In the last two weeks, my wife and youngest daughter have been away seeing my oldest daughter as she has finished her missions training program. Then they went onto another place to see my wife’s family, including her father who is hot well. My middle (and arguably nerdiest) child has remained home with me, as she is in the midst of her Year 12 studies, which are pretty demanding and certainly require her consistent attention.
But this has opened up room for a whole lot of TV and movies.
Star Trek Picard, Season 2
I’ve been watching the second season of Patrick Stewart’s latest Star Trek project with a lot of disdain and pessimism. It’s now finished with two final episodes that were not terrible in and of themselves. However, they were part of a series that is built on a flimsy foundation and does not pay off well.
A lot of the last couple of installments revolve around the show uncovering a pretty big trauma in Picard’s backstory, and the unfolding of these scenes was not bad—even quite beautiful at times. And they even addressed a potential continuity snarl with Picard’s mother, explaining she could have died young while also appearing to him as an elderly lady in an early episode of Next Generation.
But what was missing was any real justification for why the story’s evens would force Picard to face up to this dark past, or any sense of story motivation for what difference it will make to him going forward. It’s “character development”, but largely disconnected to the plot, which is not good storytelling especially when the plot involves issues of universal survival, and the characters have got to pause in the middle of everything to focus on the character development. It instantly lowers the stakes, and makes the larger story feel inconsequential.
There are other things that don’t make sense. From the beginning of the series, I’ve been wondering if there would be an explanation for why only the Picard main characters were aware of things when the timeline changed, when there were literally hundreds or thousands of other Starfleet personnel at the same reality-altering event.
The answer is, of course, “Who cares?” Certainly not the writers, and they are hoping that the audience doesn’t either. If they do, I’m sure they’d like us to just think, “It was Q.” Indeed, the rationale for everything that happens in the entire show is apparently the fact that Q wanted a hug. And that, I have to say, is pretty dumb.
Incidentally, a lot of pixels have been burnt online complaining about why Guinan of the 21st century doesn’t remember meeting Picard in the 19th century. The explanation that is usually offered is that the change in timeline means that the events of the Next Generation TV episodes Time’s Arrow (parts 1 & 2) were wiped out of existence. At the end of the series, the timeline has been quietly restored, with the events of the season apparently having become an integral part of the franchise’s past (one of those, “Our visit to the past was always part of history,” things).
Anyway, I mention all of that because it seems that now Guinan would have memories of meeting Picard for the first time in the 19th century and meeting him for the first time in the 21st century.
Star Trek (2009)
I also revisited the first film in J.J. Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek, introducing it to my daughter. It’s pretty much the same as I remember–high-octane space-age silliness with a Star Trek veneer. There are certainly some good scenes and the cast generally is strong. I’m especially impressed with Karl Urban’s ability to channel DeForest Kelly’s Dr. McCoy.
But the story features a lot of contrivances and nonsense, the most notable of which is the way that Kirk, when randomly dropped off on some ice planet by an agitated Spock, turns out to be minutes away from the older time traveling Spock, which is convenient for keeping the plot moving. He is able to explain the whole movie in a bit of nonsensical exposition about how a supernova is going to threaten the whole galaxy. They find a young Scotty (who is also handily nearby) and pull out of nowhere an experiment for beaming people across light years onto a warp-speed traveling ship. Then Kirk goads Spock into punching him, leading Spock to resign (?? that’s what is said at one point, but surely not since Spock continues serving on board in the very next scene), allowing Kirk to become captain even though he’d previously been thrown off the ship. And why? Because Old Spock belives that the only way for the world to be saved is for Kirk to be the Captain, even though this is a younger and stupider Kirk than he’s known before.
Oh, and Delta Vega, the planet that Kirk and Old Spock are trapped on, is close enough to Vulcan for it to appear as a giant object in the sky.
It’s all just so silly. But somehow still fun.
Plus, lens flares abound!
It’s hard to say which is sillier–Independence Day or 2009’s Star Trek. I guess I’d say Independence Day since at its best it’s just 90’s action nonsense. I saw it back before I began my extensive world traveling (largely outside the United States) and came to realize that while American audiences viewed it as just a crazy space action movie, a lot of the rest of the world (or at least Australia) saw it as “America saving the world because nobody else can,” and thus an example of how the USA is full of itself. There’s a bunch of cross-cultural lessons that can be learned in one example of quintessential 90’s cinema.
Of course I’ve seen this movie before, but recently the family was looking for something to watch and I thought it was time to close this gap in my kids’ exposure to pop culture. And like Star Trek, it was pretty much what I remembered: a very slow start (seriously, it takes the movie ages to get anywhere) followed by explosions and fighter jets and fun. And then the sheer silliness of the Jeff Goldblum at his Goldblumiest, uploading a computer virus from his laptop that instantly cripples an entire giant alien mothership.
A lot of things get blown up, and a lot of people die, but nobody seems to mourn anyone past the next scene, and at the end the heroes are all congratulating themselves on how successful they were showing those aliens what’s what.
Really, I’ve got nothing good to say about it, except that it’s filled with good-natured charm and is still an entertaining watch, even if it maybe is about the US saving the world and patting itself on the back for the effort.
Broadchurch Season Two
Moving off of the sci-fi for a moment, but not off of the sci-fi actors, I finally watched season 2 of Broadchurch. The first season was really good (see here) and I’ve heard mixed things about the rest of the show. My wife liked it, my friend Rod did not. Now that I’ve finally watched the second season, I find myself in a little bit of two minds about it, although mostly I liked it.
The plot involves an old case from the past of DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) which rears up at the same time that the murderer from the first season is going on trial. To everyone’s surprise, the guy pleads “not guilty” even though he had previously confessed, and suddenly the whole town finds itself forced to relive the nightmare of the death of young Danny Latimer once again.
A lot of the series is this legal battle as two rival attorneys duke it out in court. They are played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Charlotte Rampling, who are both good, though at times annoying. The mystery is another brutal one involving a child. There aren’t that many suspects and they almost all end up being guilty, so it’s not exactly a case of “you can’t guess it,” but the exact answer is still surprising.
So it’s all pretty good, but somehow the cracks are beginning to show. The characters are not quite as interesting, the performances not quite as convincing, the story not quite as gripping. I don’t think I’m just imagining it, though I might be because I’ve come to have such a dislike of Chris Chibnall from his Doctor Who. But even so, it’s still a good show. I’m moving onto the third (and last) season now.
Broadchurch season two keeps up the Doctor Who links in the cast. In addition to David Tennant (Doctor #10), Jodie Whittaker (Doctor #13), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) and Olivia Colman (Prisoner Zero), Eve Myles is a big part of the cast–she’s Gwen Cooper in Torchwood and a little bit of Doctor Who. And Adjoa Andoh (Martha Jones’ mother) has a small part in the first episode.
My daughter is a big animation fan, especially TV series, and buoyed by her success introducing me to Infinity Train, she’s been bringing me to some other shows she thinks I might be interested in. Specifically this has been Gravity Falls and Over the Garden Wall, both of which have proved interesting. But I’m not done with either (or even done with one season of Gravity Falls), so I’ll save the commentary for then.
But we also watched a couple of DC Animated feature films, one new one and one old one, both of which we enjoyed.
Justice Society: World War II
In this movie, the Flash (Barry Allen) is helping Superman fight Brainiac when he’s suddenly transported, he thinks through time, to World War II. There he discovers the existence of the Justice Society, a group of heroes he’s never heard of before which include Wonder Woman, Black Canary, Hourman, Hawkman and the Flash (Jay Garrick).
He joins them in their mission while also trying to figure out how to get home. Eventually, he is surprised to find Superman living there as well, leading him to realize that he’s not actually in the past, but in a parallel universe. When he finally gets home, his experiences inspire him to suggest to Superman the idea of forming a group of heroes for the first time.
The movie is quite fun with a lot of cool fight sequences as the heroes have to fight a Nazi mind-controlled Aquaman. My daughter and I both had a good time watching it–the Flash and Wonder Woman are both great characters to see in action. And it was nice to see some less common characters like Hourman, Black Canary and Jay Garrick doing their thing.
An oddity to note: in the “main world” that Barry Allen is from, apparently there’s no Wonder Woman, Hawkman or Black Canary. At least, not yet.
Justice League: The New Frontier
Also set in the days before the Justice League are operating, there is New Frontier, a 2008 animated film based on a really great graphic novel by the late, great Darwyn Cooke, called DC: The New Frontier. Out of necessity the movie truncates the plot, but keeps the core story, which is about an ancient living island full of dinosaurs which is preparing to mount a physical and psychic attack on the earth. The story is all set in the 1950’s, at the time that the real-life Justice League characters were debuting in print. The story is built around Hal Jordan and the Martian Manhunter, but includes major roles for the Flash, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Carol Ferris, and lots more.
It’s one of the first DC animated films I’d ever seen (I own it on DVD), and still holds up today.
So yeah, a lot of things, right? And that’s only some of it, but I’ve got to bring this to a close at some point. But before I go…
Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the misery-pill that keeps on giving, in that the more time that passes since I watched it, the worse it gets. In contrast, the original film, Dr. Strange, is sort of ho-hum and forgettable (I wish Multiverse of Madness was forgettable, because I’d like to forget it.)
Dr. Strange is of course the origin story of Marvel’s premier wizarding hero. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the brilliant but obnoxious surgeon who gets his hands smashed up in a car accident (definitely his own fault). Desperate for healing he hears about a mystical compound in Nepal that can apparently affect medical miracles. When he gets there he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who opens his eyes to the world of magic and sorcery.
It’s an enjoyable enough film–far from either Marvel’s best or their worse. Cumberbatch is a good actor, but Stephen Strange is a bit of a vague character–a little bit like Sherlock, a little bit like Iron Man, a little bit like Dr. Gregory House, all sort of blurred together. The movie has got some incredibly inventive special effects and a fun story, although Strange seems to learn to use the mystic arts quite abruptly when the story demands it.
All of Strange’s uncertainty about his new direction in life seems to disappear between the last regular moment in the movie and the post-credit scene (a preview of his cameo in Thor Ragnarok, which I now realize is something I should expect, having seen this movie’s sequel, as well as WandaVision.
All right, now I’m done!