The series launch of Tron: Uprising, the animated prequel to Tron: Legacy, doesn't take place at the show's permanent home of Disney XD until June 7. But in a move similar to what Fox did with New Girl last fall, what Showtime did with House of Lies last Christmas and what NBC did with Smash earlier this year to increase the buzz for their respective shows, the channel unveiled all 31 minutes of "Beck's Beginning," Tron: Uprising's first episode, on YouTube over the weekend (for American viewers only), a few days before the episode's May 18 premiere on The Disney Channel and May 21 premiere on Disney XD.
The Beck of the premiere episode title is a teen "program" (Elijah Wood) who makes his living as a garage mechanic in Argon City, which is part of the computer world known as The Grid, the creation of software engineer Kevin Flynn, the Jeff Bridges character from the two Tron films. Flynn created a digital clone of himself named Clu (Fred Tatasciore, subbing for Bridges, who doubled as the evil clone via not-very-convincing CGI trickery in Tron: Legacy) to look after The Grid in his absence, but Clu went all Hosni Mubarak, imprisoned Flynn inside The Grid and has now ordered his forces to occupy Argon City.
When Beck's best friend is killed, or as the franchise's vernacular prefers to call it, "derezzed," by a guard who works for Clu's henchman General Tesler (Lance Henriksen), Beck seeks revenge. With the help of a Daft Punk helmet and a "re-coding tool" from the garage that he uses to change the appearance of his attire, Beck assumes the persona of the legendary warrior program Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), who, like Flynn, has been deposed by Clu. Tortured by the dictator and presumed dead, Tron takes notice of his impersonator's bravery and fighting skills and decides to secretly mentor Beck.
I don't really care for the Tron franchise or the undernourished screenwriting that was on display in both Tron films, but I did enjoy Tron: Legacy's dope Daft Punk score, the film's immersive visuals (especially when they're glimpsed in IMAX 3D, which is why I saw the film twice in that format) and Olivia Wilde's performance as Jules Verne-loving warrior woman Quorra ("Do you know Jules Verne? What's he like?"), so I've been curious about how Tron will turn out on the small screen each week. Will the show look as epic as Tron: Legacy did, even on a much tinier screen? Will the writing--shepherded by Tron: Legacy co-writers and Once Upon a Time creators Edward Kitsis and Adam "I Ain't Ad-Rock and by the Way, He's Horovitz, While I'm" Horowitz--be as undernourished as it was in Tron: Legacy?
Despite being in 2D, Tron: Uprising still looks incredible. The rainy nighttime metropolises and sleek glowstick aesthetic of Tron: Legacy are maintained here (and though none of Daft Punk's themes are repurposed here, composer Joseph Trapanese, who arranged and orchestrated the French duo's score over the course of two years, channels their sound with satisfying results). The highlight of "Beck's Beginning" is a gorgeously animated battle between Beck and one of Tesler's guards atop a speeding monorail. I wonder who the fight choreography consultant is for this show because the fighting moves in "Beck's Beginning" outstrip the choreography in Tron: Legacy and are reminiscent of Spike Spiegel's martial arts scenes on Cowboy Bebop. However, I'm not as enamored with the character design by Robert Valley. Why does Beck look like Matt LeBlanc? I keep expecting him to greet Tesler's second-in-command Paige (Emmanuelle Chriqui)--the show's most interesting character so far--with "How you doin'?"
(Because Tron: Uprising's online debut is a big deal and "Flight Club," the latest Green Lantern: The Animated Series episode, is a lighthearted trifle compared to Young Justice: Invasion's momentous newest episode and the other equally momentous superhero cartoon installments this week, I put the Tron: Uprising premiere in Green Lantern's spot in this week's column.)
Wow, that was quick. The very plot-heavy and action-packed "Alienated," the latest Young Justice: Invasion installment, immediately clears up the mystery of what Superman (Nolan North), Batman (Bruce Greenwood), Wonder Woman (Maggie Q), Martian Manhunter (Kevin Michael Richardson), Green Lantern Corps patrolman John Stewart (also Richardson) and the dialogue-less Hawkwoman were up to during the 16 missing hours when they were brainwashed by Vandal Savage (Miguel Ferrer). Neither hookers nor blow were involved. Under Vandal Savage's control, the six Justice Leaguers attacked the citizens of the planet Rimbor, and their actions--which neither of them have any memory of--made Earth a target for the Kroloteans, who landed on Earth before the events of the season premiere and have been impersonating Earth's politicians and scientists while preparing for their all-out assault on the planet.
And in a reveal that's shocking to this viewer whose last DC reading experience was an All-Star Superman TPB a few years ago but isn't as shocking to DC fans who are experts on who's-related-to-who in the DC universe, Kaldur'ahm (Khary Payton), the Atlantean formerly known as Aqualad, is now working for his terrorist father Black Manta (also Payton), the nemesis of Kaldur'ahm's former mentor Aquaman (Phil LaMarr, a.k.a. Green Lantern from Justice League Unlimited!). I thought it's because Kaldur'ahm is furious that Cartoon Network won't bring back Toonami, but the reason for his Theon Greyjoy-style turn towards villainy is far more dramatic.
It turns out that the Kroloteans aren't the major players of this season's title event when Black Manta plants a bomb on the Krolotean base to get them out of the way, so that his allies from The Light, the consortium of supervillains that fought the Young Justice crew and their mentors last season, can step in and take over Earth with the help of a figure whom the Kroloteans referred to in their language as "The Competitor." Superman attempts to warn the Kroloteans about the bomb and offers to rescue them, but they prove how much of a dipshit alien race they are by firing their weapons at Supes in response. He's unable to save any of them from the bomb.
Meanwhile, Superboy (also North) continues to be unsettled by his ex-girlfriend Miss Martian (Danica McKellar) and her increasing reliance on telepathically torturing the team's enemies. Oh yeah, and the Justice League's popularity with the public is waning, thanks to anti-Justice League propaganda spouted by cable news loudmouth G. Gordon Godfrey (Tim Curry, the original voice of The Joker on Batman: The Animated Series before the producers opted for Mark Hamill). Will the six accused Justice Leaguers' departure from Earth to clear their names on Rimbor put them back in everyone's good graces again?
A busy Young Justice episode like "Alienated" is exciting to watch but a bitch to recap. I wish I could break down the episode's events in just less than 10 words a la the wonderfully terse recap of Superman's origin on the very first page of All-Star Superman ("Aqualad's a traitor. Nighty night, Krolotean dipshits!").
Fastball Special-style fighting move in which Nightwing (Jesse McCartney) hurls Batgirl (Alyson Stoner) at their adversaries and she kicks all of them in the face before landing on her feet, is a regular thing in the more recent Batman comics, but that moment in "Alienated" is especially badass. With this episode, Young Justice just Maneuver Sevened almost all my doubts about this series being a worthy successor to Justice League Unlimited.
Ultimate Spider-Man beautifully pays off an earlier cliffhanger ending involving the Venom symbiote and Peter Parker's best friend Harry Osborn (Matt Lanter) in its first decent episode, "Back in Black," penned by the Man of Action collective from the Ben 10 shows (Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly and Steven T. Seagle). Three episodes ago, Harry secretly kept for himself a sample of the unstable symbiote, which, instead of being an alien entity like on previous Spidey shows, is a weapon invented by Harry's industrialist father Norman (Steven Weber) and Doctor Octopus (Tom Kenny) out of Spidey's blood to give Spidey-like powers to its host.
"Back in Black" opens with a Spidey imposter--clad in the still-cool-looking black costume from the '80s comics--emerging in the Manhattan superhero scene. J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) likes Black Suit Spidey much more than the actual Spidey, and the new guy becomes a social media phenom. Peter, who's much more egotistical on this new show, is, of course, jealous of the imposter, who turns out to be a Venomed Harry, whose addiction to Venom is reminiscent of Willow's addiction to magic on Buffy, but with little of the "Drugs are bad, mmm-kay?" non-subtlety of Willow's arc. The show's decision to have Harry fight his best friend not as a Green Goblin knockoff but as Venom is a great twist I didn't see coming (and had forgotten because Ultimate Spider-Man doesn't open with previouslies to remind viewers of past events).
Speaking of green stuff, Peter suffers from the flu during "Back in Black," and his episode-long sickliness fuels another irritating part of the show, Spidey's quirky two-to-15-second cutaway gags. However, a couple of those gags in "Back in Black" are genuinely funny for a change. As a viewer who's gotten a kick out of animated shows parodying other animated shows ever since Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures' "Don't Touch That Dial" short in 1988, I liked the fake opening titles for a crappily animated cartoon starring Black Suit Spidey and his space-blob sidekick Doop (a great cameo by the cameraman--or rather, camerablob--from the satirical X-Statix comic). The moment I heard the old Superfriends scene transition sound effect, I laughed and I knew the episode's Superfriends spoof (which also parodies the Filmation version of Superman and The Mighty Hercules) was going to be a highlight.
The other standout cutaway gag mocks the first Iron Man film's memorable ending, in which Tony Stark outed his superhero persona at a press conference, by comedically showing the consequences of a superhero divulging his secret identity. Peter imagines Mary Jane (Tara Strong) and Aunt May (Misty Lee, the magician wife of Ultimate Spider-Man writer/producer Paul Dini) being stalked by supervillains in mundane places like the movie theater. Both MJ and Aunt May grumble to Peter, "You had to tell people."
Ultimate Spider-Man is getting mixed reactions from older viewers who aren't used to this single-camera sitcom-inspired take on Spidey. But "Back in Black" is showing signs that the series is starting to figure out how to effectively balance slapstick with darker material. The episode ends with the series' creepiest image to date: the Venom goo oozing out of Harry's ear while he sleeps.
The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes channels the blood-testing debate scenes from John Carpenter's The Thing this week for a paranoid downer of an episode, "Who Do You Trust?" S.H.I.E.L.D. director and opening credits narrator Nick Fury (Alex Désert) has been MIA for awhile, so Maria Hill (Kari Wührer) has been running things in his absence, but Fury finally resurfaces in this episode. He reveals to Avengers leader Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. soundalike Eric Loomis) that he went AWOL--and will continue to do so--to investigate which members of superteams and government agencies like his own agency are actually Skrull shape-shifters. It's part of Fury's strategy to trick the Skrull spies--particularly the Skrull who's currently masquerading as Captain America (Brian Bloom) and successfully fooling everybody--into exposing themselves.
"Who Do You Trust?" contains much less action than Young Justice's "Alienated" ep, but it exemplifies something this show does well (and which Joss Whedon has cited as why The Avengers particularly appealed to him): the tensions between these heroes who barely get along with each other but work well together when faced against a common threat. But what happens when that threat is much more subtle and isn't as easy to detect or fight, and anyone could be a menace?
Instead of hitting the bottle after quitting the team he founded because he can't trust anyone anymore, Tony simply mopes in his office and angrily hurls his Iron Man helmet at the wall. Too bad Earth's Mightiest Heroes is a Disney XD show.
|(Photo source: Clarke Snyder)|
But without Mike's presence and guidance--and with the aggravating weather constantly interfering with their rescue mission--the Burners end up nearly killing each other. Julie blames Texas for his reckless driving. Texas hates Chuck's incomprehensible ideas and in a little moment of class resentment, dismisses Julie as "Miss Deluxe" (does he actually know Julie is Kane's daughter?). Level-headed Dutch tires of Texas' stupidity and ego. The pugnacious mechanic is like a cross between The Todd from Scrubs, who, like Texas, always refers to himself in the third person, and Dwight from The Office, who's extremely loyal to his boss Michael and is always hasty to appoint himself leader the moment Michael is out of the picture, much like Texas in this episode. (My favorite Texas-ism is his tendency to repeat aloud to the rest of the team everything Mike says.)
Chuck does even less whimpering in "Ride the Lightning" than in "Power Trip" and uses his investigative skills to locate Mike. He's also apparently straight--despite all those clingy Starsky & Hutch-esque moments with Mike in the previous episodes--because he's fallen in love with Julie's co-worker and best friend Claire (Dana Davis), a KaneCo intern who lives in Detroit Deluxe. Through Claire, we get a taste of what life is like for Detroit Deluxe citizens who are neither heartless businessmen like Kane nor complete dumbasses like Kane's flunky Tooley (Jim Breuer), who's handed the opportunity of capturing Mike and is, of course, tricked by Mike into letting him get away.
|(Photo source: gorillaprutt)|
Julie's friend is only a tad clueless simply because of the self-absorbed section of Detroit she's from, while Texas and Tooley, with their room-temperature I.Q.'s, are much, much worse. "Ride the Lightning" is a great episode for those who can't get enough of dialogue from stupid characters, ever since the days of Woody from Cheers or Hilary from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Everything that comes out of Texas' mouth in this episode is comedy gold, even when Texas articulately expresses his giddiness for helping save Motorcity by yelling, "Texaaaas!"