Why I hated Star Trek: Into Darkness

19 May

JJ Abrams takes my best memories of Star Trek and then shits all over them in his latest movie

The Enterprise in ruin: a fitting image to accompany this review.

I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness with much trepidation. JJ Abrams’ first Star Trek film, although pretty decent, was not one of my favorites in the series. In the lead up to Darkness, I was anxious about how the trailers and promotional materials bore little resemblance to the Star Trek I remember. I was bracing myself for a brainless, blockbuster summer action film … and STID did not disappoint.

And that’s exactly the problem. Star Trek was never brainless action material. As a long time follower of the series, I feel like JJ Abrams has taken my favorite Star Trek memories — in particular, scenes from the franchise’s best film, The Wrath of Khan — and taken a giant, steaming, $190 million shit on them.

I’m going to put aside the inconsistencies and the plot holes so big you could fly a Constitution-class starship through them to zero in on Into Darkness‘s core issue: this movie has no soul.

The Star Trek I know asked questions about our place in the universe. It took critical looks at how we treat one another as a species. It reminded us of the consequences of our actions. And it explored the possibilities of science and the vastness of the universe we live in. It was not about laser beams and explosions strung together with occasional witty one-liners. But most importantly, Star Trek — through all its incarnations over the years — was about the relationships between a special group of people who could always find courage and come together to overcome adversity.

That doesn’t mean to say that Star Trek shouldn’t have any action in it. Star Trek‘s most successful films The Wrath of Khan, The Undiscovered Country and First Contact all saw their fair share of action (and blockbuster box office returns). But even the most fast-paced action movies need good storytelling and character development. Into Darkness has neither. Worse of all, Abrams disrespects the franchise because he ignores nearly 50 years of lore and tradition by not delving deeper into the characters’ relationships.

SPOILER ALERT

Most of all, you never get the chance to empathize with the central character: James T Kirk. Chris Pine’s Kirk is a complete dickhead. He is reckless, never follows orders or procedures and is fired from his job as Captain of the Enterprise in the first 20 minutes of the film. Does he show any remorse? Does he reflect on his decisions that put his entire crew at risk and cost him his job? No! Instead, he remains indignant and blames everything on Spock.

Throughout the film, you never get a sense of progress in the relationship between Kirk and Spock, a hallmark of the original series. (This is a shame since Zachary Quinto’s performance is one of the few good things about the film.) On the contrary, you are constantly reminded of how much they dislike each other. Suddenly, in what should have been the most dramatic moment in the film, Kirk sacrifices himself to save the ship (a reverse version of the events famously played out in Wrath of Khan) and suddenly Spock is disproportionately grief-stricken. (“What? They were friends?”)

The rest of the characters are simply wasted. Simon Pegg as Scotty is relegated to providing comic relief. Anton Yelchin as Chekov is constantly frantic and stressed out about … something. And Karl Urban as McCoy is reduced to spouting cliches, like a standup comic attempting a tired “Bones” impersonation. This is another huge waste as Kirk’s relationship with McCoy is one of the richest and most meaningful in the original series.

And what exactly was the point of this scene?

There is a new crew member, Carol Marcus, whose role is to look good with her clothes off and sound British (even when her father is clearly American). Benedict Cumberbatch plays a good Khan but, again, we never get the chance to really hate him. Is he a villain or is he just a captain trying to protect his crew? It doesn’t matter because there are too many phaser beams zipping past and spaceships exploding all over the place.

Most people who never followed the original TV series, their movies, or The Next Generation, etc all seem to enjoy it: big, loud special effects, fast-paced action, a good looking cast … what’s not to like?

Except, it’s not Star Trek. At least, not the one I know and love.

Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991), creator of Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991), creator of Star Trek

Virtual Action Figures

6 Apr

Some people collect action figures. I collect virtual action figures. 

Freedom Force - Iron Man

All right, I also collect action figures. But nevertheless …

Behold! My Virtual Action Figure collection.

Using the game Freedom Force (Irrational Games, 2002), I have built (or I like to think curated) a collection of character meshes and skins. I’ve always considered it a collection of digital action figures, which I have preserved by meticulously copying files from PC to PC as I’ve upgraded my hardware over the years. Recently I re-installed Freedom Force from Steam and have been spending time with my collection again.

In the run up to Iron Man 3, I am dedicating this entry to ol’ shellhead himself. In my collection I have eight Iron Man suits.

My collection represents heroes from what I consider to be the best age of comic books (i.e. when I was feverishly collecting comic books as a kid in the late 1970s to the late 1980s). Today, one of my favorite pastimes is to run the game in “Watch Mode” and recreate some epic moments from my childhood. In the run up to Iron Man 3, I am dedicating this entry to ol’ shellhead himself.

For example, here’s Iron Man facing off against the Raiders, three mercenaries in the employ of the Cord Conglomerate (a rival of Stark Industries). Here’s that first encounter with the raiders straight out of Iron Man #145 (April, 1981).

What about this classic battle between shellhead and the Titanium Man? (You have to remember that this was during the height of the Cold War. So billionaire/industrialist/super-hero Tony Stark had to have an arch-nemesis who was from the Soviet Union and wore similar hi-tech armor, right?)

For those of you who have only come to know and love Tony since the first movie (Iron Man, 2008), here’s a recreation of Tony in his Mark I armor escaping from the desert camp of the terrorists of the Ten Rings. (I am using the Mark I from the comics, not the movies, by the way.)

Again, for the movie fans … most of you probably don’t know that the alien race called the Chitauri, Loki’s invasion force, was originally just another name for the Skrulls in the Marvel Ultimates universe. Here’s my comic book-style recreation of the movie’s final battle scene, with the shape-shifting Skrulls standing in for the Chitauri. I decided to throw in a special guest star, too!

And finally … the one disappointment from the Avengers movie (The Avengers, 2012) was that we never got to see Iron Man go toe-to-toe with the Hulk. So here’s what might have happened.

(I think the computer gets the outcome right.)

You might have noticed that I have tons of characters in my collection: from Marvel, DC Comics and even some others. Who would you like to see in action? I just might have them in my collection.  Let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

NOTE:

I must emphasize that I am not an animator nor a digital artist. I didn’t create any of these skins or meshes. I owe everything to what the awesome Freedom Force modding community has generously shared on the web for free for over 10 years. Special shout out to folks like the Beyonder, Courtnall6, Tommyboy, Renegade, Grenadier and the gentlemen of Heroforce, who keep Freedom Force modding alive even today. Thank you all!

End of Days

1 Dec

City of Heroes, the world’s first superhero-based MMO, shuts down for good today.

J

29 April 2007: the Justice Jabs assemble in Talos Island.

If you’ve never played a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, it may be hard to imagine what thousands of die-hard City of Heroes fans are going through. After eight years, a beloved world of custom characters, city-sized maps and online communities will be switching off its servers for good today.

MMO role playing games differ from any other form of entertainment because, unlike even story-driven single player video games, you spend thousands of hours inside the game’s virtual world. Try to imagine a favorite long-running television series, except rather than follow the story of the hero, you are the hero. You design your character from the ground up, choose how the character looks and how his abilities develop over time, explore more and more of the world through missions and play alongside other players just like yourself.

080427 Wolf Boy night patrol - crop

27 April 2008: Wolf Boy on patrol in Steel Canyon.

COH was a breakthrough on so many levels. At launch it was hailed as “a super powered gust of fresh air into an increasingly stale sword-and-sorcery MMO world” (Computer Gaming World). While most MMOs immersed you in fantasy settings, the COH world offered the familiar backdrop of a large, meticulously detailed and bustling city complete with traffic, skyscrapers, garbage-strewn alleyways and innocent citizens to rescue. And you had super-powers.

By design, the game captivated you instantly. A new character could jump into costume and battle villains within minutes, unlike other MMOs that required you to spend hours doing mundane tasks to scrounge up enough gold to buy yourself a sword. Its character design engine offered an unprecedented amount of customization, making it virtually impossible for you to encounter another character with a costume and character features identical to yours. COH was also the first to introduce the “sidekick” system, where you could pair with players several levels apart from your own. (You either moved up close to their level or they moved up to yours, making the formation of temporary teams so much easier.)

But, most of all, COH was a game that was lovingly nurtured by its developer team, constantly refreshing the content through 24 Issues (major game updates) over the past eight years that introduced new missions, characters, enemy and ally factions and maps. It was a game that constantly reinvented itself, giving players like myself reasons to keep coming back for more.

24 May 2004: SPEED (center) patrolling the streets of King’s Row while on one of his first team missions.

I have been playing City of Heroes since its launch in April 2004. Not only did I spend hours in the game’s character design engine, the frustrated comic book writer in me insisted that I conceptualize and write a back story for each new character I created. I would even take the time to chronicle (screen grab) memorable missions, some of which are displayed on this blog. (You can see more screen grabs here.) Eight years is a long time to build fond memories.

You never forget the first time your character hits Level 14 and earns a “travel” power. (You could choose from Flight, Super Jump, Super Speed or Teleportation.) I spent hours flying through the skies about Atlas Park, first swooping to the top of the Atlas statue globe, then looking down at the city from above the tallest building and finally flying alongside the Atlas Park blimp — close enough to hear its engines! Six months after launch, COH would introduce capes, which your character could earn by completing a special mission at level 20. Flying was never the same again. A few years later, the game would add the option to equip your character with fully animated wings.

26 June 2005: Queen Maleficent in flight.

In 2005, the Winter Lord attacked, freezing lakes and spawning random ice monsters all over Paragon City. But the best part was forming teams to take down the Winter Lord himself, which meant tons of XP!

Most of all, I will remember Sundays with the Justice Jabs. We formed an all-Controller super group (guild) with real life friends Nic, Angie, Stefan & Simon (players based in Singapore and Sydney). At the same time every Sunday we would chat over Skype and play through task forces (extended mission story arcs) and take down roaming monsters over several hours at a time.

Towards the end, my time in COH would taper off. Eight years is a long time for a game and there would be other shinier, more attractive gaming options. Sometimes, I would stay away from the game for up to 10 months at a time. But COH was the game I would always go back to. It was familiar surroundings, like returning to your home town. Like visiting an old friend.

In a few hours, it will all be over. No more Paragon City. No more Rogue Isles. No more Imperial City.

This post is dedicated to the developers of City of Heroes and its loyal player community. Thanks for the memories.

2012-12-01 01:11:25

30 November 2012: waiting for the End of the World. G0LDSTAR joins other players as they hold vigil at the steps of the Paragon City Hall.

The long wait for Episode VII begins …

1 Nov

Call me optimistic, but I am excited by the news that Disney has acquired Lucasfilm and, more important, that an “Episode VII” film is expected to be released in 2015. To me, any news that extends the story beyond the original trilogy has to be good news.

Saying “May the Force be with you” just might become cool again.

[NOTE: I did not create the above image. If anyone objects to my linking to it from this blog, let me know and I will take it down.]

The 1st ‘Iron Man 3’ full trailer hits the web

23 Oct

After the leaked photos from the set, the officially-released photos, the teaser trailer and the teaser trailers for the trailer … the first full 2-minute trailer for Iron Man 3 is finally out.

As the image shows, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) isn’t exactly in a happy place. The trailer reveals that an all-powerful enemy (The Mandarin played by Ben Kingsley) destroys everything Tony has — his mansion in Malibu, his armory of Iron Man suits, etc — and even threatens the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Longtime Marvel fans should notice a number of not-so-subtle reveals: the Mandarin and his Makluan Ten Rings of Power, the Iron Patriot armor (whose pilot is unknown at present) and a hint of the self-assembling armor from Warren Ellis’s award-winning Extremis story arc.

The trailer is big, loud and ends on a cliffhanger with Tony at his lowest, dragging his deactivated and useless armor through the snow. It’s textbook Hollywood movie magic that leaves you wanting more. Iron Man 3 is the first instalment of Marvel Entertainment’s latest series of movies leading up to Avengers 2 in 2015.

Iron Man 3 opens in Singapore on 25 April 2013.

Highlights from the Firefly 10th Anniversary Panel at SDCC

18 Jul

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OK, I wasn’t actually at Comic Con but I finally caught the full panel discussion on Youtube (see below) and I love the show so much that I just had to share this. While there are so many science fiction franchises that have let me down of late (Prometheus) it was awesome to hear from the cast and creators of a show that, 10 years after its cancellation, never disappoint.

Joss Whedon: “We always knew from the very beginning we were doing for the right reasons, in the right way, the right way … and had the best cast I ever worked with — and we also have Alan [Tudyk]. Vindication came a long time ago. It goes to a place of transcendence that I cannot describe without becoming a girly-man.”

Adam Baldwin: (Brings out the familiar red & orange knitted hat of his character, Jayne Cobb.) Jayne was a man of few words but had a lot of props, so I worked a lot with the prop guys.”

Nathan Fillion: “When Firefly died, I thought it was the worst thing that could possible happen. Now I realize the worst thing that could happen is that if it stayed dead.” [He gestures to the thousands of people in the crowd.] “That it died is okay.”

Whedon: [Asked how Firefly would have ended if he had known it was going to be canceled.] “I don’t think I would have killed anybody.” [Alan Tudyk, whose character Hoban Washburn died in the movie Serenity, raises his hands in victory.] “A film is a different animal and has different needs. We would have learned about the Blue Sun conspiracy, Inara and Shepherd Book.”

And finally, there’s this moment from Entertainment Weekly’s official blog:

Jensen asks Whedon what the Firefly fans have meant to him. What happens next is one of the most emotional moments I’ve seen at Comic-Con. Whedon struggles, or seems to, for the right words.

Somebody in the crowd yells out, “We love you!”

Whedon hears this, struggles some more.

And the crowd begins to applaud. And stand up. Soon the entire room is giving a roaring ovation. The cast stands too. It’s possibly the most perfect way to end the panel.

Whedon takes the microphone.

“Only an idiot would try to follow that with a sentence,” he says.

That’s precisely what I was thinking, but then Whedon follows with this:

“When you come out of a great movie, you feel like you’re in that world. When you’re telling a story, you’re trying to connect to people in a particular way. It’s about inviting them into a world. The way you’ve inhabited this world, this universe, you have become part of it. When I see you guys, I don’t think the show is off the air. I think there’s spaceships and horses — the story is alive.”

Yes, it was all a bit of an unapologetic lovefest but no one was complaining. See the whole thing for yourself:

There are no plans for a Firefly movie or TV series sequel but you can continue to follow the crew’s adventures in the Dark Horse comic book.

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Avengers Blu-Ray trailer

2 Jul

 

The trailer for Marvel’s The Avengers Blu-Ray special combo pack is out. I bet you can’t wait to get your hands on it, either. A lot of the footage is familiar but I swear there are parts there I’ve never seen before (and I saw the film three times).

The Avengers in Blu-Ray will be out 25 September 2012.

New Dredd Trailer!

22 Jun

The first full trailer for Dredd, the film based on the cult favorite lawman Judge Dredd, is out today. Karl Urban looks pretty darn good as Dredd and he doesn’t appear once in the whole trailer without his helmet, which is a good sign. However the plot looks a little too simplistic. But it’s be too early to, er, judge.

 

Dredd opens 27 September in Singapore.

The Best Batman Ever

11 Jun

As the third and final installment of the Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman films, The Dark Knight Rises, is released the week of 19 July, already fans are speculating about the future of Batman in film and what direction the franchise may take.

The Batman character is among a handful of “super-heroes” that have transcended from popular culture into myth, joining the ranks of characters now forever linked to human culture. These mythic figures include the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Robin Hood, King Arthur and Hercules. It’s no surprise that since the Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, he has been interpreted by hundreds of writers, artists and filmmakers.

For my favorite versions the Batman in any medium, click here for the story published in Yahoo!

Prometheus: the Grumpy Fanboy review

10 Jun

Prometheus suffers from too many idiotic character decisions and plot holes so big, you could fly the Nostromo through them.

I had very high hopes for Prometheus. Ridley Scott’s much-heralded return to science fiction. A prequel to the phenomenal Alien series. A great cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba and Guy Pearce. It had every reason to be great. But due to poor character development and puzzling gaps in the story, the film never quite gets off the ground.

The premise is simple: scientists believe they have unearthed clues to the origins of humanity that lead them to a distant planet. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. There they encounter the remnants of an advanced alien civilization and a rapidly evolving predatory species who wants to kill everything in order to propagate. But barely 30 minutes into the film and the series of inane, almost comical, decisions by the characters begin.

The team of scientists enter the alien structure in the middle of what they establish is a hostile environment. Once inside, they notice the atmosphere is  breathable and so they remove their helmets, thus inhaling the air and allowing the fluids from the environment drip all over their faces. Later, part of the same group encounters a living alien species (which remarkably resembles a King Cobra) and their first impulse is to pet it. Needless to say, all of these decisions have disastrous results. In the scifi genre, inconsistencies like this are unforgivable. There were more honest and rational reactions from humans discovering alien life in Galaxy Quest.

The core problem is that you never get a chance to understand the motivations behind the main characters. If you don’t appreciate what motivates them, you can’t root for them (as with great heroes) nor hate them (as with great villains). The android David, played by Fassbender, consciously infects a fellow crew member with the alien DNA in order to impregnate another crew member because … uh, because what again? The only survivor of the “engineer” species (whose DNA is identical to our own and apparently bio-engineered our ancestors) is thawed from a thousand-year sleep. Without explanation, his first thought is to kill everything in sight with his bare hands.

Why did the engineers create humans? Why are they breeding the perfect predator as a bio-weapon? What were they doing on this backwater planet? Why did they leave clues behind on Earth? And what exactly was the point of Charlize Theron’s character? Prometheus raises all kinds of questions but doesn’t provide satisfactory answers. Amid the blood splatter and flailing tentacles I guess we were not supposed to notice.

Prometheus is now in cinemas. Grumpy Fanboy rating: 2.5/5

If you’re looking for a more satisfying movie experience, both the original Alien (directed by Scott) and Aliens (directed by James Cameron) are amazing in Blu-Ray. I watched them both again before seeing Prometheus, which is about the only good thing to come out of this film’s release.

ADDENDUM: My last comment was incorrect. The best thing to come out of Prometheus was the following clip, which was actually a “viral video” issued months before the film’s release. It features Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland, appearing at a fictional TED Talk in the year 2023.