Nebula’s a Better Fit Than Gamora for Guardians of the Galaxy – Come At Me, Bro

As the torrent of superhero movies gushing from Hollywood can attest, comics are a treasure-trove of inspiration to draw from. With hundreds of characters and a half-century of storylines to choose between, this isn’t a well in danger of drying up soon (whether that’s a good thing or not is rather more complicated). However, they can also clip a film’s wings. Despite their whimsical brilliance – and I’ll hear nothing else, dammit – Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 and its predecessor suffer from this a little thanks to resident badass Gamora.

Sibling rivalry. Concept art by Andy Park

She often feels like a third wheel, for instance; there’s a whiff of her only being there to kick-start the adventure and/or because she’s a corner-stone of the comic iteration. Although Gamora’s vital in saving the day, she often seems to be facilitating the plot of others rather than following her own arc. She’s arguably the team’s least-developed member because of this; where Star-Lord learns to let others into his life, she doesn’t really change from beginning to end. While Drax and Rocket must move on from their past by accepting a new family, Gamora’s moment of growth – turning on her adoptive father and rediscovering morality after all she’s done – happens before the story gets started. As a result, I wonder whether her vicious sister Nebula wouldn’t have been a better fit for this team. There’s so much potential for growth with the latter.

Menacing, tragic, and unhinged, she’s arguably more compelling than her straight-laced counterpart. Gamora always earned daddy’s praise for a job well-murdered, so Nebula was ripped apart and replaced with robotic bits to make her the former’s ‘equal’. That’s a significant knock to your ego. Moreover, being kidnapped and turned into Thanos’s right-hand killer has left Nebula a broken husk who refuses to let herself feel lest it hurt her. In comparison, Gamora doesn’t seem too weighed down by the guilt of what she’s done. While she’s trying to make up for it by stopping the film’s villain, it leads to a predictable (if acerbic) stoicism. I’m not sure she has a huge amount of depth. Meanwhile, Nebula is emotionally volatile and ready to blow. She’s every bit the killer we’re told Gamora is… yet rarely get a sense of. That redemptive path Nebula’s following is ripe for narrative conflict. I’m not not sure Gamora’s is.

Simply put, it feels like Nebula would have made for a more nuanced Guardian than Gamora (all the same, Zoe Saldana’s great in the role and the part is well-written… even if it leaves me cold). She’s a damaged young woman desperately trying to prove her worth, and that’s a hotbed of stories waiting to happen.

As such, I’m glad she got plenty of screen-time in the sequel. More for Avengers: Infinity War, please!

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Alien: Covenant is a Reminder that Space Might Be Pretty Damn HORRIBLE

Space is a damn scary place to be, at least according to movies like Alien: Covenant. If you’re not impregnated by facehuggers that vomit eggs down your throat, you’ll be eviscerated by xenomorphs who rip people apart for fun. It implies something dark, primal and aggressive lying in wait amongst the stars, and the idea of going to space is suddenly made 100% less appealing. It’s a horror film, naturally, but it does raise the possibility that our universe won’t be easily conquered.

Alien
If we find life out there among the stars, we might get more than we bargained for – concept art by Valentin Petrov

New planets hide unknown threats, and some might be microscopic; it stands to reason that an alien world would carry alien bacteria if there really is life out there, and this is a threat our bodies aren’t ready for. While that isn’t nearly so horrific as a monster crawling its way out of your chest, the result wouldn’t be all that different – you’ll still die in a lot of pain and indignity.

Our immune systems are unprepared for such viruses, and they’d be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Consider the death-toll when conquistadors marched into South America: local Aztecs were unfamiliar with the likes of European smallpox, and their immune systems crumbled beneath the strain. It’s easy to see how extra-terrestrial germs or pathogens could have a similar effect on us (if they existed, anyway).

Accordingly, spores like those unleashed in Covenant aren’t unrealistic… even if what follows isn’t. The image of someone falling desperately ill for reasons unknown hits close to home. Cheerful, right?

We may not have to fend off inhuman creatures when we start colonising the stars, but our problems aren’t over nonetheless. We’d probably be better off with the xenomorphs: at least you can see them coming.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Yeah, This is Why the Jedi Need to End

I boot up the internet and Star Wars is everywhere. With Star Wars Celebration 2017 coming to an end last weekend, the aftereffects of the event are still reverberating through the web like an infamous cry of a million souls before they were extinguished by a dirty great space laser. More to the point, everyone’s still recovering from The Last Jedi teaser and Battlefront II’s trailer. Suffice to say, that kind of reveal leaves a lasting impression.

However, one of the biggest takeaways from the event was Luke Skywalker’s claim that the Jedi must end in The Force Awakens’ sequel. As a former beacon of hope for the Jedi order, his disillusionment has caused quite a stir. The obvious question is ‘why’, but a better one should probably be ‘why not?’.

Perhaps it IS time for the Jedi to end – they’ve caused enough trouble. Concept art by Ryan Church

If you stop and think about it, the Jedi have been nothing but trouble. Besides appointing themselves as galactic police who stick their noses where it may not be wanted, they seem to rely on violence more often than diplomacy. Moreover, they bulled their way through the Clone Wars as generals and warriors when that’s precisely the opposite of what they were built for: I thought a Jedi’s lightsaber training is meant to be used in defence of the innocent and as a last resort, not a first response. Aren’t they primarily diplomats and monks?

Then there are all the amusing gaffs they’ve made throughout the original/prequel trilogies. Most egregious of these would be Obi-Wan’s flagrant dickery in lying to Luke’s face about his father. ‘True from a certain point of view’? Shove off, that’s ridiculous. It’s a somewhat limp attempt to justify a retcon and makes Obi-Wan look negligent. Then there’s Qui-Gon Jinn’s hilariously bad attempt at babysitting, where he takes a young child into the heat of battle when he could have left him literally anywhere else. Finally, the books reveal that the prequels’ Jedi temple was built on a super-evil Sith shrine that apparently corrupted them over millennia (it was apparently capped, but would you take that chance?). I mean, come on. I adore these films, but the characters do make some bizarre decisions.

Then there’s an aspect that, in contrast, the prequels handled rather well. The Jedi are essentially a cult: you follow their strict rules or you hit the road. Additionally, these rules can seem needlessly cruel. Take their refusal for Jedi to form attachments, for instance. This has never ended well, as demonstrated by Anakin’s fall and the fact that those same attachments let Luke save the whole damn galaxy.

Most damning of all would be when you read between the lines. As explained by Tor, a reason for Obi-Wan lying to Luke about his father could be that they needed an assassin who’d take out the Emperor’s greatest asset without querying why. Knowing about his head-in-the-clouds demeanour and daydream to be a hero, Kenobi fed him a suitably clichéd story about his father that’d set him on a collision course with Vader, no questions asked. It’s a calculated, manipulative move.

Similarly, Luke was given the surname ‘Skywalker’ and left with his family – surely a giant red flag to Vader – because he could also serve as bait as an added bonus. If Vader found him, Obi-Wan would emerge and take him down.

It’s a fascinating way of looking at the old Jedi order, and it doesn’t paint them in a very good light. As such, I’m not surprised that Luke wants to shut things down now he’s older and wiser.

We’re More Like Guardians of the Catwalk than Humanity in Destiny: Rise of Iron

Myths have an unhealthy obsession with larger-than-life heroes; they’re jammed full of legendary figures who crusade their way past gruelling odds and save the metaphorical princess while they’re at it. Destiny‘s Iron Lords are no different. When humanity was at its lowest, these impossibly noble warriors stepped forward to shield us from harm. Now we’re following in their footsteps and protecting what’s left of our species. It’s all very inspiring.

The Last City on Earth - a final bastion of hope, light and who knows what else. Concept art by Bungie.
The Last City on Earth – a final bastion of hope, light and who knows what else. Concept art by Bungie.

Yet Destiny never dwells on the people we’re supposed to be looking out for. We know next to nothing about those who live in Earth’s Last City. Don’t get me wrong: putting the spotlight on Guardians is beyond sensible. They’re where the action is. Brought back from the dead to protect what’s left of humanity, they can usually be found saving the world from a millennia-old threat or engaging in spaghetti western shootouts. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about those they’re fighting for, though. This takes the wind out of our sails somewhat. Mel Gibson could screech about freedom for his kin in Braveheart, but the best we can probably manage is ‘loot’.

I wonder what they – the average Joe – think about all this. It’s a rough deal. Aliens, demons and space wizards are a part of their everyday vocabulary. The planet isn’t ours anymore. Very little is. Capping things off is a godly orb (known as the Traveler) that hangs above after giving its life in their defence. I’d pay good money to see what can surprise them these days.

It’s not like we’re going to find out any time soon, however. The only bog-standard humans we meet can be seen mooching around our HQ, the blandly-named Tower. It’s a depressing thought. Humanity beat the odds to create wonders like reconstructive facial surgery and the Hobnob biscuit, but now they’re reduced to sweeping floors.

Their homes aren’t exactly glamorous either. Peering over the Tower’s edge reveals what I’d guess are slums stretching into the distance. Stacked atop one another like cardboard boxes, the conditions down there must be fairly naff. With tight, winding streets and no kind of order to speak of, it’s not dissimilar to the favelas of modern Brazil.

If it’s comparable in more than looks, Destiny’s equivalent probably has minimal sanitation despite running water and electricity. According to a BBC article from 2014, Rio de Janeiro’s biggest shanty town has sewage that ‘flows down a large channel in the middle of houses’.

It’s a stark contrast to the tower-blocks lying just a few miles down the road. A gaping class divide is obvious in Destiny as well. You simply need to look at the skyline. While the foreground is dominated by ugly shacks, the far distance features high rises and skyscrapers. It’s a marriage of insane wealth and crippling poverty.

Predictably, the richest districts lie slap-bang under the Traveler and the ‘shield’ it casts over the city. In a world where suicide and a walk in the countryside are synonymous, it’s easy to see why that’d be a very desirable position. I’d imagine those with power and influence strong-armed their way there. Everyone else had to make do.

Then there’s the infamous criminal element to contend with. Hiding out amongst back alleys and muddled neighbourhoods, gangs run many of those Brazilian streets. I wonder if the Last City is any different. You’d assume these drug lords couldn’t exist under the watch of practically immortal Guardians, but from what I can tell they rarely go down into the urban jungle anyway. There aren’t many reports of them interacting with the population unless civil war or a siege is looming.

As the defenders of a dying race with generations of knowledge at their disposal, you’d expect them to send aid or medical treatment at the very least. What about cobbling together more than a shack for the poorest in Destiny’s society? We’re informed that a subsect of Guardians built great walls surrounding the City, so I’m sure they could manage a four bed semi.

The fact they don’t suggests apathy on their part or a busted society. In Rio there are always stories about police who don’t dare enter certain favelas for fear of gang retribution, and it was only a few years ago that the government set up a ‘police pacification unit’ to force out the criminal element.

This is why visiting the City would be at the top of my Destiny wishlist instead of Neptune or Jupiter. It sounds fascinating (if absurdly dangerous). If nothing else, the game’s fascination with fantasy would make it particularly eye-catching. Beyond sci-fi tropes like neon advertising and glass tower-blocks, drawing on sword-and-sorcery lets you dabble in guilds and dingy inns with grottier patrons. Concept art has hinted at this via cloaked knights and flowing banners, but seeing it brought to life on-screen would add a very different flavour to the game’s already diverse environments.

Seeing it in person would help soothe my conscience, too. Come on: we’ve spent two years ignoring the man on the street in favour of searching for sassy space boots. We’re more like Guardians of the catwalk than humanity.

What do you think? Scribble your thoughts in the comments below and come back every Friday for more. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @thewordyben

We Really Need to Talk About Destiny: Rise of Iron’s Traveler

There’s something about Destiny’s ping-pong ball from space that gives me the heebie-jeebies. It may sound like I’m putting on a tin foil hat by saying so, but something doesn’t add up about the Traveler. What’s more, veteran developer Bungie (whose résumé includes Halo one through three) have spent the last two years convincing players that our greatest ally is sugar, spice and everything nice. In a nutshell, it’s too good to be true.

If this thing turns out to be evil, the Last City is screwed. Concept art by Bungie.
If this thing turns out to be evil, the Last City is screwed. Concept art by Bungie.

A godlike being with immeasurable power, the Traveler’s spent eons bestowing knowledge and prosperity upon any race it encounters. Earth was just the latest in a long line of hosts. Unfortunately for us, an ancient enemy named ‘the Darkness’ pursued it here and proceeded to beat the snot out of humanity. The Traveler went on to save our bacon at the expense of its own life. As a result of this thoroughly noble sacrifice, players have been putting it back together since Destiny launched in 2014.

A theory that’s been kicking around since then would suggest we’ve got the wrong end of the stick, however. There’s a surprising amount of evidence to suggest that the Traveler isn’t what it makes itself out to be. In fact, we’ve got reason to believe it and the Darkness may be one and the same.

This is an intriguing prospect (if a bit over-dramatic). Doing away with assumptions about the Traveler’s benevolence wouldn’t just napalm everything we’ve learnt up to this point; it’d reinvigorate the game’s story by virtue of being unexpected. Though enjoyable, Destiny’s plot has been a straightforward example of archetypes until now. Performing a heel-turn such as this would catapult it out of clichéd territory and into something else entirely.

Eagle-eyed gamers with a nose for conspiracy have unearthed convincing proof. For a start, some have noted that the Fallen – those four-armed scavengers who wander Russia and the moon – call us ‘the Darkness’ when approached. Secondly, one pointed out that our classes bear traditionally villainous names. Titans were bad news in Greek mythology, Warlocks tend to rely on dark magic and Hunters need no explanation (you can check out the full write-up on Kotaku).

More presciently, we’re an army of the undead. I mean, come on. Every player character (or ‘Guardian’) is a long-dead individual raised to protect humanity. They have no memory of what came before and now serve the Traveler blindly. If this reminds anyone else of Night of the Living Dead, you’re not alone.

In a clever and unexpectedly Biblical move, Bungie may also be drawing inspiration from more than fantasy. As observed by Reddit user MrFlibblesVeryCross, the name Lucifer can be translated as ‘Bringer of Light’ or ‘the Morning Star’. Moreover, the devil is usually portrayed as a being who tempts us by offering great wealth. This sounds familiar.

Unfortunately for Lucifer’s victims, such pleasantries hide something much less palatable. I’m not suggesting the Traveler is Satan, but it’s an interesting comparison nonetheless. As MrFlibbles notes, maybe the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was making us think we were the good guys.

With this in mind, perhaps the fall of humanity was self inflicted. What if it got kick-started when we learned of the Traveler’s duplicity? The game suggests that Rasputin – an age-old super-computer tasked with protecting us – shut itself down due to facing a no-win situation. This would make sense if the Traveler turned against us. Its technology was deeply integrated into our society by then, giving the enemy access to every facet of our culture.

That would explain the robotic race of Exos, too. All we know about their past is that they were forged to fight an unknown war. Could they have been commisioned to battle the Traveler itself? That would explain the necessity for a creation so dangerous.

To summarise, it’s very believable scaremongering. This conspiracy isn’t foolproof though. The theory’s Achille’s Heel are snippets of in-game lore. Rasputin went offline because it detected something approaching ‘outside the solar system’, while the monstrous Hive have records of the Traveler assisting other races before ours. This would suggest that it and the Darkness are two separate entities, supported by a character’s comments about the Traveler having a ‘dark twin’. While you could explain it away with misdirection on Bungie’s part (we’re told the Traveler ran off just prior to and returned during our hour of need, leaving this hypothesis intact), I’ve got an alternative. What if the Traveler was a vanguard for the Darkness? It’d infiltrate our society and ensure its development along a pre-determined route. Then it’d call in backup. That’s the road Mass Effect settled on with its villainous Reapers. I can see the same trick working for Destiny 

Because a ‘the Traveler’s evil’ twist is simply too juicy to pass up. Challenging everything we’ve come to know since launch is a masterstroke. It pumps new life into the narrative by distorting what we always took for granted. Furthermore, it echoes Bioshock’s ‘would you kindly’ revelation. You don’t see it coming, but once the penny drops you won’t notice anything else.

All the setup that’s been left hanging since 2014 puts a final nail in this coffin. We’re told how Osiris (whose disciples run a hard-as-nails multiplayer competition) was banished for asking too many questions about the Traveler. Similarly, a spy network called The Hidden have been toiling away in the shadows for reasons unknown – but it’s related to Osiris. I’m willing to bet they’re unraveling the truth.

Adding fuel to this fire is the fact that three-eyed Eris Morn is counted amongst the Hidden’s number. The Queen of what are essentially space elves suggested she and Eris were working toward some common, mysterious goal during The Taken King expansion.

And while we’re on the subject of the loopy Ms. Morn, she’s not the only sketchy Guardian out there. Something’s clearly up with the Speaker, designated mouthpiece of the Traveler and voiced by Bill Nighy. When he’s not muttering creepy promises he’s insisting we go out and murder every alien in sight. There’s no explanation given for this killing spree; we’re just supposed to take it at face value that these creatures deserve to be wiped out. Although they give as good as they get, we’re being asked to commit genocide one minion at a time.

There’s also the rumour of cut storylines, of course. Shortly after the game launched, reports surfaced about a demo version of Destiny that revealed the Traveler’s evil much sooner. The game’s final stage – dubbed the Black Garden – would have probably taken place within the Traveler itself. There are still traces of this plot out in the ether if you’ve got time to find them; trailers exist where you can see familiar faces in very different roles. This includes the elf-queen’s brother, a man who once helped players fight the Traveler before he was repurposed in the end product.

To wrap up, you can see why Bungie would change its mind on the speed of this reveal. Ignore the fact that there are a good eight years of Destiny yet to come. It’s too intriguing a story to rush through. Because something unpleasant is clearly on its way, no matter the Traveler’s role; all we can do now is wait for the other foot to drop.