weather out the storm of bad films until they strike gold. This almost happened with their attempt to reboot Daredevil, but the rights lapsed and Marvel regained him. From there, Marvel saw great success with their Netflix version of Daredevil. Perhaps Fox executives feel that they can find the right formula and are more patient. At that rate, it will be quite some time before Marvel Studios regains the Fantastic Four. That and an insane amount of money.

With the X-Men films doing so well, it is ridiculous to think that Fox would ever relinquish the rights to Marvel. For this to happen, fans would have to vigorously boycott all X-Men-related films and TV shows. The property has to be seen as too unprofitable for Fox to want to keep, but this scenario may not happen. Look at what is going on with the Fantastic Four, their films are poorly received and the property is not as popular as the X-Men yet Fox still won’t let them go.

So, is it just a pipe dream? Are the Fantastic Four and X-Men doomed to never join the MCU? Well, it can happen but be prepared to wait and protest.

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Thor: Ragnarok Is Three Times The Fun

For the third film in a trilogy, Thor: Ragnarok is the liveliest one of the bunch. Frankly, after the dire and listless second film Thor: The Dark World, this third Thor film is a spectacular shot in the arm for the God of Thunder’s films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Loki and Thor

Thor: Ragnarok quickly picks up where the second film left us, with Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) commanding the throne of otherworldly Asgard under the guise of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) quickly deduces what Loki is up to and the two find out the consequences of Loki’s actions. In Odin’s absence, the Nine Realms that he ruled over have slipped into anarchy. This also means that Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who was imprisoned by Odin to escape and wreck havoc on Asgard. Before Thor could stop her, he is accidentally transported to the planet Sakaar, taken captive and forced to fight in gladiator-type games held by the planet’s ruler, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). As we all saw in the trailers, Thor’s opponent is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who was last seen going into self exile in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Thor must find a way to stay alive, escape his enslavement and convince the Hulk to join him in saving Asgard from Hela.

thor vs hulk

Now reading the above makes you think this will be another serious-minded Thor film with high stakes and Shakespearean undertones. But that isn’t the case with Thor: Ragnarok. The somber approach worked in the first Thor film thanks to the skillful hands of Kenneth Branagh, who is familiar with Shakespearean drama and brought that to Thor. But this time, Thor: Ragnarok’s director Taika Waititi relied on his comedic tastes and background for the film. In doing so, he brought a welcome change of pace and mood this time around as this film is more of a comedy. This approach mostly works though I have to admit there are times there are just a tad too many jokes and there are moments that should’ve had more weight but come off as too light. It’s clear that Marvel Studios wanted to repeat the look and formula that worked for Guardians of the Galaxy and this is very evident in the scenes taking place on Sakaar. The Guardians of the Galaxy films perfectly balanced its comedic tone with serious drama but Thor: Ragnarok comes up a bit short in keeping that balance.

Hela (1)

Nevertheless, the third Thor film is a fun blast with stunning set pieces and special effects that buttress its lighter tone. Credit for that does not just go to Waititi, but the film’s stars starting with Chris Hemsworth. In other films, Hemsworth has shown that he has quite a comedic gift and he gets to display that in this film. Thor seems less pompous and more laid back in his third outing. It’s almost as if he has thrust off his original regal persona and taken on an ability to crack a joke. This does not mean he takes things lightly. Hemsworth and the director knew which moments to hold back the jokes  and appropriately react to more serious moments. Continue reading

Stranger Things 2: The Second Season

Stranger things 2 poster

Stranger Things was an unexpected hit when it premiered last year on Netflix, not just with genre fans but the wider public. Everyone loved the series’ homage to ’80s sci-fi and horror films  and vintage Stephen King books. Given all that praise (and Emmy nominations), it’s not a surprise that a second season is now here.

Stranger Things 2 picks up about a year after the previous season in Hawkins, a small Indiana town that could easily double for a Spielberg setting. The preteen boys Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) try to carry on with their lives even though in the past season they had incredible, out-of-this dimensional experiences. Many of the characters like Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the psionic girl raised in an evil government agency, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) return and they all have separate story arcs as the start of Stranger Things 2 deals with the aftermath of the previous season.

In a nod to Gremlins, Dustin discovers a creature that he keeps as a pet, which turns out to be related to the otherworldly demogorgon creature they faced. Meanwhile, Mike is preening for Eleven, who is supposedly dead, but in reality, the psionic girl who is kept hidden from the outside world by Hawkins’ sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour). But Eleven is starting to rebel since she wants to reunite with Mike and learn about her past. This desire brings about unexpected developments for both El and Jim.  As for Lucas, he falls for a new girl that the boys meet, Max Mayfield (Cadie Sink), and her arrival brings some friction to the gang. However the core of Stranger Things 2 lies with Will, who is suffering from being abducted by the demogorgon last season. Not just by being teased by bullies in school but by having nightmarish visions of a giant monster threatening our dimension that soon becomes real.This is odd to say for a TV series in its second season, but Stranger Things 2 feels more like a movie sequel. That is probably because of the second season’s structure. It starts off as a slow burn by taking its time to reintroduce characters and bringing in new faces and situations. The first few episodes are more of a mystery and we are not sure what is the main threat. However, by the fourth episode, Stranger Things 2’s tone shifts into full-on horror mode as genuine jump scares fill many scenes and the thrill factor is amped up as our dimension is threatened once more.Like the first season, Stranger Things 2 effectively captures the mood of those beloved ’80s genre films featuring believable kids that anyone can relate to. The homages this time subtly shifts to mid-80s classics like Ghostbusters (the boys even dress up like them for Halloween), Gremlins, The Goonies and even the nightmarish aspects of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The boys and the other characters are for the most part three dimensional with their own quirks and faults. Even the government agents in the series (this time represented by Paul Reiser) are not cut from the usual bad guy stock. The characters have their own separate journeys and you can see how they are changed from what they experience.Although the second season is as good as the first, it must be pointed out that some of the characters don’t get as much attention as others. This should not deter anyone from watching the second season because it has so much to offer. Also, as mentioned before, the second season starts off at a slower pace. It lacks the immediate hook that the first few episodes had in the previous season. This may turn off some viewers expecting the same thing, but be patient, because Stranger Things 2 delivers the thrills and scares in a topnotch production.

 

Lewis T. Grove

KINO: Klingons In Name Only

klingon in name only

Whether fans love or hate or fall somewhere in between Star Trek: Discovery, one thing that nearly everyone agrees with is that the re-imagined Klingons are a bad misfire. In fact, many consider them to be the show’s biggest flaw. As the main villains in the latest Star Trek TV show, these Klingons bear little resemblance to the traditional mighty Klingons seen in previous Star Trek TV shows. They deviate so much that they can only be considered Klingons In Name Only (KINO) and this is a problem since they are the main adversaries in Star Trek: Discovery.

From Cold Warriors To Gruff Allies 

Klingons have had a long history with Star Trek going back to the first season of the original show. When they were first introduced, they were supposed to be a mix of Nazis and Soviets and their conflict with the peaceful Federation represented the Cold War going on at the time. Due to limited budgets, the makeup of the Klingons was simplistic: swarthy, greasy complexions with arched eyebrows and goatees. Needless to say, they could pass for humans.

kor and kirk

Later when Star Trek became a film series, increased budgets allowed for the aliens’ look to be enhanced. They were sported browed ridges on their foreheads and wore durable and elaborate body armor. They were bulky, formidable warriors that were more than a match for any human opponent. As the films progressed and new TV shows premiered, the Klingons were better developed until they became a rich alien culture with their own distinct language. This gruff, heavy handed tongue became so popular with fans that it is now the most spoken fictional language in the world today.

The alien race had evolved from simplistic Cold War stand-ins and became a complex civilization with a fascinating back story. They even became allies of the Federation, though the culture clashes remained. Of course, there was the continuity issue of how the classic Klingons looked more alien than the human-like ones from the original show. This was solved in the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise where it was shown that the Klingon race contracted a virus that mutated them into having a more human appearance. It was outlandish, but it worked.

classic klingons

By this point, the Klingons were perfected. Yet, for some reason when it came time to reboot Star Trek the iconic Klingon look was changed. In their only full appearance to date, Star Trek Into Darkness, they didn’t have any hair and looked more alien. They still came off as savage, bloodthirsty warriors, but weren’t as hefty or burly as classic Klingons. The reaction to them was mixed, but everyone knew the reboots took place in an alternate reality, so the new look could be overlooked by some.

One of the most enticing details about Star Trek: Discovery was that the show would take place in the Prime Star Trek Timeline. This excited many fans who felt alienated by the action-oriented reboots. Then images and clips started appearing which discouraged fans. In addition to the advanced technology and contradictory plot details, the Klingons received yet another unwanted makeover.

Meet The KINOs

Everything about them looks different except for the browed ridges that now  are more prominent since they are hairless. Their skin tone is either purple, black or white with super flared nostrils. The KINOs wear ugly uniforms that looked more like bony dresses than armor and aren’t as formidable as real Klingons. What is worse is that brusque and clipped Klingon tongue sounds different, more unnatural. Maybe it is the makeup but now the Klingons sound like they have something in their mouths and it is difficult to listen to them. At no point in the episodes shown have we heard their famous battle cry “Qapla!”, meaning “Success!” Instead we get long, drawn out speeches that is hard on the ears and ponderous to read with all the subtitles.

It can be argued that these could be another unseen-til-now faction of Klingons or something along that line. But this is a needless revision. There wasn’t anything wrong with the classic Klingon look. Why did the showrunners feel the need to meddle with not only the look, but the complex culture of the beloved aliens? If the argument is to be different and update their look then why stop there? Why not update the Vulcans? As aliens go, they are not remarkable in this day; pointed ears and arched eyebrows. Not the most exciting look, but to try to change it would be blasphemy at this point.

klingon burial

What is probably worse for the KINOs is the way they are portrayed in Star Trek: Discovery. They do not seem very bright for vaunted military types. In the episode “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry” the Klingons led by Voq are stranded near an abandoned Federation starship for six months. Voq boards the enemy starship to scavenge for parts, but if they were marooned for six months why didn’t he and the other Klingons scavenge the starship sooner? Then the way they perceive death is radically different than with classic Klingons. Both do the death cry when one of their own dies to warn the afterlife of a coming Klingon soul. However, once a Klingon is dead the corpse is casually discarded because the body is just a husk. These KINOs instead put their dead into elaborate sarcophagi and transfer them onto a special funeral ship. Huh?  Even their ships and weapons bear little resemblance to the iconic Klingon battle cruisers, birds-of-prey and bat’leths.

For a Star Trek show that is allegedly set in the Prime Timeline these Klingons are the best argument that this is not so. But debating about timelines and canon is pointless and would not be so heated if the Klingons were better realized. Frankly, whenever these KINOs appear onscreen the pace of the episodes comes to a screeching halt. There is an interesting subplot about uniting their separate clans to become a major power again. But that gets lost in the slow pace of their poorly written scenes. They simply are not as intimidating as classic Klingons. One attempt to make them frightening is to have them eat dead humans, which comes off as sickening.

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Even more distressing is that the showrunners are blind to the negative reception to their version of Klingons and are intent on doubling down on them throughout the season. Maybe this is not the final word on the Klingons, we can only hope that something is done about these KINOs. Until then the best we can do is either re-watch previous Star Trek shows to get our classic Klingons or fastforward Star Trek: Discovery whenever they appear or at the very least stuff cotton into our ears when they open their mouths to talk.

José Soto

 

 

The Orville Captures The Traditional Spirit Of Star Trek

When The Orville was first announced, many quickly noticed that the Seth-MacFarlane’s dramedy had strong resemblances to the vaunted Star Trek. If it was not a comedy, it would have been labeled a rip-off and for good reason.

The TV show, which airs on Fox, is about the adventures of Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and his crew onboard the Orville, an exploratory starship in the 25th century. Like a traditional Star Trek show, each episode to date is a standalone where the crew would visit a strange planet or deal with some science fiction plot. Sounds familiar?

orville crew

Despite the overtly comedic tone of the early trailers, The Orville is not a laugh-out-loud comedy like MacFarlane’s Family Guy. It is very funny at certain moments but it’s more serious than one would think. This is probably why the show received so many negative reviews since the reviewers were probably expecting a yuck-fest. But if one would actually watch the show and put aside any preconceptions then what will be discovered is that The Orville is actually quite fun.

It is clear that Seth MacFarlane is not trying to make fun of Star Trek. It may be surprising to some that he is actually a huge Trek fan. This is why The Orville does not come off as a spoof that makes fun of the source material; it’s surprisingly respectful.

Anyone who misses Star Trek will be pleased to know that the spirit of Star Trek is alive and well with this show. This is not a knock against Star Trek: Discovery, but while the latest Trek incarnation has the burden of trying to be different, The Orville does not have that problem. It is free to capture the essence of Trek and show us why we loved Star Trek in the first place.

Typical episodes have the crew encountering alien cultures and planets where various themes are explored. In one episode, the Orville discovers a giant generational ship where the inhabitants believed they were living in a world. It was up to Mercer and his away team to expose them to the truth (the bothersome Prime Directive is noticeably absent) despite the efforts of the ship’s rulers.

Another episode centered on the plight of the Orville’s second officer Bortus (Peter Macon). He is a gruff Klingon-like alien that is part of a single-gender species. All the members are male but in this episode he and his mate have a baby girl and want to have her sex changed. This decision clashes with the human culture of the Orville crew and leads to ethical questions. While the episode did have jokes, the subject matter was treated dramatically and with respect, and in the end it was thought provoking like a classic Star Trek episode.

What completes the overt resemblance to Star Trek, especially the ‘90s versions, is the look of the show. The costumes, sets, and props look like they could blend in easily with Star Trek in the post-Roddenberry era. The ship has replicators, holodecks and the crew is adorned with communicators and phaser guns that only look slightly different than those seen on Trek. Of course, Star Trek: Discovery has much better effects, but it is comforting to watch the more downscale special effects in The Orville. It feels less pretentious and just a means to tell a story.

orville ship

With all those pluses for Trek fans, The Orville does have its problems. A lot of the attempts at humor falls flat or feels forced. More often than not, the jokes will only bring smiles, but when they land the humor is quite funny. Also, the natural banter between the crew tries too hard at times to sell the notion that they are everyday Joes. Somehow these characters do not seem like a good fit in an actual starship. Helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) and navigator John LeMarr (J. Lee) seem too laid back and casual to be believable starship officers. In trying to make them so relatable to viewers the show instead makes their behavior seem unnatural for their setting.

As for Mercer, MacFarlane lacks the gravitas to pull off a commanding presence. Instead Captain Mercer is more of an officer manager type, although he is quite likeable. Making him more sympathetic is his dilemma of his first officer being his ex-wife, Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki). Do not be surprised if the show soon veers into will-they-or-won’t-they shenanigans.

For those who are unable to easily watch Star Trek: Discovery because it’s held behind a streaming wall, The Orville is a perfectly acceptable substitute. After watching it, it is easy to see that The Orville in many respects outdoes Star Trek: Discover in carrying on the tradition of Star Trek.

José Soto