Picard Season One Finale: A Bad Copy

A few weeks ago I posted about the Star Trek: Picard series streaming on CBS All Access. I addressed the usual super fan complaints that accompany any new Star Trek venture, “Is this Star Trek?” and of course, “this sucks.”  I concluded that yes indeed, this was a Star Trek show, and a good one.  I was really enjoying it!

I was wrong. I apologize.

For me everything was going great until the two part season finale, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 & 2.  So be warned, everything beyond this point is super spoiler territory.

Although I was not on board with every decision along the way to get to the season finale, such as the whitewashing of the murder of Bruce Maddox by Dr Jurati, I assumed that in the finale things would wrap up in a satisfactory way.  Nope.  Instead…

Doctor Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill):  As a cold blooded murderer, I expected either a redemption arc or a justice one.  Instead there was neither.  Jurati killed Maddox, the person that got the crew together to find in the first place, and then after promising to turn herself in, everyone just sort of shrugged and forgot about it.  She goes on to become a full-fledged member of Picard’s Scooby gang with no more mention that she’s a murderer and hey, maybe Maddox, a brilliant scientist, deserved some sort of justice.

Soji (Isa Briones): Soji started out as easily the most sympathetic character, a girl who didn’t understand what was happening to her, and then realizing that all of her memories were false and she wasn’t even human, but a sophisticated android. But then as her memories of her prior robot life return, the Soji that we’ve known through the series became effectively dead.  Soji 2.0 goes from being worried about whether she was human or not, to deciding to initiate galaxy wide Armageddon on biological sentient life by contacting the mysterious synthetic race that wipes out biological species that discriminate against robots.  That was a pretty quick turnaround from, “Am I human?” to “Destroy all humans!” Skynet would be proud.  And now she’s part of Picard’s Scooby gang.  I guess attempted genocide is an easily forgivable crime in the 24th Century.

The Romulans:  Surprisingly the Romulans, in spite of being Romulans, come out looking pretty good.  Having lost their homeworld in the Supernova, the scary Romulan Star Empire is a shadow of its former self.  The “Romulan Free State” is a much weaker version, not even able to enforce the Neutral Zone any more.  For all intents and purposes, there is no longer a Neutral Zone.  And still, they are trying to save the universe from the utter stupidity of Picard and the Federation.  Their super duper secret police, the Zhat Vash, has known about the advanced genocidal synthetics all along, and have worked to suppress advanced AI and robotics anywhere and everywhere to avoid attracting their attention.  This explains the motivation of the Romulan spies Narek, Narissa, and Commodore Oh.  They want to keep the galaxy safe from a far superior race which has exterminated entire biological races before and apparently seem willing to do it again.

And yet they are the “villains.”

The Star Trek Ending:  I’ve complained before about the complete hand waving that seems to go along with closing out the conflicts of a Star Trek storyline by a Starfleet officer giving an impassioned speech, and suddenly the enemy lays down his arms and turns his swords into plowshares.  The power of a self-righteous Starfleet speech is apparently not to be underestimated, as I noted about the Discovery season one finale in which Burnham gives the Klingon Chancellor one and the Chancellor calls off the attack on Earth, even though at this point the Klingons had all but won the war and their fleet was just outside the solar system, ready for orders.  This highlights one of the major flaws of the Star Trek worldview, it loves diversity, but as I noted about the Discovery finale, ultimately doesn’t believe in it.

“…the solution to the war wasn’t found in delivering a decisive military defeat on the enemy, but by adherence to the Federation’s highest principles, and assuming (always correctly) that everyone else in the universe at some deep down level, shares those same principles.”

So Picard gives an impassioned speech to Soji, and she changes her mind about eliminating every biological species in the galaxy, just like that.

I wonder how that would have played out throughout history…

Starfleet vs The American Revolution

Picard:  As an opponent of Brexit, I implore you to lay down your arms and end this senseless conflict.  Think about the lives lost…the waste.

General Washington:  Your words have moved me Admiral.  We started this struggle because we were moved by the writings of enlightenment thinkers, and the very real threat to our right to have representation, but eh, whatever, God Save the King!

Picard:  Actually we’re replacing the monarchy with a Federation Council.

Starfleet vs Hitler

Picard: …and that is why, Herr Hitler, you must lay down your arms, cease this pointless conflict to conquer Europe, and stop killing people based on religion and ethnicity.

Hitler:  You have enlightened me Admiral.  I never realized that Slavs, Jews, and Gypsies shared the same hopes and dreams as Aryans.  I could have saved so many bullets if I had known that!  And yes, my dream of establishing a united Europe, a common market united under a single currency with open borders was a foolish hope.

Picard: Wait, what?  Hold up a second…

Starfleet vs Osama bin Ladin

Picard: …and that’s why, in spite of 9/11, you’ll find that people are pretty forgiving if you pen a sincere apology for your actions and resolve to do better.

Bin Ladin: Admiral you truly bring wisdom surpassing all of our Mullahs.  In fact, you’ve convinced me that not only are you wiser than our best religious thinkers, but that all religion is but primitive superstition and that mankind is ready to evolve into a more enlightened species, ready to achieve utopia on Earth via the mechanisms of advanced AI, automation, and universal basic income.

Picard: #Yanggang2020.

Data (Brent Spiner):  Although the character has been dead since the end of the movie Star Trek: Nemesis, his presence has loomed large on the show as Picard, even years later, still struggled dealing with the grief and guilt of Data sacrificing his “life” to save Picard’s.  So in the finale, Picard meets Data again, or at least a copy of his memories, in a computer simulation.  As a final chat, it’s rather touching, as Data requests that when Picard gets out of the simulation, he deletes the Data memory copy.  As a character who struggled with being human, he wants an ending to his story; “a butterfly that lives forever is really not a butterfly at all.”  It’s a nice speech in which Data makes a point that everything about life has value because it’s temporary, and it really seemed in tune with the entirety of the season, in which Picard is dealing with his own mortality.

Picard (Patrick Stewart):  Getting back to Picard’s impassioned speechmaking, after making his final one to Soji, he collapses and dies, finally succumbing under the stress to his long battle with Irumodic Syndrome.  His companions mourn him, and if the show had just ended there, all the other flaws could have been easily forgiven.  Instead, they copy Picard’s mind, spin it up in a new robot body, and robot Picard lives.  They even made one that looks like an 93 year old man that’s weak and will break down after a decade or two.  How thoughtful.

Not being a series finale like the Lost ending, it’s probably not fair to compare the two. Also the ending of Lost was simply a result of the writers not being half as clever as they thought they were and they simply wrote themselves into a corner.  With Picard, bringing him back to “life” as an android was a deliberate choice, a choice that made Picard’s character arc, as a man coming to terms with his mortality, and Data’s character arc, as a being who wanted to be human so much he was willing to die like one, essentially pointless.  And pointless as it was, Robot Picard had no trouble deleting Data.  Apparently the writers and showrunners saw not a bit of irony in that.

So the show ends with everyone on the bridge of the ship, Soji, the near genocidal monster, Doctor Jurati, a brutal murderer, and robot Picard, all ready to zoom off into the galaxy for more adventures. For a show and season that I had otherwise enjoyed, that was one of the most stunningly bad season finale’s I’d ever seen.  It’s hard to fathom the deliberate choice of making a mockery of Data’s death (or murder at the hands of robot Picard) and the entire premise of the show by having robot Picard plead for more years of existence to his makers.

I wonder if actual human Picard got a funeral, or did they just dump his carcass in the landfill?  With Picard dead, who gets his Chateau?  It’s a cinch that his Romulan housekeepers, Laris and Zhaban, are not going to consider robot Picard as anything but an abomination, a hideous copy of their dear friend. There is no crying in Star Trek but I do have to mourn what started out as great show and turned into merely a synthetic copy of one.

 

 

 

Star Trek Picard: Is it Real Trek?

I’ve really enjoyed the Star Trek Picard show since it dropped on CBS All Access and in the world of Star Trek television (which is surprisingly a going concern) it’s one of the best going; better than Star Trek Discovery.  But some fans are really annoyed, dismissing the show as “not Star Trek” like these two hate watchers.

But what is and isn’t Star Trek goes back to the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, back in 1987.  No Kirk? No Star Trek the thinking went.  And that sort of thinking has accompanied every new Star Trek show.  There was at least a good reason to think that when Star Trek Deep Space 9 came out.  That was a show totally different from the previous two shows, featuring a stationary space station on the edges of the Federation where the Federation and Starfleet only had a toe hold, and aliens set the agenda.  But…as the show grew it produced some of the best Star Trek episodes ever.  However that only happened because Gene Roddenberry died in 1991 before Deep Space Nine premiered in 1993, allowing the show to evolve without Roddenberry’s rigid guidance.

A case was also made that Star Trek: Discovery also, wasn’t Star Trek.  Set 10 years before the original series, it looked and acted nothing like the original series and just didn’t even look as if it was set in the same universe.  The “Klingons” were remade to look like…some other kind of alien.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, had progressively gone more nutso commie from the time his Original Series came out as a space western until The Next Generation came out, where the Federation was presented as some sort of utopian commie empire in which society, and the people in them, had reached perfection. This cut into a lot of drama since Roddenberry’s script guidance in TNG was that there could be no interpersonal conflict among crew members because hey, in the future, we all get along. That ridiculous script guidance started to fade before TNG ended its run and wasn’t a factor in subsequent Star Trek outings.  That wasn’t the worst of Roddenberry’s delusion.  As I noted while reviewing Star Trek Beyond:

“Roddenberry’s “vision” was of a communist utopia that even in the realm of science fiction, made no sense.  It was easier to make up the technobabble of transporters, holodecks, and faster than light travel then explain why they don’t need money and no one is drawing a paycheck, but still showing up for work every day.”

One day, I may take up the challenge of designing a Federation economy, and see if I can squeeze Roddenberry’s dumb view of economics into some sort of technobabble shape, but not today.

So Star Trek: Picard takes place in a far less utopian time in Federation history.  Set approximately 20 years after the events of the last TNG movie, Star Trek: Nemesis, the universe, in Picard’s view, has gone to hell in a handbasket.  Fourteen years earlier, the supernova of the Romulan homeworld’s sun (which kicked off the events that lead to the “Kelvin timeline;” the three JJ Abrams Star Trek movies) had the Federation engaged in a massive refugee relief effort to evacuate Romulans from their doomed system.  The effort was aborted by an android terrorist attack on the shipyards of Mars, killing 92,000 people.  The androids, called “synths” were based off Commander Data’s basic design, and were quickly banned throughout the Federation and the refugee evacuation was halted.

Naturally Picard throws a fit and thinking he could pull opinion at Starfleet (“do you know who I am?”) throws his position on the line, and Starfleet, to Picard’s surprise, takes it, effectively forcing him into retirement.  This is the scenario that actor Patrick Stewart likened to our current age:

“[The show] was me responding to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, ‘Why hasn’t the Federation changed? Why hasn’t Starfleet changed?’ Maybe they’re not as reliable and trustworthy as we all thought.”

This is, of course ridiculous.  Both Patrick Stewart and his avatar, Jean-Luc Picard are wrong on this.  This isn’t about Brexit or Trump, it’s more about 9/11, and how you respond to a massive terrorist attack when you don’t know the real cause.  Did the Synths just get together and decide to go full Skynet?  Was it some sort of major malfunction?  Did some other nefarious group reprogram the Synths as an attack on the Federation?   Immediately after the attack, nobody would know, so the prudent thing would be to do exactly what the Federation did, ban Synths and halt the Refugee program.  With the Utopia Planitia Shipyards destroyed, you can’t tie up all of your remaining ships on some do-gooder adventure when you have no idea if or when the next attack is coming.

Why the Romulans couldn’t evacuate their own people is never explained.  They ruled a massive star empire covering many worlds.  It would seem they would have plenty of resources to throw at the problem much closer to home.

But to the question, is Star Trek: Picard “Star Trek,” my answer is unequivocally yes.  In fact, I would argue that it is the most “Star Trek” show since Next Generation.  Picard is a nice coda to TNG.  It’s a “where are they now” view of what happened to the Next Generation crew as well as Star Trek: Voyager and answers the question what happened to the galaxy and the universe of Star Trek since those shows ended. Unlike a show that has Easter eggs, the entire show is one big Easter egg. That’s not an answer that will please some Star Trek fans that have never been able to move on from the original series, but almost never does a successful TV show like TNG gets a series that functions as an aftermath.  Fans should enjoy this.

TV Show Pitches: Black History Month Edition

A few years ago, I wrote about a science fictionTV show pitch about Space Pirates, and sure enough, I actually got a show very similar to my description in The Expanse.  Since then, I’ve had several show idea’s that have bubbled around the old noggin.  I’ve not yet started to write them down (until now), but I’ve pitched them to various friends and acquaintances with; shall we say; mixed results.  I don’t care though.  I did get The Expanse on the air.

And also, it is Black History Month, and I’ve been meaning to jot something down about that ever since the last Black History Month. However the idea I’ve been mulling over is real history, so I don’t want to go with that until I’ve double checked my real history.  In the meantime, here’s something that is both Black related and History related, although maybe more history adjacent than actual history.  So here are two TV show pitches that should appeal to The Woke (which seems to be a requirement these days to get on the air):

 

Working Title:  Blacklander (this title needs work)

Genre:  Fantasy, Romance

Hot Take:  Outlander meets Roots

Premise:  I wrote a review for the show Outlander a few years ago.  The premise of that show is that a World War II nurse ends up going back to the 16th century via magical Druid stones.  She meets a dashing Scottish rogue, falls in love, yada yada yada.  My idea is for 21st century Medical resident at a Virginia hospital, while leaving work after a late shift has her car hit by magical lightening (there is a lack of magical Druid stones in Virginia), goes off a bridge into a river, and when she swims to the surface finds herself in pre-Civil war Virginia, where she is promptly arrested by a slave patrol hunting a female runaway slave.

The medical resident, we’ll call her “Claire” for now, is taken back to the plantation that the runaway slave was from.  The overseer recognizes that this isn’t the same person who ran away, but pretends that she is, otherwise the slave patrol will just sell her and the plantation will be out a slave.

Crying hysterical Claire, who thinks she’s going crazy, turns out to be worse than useless at actual slave work, but when one of the slave kids drown at the river, she uses CPR to resuscitate him.  This divides the slaves.  Half think she’s a witch, and half thinks she’s a great healer.  This firestorm winds up at the Master’s house, where the master is angry at the overseer’s deception, and intrigued by the medical possibilities.  The mistress of the plantation is ill with an undiagnosed disease which Claire easily diagnoses putting her at odds with her real doctor.  They argue over medical matters during which the doctor, although disagreeing with her diagnosis, is astonished by her apparent medical knowledge.  He offers the Master of the plantation a deal to take her on as assistant (these kind of transactions with skilled slaves were common at the time), ostensibly to train her to provide medical treatment to the slaves, but really to pick her brain about her medical knowledge.

So an unlikely friendship is formed.

Naturally a proper romance requires multiple suitors for the lady fair.  Chicks dig options.  So we have:

The doctor, with the dead wife.

The noble slave who’s back is scarred by multiple whippings (just like in Outlander).

The landowner’s son, who is the wily evil option.

Set in the 1850’s just before John Brown’s raid and the Civil War, Claire has the foreknowledge to change history.  In Outlander, that Claire found a deterministic universe, in which nothing she did made a difference.  In Blacklander, our Claire will find out she can change things.

Twist:  The runaway slave that the slave patrol was hunting winds up in the 21st Century

Twist:  By the end of season one, Claire’s car is found in the river, confusing the locals.

 

And know for some lighter fare…

Working Title:  Toby’s Heroes

Genre:  Comedy, Steampunk?  Whatever Wild, Wild West was?

Hot Take:  Hogan’s Heroes meet…also Roots

Premise:  A few years ago I wrote about TV producer Kenya Barris (the creator of Black-ish) pitching a new diverse woke version of Bewitched. Although that show is still in development hell the idea of rubbishing through sitcom history and redoing the shows with a mostly black cast seems scrapping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to originality, but with enough diversity, you don’t need originality or creativity, diversity is our one and only value.

So if it’s that easy then let me pull Hogan’s Heroes out from sitcom history, set it during the Civil War, and have the “prisoners” actually be slaves on a plantation who are secretly helping the Union Army during the war, either by running sabotage missions, or helping run freed slaves and Northern spies and sympathizers through their underground railroad.  And why shouldn’t they have an underground tunnel system under the plantation?  Let’s see, a bumbling, vainglorious plantation owner, his wife, who is secretly having an affair with “Toby,” an overseer who “see’s nothing,” and occasional visiting Confederate troops, all seem to add up to woke hilarity.  Yes I know those two don’t usually go together, but that’s’ why I’m suggesting Hogan’s Heroes as the template rather than some of the more bland family sitcoms.

OK there are two good TV show pitches.  As usual, I only very humbly ask for producer credits and a percentage of the gross.  Let the racial healing begin!

 

My Netflix Reviews: Time Travel Edition

As a long time science fiction fan, I can tell you that traditionally, much of what passes for science fiction in movies and TV is crap.  Some of it campy crap, which can still be fun (like Sharknado) but most of it is just crap-crap; earnest low budget attempts that are just not well thought out and terrible.  However I’ve has a bit of good luck recently on Netflix with a couple of recent time travel related movies.  These are two I would actually recommend without embarrassment.

First up, In the Shadow of the Moon, begins in 1988 when a young Philadelphia cop, Thomas Lockhart, with a pregnant wife is on the trail of a seeming female serial killer who he corners in a subway station where she begins mentioning detailed information about his life, before being hit by a train and killed.  The police close the case and that’s that until 9 years later when the exact same type of murders occur, with an identical suspect.  Since I’ve already said this was a time travel movie, you can put two and two together and guess there is a connection.  However how the connection reveals itself gives us a moody drama as Lockhart’s life implodes as he becomes more and more obsessed with tracking down the serial killer and discovering the why of these victims.

There are plenty of SJW points to be accumulated here as a white supremacy group plays a role.  This is the Trump era after all! However, the clever conclusion of the film more than makes up for whatever social justice points the writers are trying to score.  It’s still a well done story.

Time Trap was originally a video-on-demand film before Netflix obtained it.  An archeology professor who has spent years trying to find his hippie parents who vanished in the 1970’s discovers their old van, apparently untouched after all these years, outside a hidden cave system.  He goes into the cave exploring and…

…some of his students, trying to locate the missing professor, organize a little search party, find the van, the professor’s car and a cave system, go exploring and…

…and it’s a trap.  It’s no spoiler to say that time moves differently inside these caves.  That’s actually part of the movie description, but how that affects the characters, and how long it takes them to figure out what’s going on, is part of the fun.  They have either all the time in the world, or almost no time at all, to figure out the mystery.  That’s a matter of perspective.

Anyway both of these movies were surprisingly thought provoking and I give them two thumbs up.

 

Return to Krypton

So popular are super hero properties these days that they are actually making TV shows that don’t include any actual superheroes.  The long running Gotham concluded its series run this spring by finally showing Batman in its series finale, after 5 seasons.  Under development on the DC Universe streaming platform is Metropolis, a TV show set in Superman’s city without Superman.  And getting ready for its second season premiere, once again without any Superman, is Krypton.

But even among a group of odd takes on super hero locales sans actual super heroes, Krypton is different.  Taking place 200 years before the planet explodes the series revolves around the adventures of Superman’s grandfather, Seg-El. But rather than just being a Gotham-esque deep dive into DC history, the series has current Earth character Adam Strange (no relation to the Marvel sorcerer) somehow time traveling and space traveling to this pre-destruction era on Krypton.  Strange has a mission to save the timeline and Superman in the “present” by keeping the destruction of Krypton on course.

As a premise, this is messed up.  In the first season Strange and Seg-El team up, with Seg-El only half buying Strange’s story about being from another planet in the future, their team up is contingent on Seg-El not knowing that Strange is really rooting for Krypton’s destruction.  But then how would Seg-El ever find that out?  Enter General Zod (as in “kneel before…”- that guy), another time traveler, who most definitely wants to alter the planet’s fate.  If Superman is never born in the process; so much the better.

So putting yourself in the place of an average Kryptonian, or just a person in general, which is the more moral position? To allow or cause for an entire planet to blow up, killing billions, to make sure one man (Superman) is born or to prevent an entire planet from blowing up, saving billions, even at the cost of one man (Superman)?  The answer seems rather self-evident, placing the villain Zod as the guy with the moral high ground, while Earthman Adam, who just wants to save Superman, as someone trying to ensure genocide happens on schedule.

There are plenty of gaps in the basic premise big enough to drive the entire Fortress of Solitude through.

How did Adam, a scrappy kid from Detroit, get hooked up with the alien Sardath?  Why would Sardath pick Adam, of all people, to go back in time?  How did Sardath even know the timeline, and Superman, were in danger?  What exactly was the cause of that danger (never explained)?  Why did Adam assume that Kryptonians would care about Superman more than their own world’s destruction?  How did Zod end up going back in time and why?

And for season two, with the timeline changed, Krypton saved, no Superman, and Brainiac conquering Earth, why would any Kryptonian help Adam reset the timeline ( in other words, destroying Krypton)?  The entire series seems as if it went to production long before the basic premise was worked out with major gaps missing from the set up.  It’s a tribute to the production that I actually found the show very watchable in spite of the gaps in the premise.  Or, these guys are geniuses and all will be revealed, in a way that makes sense, over time.

Who knows?  But I’m interested enough to stick around for another season and find out.

 

Let’s Talk About Avengers: Endgame (with spoilers)

Hey just remember, I said SPOILERS right in the title!

You’ve been warned.

In the movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is probably one of the greatest film creations in movie history.  With 21 interlocking movies, each adding to a larger story that culminates in Avengers: Endgame, there has really been nothing like what Marvel Studios has accomplished, and it may be a feat never to be repeated. Certainly the rival DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has faltered and not even come close to competing with its Marvel rival.

In in that spirit, I feel (at least in this moment) that Avengers: Endgame is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen.  Not as a standalone movie by itself of course.  I imagine that if you were a casual movie goer, and had dropped in on Endgame without any familiarity with the previous MCU movies, it would be almost incomprehensible.  It’s a three hour densely packed film filled with various callbacks, easter eggs, and nods to previous films. It’s the sequel to the sequel to the sequel… Not to mention it’s the last chapter of a saga that began in 2008 with Iron Man.  Without having that background, the aforementioned casual movie goer would have walked out in disgust long before hitting the halfway mark of the three hour film.

And that’s the really amazing thing about it.  There have been plenty of movies with sequels and spin offs.  Some have been successful (think Terminator 2) and others have faltered (think Smokey and the Bandit 3), but they’re usually dependent on the viewer having seen the previous movie (or being fairly familiar with) to “get it.”  Endgame on the other hand, depends on the viewer probably having seen 15 or so of the previous 20 movies to appreciate the story arc.  That is an incredible ask of a movie goer, yet Avengers: Endgame did dare to ask and it paid off as one of the most successful films of all time.

I don’t see this particular feat being repeated in my lifetime, although I didn’t expect it the first time either, so whatever magic formula that Marvel Studios has bottled, keep it going.

The movie was jam packed, which probably explains why 3 hours didn’t seem like 3 hours, but it left so much left over to think about, that I’m still mulling some of the implications.

No redo for the “snap.”  There had been rumors for a year that Endgame would involve time travel of some sort, but I admit the actual way they used time travel took me surprise, with the consequences that they couldn’t go back in time and stop the decimation from actually happening.  It happened and couldn’t be changed.  That makes the MCU Earth radically different.  They dealt with half of Earth’s population vanishing in 2018 and returning in 2023.  That’s going to radically effect every single future MCU film since they will be living in a world where half the people in the world (and of course the universe) were, for all practical purposes, dead for 5 years, then suddenly came back.  It’s hard to quantify how that would change the world, and virtually all of the characters.  Not a single person would be unscathed by that.  Since the next MCU movie coming up is Spider-Man: Far from Home, that will be our first taste on how that’s handled.

Captain America’s Happy Ending.  The MCU time travel rules are that you can’t change the past, and going in time really means you are creating an alternate time line where anything goes, leaving your own “present” unchanged.  This really opens up a lot of fun opportunities because it’s time travel with no consequences, hence the fight between Captain America and the 2012 version of…Captain America. So at the end of the movie, when Cap goes back in time to return the infinity stones, he’s set to return 5 seconds later, however he doesn’t return.  Or rather he does, but as an old man sitting on a park bench.  Steve Rogers decided to get his happy ending by going back in time to the forties and marrying his best girl Peggy Carter.  But…we’ve had two seasons of Agent Carter, in which Rogers never returned so what happened?

The Russo Brothers, directors of the film, cleared that up in post movie premiere interviews.  Captain America didn’t change the timeline, he went back and created an alternate timeline in which he married Peggy Carter and…lived his life.  So there is a timeline where Captain America returned at the end of World War II, with all of the radical changes that would go along with that, but that didn’t change the MCU past.  In the MCU Prime Timeline, Carter married someone else, raised a family, and eventually died of old age. Left unexplained is how Steve Rogers got back to the main timeline to show up as an old man, but apparently there is an entire untold story as to how that happened.

A path to add X-Men & Mutants into the MCU.  With Disney’s purchase of Fox, all of the other Marvel characters can be brought under one roof, meaning characters such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four can be brought into the MCU.  How can that be accomplished?  This is just an idea of mine, so I’ll toss it out there with no support at all, but Tony Stark, in designing his own Infinity Gauntlet into his Iron Man suit, must have given a little thought to what he might actually want to accomplish.  Some list of macro wishes might have been prepared ahead of time, such as that a tiny number of the people returned after the decimation might exhibit some powers…Mutant X-Men powers.  This isn’t the comic book version of the X-Men of course, but the MCU has been great at repurposing comic concepts and this would be version that would explain why we haven’t seen any mutants up to this point.

Tony Stark created them.

So my hat’s off to Marvel Studios for betting a lot of money on something that no movie studio had ever done before, and pulling it off.

Quick Movie Reviews: Comedy Dictator Edition

The Death of Stalin

I came across this little gem on Showtime.  If it ever hit the movie theaters, I don’t have a memory of it, however this film has a great cast with some…interesting casting choices (Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev?).   Wikipedia called this a “political satire black comedy,” which is one way to describe it.  I would have called it an absurdist comedy, but in any case, the movie takes a real historical event and makes it absurd.

In 1953, Josef Stalin abruptly dies, throwing his coterie of yes men and toadies into a frenzied panic.  After years of being kept in an almost continuous state of terror in which one wrong slip could land one in prison or worse by the mercurial Stalin, they suddenly find themselves in a continuous state of terror by each other, as they maneuver to preserve and extend their power and keep their heads.  It’s no spoiler to say that Khrushchev eventually wins the power struggle, but the constant scheming and casual betrayals makes for some high comedy.

Of note is that the character of Lavrentiy Beria, played by British Actor Simon Russel Beale, is probably one of the most evil men of the 20th Century (Beria, not Beale of course).  However in this telling, he comes across as the most sympathetic, as he moves to undo some of the damage he caused under Stalin. Naturally, no good deed goes unpunished, and no; that’s not a spoiler, its history.  Educate yourselves (as any college freshman is happy to tell anyone twice as old with twice the formal education).

This is 1984 if done as a comedy, and if you look at it just the right way, totalitarianism, and its oppressive orthodoxies, are comedic.  As Stalin’s inner circle changes their opinions to fit the current party line, we can laugh at such an absurd society, and carefully delete what we just wrote on twitter, since what was an ordinary comment yesterday becomes a thought crime today. The bobbing, weaving and careful choosing of words among Stalin’s men might be reminiscent of a modern college social science class, making this a movie that is relevant in the current year.

Plus, this movie is banned in Russia!

 

My Netflix Review: Look Who’s Back

Finally, here is the story of a politician who is literally Hitler.

In the same way that the buffet at the Golden Corral is larger than my stomach, my list in Netflix is much larger than my available time to view the cornucopia of shows. However prompted by a friend’s recommendation, I pulled this one out of my list and into the “watching now” category. Look Who’s Back is a German language film that I still thought Germany wasn’t ready for.  How to deal with Hitler has been an annoying hangnail of German discourse for over seventy years, and this movie is an interesting take on Germany’s “Hitler Question.”

Instead of pulling the trigger in his Berlin bunker, Hitler finds himself hurled forward in time to the far future year of 2014. Found by recently fired TV producer, Fabian Sawatzki, Fabian plots to return to TV by filming a documentary on the person he perceives as a Hitler performance artist. So Hitler and Fabian go on a road trip across modern Germany to film German’s reaction to “Hitler.”  Hitler of course, sees this as the groundwork to return to power, and much of the film is devoted to laughing locals asking Hitler questions and Hitler responding.  In one scene, while talking with a married couple, Hitler asks for their vote.  When they laughing decline to vote for him; Hitler asks for their address for the first round of mass arrests.  They laugh again because that’s the bit; no one takes him seriously, it’s all a joke; a gag for television.

For Hitler, it’s not a joke.  And eventually, even Fabian starts to get suspicions that this “performance artist” may be a bit darker than he thought.  But it’s still all fun and games until finally, someone really recognizes him for who he is.

As an American, I’m not a fan of foreign films that are filmed in funny talk, or as most people know it, a foreign language.  I’m also suspicious of foreign comedy films since comedy is a shifting target across cultures and languages.  However this was a comedy that was actually funny, even across cultures and language.  In fact, it provided a couple of laugh out loud moments, which is becoming rarer in so called “comedy” movies.

So my advice is to go see both of these films.  The Party commands it.