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Picard, Marvel, and Maverick Highlight SDCC

Posted on Jul 25, 2019 by in The Screen |

So this past week, San Diego Comic Con was a thing that happened. This annual pop culture – event – is used by the studios to kind of clear the table and show off what they have coming up to not just the very specific set of fans that show up at the convention, but for all the various trades that want clicks for being able to take notes and post links to all the trailers on their site. As for actual insight, you can basically cut and paste any previous year’s SDCC articles and paste them again, changing a few names around, etc. It’s kind of all the same now. But why not talk about it?

Marvel

The studios might be made of money, but setting up panels at SDCC’s Hall H isn’t just expensive, and it isn’t just a pain (the logistics of getting all the talent, likely working on projects around the world to fly in for this event), but you also have to have a slate to talk about; enough material to get a bunch of geeks and nerds and cosplayers excited. You gotta bring everything or you might as well not go. Despite licking the wounds from Justice League and scaling back their ambitions (also having two successful films since) Warner Brothers DC film division decided it wasn’t the right time (or whatever) for them to hold a Hall H panel, so Marvel (who also wasn’t going to show up, at least originally) decided to step in. Their panel, outlining the initial projects for the post-Endgame Phase Four, was pretty routine, truth be told. The most surprising announcement was the casting of Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali for an upcoming Blade project. Everything else, we already knew based on stories or rumors. Oh.. the other big surprise I suppose that Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) will be the new Thor. Yeah they are using one of the least interesting comic book stories form the last few years instead of the 50 years of great stories from which they could mine ideas. In other (not really) news, we have Shang-Chi, we have the Eternals, we have a new Dr Strange movie (which will also have Scarlet Witch) as well as a bunch of MCU shows for the new Disney Plus streaming service. If you are still into Marve after Endgame then this panel was all “win”.. But, for me, I’m kind of indifferent. There are those who, perhaps being more cynical than myself, who feel that now the MCU is going down that road of forced diversity.. Or at the very least.. “Look at us, we have women leading the way now.” (having women, or any race, leading the way is definitely not an issue.. But it’s waving their hands around and pointing it all out – “look what we have” that could be the problem).

The first two years or so of Phase Four

Most readers here will find that this Marvel panel was the biggest take away from the con, that it provides the most to talk about, but we just had three big Marvel films front loaded into the first half of the year, so , to me, there are a few other things to talk about!

Top Gun,… and Cats

They say there is nothing new under the sun, and despite all the “new” stuff that the studios decide to show (often for the first time) and SDCC, most of it is just old IP’s, and if it sounds like I’m being cynical, I am actually not. Indeed, one of the best trailers to come out of SDCC was the new Top Gun Maverick trailer (I didn’t see the panel, but supposedly, Tom Cruise himself introduced the trailer) and it was nostalgic in all the right ways. Top Gun was a ridiculous, over the top, quintessential 80s film. Even back then, you don’t believe the events in the film ever happened or could happen, yet you can appreciate the sense of authenticity the filmmakers brought to it by showing some superb flying scenes. Mixed with scenes that – most likely are fairly true to how the Navy might run a training base or an aircraft carrier, and it’s an easy story to enjoy if you allow it to. The new film continues in this tradition: sure, the Pete “Maverick” Mitchell character isn’t so much a person as he is an empty vessel, yet there is a lot authenticity with regard to what he does, the environment he is in, and how it’s filmed, that is unmatched by a film like Captain Marvel, another film that has a fighter pilot as a main character. While Captain Marvel is a comic book film, it seems less interested in creating that authenticity regarding the flying and all that goes with it, so it seems even more “comic book-y” than Top Gun might. 

But let’s clear the air: The Top Gun Maverick trailer worked. The character, 30-some years after the original, is still basically the same character, having not climbed the ranks with any fervor, and it seems that his dogfighting skills are to be called upon in a world dominated by (perhaps) drones and automation. Even based on this trailer, his character is probably better served than how Luke Skywalker has been handled, as Luke is so very different in The Last Jedi, and so much of the reasons for why he is the way he is occurred off screen during the 30 year gap between films. The Maverick trailer makes it pretty clear where the character is now in his life, and makes a case for why he didn’t change as much as one might expect. The real highlight, however, is just how authentic and amazing the flying scenes are here. Did they get Cruise to actually fly fighter jet? Of course not, but every time I watch the trailer, I really believe he is. 

The goal of any movie might be to “seem authentic,” and to sell the artifice of the world that the film takes place in, which is why I am unqualified to even judge whether the Cats trailer, from Universal Studios, works at all. The director of the film, Tobe Hooper, turned another Broadway musical, Les Miserables, into a film a few years ago (and I liked it a lot) and the song Memories, from Cats is at least as memorable as any of the songs from that show, if not moreso, and he brings a similar keen eye to the camera work in this trailer. But, the internet is in an uproar for the creepiness of the look of these human-cat characters. Instead of using cat makeup, like the Broadway musical did, the actors wore motion capture suites and their cat features were added in post, and the result is a trip down the uncanny valley that many people out there seem unwilling to take. To me, it seems like a great musical (which I have not seen) but perhaps using the very latest technology to bring it to the screen was not necessarily the best idea. 

All the “hu’s” down in “Hulu-ville”

When Seth MacFarlane tweeted that he would be bringing “The Orville Experience” to SDCC, I expected a trailer or some footage, but the actual experience (a showroom featuring props, models, and costumes from the show) wasn’t quite what I thought  he meant. The panel, from what I heard, was mainly just talking about some of the highlights from the last season and answering questions. The big news about the Orville is that it’s moving from Fox to Hulu. The move might allow MacFarlane to push not only the running time of individual episodes, but will also allow him the chance to push the show in some creative new directions without worrying about traditional week-to-week Nielsen ratings or pleasing individual advertisers. Since the show usually films all of it’s episodes in a season at once, it follows the model of a streaming show anyway, despite having aired on networks. There has been a loud group of fans that are saying they will stop watching a show, saying that they will not pay for a new streaming service, or that (in places like residence halls) such internet-based services are not available. I can sympathize, and while certainly MacFarlane would want to see his show seen by as many people as possible, he’s not going to not move forward with any bold, new ideas because a few customers still use “rabbit ears.” With many streaming services still yet to launch (particularly Apple’s and Disney’s) set to launch later this year, the streaming wars will be a thing that is happening anyway, and Orville’s move to Hulu is but a rop in the bucket of a landscape that will have a total paradigm shift as we move into 2020. For myself, I’ll just buy the entire season on Vudu and watch when I want to.

Playing Your “Picards” Correctly

Unless you are still fully on board the Marvel train with the same pre-Endgame sense of investment in that franchise (I don’t have that) than perhaps the trailer that got the biggest “pop” out of comic con was the trailer for the new series on CBS all-Access Star Trek Picard. CBS also dropped a trailer for upcoming Short Treks, spoke about Discovery Season 3’s new direction, and dropped some art work for the upcoming animated series, Star Trek: Lower Decks. Of those reveals, seeing more of Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and Spock (Ethan Peck), along with Kurtsman’s hint that we may actually get a whole series featuring those two characters, it’s Star Trek Picard that, clearly, carried the weekend for fans of the franchise and science fiction in general.

It’s Jean-Luc Picard

Prior to this weekend, we knew very little about the new Star Trek show, save for the fact that Sir Patrick Stewart was coming back to reprise his most iconic role, and that he would be a changed man. A teaser trailer released some time ago showed him still living at his French vineyard, but gave us almost nothing about where the story itself would go. Now that has changed.

Notable for being the first bit of Star Trek since 2002’s Nemesis to move forward in the timeline, Star Trek Picard thrusts the former captain back into action in a story that seems to involve a lot of Trek staples, most notably, the Romulans and the Borg. Whether this show will be good or bad remains to be seen, but this trailer worked in ways the Discovery series hasn’t, by hinting at where the Star Trek universe is many years after the the various series and movies have ended. That alone makes it and enticing trailer to watch. 

There may be a more detailed breakdown of this trailer to come, but in the broad strokes, the basic storyline seems to be inspired by Logan (which also starred Stewart) as a long-retired Picard meets a young woman with gifts who is on the run and needs his help for some kind of journey. The two of them then join a crew on a ship and, as expected, we’re off to the races, and the captain of this new ship will give Picard a chance to take his place, to “be the captain they remember” and allowing him to give his signature “engage” command once again. Anything else about the trailer is pure speculation, and things happen rather quickly, but if you will allow me to geek out for a second, here are a few things I might speculate about the story.

  1. The Borg, with their damaged Cube shown here, are clearly involved in this story. The young woman who asks Picard for help may have been former drone. Indeed she maybe be the offspring of the Borg Queen and Locutus for all we know. 
  2. It is pretty reasonable that Picard’s history as Locutus will be a plot point in the series. Seven of  Nine, from the show Star Trek Voyager, was also a former drone, and shows up here. While I was never a big Voyager fan, I really welcome her presence in this show. Twenty years hence, it helps the Star Trek Universe feel like a single continuity. Also returning is the former Borg Drone Hugh, who was in a few episodes of The Next Generation. 
  3. The tiny crew of this mission seems to have either Vulcans or Romulans involved. Based on what I can see here, and what I’ve heard, they are more likely Romulans, and the story will pick up on a thread that hinted at in the 2009 film Star Trek, that the Romulans are using Borg Technology to help expidite the evacuation of their homeworld. 
  4. We see a strange lab – maybe part of that Borg ship – featuring Borg regeneration chambers, with a sign that says 5843 Days without an assimilation. This both humorous and no doubt key to story of the show.

While a further, more detailed breakdown of the trailer may come in a separate article, there is one aspect that kind of worries me: is this Picard? I mean sure, it’s called Picard, and Stewart has returned to play the role, and certainly aging in real life will go hand in hand with the aging of his character. The truth is, we all say we love it when characters change, when they age, when they feel like real people with real flaws. My only contention is that the aspects that makes Picard an interesting character, other than the person himself, might be missing in this show. Stewart (and Picard) seems to talk much slower now than he did when the show was on the air (I’m not blaming him for this, and would expect it from a show that takes place as many years later as this does) but what made the Picard character on that show work were those things that he did that no other character could do. Remember the guy that could give an impassioned speech his ready room to Wesley Crusher about the importance of telling the truth in the TNG episode “The First Duty.” The guy that will both chastise Worf for using Federation resources in ways he might not be allowed, yet totally understanding why he would do so? Or the man who would give an impassioned speech to a time traveller for insight into possible futures simply because so much was on the line for a crucial decision? Or how about when he cut through Klingon bureaucracy using only  kindness despite being given the runaround, when he needed a favor from the Klingons. Indeed, there is more to an iconic character than the actor who plays him, or the challenges he faces as time gets the best of him: what makes a character iconic – what gives a character his very appeal to the audience and has earned him his cultural status – are those moments when he does those things that you remember. I watch this awesome trailer but am unsure if I’m going to get those kinds of moments, the kinds of moments that make him “Picard” as opposed to “retired Starfleet captain with vital information helping someone who could save the galaxy”. 

   I could be even more cynical. Is he playing second fiddle to a woman who is the key to everything? That element is something that is not subtle in this trailer. We will see. If her last name is Picard, it would be disappointing to know that our good ol’ Jean-Luc isa supporting character in what was sold to us as his own show

One of the things that is so appealing to the Orville is that it uses nostalgia a bit differently. It’s clearly a show that draws heavily on the influence of Star trek. It’s filmed like Star Trek, It looks like Star Trek. Many of the stories have been done on Star Trek. Many of the character types are identical to those on Star Trek. yet, twenty years after TNG ended, Orville is able to bring us those kinds of episodes again, featuring a crew in their prime. It’s not tied to years and years of canon, nor does it have the legacy characters to bring back (so there is no chance of botching their legacy).  By contrast, both Discovery and Picard risk damaging a legacy that has been in popular culture for decades as they are bringing these icons into the fold. 

       Here is hoping that this new show lives up to its potential. I remain cautiously optimistic.

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