“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” (2016) Review

 

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” (2016) Review

One of the more popular story lines to emerge from Marvel Comics was the 2006 story called “Civil War” in which many comic book characters from the company’s franchise battled over a new law designed to have superpowered individuals act under Federal regulation. Kevin Fiege and Marvel Films decided to adapt this story line for the final film in their Captain America trilogy.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” features some differences from the Marvel Comics comic series. The latter featured the Superhuman Registration Act, which would force those with superhuman abilities to register with the U.S. government . . . even at the expense of their secret identies. All those with special abilities – via magic, science, extra-terrestrials and even gods – would be forced to register. The 2016 movie featured the Sokovia Accords, a set of internationally ratified legal documents that provide regulation and frame-working for the military/law enforcement deployment of enhanced individuals, particularly the Avengers. To be honest, the difference between the Superhuman Registration Act and the Sokovia Accords strikes me as rather minimal.

However, the plot for “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” began with a flashback to 1991 when a mysterious assassin intercepts an automobile on an isolated road, carrying a case of super-soldier serum. The plot jumped some twenty-five years later to Lagos, Nigeria; where a team of Avengers under the command of Steve Rogers aka Captain America stop a HYDRA team led by Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones from stealing a biological weapon from a lab in Lagos. When Rumlow blows himself up, hoping to kill Steve; Wanda Maximoff aka tries to displace the blast into the sky with telekinesis. Unfortunately, the blast destroys a nearby building, killing several Wakandan humanitarian workers. Because of the Lagos incident, U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross informs the Avengers that the United Nations is preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will establish a U.N. panel to oversee and control the team.

Some members of the Avengers support the Accords and decide to follow Tony Stark aka Iron Man, who continues to feel guilt over his creation of the A.I. Ultron and the latter’s destruction of Sokovia. Others decide to follow Steve, who remains suspicious of the governments’ use of enhanced individuals. But when a bombing disrupts a conference in Vienna where the Accords were to be ratified and kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda, security footage indicates that the bomber is James “Bucky” Barnes aka the Winter Soldier, whom T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa aka Black Panther, vows to kill. Steve, who has been searching for Bucky since the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., becomes determined to find Bucky first before anyone else can harm him and find out what really happened in Vienna. The search for Bucky manifests into another story line when the latter and Steve begin to suspect that someone from HYDRA might behind

I must admit that when I first learned that the third Captain America movie would be an adaptation of Marvel’s “Civil War”, I was not happy. I felt certain that the movie would be more of an Avengers tale than another Captain America movie that would round off the character’s trilogy. But I had decided to put aside such fears and see the movie. “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” had a great deal to offer. Exciting action sequences, plenty of travel, drama, thought provoking issues and especially some first-rate acting.

One aspect of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” that really caught my attention were the issues presented in this story. And the issues in this story seemed to focus on guilt and responsibilities. This especially seemed to be the case for the Avengers in the wake of what happened in Sokovia and Lagos. Although Steve, Sam Wilson aka the Falcon, and especially Wanda feel guilty for what happened in Lagos; they would prefer to deal with the consequences on their own rather than allow the government to take control of their lives as Avengers. Tony, James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine, Vision and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow seemed to feel that the best course to deal with the consequences of the group’s actions is to allow the government to control their actions. What is interesting is that while various governments and especially Thaddeus Ross want the Avengers to pay a high price for what happened in Sokovia and Lagos, Ross refuses to acknowledge guilt or pay the consequences for the battle in Harlem between Bruce Banner aka the Hulk and Emil Blonsky aka Abomination in “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. Someone had pointed out how friends found themselves on opposite sides of this conflict. I saw this theme played out with Natasha, who found herself opposing Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, Sam and Steve – three men with whom she had formed close friendships. This theme also played out with Wanda’s growing friendship with Vision, when the pair of them took opposing sides on the Accords issue.

The past seemed to weigh heavily in this movie, as well. The ghost of Steve’s past – in the form of one “Bucky” Barnes manifests on the heels of the Vienna bombing. Another ghost from Steve’s past manifested in the form of Sharon Carter, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, whom he had first met in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. Both Steve and Sam were surprised to discover that Sharon was the great-niece of his former love, Peggy Carter. One could say the same for Bucky, whose past as the brainwashed Winter Soldier is not only used to frame him for the Vienna bombing, but also manifests in the discovery of Howard and Maria Stark’s fates. And while I found this revelation rather interesting, I did not find it particularly surprising, after the events of “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. In fact, many fans of the franchise did not seem surprised. Tony’s ghosts from the past also formed a cloud above this story. His and Bruce’s creation of Ultron not only led to Sokovia’s destruction, but also to his support of the Sokovia Accords. More importantly, Sokovia’s destruction led a colonel from an elite Sokovian commando unit named Helmut Zemo to seek revenge for the deaths of his family during the battle against Ultron. And the newly ascended King T’Challa struggled to deal with his father’s death, as he sought to kill Bucky for the death of his father King T’Chaka during the Vienna bombing.

But “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” is foremost an action film. And the movie featured some first-rate action sequences. Many film critics and moviegoers have been talking about the battle between the two Avengers factions at a Berlin airport. And yes, I found it impressive . . . somewhat. My favorite moment occurred when Scott Lang aka Ant-Man transformed himself into a giant, taking everyone by surprise. But if I must be honest, the airport sequence is not my favorite action scene in the movie. One of my favorites proved to be the chase sequence in Berlin in which the police, Steve, Sam and T’Challa pursued a fleeing Bucky. Another favorite turned out to be the movie’s first action sequence in which Steve’s Avenger team battled against Rumlow and his HYDRA team in Lagos.

The movie also featured some excellent acting. To be honest, I cannot think of a bad performance in this film. Once again, Chris Evans stepped up to the plate and provided another first-rate performance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America. For once, his Steve proved to be a more reflective man, who had learned to control his quick temper (until near the end of the film). I can also say the same for Robert Downey Jr., who gave another excellent performance as Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

Scarlett Johansson was excellent as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, who desperately tried to get Steve and Sam to cooperate with the government and sign the Accords. Anthony Mackie’s portrayal of Sam Wilson aka the Falcon proved to be a little more emotional and satisfying, as his character openly expressed contempt toward the Sokovia Accords and minor distrust toward Bucky Barnes’ re-appearance in Steve’s life. Sebastian Stan continued his excellent performance as Bucky Barnes, now a desperate man trying to keep both his memories and his life intact. Don Cheadle’s performance throughout most of the movie struck me as solid. But I must admit that he really stepped up his game and gave a very poignant performance in his last scene in which he and Tony discuss the near tragic circumstances of the Berlin airport fight. Both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany clicked on screen as Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Vision. This was especially apparent in one scene in which Wanda becomes aware that Vision has been trying to prevent her from leaving the Avengers’ headquarters.

Chadwick Boseman made a very impressive debut as T’Challa aka Black Panther. Boseman did an excellent job in portraying T’Challa’s barely controlled anger over his father’s death and his obsession in exacting revenge. Eight years after “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”, William Hurt repeated his role as Bruce Banner’s main adversary, Thaddeus Ross, who has become the U.S. Secretary of Defense and main supporter of the Sokovia Accords. And he was a lot more subtle and scary in this film than he was in the 2008 movie. Daniel Brühl gave a very subtle, yet intense performance as Helmut Zemo, the former Sokovian commando who wanted revenge against the Avengers for the deaths of his family. Alfre Woodard gave a very sublte, yet emotional performance as a woman who had confronted Tony about the death of her son in Sokovia. The movie also featured some solid performances from Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, John Slattery, Hope Davis and Frank Grillo.

Despite my admiration for the movie’s cast, the action sequences and some of the issues raised in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”, I had a major problem with it. In fact, I had several problems with it. First of all, the whole idea behind the Sokovia Accords really made no sense to me. I could say that this whole matter began because several Wakandan civilians were killed, when Steve and Wanda were trying to stop Rumlow from harming others through self-detonation. But it really began with the Chitauri invasion of New York in “THE AVENGERS”. Then came the fallout from the destruction of the HYDRA sponsored helicarriers in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, along with Iron Man and the Hulk’s battle in South Africa and the destruction of Sokovia in “AGE OF ULTRON” and finally, the Lagos incident in this film. For some reason, people like Thaddeus Ross want to solely blame the Avengers for the civilian fallout and not the villains. In the case of the events of “AGE OF ULTRON”, Tony, Bruce and Wanda were to blame. And Wanda . . . was not an Avenger at the time. What I could not understand is that neither Steve, Sam or anyone else who supported them had bothered to point this out. In fact, no one had bothered to point out Ross’ own involvement in the Hulk v. Abomination battle that nearly destroyed Harlem in “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. You know . . . like Tony and Natasha?

Even if the Avengers had found themselves under government control, the possibility that innocent civilians might get hurt would always be possible. Not even the Avengers or any other costumed hero/heroine can save everyone. Yet, no bothered to point this out. I also noticed that Thaddeus Ross failed to mention the Hulk v. Abomination battle in Harlem. This is understandable, considering he was partially to blame for what happened. But why did no one pointed this out? And could someone please explain why the Accords were named after the Sokovia incident, instead of the incident in Lagos, which had kick-started the international community’s decision to create them in the first place? Martin Freeman portrayed a character from the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre, who helped Ross regulate the Avengers. The problem is that . . . he really did nothing in this movie, except show up and then sneer, first at Bucky and later, at the movie’s villain. Frankly, I found his appearance in this movie a complete waste of time. Speaking of waste . . . Frank Grillo, who had skillfully portrayed Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, reprised his character for this movie. And guess what happened to him? The poor schmuck was bumped off via a suicide bombing some twenty to thirty minutes into the film. Am I to believe that Rumlow, a major character in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, had been reduced to a cameo, a plot device for the Lagos sequence . . . and nothing else? I guess so. In the end, Marvel ended up wasted Grillo’s time, just as they had wasted Thomas Kretschmann’s time in “AGE OF ULTRON”. And what were the German special forces, the GSG 9 doing in Bucharest, Romania? Bucharest was Bucky Barnes’ home at the time. And it was at his apartment where the GSG 9 tried to arrest him. What were they doing in a foreign country, trying to arrest an American citizen for a terrorist attack (the Accords conference) that happened in another foreign country – namely Austria. What on earth was the GSG 9 doing there?

I also had a problem with Tony Stark’s discovery that Bucky Barnes was the HYDRA assassin who had killed his parents. This discovery led Tony to try to kill Bucky, and Steve to come to his best friend’s defense. Two years earlier, Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury had released top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA files on the Internet, during the battle at the Triskelion in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. Through these files, Helmut Zemo discovered that Bucky was a brainwashed assassin used by HYDRA to kill Howard and Maria Stark back in 1991. If Zemo had been able to gain access to those files, why did Tony or any Stark Enterprises employee failed to do so? Why did he not make any attempt to access the files? A man, whose own father had been one of the co-founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a former enemy of HYDRA’s? Considering Tony’s nature, I find it difficult to believe that he never bothered to make the attempt. I have a deep suspicion that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely may have deliberately ignored this issue so they would have an excuse for Tony to suddenly react to Zemo’s revelation. How sloppy . . . and manipulative.

And then there is the problem of Robert Downey Jr. The actor was first cast in “CIVIL WAR” in a supporting role. However, the actor refused to do the movie, unless he was made a co-star. And Marvel gave in to his demands, because they so desperately wanted him in another Marvel film. Why did they allow Downey Jr., who portrayed Iron Man, to become a co-star in a Captain America movie? The name in the movie’s title is Captain America. I do not recall the name of Iron Man being in the title. So, why did Kevin Fiege and Marvel allow Downey Jr. to hijack half of Chris Evans’ third solo film? Especially since Evans was the lead in one of Marvel’s biggest hits – both financially and critically. Why did a Captain America movie end up giving as much attention to Tony’s character arc as it did to Steve’s? Tony’s character arc had more screen time than Bucky Barnes or Sam Wilson, who had stronger emotional connections to Steve than Tony. Why did the movie’s screenplay featured a five-to-ten minute scene in which Tony Stark recruited Peter Parker aka Spider-Man for his team and did not bother to show how Steve recruited Clint Barton and Scott Lang? In a Captain America movie?

You know, Marvel could have saved the Civil War story line for an Avengers film and wrapped up Steve’s connection to HYDRA in this film. This movie could have focused upon Steve’s efforts to help Bucky and put HYDRA behind him for good. The movie “ANT-MAN” featured former S.H.I.E.L.D. official/HYDRA mole Mitchell Carson alive and well at the end, with a sample of Darren Cross’ Yellow Jacket serum in his possession. They could have tied this up with the Winter Soldier program . . . or create another plot featuring HYDRA. The narrative for “CIVIL WAR” could have focused on the Winter Soldier program, allowed Helmut Zemo to remain a HYDRA agent, allowed Steve’s friendships with both Sam and Bucky to become more complex and allowed his relationship with Sharon Carter to develop at a decent pace. Instead, Fiege and Marvel decided to (temporarily?) end the HYDRA story arc with former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Phil Coulson and ATCU director Glenn Talbot blowing up HYDRA bases . . . off screen in an “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode called (3.18) “Singularity”. I found this so unsatisfying. And since Marvel and Fiege decided that this third Captain America movie should be more about the Sokovia Accords, this left Sam and Bucky engaged in a long and rather stupid running joke regarding their mutual competition for Steve’s friendship. The latter’s romance with Sharon proved to be very rushed. And instead of admitting this, some fans are blaming actress Emily VanCamp and the Sharon Carter character, instead of the movie’s screenwriters and producers. They have also began promoting the idea of Steve becoming bisexual and beginning a romance with Bucky (and not Sam, whom I suspect was not white enough for them). And I am not the only one who has noticed that Zemo’s motivation for revenge against the Avengers bore a strong resemblance to the Maximoff twins’ hostility toward Tony Stark in “AGE OF ULTRON”?

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” featured some excellent acting by a cast led by Chris Evans, some interesting issues on whether government intervention is a good thing or not, and some great action sequences, thanks to directors Anthony and Joe Russo. But for me, “CIVIL WAR” turned out to be nothing more than an Avengers movie shoved into a Captain America flick. And in the end, I found this rather unsatisfying and schizophrenic.

“Perils of a Matchmaker” [PG-13] – 1/2

 

“PERILS OF A MATCHMAKER”

CODE: P/T, B/N, Kim
RATING: [PG-13]
SUMMARY: Tom Paris helps Pablo Baytart win the affections of Sue Nicoletti and endangers his own pursuit of the Chief Engineer in the process. Set during late Season 3.
FEEDBACK: Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Tom, B’Elanna and all other characters related to Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom and the usual Trek Powers to Be.

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Part 1

Tom Paris heard footsteps behind him as he walked along the corridor of Deck Six. “Lieutenant! Lieutenant Paris!” a voice cried out. “Lieutenant, may I speak to you?” The voice belonged to Ensign Pablo Baytart, one of the pilots under the Chief Helmsman’s command.

“Can I help you, Pablo?” Tom paused to face the younger man.

Breathing heavily, Baytart replied, “Yeah, I . . .” He paused momentarily. “I need to speak with you. About a private matter.”

Private matter meant Baytart wanted to conduct this conversation somewhere other than in the middle of the corridor. Tom nodded. “I’m heading for Holodeck One. For the resort. Why don’t you join me?”

“Well, I . . .” Hesitation loomed in Baytart’s eyes. “Can we go somewhere a little more private?”

Tom sighed and promised to initiate the privacy lock on the holodeck. The two pilots reached Holodeck One and entered. Although Neelix’s resort program was running, no one seemed to be inside. Much to Baytart’s obvious relief. After Tom ordered the computer to initiate the lock, he turned to the junior pilot. “Okay Pablo, we’re alone. Now what’s the problem?”

It all came tumbling out of Baytart’s mouth. In a nutshell, the young pilot was in love with Lieutenant Sue Nicoletti, from Engineering. And he required Tom’s help to play matchmaker. The older man gave Baytart a blank look. “Matchmaker? Why me?”

“I . . . uh . . .” Baytart blushed. “Well, I heard how you helped Culhane with Jenna Carlson in Exobiology, a couple of months ago. And I wondered if you could . . .” The pilot’s face now turned deep red. “You see, it’s Sue. I heard she can be difficult to pursue.”

The understatement of the century, Tom thought wryly. He recalled his own six-month long efforts to pursue Sue Nicoletti, last year. Efforts that eventually ended in failure. Not that Tom felt any bitterness over the matter, despite the “cold hands, cold heart” comment he once made to Harry Kim about the engineer. He had never felt anything more than lust for the dark-haired Sue. Something he wished he could say about his present goal – namely Sue’s commanding officer – a certain half-Klingon, half-Human chief engineer. Images of the recent events on Sakari IV flashed through Tom’s mind. Along with memories of a conversation inside a turbolift. “Careful of what you wish for, Lieutenant.” With a sigh, Tom realized he may have taken on a more impossible goal.

“Lieutenant?” Baytart’s voice interrupted Tom’s thoughts.

The older man shook his head. “Sorry. My mind was elsewhere. Uh, as for the elusive Lieutenant Nicoletti, I’ll see what I can do.”

A bright smile lit up Pablo’s face. “Thanks, Lieutenant.”

“Don’t get too excited, Pablo. This is Sue Nicoletti we’re dealing with.” Cold hands, cold heart. “It might take a while before we achieve success.”

Still smiling, Pablo stood up. “I’m sure you’ll get the job done, Lieutenant. I’ll see you later. And again, thanks.” He left the holodeck.

“Yeah, sure,” Tom murmured under his breath. He realized, to his regret, that he might have to put his pursuit of B’Elanna Torres on hold.

* * * *

Sable eyes watched the doors to Engineering slide open. Watched a sandy blond-haired figure in Command black-and-red, stroll inside. Those same eyes quickly glanced away the moment Voyager’s Chief Pilot walked toward the Chief Engineer’s private office. B’Elanna Torres’s heart began to beat rapidly.

Breathe Torres. Calm down. Tom Paris is no one to get excited over. What happened on Sakari IV had been a mere fluke. An unfortunate incident caused by a chemical imbalance forced upon her by a Vulcan in . . .

“Hey B’Elanna.” Tom Paris’s soft, masculine voice filled her ears. The same voice that told her over two months ago that he would like to see more of her Klingon side. Tom entered her office, his scent pervading her senses. B’Elanna struggled not to breathe deeply. He tossed a PADD on her desk. “The navigation reports. Just as you had requested.”

B’Elanna snatched the PADD from the desk. “Thanks,” she said, giving Tom a curt nod. She did not even bother to look at him. The last thing she wanted was to look deeply into the pilot’s blue eyes. Unfortunately for B’Elanna, once she received the report, Tom refused to move. Another sigh left her mouth. He possessed a stubborn streak that rivaled any Klingon’s. “Is there something else you wanted, Paris?” She glanced up and frowned. It helped that her eyes focused upon his forehead.

“Paris?” One of Tom’s sandy brows quirked upward. “I thought we had put surnames behind us a long time ago.” Over a year, to be exact.

B’Elanna growled. “What do you want, Tom?”

A slow smile curled the pilot’s lips. B’Elanna forced herself to ignore the electric currents shooting up her spine. “Well, I was thinking of holding this party,” Tom replied, “and I thought you would like . . .”

“I’ll be busy,” B’Elanna shot back, interrupting him.

Tom frowned. “Oh? When? I don’t recall mentioning a specific date.”

Idiot! B’Elanna mentally castigated herself. She should have kept her mouth shut, until he finished. Now, how in the hell was she going to get out of this mess?

B’Elanna eventually asked herself why she would want to avoid an evening with Tom. She could no longer deny her interest in the pilot. At least, privately. Publicly admitting her interest seemed another matter. A little voice inside her mind – one that she labeled “FEAR” – told her that it would be a matter of time before Tom Paris grew weary of her Klingon side. And that in the end, he would reject her.

Heaving a sigh, B’Elanna deliberately examined the PADD in her hand. “Look Tom,” she commented in her usual gruff manner, “I’m sure that your party will be a lot of fun, but I don’t know when I’ll have time to enjoy it. Between our encounter with that Borg cube and the Doctor’s foray into homicidal schizophrenia, I don’t know when.”

“Oh.” Tom’s voice permeated with disappointment. At least that was how it sounded to B’Elanna. “Well . . . uh, hopefully you’ll be free, sooner than you think.”

“Hopefully.”

Another moment passed before Tom murmured a quick good day. And then he left. Only his scent lingered inside the office. The half-Klingon kept her eyes fixed on the report. At least, she tried to concentrate. The moment she felt safe enough to do so, she glanced up to watch Tom leave Engineering. Only, he did not leave. Instead, he made his way toward one of her engineers working at a console near the warp core. Sue Nicoletti. B’Elanna’s eyes narrowed.

* * * *

“Say that again?” Sue Nicoletti demanded. “You’re inviting me to where?” Her voice rang throughout Engineering, drawing stares.

There were times Tom wished the engineer would learn to keep her voice at a moderate level. Ignoring the curious stares, Tom repeated his question. “I asked if you would like to join me in my quarters, tomorrow evening.”

Sue shot an uneasy glance at the Chief Engineer’s office. “Uh, just us alone?”

“Huh?” Tom realized that he had misinterpreted his intent. The last thing he wanted was to give Sue the idea that he had renewed his interest in her. “Oh! Uh . . . damn! No, it’s not what you think.” He exhaled a gust of breath. “I’m holding a little sociable, tomorrow night. You know, food, drinks, music and perhaps a little game of poker.”

Disbelief replaced the wariness in Sue’s blue eyes. “This is new. You haven’t asked me to a friendly get-together in months. Ten months, to be exact.”

Tom shrugged. “Considering the number of times you’ve turned me down in the past, can you blame me?”

“Uh-huh.”

A nervous laugh escaped Tom’s mouth. “Look Sue, it’s not what you think. I’m not interested in romance. Just a little get together with people I consider to be my friends.”

“I don’t know whether to be relieved or insulted,” Sue commented wryly. Again, she shot a glance toward B’Elanna’s office. “Will Lieutenant Torres be there?”

Tom quickly squelched the disappointment he felt over B’Elanna’s recent rejection. “It seems she’ll be busy for a while. I’m only surprised that you aren’t.”

“Busy doing what?”

Of course. Tom realized he should have known that B’Elanna’s excuses for turning down his invitation were mere smoke screens. Either she had no desire to spend her off-duty hours with him. Or she was afraid. Tom hoped it was the latter.

Sue repeated her question. “Well? Busy doing what?”

“Nothing,” Tom responded with a sigh. “Forget what I said. All I want to know is will you be able to show up at my quarters, tomorrow night. Say, 20:00 hours?”

“I’ll be there.”

Tom smiled. “Good. Now be sure . . .”

“Nicoletti!” a throaty female’s voice cried out. “Haven’t you finished recalibrating those specs, yet?” Tom and Sue stared at the glass-encased office. B’Elanna stood in the doorway, hands on hips. Glaring.

Sue threw Tom a long-suffering glance. One that pleaded with him to leave before either of them piss off the Chief Engineer any further. Tom quickly got the message and left Engineering before he could further inflame B’Elanna’s wrath.

* * * *

Around 19:45, the following night, Tom glanced around his quarters. His guests were due to arrive any minute. And sure enough, the first one arrived three minutes later. Pablo Baytart. Harry Kim arrived with both Delaney sisters, two minutes after Pablo. Before 20:00, the rest of Tom’s guests arrived, with the exception of Sue Nicoletti. The engineer showed up fifteen minutes late.

Soft jazz music filled the pilot’s cabin. A tempting array of Earth and Bajoran dishes stretched across a table, set up against a bare wall. The food had been replicated, thanks to additional credits provided by Baytart and Harry.

The party seemed to proceed smoothly. Talk focused on topics other than survival in the Delta Quadrant. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food. Tom did not blame them. He had to keep the party a secret from Voyager’s Talaxian cook – who would have undoubtedly volunteered to prepare the food. And to Tom’s delight, Pablo and Sue managed to strike up a conversation on famous jazz musicians. If everything went according to plan, the engineer and the pilot will drift from acquaintance to friendship, and eventually toward romance. Then disaster struck.

Pablo volunteered to fetch a plate of dim sum for Sue. Eager to please the engineer, he set out on his task. As he headed back toward Sue, Pablo failed to notice Mike Ayala’s protruding foot. He tripped over the latter and the plate of dim sum with soy sauce, sailed out of his hands and landed on Sue’s lap.

The engineer cried out with dismay. Pablo laid sprawled on the floor, wearing a horrified expression. Tom closed his eyes and sighed. Getting Pablo and Sue together, he realized, might proved to be more elusive than him winning the hand of one B’Elanna Torres.

* * * *

“Hey, Starfleet!”

Harry glanced up from his breakfast and found the Chief Engineer standing beside his table inside the Mess Hall. “Hey, Maquis. Have a seat.” He gestured toward the empty chair, opposite him.

Once B’Elanna eased into a chair, she began poking at her food. Either she was not hungry or like Harry, found Neelix’s idea of Eggs Benedict, unappetizing. “Doesn’t look that hot, does it?” Harry commented.

B’Elanna smiled wryly. “Not really. I would have replicated something, but I’m low on credits, right now.”

“Yeah, so am I. Tom managed to win most of my credits during a pool game, day before yesterday.” Harry scooped up a forkful of orange-colored eggs. “He must have used them for that party in his quarters, last night.” The moment he mentioned Tom’s party, he saw B’Elanna’s mouth tightened into a grim line. “What’s wrong?”

Her mouth quickly relaxed. Dark eyes widened in innocence. “What do you mean?”

“Is there something wrong?” Harry continued. “You looked upset for a moment. When I mentioned Tom’s party.” He deliberately paused. “Were you upset over that?”

B’Elanna’s nose wrinkled in distaste. “Of course not! Why should I be upset? Tom had invited me. I just didn’t . . . I mean, I was busy, last night.” She began to attack her food.

“Busy?” Harry frowned. “Doing what? Most of the major repairs were finished three days ago.”

An exasperated sigh escaped B’Elanna’s mouth. “There were minor repairs to deal with,” she replied through gritted teeth.

“Which could have been done by your staff. After all, you are the Chief Engineer.”

“What’s your point, Harry?”

The Operations Chief realized that he was about to tread through dangerous waters. But he also remembered that he was a Starfleet officer. Not only was weird part of the job, but also danger. Harry took a deep breath. “It sounds as if you had turned down Tom’s invitation. To avoid Tom.”

B’Elanna rolled her eyes. “Kahless, Harry! The world does not revolve around Thomas Paris!” The moment she spoke his name, the Mess Hall doors slid open and in strode the object of their conversation. Harry glanced at B’Elanna, whose cheeks immediately turned red. A smile tugged at his lips.

“Hey Harry!” Tom greeted in his usual gregarious manner. He joined the two friends at their table. His eyes slid toward the Chief Engineer. “B’Elanna.” The latter responded with a murmur.

Harry smiled at his friend. “Hey, Tom. Where’s your breakfast?”

“I ate some of the leftovers from last night’s party. You should taken some yourself, Harry.” Tom shot a withering glance at the orange eggs. “And maybe spare yourself from Neelix’s latest sample of Delta Quadrant cuisine.”

Harry dismally poked his eggs with his fork. “Oh God, please don’t remind me!”

Tom turned to face B’Elanna. “Say B’Elanna, you miss one hell of a party, last night. We had a great time. Right, Har?”

“I have to admit that I did enjoy myself, last night,” Harry conceded, recalling the festivities. “Tom’s right, B’Elanna. It’s a shame that you missed it.”

Mischief sparkled in Tom’s blue eyes. “Well, B’Elanna was busy last night, Harry,” he drawled. “With repairs. Of course that does seem odd, since all of the major repairs were finished three days ago.”

B’Elanna gave Harry an accusing stare. “You told!”

“What are you talking about?” a bewildered Harry protested. “I didn’t say a word!”

“Then who . . .?” B’Elanna’s gaze pierced the Chief Helmsman. “All right, Flyboy! Who told you?”

Projecting an air of innocence, Tom shrugged. “Told me what?”

“Tom!”

Chuckling, Tom finally gave in. “All right, all right. It was Sue Nicoletti. I asked her about the repairs, last night.”

Sable eyes slitted dangerously. Harry prepared to calm down B’Elanna. Before he could do so, the doors slid open again and Sue Nicoletti entered. As she strode toward the galley’s counter, Tom rose from his chair. “Excuse me for a minute.” His eyes focused on the dark-haired engineer. “I have some business to attend to.” The pilot walked toward Sue, leaving behind two speechless friends.

B’Elanna finally spoke out. “What the hell does he want with her?” she growled.

Harry noticed the grim expression on his friend’s face. And the envy in her dark eyes. Interesting, he thought. B’Elanna was jealous. Harry glanced at his other friend. And what exactly did Tom want with Sue Nicoletti?

* * * *

Tom approached the engineer, flashing his trademark effervescent grin. “Sue!”

Nicoletti eyed the helmsman with a wary eye. “Tom. What can I do for you?” She picked up a breakfast tray and began to examine the dishes on the counter.

“Just wanted to know if you enjoyed last night’s party.” From the corner of his eye, Tom noticed the perked interest on Neelix’s face.

Sue quietly made her breakfast selections. “I enjoyed it,” she coolly replied replied, “aside from getting a plate full of dim sum and soy sauce on one of my best dresses.”

Tom winced at her answer. It seemed Pablo’s clumsy act had failed to fade from Sue’s memory. “Yeah, I’m real sorry about that. Mike should really learn to keep his feet tucked in.”

“And Baytart should learn to watch where he steps,” Sue retorted. Oh, oh! Things did not look promising. Once Neelix filled her plate with food, Sue carried it over to the nearest empty table. Tom followed. She eased into a chair with a sigh. “Okay, Tom. What do you want, now?”

Tom sat down in a chair, opposite her. “I have a favor to ask.” He paused.

“What favor?”

In a breathless rush, Tom informed Sue of his plans (phony ones, at that) to develop a training simulation holoprogram for the pilots in his division. “Holoprogram?” Sue took a bite of her Eggs Benedict and grimaced. Then she chewed her food and swallowed. “What do you need me for? You’re one of the best holoprogrammers on the ship.”

It amazed Tom how a compliment could sound so cold. What on earth did Baytart see in this woman? Better yet, what on earth made him pursue her for six months? The challenge? Tom gathered all of his patience and replied, “It’s not your programming skills I need, Sue. It’s your memory. Of Geminian Prime. I understand that your last assignment before Voyager was the Hiriku. And that it was the first starship to chart the Geminian Prime system.”

“So what? I’m an engineer, not a astrophysicist.”

Tom sighed. Patience, Tommy boy, patience. Hell, you’ve been practicing it long enough with B’Elanna. His lips still fixed in a smile, Tom continued, “That may be true, but I heard you were part of the original survey team. To study the geological and metallurgical details of several of the planets. I need to provide me some details of the system.”

Sue warily speared a piece of Ragealan sausage. “You can find all the information you need in the ship’s database.”

“The database cannot provide those little details that make a program exciting. C’mon Sue! Please?” Tom gave the engineer the full blast of his blue eyes.

A sigh left Sue’s mouth. “Okay,” she said, surprising Tom. “I’ll help you. I may not remember much, but I’ll help. When do we start?”

So much for Cold Hands/Cold Hearts Nicoletti, Tom decided. Maybe he should have tried begging, when he had pursued her a year ago. “How about tomorrow evening? Around 1900 hours? I’ll meet you outside the Hololab.”

“It’s a date,” Sue replied. Unfortunately, she had spoken loud enough to draw stares from nearby diners.

Tom decided it was time to leave before a false rumor could start. He bid Sue a quick good-bye and returned to Harry’s table. However, one person seemed to be missing. Tom’s eyes narrowed. “Where’s B’Elanna?” he asked. Harry did not say a word and instead, responded with a sardonic smirk.

* * * *

Somewhere on Deck 8, B’Elanna crawled through Jeffries tube 26, lugging her toolkit with her. Several of the EPS conduits had malfunctioned and for some reason, the two engineers she assigned to make repairs seemed capable of completing the task. A firm believer in the old adage – “If you want something done, do it yourself” – B’Elanna decided to deal with the repairs, personally.

She came upon a console, located a few feet away from one of the tube’s opened doors. After removing the console’s panel, B’Elanna’s dark eyes examined the circuitry. Obviously, Ensigns Mulcahey and Ballard’s repairs had failed to solve the problem. In fact, their work only seemed to have made matters worse. How in Kahless’s name did Starfleet allow such incompetents on their starships?

A sigh left the Chief Engineer’s mouth. She picked up a hydro-spanner and set about making repairs. B’Elanna hoped that a little work would help her forget that scene she had witnessed in the Mess Hall. Unfortunately, no sooner had she begun repairs, her hopes quickly dashed. The circuits before her, soon transformed into the unwelcome vision of Tom Paris and Susan Nicoletti, engaged in an intimate conversation.

What in the hell made Tom rush to Sue’s side, the moment she entered the Mess Hall? Did he have an innocent matter to discuss? Or did he invite her to another one of his private parties? B’Elanna began to wonder if Tom’s romantic interest in the dark-haired woman had revived, after his failure to woo the Chief Engineer. The latter longed to know. And yet, a part of her had no desire to concern herself with the notorious Chief Helmsman. Ah, conflict! Her constant companion in life.

“. . . has to be,” a voice beyond the tube’s door, was saying. “How else can you explain it?”

Another voice sighed. “Explain what?” B’Elanna recognized that soft, sarcastic voice anywhere. It belonged to her second-in-command, Joe Carey. “Pat, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Ensign Patrick Mulcahey snorted. “Of course, I do! I was sitting at the table next to them, inside the Mess Hall . . .”

B’Elanna’s hands paused over the console. She placed the spanner on the floor and quietly crept toward the door. When Mulcahey mentioned the words, “Mess Hall”, she realized that he and Joe were discussing Paris and Nicoletti. At that moment, B’Elanna refused to even think of the Chief Pilot as Tom.

“You mean to say,” Carey sarcastically continued, “that you and Lindsay overheard the entire conversation?”

Mulcahey retorted, “We heard enough.” He paused, causing B’Elanna to mentally scream for the man to continue. “Paris asked Sue to help him with a holodeck program.”

“And?”

B’Elanna’s heart lurched at the news. Since when did Tom Paris need help with a holoprogram?

“Tom Paris, asking for help with a holoprogram?” Mulcahey cried out, repeating B’Elanna’s thoughts. “He’s one of the best programmers on the ship! Probably the best! What the hell does he need Sue’s help for?”

A sigh from Carey. “What are you leading to, Pat?”

“I think Paris is interested in Sue, again. C’mon Joe! What else can it be? He invites her to a party inside his quarters . . .”

Joe shot back, “I was there!” I could have been, B’Elanna added silently. “There were at least ten to fifteen people at that party.”

Mulcahey continued, “And what about this morning? Paris seeking help for his new holoprogram?”

Silence followed. B’Elanna immediately knew the answer to Mulcahey’s suggestion. Tom Paris wanted Sue Nicoletti. Quite simple. He had apparently grown weary of pursuing B’Elanna and now focused his attention upon another woman. Surely, Joe could see that?

Seconds later, B’Elanna had her answer. “I guess Paris finally got tired of chasing the Chief after Sakaris IV,” Joe finally said. “Too bad.”

“Too bad?” Mulcahey’s voice rang with disbelief. “Are you kidding me? Can you imagine the Chief and Playboy Paris as a couple? It would never work! She’s too intense for a guy like that!” Intense could only mean one thing – too Klingon in Mulcahey’s eyes. He did not realize it, but he had just earned another black mark in the Chief Engineer’s book.

Carey responded, “I don’t know. Personally, I thought they had something. Like I said, too bad.” He almost sounded mournful. But not as much as B’Elanna felt.

* * * *

Tom strode along Deck Six’s corridor in his usual, easygoing manner. He was on his way to Pablo Baytart’s quarters, located right next door to Harry. Upon reaching his destination, he rang the announciator. Several times. After six weeks of accumulating extra flying time, Baytart managed to get two days off for his troubles. Today was the first of his off-duty time. A groggy voice from inside cried out, “Wha . . . Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Pablo! Paris! I have something for you.” Seconds passed before the door opened, allowing Tom to enter.

Tom’s eyes glanced around the immaculate cabin. There were a few facts about Pablo Baytart. He was an excellent pilot, a good juggler, a friendly soul, he constantly complained about Harry’s clarinet and he also happened to be a neat freak. Tom barely saw an object out of place or a piece of clothing scattered about. Amazing.

“Lieutenant,” Baytart greeted his superior, while tugging at his robe. “Can I help you?”

Tom replied, “Not really. Actually, I’m here to help you. Here,” he tossed a PADD at the ensign. “Read that. You’re going to be helping Sue with a holoprogram, tomorrow. Nineteen hundred hours. Be there.” He turned on his heels and started toward the door.

“Wait!” Pablo cried out. He ran a hand through his dark hair. “What do I need this PADD for?”

“I told Sue that I needed help with a pilot training program. It’s all there on the PADD. She’ll be expecting me, but you’ll show up, instead. Tell her . . .” Tom’s mind raced for a plausible explanation. “Tell her that I was called unexpectedly by Ensign Kim, regarding an Operations matter.” He slapped the younger man’s back. “After that, it’s up to you.”

Before Tom could leave, Pablo thanked him. “I really appreciate this, Lieutenant.” The Chief Pilot responded with a quick grin and left.

* * * *

At precisely 19:00 hours, the following evening, Tom deliberately failed to meet Lieutenant Nicoletti in the Hololab. Instead, he turned on his computer inside his quarters and watched Ensign Baytart make the appointment in his place, by activating the lab’s video monitor.

The expression on Sue’s face expressed annoyance at Tom’s failure to meet her. However, the engineer seemed willing to work with Pablo. Within twenty minutes, Tom could see that his plan was going smoothly. Both Sue and Pablo worked well, together. And unlike the party from a few days ago, there seemed to be no mishaps.

No sooner had those words entered Tom’s thoughts, Pablo punched in a few entries on his console, his eyes fixed upon Sue with unabashed admiration. Sparks immediately lit up the engineer’s workstation. Sue cried out in pain, before she fell to the floor, unconscious.

Tom lowered his head into his hand and let out a heavy sigh. He realized, with a touch of despair that his efforts to help Baytart win Nicoletti’s affections had just risen from difficult to near impossible.

* * * *

“One last item on the agenda, this morning,” Captain Janeway declared, “is Lieutenant Nicoletti’s injuries.” The auburn-haired captain and her senior officers sat around the large table, inside Voyager’s Conference Room. “Doctor, can you give us the details on this matter?”

Due to his possession of a 29th century holoemitter four-and-a-half months ago, the Chief Medical Officer had been able to appear outside Sick Bay and the holodecks. And finally even make personal appearances at senior staff meetings. Much to Tom’s annoyance. The latter preferred the good old days when they communicated with the EMH via a computer monitor. Which meant anyone could switch off the ponderous hologram whenever he became annoying.

The Doctor gave a slight cough. “Lieutenant Nicoletti had suffered minor burns and electric shock from an outage in her console in the Hololab. She healed quite nicely, following a minor surgery and a few hours of rest.”

“How on earth did that happened?” the Captain demanded. She turned to B’Elanna with concerned eyes. “Lieutenant, was there something wrong with one of the Hololab’s computer terminals?”

The Chief Engineer’s mouth formed a grim line. Tom almost smiled. She looked very Klingon at that moment. And quite gorgeous. “There was nothing wrong, Captain,” B’Elanna grumbled. “It seemed Ensign Baytart had accidentally caused a surge in the console Sue was working from.”

A puzzled frown appeared on Chakotay’s face. “I’m surprised those two were working together. Neither really struck me as being exceptional holoprogrammers.”

Tom spoke out. “It was my idea.” All eyes fell upon him. “I needed Sue’s help on a particular program, but I had to bow out at the last moment. So I asked Ensign Baytart to take my place.”

“Why?” Janeway asked.

Tom shrugged. “It’s nothing. I’m creating a new training program for the Conn Division.”

“Is that what you two were talking about in the Mess Hall?” Harry blurted out.

The question took Tom off guard. He had no idea that his little conversation with Sue had generated so much speculation. “Well . . . yeah,” he replied slowly. “What did you think?” He stared at his best friend, whose face turned red. Even more surprisingly, so did B’Elanna’s.

Before Harry could answer, Neelix had a question of his own. “Why would you need Lieutenant Nicoletti’s help with a holoprogram?” His question reflected in the eyes of the others.

“There’s a certain system in the . . .” Tom paused. Why on earth was everyone interested in him and Sue Nicoletti? “Look, it’s a private matter,” he quickly explained. “Excuse me, but isn’t this suppose to be a staff meeting and not gossip time in the Mess Hall?”

The majority of the staff glanced away, looking embarrassed. Except for the Captain, who let out a small cough. “You’re right, Mister Paris. This is turning into a gossip session. However, you cannot blame us for being a little curious.” She gave Tom a small smile. “If there is nothing more to discuss, everyone is dismissed.”

The rest of the staff filed out, one by one. Tom started toward B’Elanna, but she walked past the door and toward the turbolift, before he could stop her. Damn! And he thought he had problems with Pablo and Sue.

* * * *

Two hours later, B’Elanna paused outside the doors to Engineering and took a deep breath. Disappointment threatened to overwhelm her. Disappointment that Tom Paris had found someone new to pursue. Or to be more accurate, someone he had pursued before. Namely, Sue Nicoletti. After the senior staff meeting, there was no doubt in B’Elanna’s mind.

So many regrets filled her thoughts and heart. Regret that she had resisted Tom’s overtures for a date. Or that he had resisted her pon farr-induced overtures on Sakaris IV. And that Vorik had interrupted when she and Tom were finally about to have sex. After receiving rejection after rejection, Tom had finally lost interest in her.

“Going in, Chief?”

B’Elanna snapped out of her funk and stared at the figure next to her. Carl Ashmore. She gave the engineer a tight smile. “After you, Ensign.” She indicated the door with a wave and followed him inside Engineering.

The moment she stepped inside, B’Elanna froze in her tracks. Just ahead stood both Sue and Tom, their heads together in deep conversation. And judging by the animated expressions on their faces, Tom may have finally succeeded in his pursuit of the dark-haired engineer. A surge of anger flared briefly inside B’Elanna, followed by jealousy and despair. Life was so damn unfair!

END OF PART 1

“Buffy’s Relationship With the Scoobies”

I have something of a problem with Buffy Summers’ relationship with her close friends, also known as the Scoobies:

“BUFFY’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SCOOBIES”

I just finished watching the “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” Season Three episode, (3.07) “Revelations”. I find myself recalling the scene in which the Scoobies revealed to Buffy that they knew that Angel, the souled vampire whom she was forced to kill in the Season Two finale, (2.22) “Becoming (Part 2)”, was still alive and she had been keeping his presence a secret from them. Apparently, one of the Scoobies, Xander Harris, had decided to spy on Buffy, due to her secretive behavior and found her kissing Angel.

Now, I realize that they had a right to be angry that she failed to tell them about Angel being alive. The latter had spent the second half of Season Two as their main antagonist, due to his losing his soul. Because of this, he had caused a great deal of problems for them. He had also summoned the demon Acathla in order to bring about the end of the world. Buffy was finally able to defeat him in “Becoming (Part Two)” . . . but not before fellow Scooby Willow Rosenberg had restored his cursed soul.

But . . . God, this scene when the Scoobies had confronted Buffy in “Revelations” had pissed me off! If there is one thing about Buffy’s relationship with her Watcher Rupert Giles and the Scoobies that has burned me is that she has allowed them to dictate her behavior and moral compass, due to her own fear of losing their friendship. Has Buffy ever put such pressure on Xander, Willow or Giles? I wonder. For years, they put her on this pedestal called “THE SLAYER” and rarely allow Buffy to be herself or have her own life.

Xander was the worst offender of them all. I do not know how this character came to be so beloved by the series’ fans. Granted, Xander could be entertaining. But of all the characters, he was probably the most self-righteous of the bunch. And he has allowed his self-righteousness, along with his jealousy toward Buffy’s relationships with both Angel and Spike to compromise his morals without any remorse. Good examples would be his lie to Willow about Buffy’s wishes regarding Angel in “Becoming (Part 2)” and his attempt to murder a chipped Spike in (6.18) “Entropy” for having sex with the fiancee he had dumped at the altar. Even in “Revelations”, he was behaving in the most self-righteous manner about Buffy’s lie regarding Angel . . . yet, at the same time, was kissing Willow behind his girlfriend at the time Cordelia Chase’s back. Some would say that at least his infidelity with Willow was not a threat to anyone. But his and Willow’s actions ended up hurting Cordelia in more ways than one.

The Scoobies’ attitude toward Buffy reached its pinnacle in Season Six. In (6.01)”Bargaining (Part 1)”, Willow, with the assistance of Xander, his second girlfriend Anya Jenkins and her girlfriend Tara Maculay’s assistance, brought Buffy back from the dead . . . without her consent or anything. An act that led to a year long depression for for the Slayer. And they did this, because they needed “THE SLAYER”. They believed that Sunnydale needed a Slayer. Despite the fact that Sunnydale had managed to exist without a Slayer for nearly a century before Buffy’s arrival.

Is it any wonder why Buffy began to emotionally distance herself from her friends” in Season Seven?

“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” (1978) Review

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“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” (1978) Review

I have noticed in the past decade or so, there have been an increasing number of television and movie productions that either featured the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (aka King Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson), either as supporting characters or lead characters. Actually, only one production – the 2011 movie, “W.E.” – featured them as leads. And yet . . . with the exception of the 2011 movie, the majority of them tend to portray the couple as solely negative caricatures.

There have been other productions that portrayed Edward and Wallis as complex human beings. Well . . . somewhat complex. Television movies like 1988’s “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” and 2005’s “WALLIS & EDWARD” seemed to provide viewers with a highly romanticized view of the couple. Perhaps a bit too romanticized. And there was Madonna’s 2011 movie, “W.E.”, which seemed to offer a bit more complex view of the couple. But I thought the movie was somewhat marred by an alternate storyline involving a modern woman who was obsessed over the couple. I have seen a good number of productions about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Yet, for my money, the best I have ever seen was the 1978 miniseries, “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”.

Adapted by Simon Raven from Frances Donaldson’s 1974 biography, “Edward VIII” and directed by him, the seven-part miniseries is basically an account of Edward VIII Abdication Crisis in 1936 and the pre-marital romance of the king and American socialite, Wallis Simpson, that led to it. The story began in 1928, when Edward Windsor was at the height of his popularity as Britain’s Prince of Wales. At the time, the prince was courting two women – both married – Mrs. Freda Dudley Ward and Thelma Furness, Viscountess Furness. Some two or three years later, Thelma introduced Edward to Ernest and Wallis Simpson, a pair of American expatriates living in London. The couple became a part of the Prince of Wales’ social set. But when Thelma left Britain in 1934 to deal with a family crisis regarding her sister Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, Edward and Wallis grew closer. By the time Thelma returned to Britain, Wallis had become the Prince of Wales’ official mistress. And both Thelma and Mrs. Dudley Ward found themselves unceremoniously dumped.

The miniseries eventually continued with the couple’s growing romance between 1934 and 1935, despite disapproving comments and observations from some of the Prince of Wales’ official staff and members of the Royal Family. But the death of King George V, Edward’s father, led to the prince’s ascension to Britain’s throne as King Edward VIII. By this time, Edward had fallen completely in love with Wallis. And despite the opinion of his family, certain members of his social set and the British government, he became determined to marry and maker her his queen in time for his coronation.

“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” is not perfect. I do have a few complaints about the production. I realize that screenwriter Simon Raven wanted to ensure a complex and balanced portrayal of both Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. But there were times when I found his characterization a bit too subtle. This was most apparent in his portrayal of Edward’s admiration of the fascist governments of Germany and Italy. It almost seemed as if Raven was trying to tiptoe around the topic and I found it rather frustrating. On the other hand, Raven’s portrayal of Wallis at the beginning of her romance with Edward struck me as a bit heavy-handed. Quite frankly, she came off as some kind of femme fatale, who had resorted to deceit to maneuver Edward’s attention away from his other two mistresses – Freda Dudley Ward and Lady Furness, especially when the latter was in the United States visiting her sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt. The production’s screenplay did indicate that Lady Furness may have conducted a flirtation with the Prince Aly Khan on the voyage back to Great Britain. Yet, Raven’s screenplay seemed to hint that Wallis’ machinations were the main reason Edward gave up both Mrs. Dudley Ward and Lady Furness.

Otherwise, I have no real complaints about “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”. Ten or perhaps, twenty years ago, I would have complained about the last three or four episodes that focused on Edward’s determination to marry Wallis and the series of political meetings and conferences that involved him, her, her attorneys, the Royal Family, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, the king’s equerries, politicians, lawyers and journalists. Now, I found it all rather interesting. What I found interesting about these scenes were the various reactions to Wallis Simpson. Many of them – especially the Royal Family, the equerries and Baldwin – seemed to regard her as some kind of “Jezebel” who had cast some kind of spell over Edward. In its worst form, their attitude came off as slut shaming. The majority of them tend to blame her for Edward’s occasional lapses of duty and ultimate decision to abdicate. As far as I can recall, only two were willing to dump equal blame on Edward himself – Royal Secretary Alexander Hardinge and Elizabeth, Duchess of York, later queen consort and “Queen Mother”.

Another reason why I found this hardened anti-Wallis attitude so fascinating is that the Establishment seemed very determined that Edward never marry Wallis. I understand the Royal Marriages Act 1772 made it possible for the British government to reject the idea of Wallis becoming Edward’s queen consort, due to being twice divorced. But they would not even consider a morganatic marriage between the couple, in which Wallis would not have a claim on Edward’s succession rights, titles, precedence, or entailed property. I am not saying that both Edward and Wallis were wonderful people with no flaws. But . . . this hostile attitude toward the latter, along with this hardened determination that the couple never marry struck me as excessive. Were the British Establishment and the Royal Family that against Edward marrying Wallis, let alone romancing her? It just all seem so unreal, considering that the pair seemed to share the same political beliefs as the majority of the British upper class. And considering that Wallis was descended from two old and respectable Baltimore families, I can only conclude that the British Establishment’s true objection was her American nationality.

Although the political atmosphere featured in “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” seemed very fascinating to me, the social atmosphere, especially the one that surrounded Edward, nearly dazzled me. “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” is one of the few productions on both sides of the Atlantic that did a superb job in conveying the look and style of the 1930s for the rich and famous. This was especially apparent in the miniseries’ first three episodes that heavily featured Edward’s social life between 1928 and 1936. First, one has to compliment Allan Cameron and Martyn Hebert’s production designs for re-capturing the elegant styles of the British upper classes during the miniseries’ setting. Their work was ably enhanced by Ron Grainer’s score, which he effectively mixed with the popular music of that period and Waris Hussein’s direction, which conveyed a series of elegant montages on Edward’s social life – including his royal visit to East Africa with Thelma Furness, the weekend parties held at his personal house, Fort Belevedere; and the infamous 1936 cruise around the Adriatic Sea, aboard a yacht called the Nahlin. But if there was one aspect of “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” that truly impressed me were Jennie Tate and Diane Thurley’s costume designs. When any costume designer has two leading characters known as major clothes horses, naturally one has to pull out all the stops. Tate and Thurley certainly did with their sumptious costume designs – especially for actress Cynthia Harris – that struck me as both beautiful and elegant, as shown in the images below:

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that I was I was not surprised to learn that they had won BAFTAs for their work. Come to think of it, Cameron and Herbert won BAFTAs for their production designs, as well. Which they all fully deserved.

“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” featured some solid and outstanding performances from the supporting cast. Cheri Lunghi and Kika Markham, who portrayed Edward’s two previous mistresses Thelma Furness and Freda Dudley Ward; along with Andrew Ray and Amanda Reiss as the Duke and Duchess of York; gave very charming performances. I could also say the same for Trevor Bowen, Patricia Hodge and Charles Keating as Duff Cooper, Lady Diana Cooper and Ernest Simpson. Veterans such as Peggy Ashcroft, Marius Goring, Maurice Denham and Jesse Matthews provided skillful gravitas to their roles as Queen Mary, King George V, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Aunt Bessie Merryman (Wallis’ aunt). And Nigel Hawthorne gave a warm and intelligent performance as Walter Monckton, who served as an adviser for both Edward and Wallis. And if you pay attention, you might spot Hugh Fraser portraying Anthony Eden in one particular scene.

But there were four performances that really impressed me. One came from John Shrapnel, who portrayed the King’s Private Secretary Alexander Hardinge. It seemed as if Shrapnel had the unenviable task of portraying a man who seemed bent upon raining on Edward’s parade . . . for the sake of the country and the Empire. There were times when I found his character annoying, yet at the same time, Shrapnel managed to capture my sympathy toward Hardinge’s situation. I was also impressed by David Waller, who portrayed Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Waller also portrayed the politician in the 1988 television movie, “THE WOMAN HE LOVED”. But I felt more impressed by Waller’s performance in this production. I came away not only with Baldwin’s dislike of Wallis and frustration with Edward; but Waller also made me realize how much of a politician Baldwin truly was . . . especially when the latter tried to convince Wallis to disavow Edward.

The true stars of “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” proved to be the two leads – Edward Fox and Cynthia Harris. Of all of the actresses I have seen portray Wallis Warfield Simpson aka the Duchess of Windsor, I would say that Harris is the best I have ever seen. Not once did the actress succumb to hammy or heavy-handed acting . . . even when Simon Raven’s screenplay seem bent upon portraying the American-born socialite as some kind of gold digger in the first episode, “The Little Prince”. The late Art Buchwald and his wife Ann had recalled meeting the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at one of the latter’s dinner parties in post-World War II Paris. Although their recollection of Edward was not that impressive, they seemed very impressed by Wallis, whom they described as a cool, yet charming and savy woman. And that is exactly how Harris had portrayed the future Duchess. More importantly, Harris revealed – especially in the last three episodes – that Wallis was more than a cool and witty woman. She was also a complex human being. Edward Fox won a BAFTA for his portrayal of King Edward VIII, the future Duke of Windsor. As far as I am concerned, he more than deserved that award. I was really impressed by how Fox portrayed Edward as a complex individual, instead of some one-note hedonist, as many productions were inclined to do in the past decade. Fox recaptured all of the warmth, charm and charisma of the future Duke of Windsor. And the same time, the actor revealed his character’s frustration with his emotionally distant parents, his occasional bouts of immaturity, insecurity, self-absorption and single-minded love for Wallis. On one hand, Fox managed to skillfully express dismay at the economic conditions of the country’s working-class and in other scenes revel in his character’s luxurious lifestyle with abandonment. The actor’s performance struck me as a great balancing act.

If I must be honest, the real reason why I managed to enjoy “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” to this day is that it is almost a balanced portrayal of the British monarch and his lady love. Simon Raven, director Waris Hussein and a talented cast led by Edward Fox and Cynthia Harris managed to convey both the good and bad about the infamous royal pair without resorting to the cliches that have been apparent in other past and recent productions.

Five Favorite Episodes of “ELEMENTARY” Season Two (2013-2014)

Below is a list of my favorite Season Two episodes from the CBS series, “ELEMENTARY”. Created by Robert Doherty, the series stars Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson:

 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ELEMENTARY” SEASON TWO (2013-2014)

1. (2.10) “Tremors” – During a court hearing to determine whether he and Joan Watson should be kept on as consultants to the NYPD, Sherlock Holmes recalls the events that led to the shooting of Detective Marcus Bell.

2. (2.22) “Paint It Black” – Following Joan’s kidnapping by terrorists, Sherlock and his brother Mycroft Holmes race to investigate the connection between her kidnappers and a Swiss bank executive in order to save her life.

3. (2.06) “An Unnatural Arrangement” – Sherlock and Joan investigate the attempted assault of Lieutenant Thomas “Tommy” Gregson’s estranged wife, when their home is invaded.

4. (2.01) “Step Nine” – Sherlock and Joan travel to London to help the former’s police partner, Inspector Lestrade, who has gone into hiding after threatening a murder suspect with a grenade. The pair also discovers that Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft is living at 221B Baker Street, Holmes’ former residence.

5. (2.17) “Ears to You” – Sherlock, Joan and the NYPD investigate when a former murder suspect receives a parcel with two severed ears in it, leaving the police to suspect that his “late” wife might still be alive and he might be innocent of murder.

“Crossroads of the Force” [PG-13] – Chapter Seven

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“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE”

CHAPTER SEVEN

WORLPORT, ORD MANTELL

Han guided the Javian Hawk through Ord Mantell’s heavy atmosphere and toward the planet’s busy capital. Within minutes, he landed the starship on a landing platform at the Worlport Spaceport, before guiding it into a hangar already occupied by another starship. “Here we are,” he declared. “Ord Mantell.”

Both Anakin and Han left the cockpit and joined their passengers in another section of the ship. “We’re here,” Anakin announced to the two women. “I will have to report the Hawk’s arrival to the local port master. Han, Chewie and I can rendezvous with you two ladies at your hotel. Which brings me to my question – what is the name?”

Senator Dahlma stood up with her usual regal manner. “We’ll be staying at the Hotel Grand,” she announced. “And I had made reservations for us all, before leaving Maldare. Which means your room will be next to the suite that Igraine and I will occupy. As for Mr. Chewbacca,” she glanced at the Hawk’s newest crew member, “I do not know if the hotel . . .”

“They will allow him to stay,” Anakin reassured the senator. “This is Ord Mantell, Senator. Not Coruscant.”

“Well . . . I suppose the matter has been settled.” Senator Dahlma glanced pointedly at the two men and then at her luggage.

Anakin knew what she wanted – someone to carry her luggage. He directed his gaze at Han. Who sighed. “Great! I should have known I’d end up being some glorified baggage handler. Where’s a good droid when you need one? C’mon Chewie, time to carry the ladies’ luggage.”

Han and Chewbacca gathered the Maldarian women’s luggage and started down the ship’s boarding ramp. Senator Dahlma followed. Miss Colbert hesitated and turned to Anakin. “Please forgive the senator,” she said in that soft, husky voice that Anakin found appealing. “She is a decent woman and has a good heart. But she also comes from a wealthy and influential family. Sometimes, her background tends to reflect in a rather . . . well, haughty manner.”

With a smile, Anakin replied, “I understand. It hasn’t been that long since the old days of the Republic. I’ve met her kind on Coruscant, before. Good people, but . . . like you had said, a little haughty.”

“Is that where you are from?” Miss Colbert asked. “Coruscant?”

Anakin hesitated. Should he tell her the truth? He finally decided. “Actually, I’m from one of the Outer Rim territories. But I have spent some considerable time on Coruscant. Before the Empire.”

“You seem old enough to have witnessed the Clone Wars,” Miss Colbert added. “Were you a veteran?”

“More like a pilot.” The former Jedi Knight offered his arm to the senator’s aide. “May I escort you off the ship, Milady?”

Miss Colbert smiled and linked her arm with Anakin’s. “I would be honored. And you can call me Igraine.”

“I’m . . . Set.” Anakin exchanged another smile with the Maldarian woman and escorted her off the Javian Hawk.

——-

Three hours later, Zoebeida Dahlma sat back into her chair, feeling relaxed for the first time since she learned about this conference several days ago. As she sipped her Mandalorian wine, Bail Organa continued his opening address to those attending the conference.

“. . . many of you. But we are all here for one reason – namely freedom throughout this galaxy.”

While the Alderaanian continued his speech, Zoebeida observed those who sat inside the Hotel Grand’s Jewel Conference Room. Naturally, Mon Mothma sat on one side of Organa and the former senator from Corellia, Garm Bel Iblis, sat on Bail’s other side. All three were seen as the Great Triumvirate – the founders of this new Rebel Alliance. Zoebeida felt surprised that former senators Padme Amidala and Solipo Yeb had not also participated in the alliance’s formation, considering their opposition against Palpatine during the last days of the Republic.

Speaking of Solipo Yeb, Zoebedia spotted the former Andalian senator seated at a table just left of Bail’s. Despite being a fugitive from the Empire, Solipo had managed to develop connections to several rebellious cells in the Vivenda Sector. Next to him sat Jan Dodonna, the lanky and bearded former Imperial general who had joined the Alliance after the Emperor Palpatine had ordered his assassination. Apparently, the Emperor considered the retired general from Dodonna as a danger to the Empire.

“Organization is the key,” Organa continued. “As an organized force, we can eventually bring an end to the Empire’s grip upon this galaxy. And eventually, restore the Republic.”

Applause followed. Zoebeida noticed that some of the attendees looked skeptical at Organa’s last words. Including Padme Amidala. Zoebeida had last seen the former Nabooan senator at a brief meeting with Organa and Iblis on Averam, four years ago. Like the former Corellian senator, Amidala had faked her death in order to avoid being hunted down by the Empire. Only Zoebeida could not fathom why the Empire would be interested in the former Queen of Naboo. Or why the latter would resort to such drastic steps to ensure anonymity. Perhaps she will learn the reason sometime during the conference.

Returning her attention to her Alderaanian colleague, Zoebeida realized that he seemed to be near the end of his speech. “. . . realize that by attending this conference, we have pledged our lives to returning freedom to this galaxy. I thank you.” More applause followed. When it died down, Organa added, “Please feel free to mingle. Since we plan to work together for years to come, I feel that we might as well get to know one another a lot better.”

The moment the attendees began to mingle, Zoebeida stood up and slowly made her way toward Padme Amidala’s table. By the time she reached it, she discovered that the former senator had been joined by Garm Bel Iblis and Solipo Yeb. She smiled at the other three. “How are we enjoying this evening?”

Yeb replied, “Surprisingly, quite well. I had expected to encounter a lot of squabbling.”

“Wait until tomorrow,” Garm shot back. “When we begin discussing the possibility of organization. The worms will certainly be coming out of the woodwork.”

Zoebeida shook her head in mock despair. “You’re such a cynic, Garm. You need to have more faith in your fellow sentient beings.”

Rolling his eyes in contempt, the Corellian shot back, “I have faith. I’m part of this alliance, aren’t I?”

A sigh left Zoebeida’s mouth. Sometimes, she wondered if the loss of his family at the hands of Imperial troopers had mentally affected Garm’s personality. “If you say so,” Zoebeida wearily replied.

“I can understand Garm’s position,” Solipo Yeb added. “The past ten to fourteen years have been difficult for us all. The war, the loss of the Republic, the Empire and many of us losing our homes or being forced to find new homes. You’re lucky, Zoebeida. You have not experienced any true upheavals in your life. At least, not yet.”

The Maldarian senator frowned. “What do you mean . . . not yet?”

Solipo continued, “Well, you haven’t experienced any loss, have you? Garm, Padme and I can no longer serve the Senate because we’re all fugitives. Well, I’m a fugitive. Garm and Padme are believed to be dead. And none of us can no longer reside on our homeworlds.”

Zoebeida pressed her lips together. When she had made the decision to approach Amidala’s table, she had never considered that she would end up feeling like an outsider. But Solipo’s words also gave her an opportunity to satisfy her curiosity about the former Nabooan senator. “If you do not mind my asking, Senator Amidala,” Zoebeida began, “why are you avoiding the Imperials?”

The younger woman’s eyes blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“Garm had opposed many of Palpatine’s decisions and policies for years,” Zoebeida continued. “Which finally put him in danger when Palpatine finally became Emperor. Solipo had provided sanctuary to a Jedi Knight and now, his homeworld is under direct Imperial occupation. But Naboo is not under any such danger. So, why did you fake your death in order to avoid detection by the Empire?”

The Nabooan woman stiffened slightly. Zoebeida wondered if she had gone too far. “It’s . . .” A sigh left Amidala’s mouth. “The Petition of 2000,” she finally answered. “I had helped draft the Petition of 2000, which demanded Palpatine’s resignation once the Clone Wars ended. Unlike many other senators,” Amidala shot a pointed look at Zoebeida, “I had refused to withdraw my name from the petition. In fact, I was the one who had delivered the petition to him.”

A shaft of guilt struck Zoebeida. She perfectly understood Amidala’s comment about those senators who had withdrawn their signatures from the petition. Zoebeida had been one of them. And she did it to preserve her career in the Senate. Oh well. At least she now knew the reason behind Amidala’s fugitive status. She only hoped that she would never face a similar fate.

——-

“Well if I live and breath!” a female’s voice cut through the noise inside one of the Lady Fate Casino’s nightclubs. “Set Horus?”

With the Brin band’s music filling his ears, Anakin glanced away from the Twi’lek dancer on the stage and found himself staring into a pair of familiar green eyes. “Voranda Sen? I haven’t seen you in ages!”

The tall, red-haired woman smiled, as she settled in one of the empty chairs at Anakin’s table. “I suppose . . . if you consider two years as ages. What are you doing here on Ord Mantell?”

“Providing transportation for a client,” Anakin replied. “And you?”

Voranda shrugged. “The same.”

The two pilots had first met, while taking part of a convoy delivering equipment and supplies to a mining colony on Bespin, six years ago. From the moment they first met, Anakin found Voranda to be an attractive woman – despite her being at least over a decade older than him. But as with Vi’dal Mira, his relationship with Voranda had developed into nothing more than friendship.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Anakin continued. “Han and I had ran into Corsac Best and Lin Tsai at one of the Casino’s restaurants, earlier this evening. And now, I find you here. In fact, I’ve been seeing a good number of familiar faces at my hotel.”

Another shrug lifted Voranda’s elegant shoulders. “Well, this is a favorite spot for many smugglers and freighter pilots.”

“Yeah, but the pilots I’ve encountered usually hang out on Nar Shaada or Abregado-rae. Not Ord Mantell.” Anakin returned his gaze to the Twi’lek dancer. “Something is going on, here.”

A long pause followed. The Twi’lek dancer finally finished her routine amidst fervent applause. Then Vornada said, “She reminds you of Vi’dal, doesn’t she? She even has he same skin color. I’ve always wondered why you and she never became more than friends.”

“Because we’re not in love,” Anakin coolly replied. A waitress appeared at the table. He ordered a tall glass of Corellian ale.

Voranda shot back, “So what?” She dismissed the waitress with a wave of her hand. “We live in perilous times, Captain Horus. A person should grab a little happiness when the opportunity arises.”

“I’ll think about that.”

“On the other hand,” Voranda continued, “women like Vi’dal aren’t exactly your type. I suspect that you prefer those with a lot more class. A true lady.”

More class? Anakin automatically found himself thinking of Padme. Only briefly. What seemed the point of brooding over someone whom you could never see again? Who was gone . . . forever? A harsh laugh escaped his mouth. “Voranda, I come from a backwater planet in the Outer Rim Territories. From the lowest class in society. No . . . lady would be interested in me.”

“I don’t know about that.” Voranda’s remark drew a stare from Anakin. “I know a woman – a friend – who is here in Worlport. She strikes me as the type who might be interested in a good-looking and intelligent man like you. She’s a lady from the tips of her fingers to her toes. And privileged or not, she’s intelligent enough to probably view you as someone worthy.”

Anakin responded with a derisive snort. “Aside from your friend’s questionable taste in men, what’s the catch?”

“Huh?”

“What’s wrong with her? Something must be, if you think she might be interested in someone like me.”

Voranda glared at Anakin. “There is nothing wrong with her! She happens to be a charming and beautiful woman. And very intelligent.” Anakin regarded his fellow pilot through narrowed eyes, until she added quietly, “She’s also a widow with two young children.”

Two young children? Anakin stared at Voranda with disbelief.

——-

MALAG, MALDARE

A furious Darth Rasche glared at the quivering, dark-haired Imperial agent that faced him. “Say that again?” he growled.

The Imperial agent, a pale and intense young man named Bauer Suron, inhaled deeply. Then he repeated his message to the Sith Lord. “Senator Dahlma is missing. She is no where to be found. And her aide is missing, as well.”

“I thought you had her under observation for the past several days!”

Suron hesitated. “Well . . . yes.” Rasche’s eyes narrowed and the agent grew considerably nervous. “My Lord, I did request additional agents to assist me in observing . . .”

“I am not interested in your excuses, Agent Suron!” Rasche bellowed.

A deafening silence filled the small conference room located inside Malag’s Imperial Liaison Office. Suron gulped. Loudly. “Yes, my Lord,” he murmured.

Rasche continued, “What have you learned of the senator’s activities?”

The agent replied, “As you know, Senator Dahlma never did visit her family’s estate near Dalmar, as she had intended.”

“Yes, I know,” the Sith Lord added imperiously. “She was last seen at her private home, here in Malag.”

Suron paused. “Actually, she was last seen at the Lumati Hotel, last night. Both she and her aide had checked into a suite.”

Suspicion gnawed at the back of Rasche’s mind. “Why?”

“I have no idea, my Lord,” Suron answered. “But I believe that her manservant, Chattal Rahm, might be able to shed some light.” The agent cleared his throat nervously. “Rahm had been seen by various hotel employees escorting various people to the senator’s suite. One employee described them as spacers.”

Rasche contemplated the agent’s information. Why would a prominent senator check into a hotel suite, when she had her own private home in this city? And why would she need some disreputable pilot to fly her off of Maldare? Obviously, Senator Dahlma planned to visit some place special and for a very private reason. But what?

“I want you to gather descriptions of all the pilots who were seen approaching the senator’s suite,” Rasche instructed. “And find this Chattal Rahm. You shall have the local security and a platoon of stormtroopers to assist you.”

Suron nodded with deference. “Yes, my Lord.” He started to turn away.

“And Suron,” Rasche added in a threatening voice. The agent paused. “I only tolerate failure once. Fail me again . . .” He left the threat unfinished. Judging from the fear that flared in Suron’s eyes, Rasche realized that the other man had received the message.

END OF CHAPTER SEVEN

“BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” (2016) Review

“BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” (2016) Review

Following on the heels of the success of 2013’s “MAN OF STEEL”, I had expected the Warner Brothers Studios to follow up with another movie about Superman, starring Henry Cavill. To my surprise, the studio had announced another movie featuring Superman, only the comic book character would be sharing top billing with another from the pages of D.C. Comics.

Warner Brothers surprised me with the announcement that their next comic book movie would feature Superman aka Clark Kent co-starring with none other than Batman aka millionaire Bruce Wayne. And the latter would be portrayed by Ben Affleck. Needless to say, I was not pleased by this announcement. I saw it as a personal insult to Cavill, who had really impressed me as the Man of Steel. And I felt that Warner Brothers could have given Affleck his own stand-alone film about the Caped Crusader, before rushing into some attempt to rush into a “Justice League of America” situation, similar to the one featuring the Avengers for Marvel Films and the Disney Studios. About a week before “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” was due to be released in movie theaters, I read a series of reviews that literally bashed the film. Now, I have never been a major fan of director Zack Synder in the past. And I was pleased that he did not go overboard with the angst factor in “MAN OF STEEL” as he has done with his previous films. But after reading so many negative reviews . . . well, I did not expect to like this movie. However, I had to see it just to satisfy my curiousity.

“BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” began during the last events of “MAN OF STEEL”. It began with billionaire Bruce Wayne aka Batman arrival in Metropolis to assist Wayne Enterprises employees caught up with the city’s citizens in the destruction caused by Superman’s battle against fellow Kryptonian General Zod. Unfortunately for Bruce, one of his top executives is killed and the legs of another employee named Wallace Keefe are permanently damaged from falling debris. Due to these events, Bruce begins to view Superman as a destructive threat to Earth and desires to find a way to bring down the Man of Steel. Nearly two years later, Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane is visiting a North African country to interview a political figure believed to be a terrorist. However, her interview is cut short when the men who had accompanied her kill the terrorist’s men and many local villagers. Superman aka Clark Kent manages to rescue her from the terrorist, but Lois ends up feeling very disturbed by the event. But she is not the only one. Many people, including a Kentucky senator named June Finch blame Superman for the incident and like Bruce, begin to view him as a threat. Many are unaware that Metropolis’ top billionaire, Lex Luthor, was behind the incident in Northern Africa. Like Bruce, he began to view Superman as a threat . . . but to his own plans and his sense of worth. Unlike Bruce, he commences upon a plan to exploit the distrust of Senator Finch and others to bring down Superman and other meta-humans of whom he has become aware.

When I first learned that Warner Brothers had decided to follow up “MAN OF STEEL” with a movie in which Superman was to share top billing with Batman, I was not thrilled. In fact, I had hoped they would do a second Superman movie. And while the movie was being shot, I was more than determined not to like this film. Reading the movie’s negative reviews made me believe that disliking it would come very easy to me. And then . . . lo and behold! I ended up leaving the theater with a positive view about the film.

Mind you, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” was not perfect in my eyes. I had two problems with it – one major and the other minor. My minor problem with “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN” has a lot to do with my virulent dislike of Snyder’s 2009 movie, “THE WATCHMEN”. The director utilized a device that he had carried over from the 2009 movie – namely the use of graffiti in some scenes. I thought he had overused it in “THE WATCHMEN” and continued to do so in this film. And the graffiti only brought back unpleasant memories of the 2009 film.

My major complaint against “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” has to do with the relationship between Batman and Lex Luthor. In one scene during the film’s last half hour, Luthor revealed to Clark that he had created situations not only to slowly direct public opinion against the latter, but also Bruce Wayne, whom he knew to be Batman. Luthor figured that Batman would go after the Man of Steel and the latter would eventually kill the former. I must admit that I found this very confusing, considering that the movie never hinted that Luthor was interested in killing Bruce in the movie’s first half. In fact, the Luthor Corp. files that Bruce had uploaded and Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman had stolen did not even contain any information on Batman. I had assumed that Luthor only became interested in killing Batman . . . after the latter had stolen the Kryptonite his people had discovered in the Indian Ocean and destroyed a LexCorp lab. And the movie that I had seen in a theater seemed to verify my assumption. Like I said . . . confusing!

So . . . what did I like about “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”? Well, the story. Okay, I really enjoyed it. I liked the fact that the movie eventually promised what its title had hinted . . . a conflict between Superman and Batman that eventually led to the promise of the Justice League of America. And screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer presented this development with a very emotional and complex tale. What I found particularly interesting is that nearly everything in this tale is a direct result of the events from “MAN OF STEEL”. This was especially the case for both Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor’s hostility toward Superman. In fact, Luthor used the dead body of General Zod (courtesy of the U.S. government) to not only study Kryptonian physiology, but also create the monster Doomsday, which would prove to be a threat in the movie’s final action sequence.

The movie also featured some excellent emotional development for the main characters. Again, this seemed to be the case for Clark Kent’s growing despair from the public and the government’s reactions to the events in Northern Africa; his disapproval toward Batman’s more violent vigilante activities; the latter’s anger towards the events from “MAN OF STEEL” and the heady mixture of paranoia and ego that drove Lex Luthor to investigate other meta-humans and plot against Superman.

For a movie heavy on action, it featured some interesting dramatic moments. My favorites included Clark’s clashes with Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White over investigating Batman’s activities in Gotham City; the first meeting between Clark, Bruce and Diana Prince at a party held by Luthor in Metropolis; Bruce’s lingering anger over what happened in “MAN OF STEEL”; Luthor’s clashes with Senator Finch over his plans to deal with Superman; Clark’s conversations with his adoptive mother Martha Kent about his activities as Superman and with the ghost of his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent; Lois Lane confrontation with Luthor before the final action began; and also, Diana and Bruce’s comments on the public’s fickle attitude toward Superman. The movie also featured further development of the relationship between Clark and Lois, which culminated in a very charming and sexy moment in a bathtub. I thought Sndyer handled these scenes very well, which is not surprising. He has always managed to get great performances from his actors . . . even in his movies that I dislike.

However, first and foremost, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” is a comic book hero film . . . an action-adventure film. And Snyder was certainly in his element as a director. This especially seemed to be the case in those scenes that featured Lois and Superman’s adventures in northern Africa, Bruce’s dreams about leading a group of rebels against Superman, Batman’s attempt to steal the kryptonite from Luthor, his rescue of Martha from Luthor’s henchmen, and the attempt to rescue both Metropolis and Gotham from Luthor’s newly created monster, Doomsday.

However, one half of the movie’s title is called “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN”. Many movie fans and critics had dismissed the idea of an effective battle between the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader. So did I. After all, Batman was not really a meta-human – someone with super abilities – merely a highly trained costumed crime fighter. The movie made me realize that many of us had forgotten that Bruce Wayne also had brains. Through his investigation of a Russian weapon-trafficker named Anatoli Knyazev, he learned that Luthor was not only investigating meta-humans, but had found a possible weapon against Superman. Kryptonite. By creating weapons from the kryptonite he had stolen from Luthor Corp. and a powered exoskeleton suit, Batman was able to put up a good fight against the Man of Steel. And surprisingly, their battle proved to be very effective to me . . . even if many still believe otherwise.

The other half of the movie’s title was “DAWN OF JUSTICE”, which hinted the beginning of the Justice League of America aka the Super Friends. I found it interesting that Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor’s reactions to the events from “MAN OF STEEL” not only led to their fear of Superman and attempts to find a way to destroy the latter, but also to hints of the forthcoming creation of the Justice League of America. It all centered around Luthor’s investigation of other meta-humans and the files Bruce and Diana had found within Luthor Corp.’s computer mainframe. The file not only contained information and video clips on Diana’s past as Wonder Woman during World War I, but also on Barry Allen aka the Flash, Arthur Curry aka Aquaman and Victor Stone aka Cyborg. But it was that one scene in which Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman finally decided to form a team to battle the monster Doomsday . . .

how-wonder-woman-casually-stole-the-show-in-batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-904952.gif

. . . that led to memories of the old ABC animated series, “SUPER FRIENDS” and its theme song going through my mind. It was a wonderful moment for me.

There was one aspect of “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” that left a heavy imprint on my mind was the fickleness of human nature. We humans are a fickle, controlling and very selfish specie. Snyder and screenwriters Terrio and Goyer really did an excellent job in portraying those aspects of our nature through the character of Superman. I found it interesting that many viewed Superman as a savior or angel. This was apparent in the statues raised in his honor and this almost selfish demand that he serve as their savior and nothing else. I can recall one moment in which victims of a flood had left the symbol on his costume painted on their roof to attract his attention. On the other hand, there were many others viewed him as a real threat against humanity . . . even after he had saved them from General Zod’s plans in “MAN OF STEEL”. Both Bruce and Senator Finch blamed Superman for the destruction that had occurred in Metropolis nearly two years ago, conveniently forgetting that it was Zod’s arrival on Earth that had led to that destruction. I came away with the feeling that people like Bruce, Senator Finch and Wayne Enterprises employee Wallace Keefe used Superman as a scapegoat, since the latter ended up being the last Kryptonian left standing. I do not find this surprising for using others as scapegoats is a very human thing to do. After the Congress bombing, even those who had seen Superman as a savior began to think otherwise. They did not come to this conclusion via any investigation on their parts. Superman was the last person standing and ergo, became “Suspect Number One” . . . just as he had become following Zod’s death. No wonder Clark had fallen into despair and walked away for a while. And no wonder Diana had such contempt toward the public’s renewed good opinion of Superman following the battle against Doomsday.

I have been talking about the plot so much that I forgot about other aspects of “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” – namely its technical and artistic effects. I might as well start with Patrick Tatopoulos’ production design. Tatopoulos did not have to create an alien world or a setting from the past. But I was impressed by his duel designs for not only the cities of Metropolis and Gotham, but also the northern African town at the movie’s beginning, Washington D.C. and the damage caused by Doomsday in the two fictional cities. He had ample support from the art direction and visual effects teams. I was surprised that Zack Snyder did not use Larry Fong as cinematographer for “MAN OF STEEL”. Because the latter had worked with Snyder on both “300” and “THE WATCHMEN”. In a way, Fong’s style, which struck me as sleek, rich in color and slightly dark, reminded me of Wally Pfister’s work for many of Christopher Nolan’s films. I have noticed that a good of Han Zimmer’s movie scores have seemed a little heavy-handed lately. And it certainly seemed to be the case for “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. But there were moments when that heavy-handedness seemed to mesh rather well with certain scenes, especially during those that hinted the future Justice League of America and the battle against Doomsday.

Ben Affleck became the eighth actor to portray Bruce Wayne aka Batman on screen (television or movie) and the public had not reacted well to the news of his casting. I found this astounding, considering that Affleck is a first-rate actor, who had previous experience portraying a costume hero when he played Matt Murdock aka Daredevil in the 2003 movie about the character. Affleck did an excellent job in portraying the paranoid aspects of Wayne’s nature in a very intense and at times, slightly scary manner. Henry Cavill was equally effective in his continuing portrayal of Clark Kent aka Superman. The loneliness that seemed to mark his performance in “MAN OF STEEL” seemed to have been replaced by satisfaction in Clark’s relationship with Lois Lane, intense determination to investigate Batman’s activities and frustration with Perry White’s unwillingness to allow him to embark on that investigation. My favorite scene with Cavill involved Clark’s quarrel with Perry about investigating Batman. And my favorite Cavill moment was the “What the fuck is wrong with you?” expression he gave Luthor when the latter introduced him to the Doomsday monster. But following the Congress bombing, that old despair and loneliness returned in full force. When I first heard about this movie, I thought Amy Adams’ role would be reduced from what it was in “MAN OF STEEL”. Thankfully, my fears were abated, for not only did Lois continue to play a major role in this DC Comics universe, she also played a major role in exposing Luthor’s plans and eliminating Batman’s anger toward Superman. Being the consummate actress that she is, Adams did a superb job in conveying not only Lois’ emotional vulnerability regarding Clark and what happened in northern Africa, but also her intelligence and determination to discover the truth.

The movie also featured an exceptional performance from Jesse Eisenberg as main villain, Lex Luthor. Not only was his movie exceptional, but also rather surprising. It was not that I thought him incapable of portraying a villain, but I just could not see him as Lex Luthor. I was wrong. He gave a fantastic performance. It seemed both subtle and overly dramatic at the same time . . . in a good way. He made Luthor seem very eccentric . . . again, in a good way. Diane Lane returned to portray Clark’s adoptive mother, Martha Kent. Her portrayal of Martha struck me as rather unusual. In other comic book hero movies, maternal types like Martha tend to give speeches to the main hero in order to motivate them in serving the public. What I liked about Lane’s Martha is that she was more concerned about Clark’s well being and happiness than him fulfilling some destiny as a hero or savior. It may seem selfish, but it also seemed very real to me.

Gal Gadot became the first actress to portray Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman in a very long time. Ever since Lynda Carter ended her run with the ABC/CBS series in 1979, Hollywood seemed reluctant to bring the Amazonian Princess back to the screen. Thankfully, Warner Brothers, Snyder and Nolan ended that dry run by hiring Gadot for the role. And she was perfect . . . spot on. I never thought another actress could do justice to the role – except for Marvel alumni Jamie Alexander from “THOR”. But Gadot was perfect and I look forward to seeing her solo movie. Jeremy Irons, to my utmost surprise, became DC Comics’ new Alfred Pennyworth. His portrayal seemed so different from past performances – a little less of a servant and more of a companion for Bruce. More importantly, I really enjoyed the sardonic wit that Irons had infused into the character. But he was not the only one. Laurence Fishburne returned as Clark and Lois’ boss, Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White. In “MAN OF STEEL”, Fishburne had infused a touch of dry wit into his portrayal. In this movie, that wit was in full force and even more sharper – especially in the actor’s scenes with Cavill. I really enjoyed his presence in this film. The movie also featured some excellent supporting performances from the likes of Holly Hunter, who gave a wonderfully sarcastic speech to Luthor in her portrayal of Senator June Finch; Harry Lennix, who returned as former General now Secretary Calvin Swanwick; Scoot McNairy, who portrayed Wallace Keefe, the Wayne Enterprises employee who had been crippled during Superman’s battle with General Zod; and Kevin Costner, who returned with a poignant performance as the ghostly figure of Clark’s adoptive father, Jonathan Kent.

To this day, I am flabbergasted by the media’s negative campaign against “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. I do not understand it . . . period. I could have understood if the movie had drawn some criticism. But this unrelenting criticism struck me as unreal . . . especially after I had seen the film. But you know what? I realize that I should not care. I saw the movie twice and I enjoyed what I had seen. Yes, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” (what a mouthful!) had some flaws. What movie does not? But overall, I was very pleased by this film. I like to think that I understood what director Zack Snyder, along with screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer were trying to say. And I enjoyed the performances of the cast led by Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill very much. More importantly, I am glad that the cinematic version of the Justice League of America has finally commenced. Regardless of the opinions of others, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” more than satisfied me. It has become one of my favorite movies of 2016.