Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness


As of now, I have seen Star Trek Into Darkness twice. On my first viewing, I enjoyed it pretty well. On my second viewing... I liked it far less.

Into Darkness is a well-directed action film with plenty of thrills and explosions. The special effects are generally brilliant, the sound design is excellent, and the cinematography is very good. The script, however, is clich├ęd and pointless. It meanders about its major points without actually making them, and even basic logic seems to be less important than getting to the next scene so we can see something else blow up.

Even the character arcs don't make sense. Kirk is supposed to be learning a lesson, but most of what he does is find more and more clever ways to beat up the bad guys. At absolute most, he learns a lesson about self-sacrifice, but self-sacrifice isn't his problem; it's recklessness. He doesn't learn anything of value in this film.

Spock is no better. Apparently between the last film and this one, he's shut himself off emotionally, leading to conflicts with Jim and Uhura. He and Uhura basically spend the entire movie bickering FOR NO REASON. They end up in the exact same place they were in in the last movie. If they'd broken up, then at least it would have meant something.

Speaking of Uhura, she does basically nothing except worry about Spock and argue with him. She has no meaningful place in this movie. Granted, it's the same with Chekov and arguably Sulu, but at least they have their place and they fit in it very well. Uhura seems like she's given a ton of screen time without reason.

There's also the introduction of Carol Marcus, who seems like she's only there to give exposition and make us all squeal with fan joy because Carol Marcus from The Wrath of Khan is on-screen. Except that she's hardly anything like that Carol, and is probably more notable in the movie for being in her underwear than anything else.

Benedict Cumberbatch's John Harrison, however, is incredibly epic. He perfectly portrays calculating brilliance, brutal savagery, and single-minded domineering focus. Sadly, he actually doesn't get as much screen time as he deserves, which is one of the film's major problems...

As mentioned, I have several major problems with Into Darkness's plot. They get spoilery, however, so if you'd rather skip them, go ahead and scroll down to the second bolded warning.


WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW


Splitting the film's villain duties between Harrison and Admiral Marcus was a mistake. All it does is rob Harrison of the spotlight, keeping him restricted. Hell, Harrison spends a third or so of the movie in the brig doing almost nothing. He's only shown in control on-screen for a select few scenes; otherwise he's nowhere near the masterful villain that Khan was in Star Trek II.

Speaking of Star Trek II, another of the big problems with STID is that it spends so much time aping The Wrath of Khan. Heck, it's in some ways dependent upon The Wrath of Khan. Lines and scenes are directly lifted from Khan, and much of the dramatic weight in Into Darkness comes directly from the audience's supposed knowledge of Khan. It feels quite a bit like what Superman Returns did with respect to Superman: The Movie, and it's just odd. In some places, it's actually frustrating. This is supposed to be a new storyline with a new crew, but it's still incredibly reliant upon the past. There's no reason to revisit The Wrath of Khan unless you're going to build upon that story, not merely echo it.

Something else that bothers me: the writers obviously had a political agenda with the story. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have been quoted in the past as having purposely put political allegories into their scripts. According to them, the destruction of Vulcan in the first Trek movie was supposed to be equivalent to the Holocaust. Also, the reason they chose military vehicles to represent the Decepticons in Transformers (yeah, they wrote that, too) was to criticize the Bush administration's use of the military. It's a shallow and simple type of allegory, but it's still allegory. Here's how it works in Into Darkness:
-Harrison is Osama Bin Laden: A man who believes he's been wronged by the Federation/USA and begins terrorist attacks on a major city as retribution.
-Admiral Marcus is George W. Bush: A militant leader who uses Harrison/Osama as an excuse to start a war with a third party (Klingons/Iraq) he believes to be a major threat.
-The Enterprise crew are soldiers whose lives are willingly sacrificed by Bush/Marcus in favor of the unnecessary war.
It's not the fact that political allegory is used that's the problem; it's that it goes nowhere. The answer to the entire problem seems to be "let's just blow up all our problems, unless it's to our benefit not to."


SPOILERS OVER


Into Darkness is a Star Trek film that seems to be asking its audience not to think. As any Star Trek fan can tell you, that is as close to blasphemy as Trek can get. The Star Trek franchise is a shining beacon of sociopolitical commentary, philosophical discussion, and inspirational metaphor. Star Trek Into Darkness is a popcorn blockbuster with lots of explosions and nothing of true substance. While this isn't a cardinal sin, it does mean that this film falls well short of the mark. It's not nearly as bad as the worst of the Trek series (TMP, V, Generations, Nemesis), but it's nowhere near the top five either. It sits comfortably in the middle, neither gaining nor losing anything. It remains a stagnant point for Star Trek, and after waiting these four years since Star Trek's 2009 release, that is completely unacceptable.

5/10

Friday, January 20, 2012

Underworld: Awakening

This is a near-totally shallow action movie that still manages to be fun.

Since the events of Underworld: Evolution, things have changed quite a bit. Humanity has discovered the existence of the vampires and lycans, and is now attempting to eradicate them. Selene and Michael are captured and frozen, Han Solo-in-carbonite-style. Thirteen years later, Selene wakes up but Michael is missing. Selene then begins searching for Michael, uncovering a lycan conspiracy and slaughtering hundreds of people along the way.

The Underworld series has never really been all that great. At best it's been "okay." Its real strengths were its well-thought-out mythology and the star power of Kate Beckinsale; its weaknesses were its direction and lackluster scripts. Awakening doesn't get any better in any of those categories, but it does have enough straightforward action to more than make up for the lack of real emotional drama. All this movie really has going for it is a story that's just good enough to justify the action, which is really fun.

Another interesting note is the fact that the 3D version of the movie is actually done very differently from most 3D movies.  While most 3D films merely give a bit of "depth" to the movie, allowing the audience to tell which objects are closer or farther away, Underworld turns the 3D depth up way more than most other films even dare. The result is something that actually feels less like a movie and more like just "being there." It's surprisingly enjoyable.

If you're an Underworld fan or someone who just likes the thought of spending two hours watching Kate Beckinsale in black leather shooting people, Awakening is worth watching.

6/10

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

This very well may be the most fun movie to come out this Summer.

Captain America: The First Avenger harkens back to classic adventure films that are rarely—if ever—made today. It feels more Indiana Jones than Saving Private Ryan, to its credit. It's not even attempting to reach the hyper-realism of The Dark Knight, which does the film a service. Too often today do we get dark, gritty films that teach us the lower limits of humanity, when we truly need an uplifting tale that shows us the very best within ourselves.

Captain America is remarkably family-friendly. There's little more than a "hell" or "damn" thrown in, and almost no on-screen blood. It's refreshing to have a modern superhero film that goes back to the made-for-all-ages heart of the original comics—and still with enough depth to keep the adults just as entertained as their kids.
Chris Evans was an odd choice to play Steve Rogers, mostly because he had already played The Human Torch—another Marvel hero—whose personality is the polar opposite of his character here. And yet, here he completely reverses his usual acting persona, playing the ultra-idealistic, honor-and-respect-driven Captain America perfectly. He feels completely genuine in every single scene, and he owns the movie entirely.
Of special note is the bogglingly real "skinny Steve Rogers" camera/CG/probably-magic effect that makes Chris Evans look like an actual skinny short guy in the scenes before he is physically transformed into a super-soldier. (did I just invent the word "bogglingly?" Maybe. Cool.)

The supporting cast is surprisingly good. Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter with a sharpness that evokes similar hard-edged comic characters like Lois Lane. She doesn't feel forced into the plot like other superhero love interests, and actually has a believable chemistry with Steve.
James "Bucky" Barnes is the secondary character that's given the most depth, despite the fact that he gets a bit less screentime than Peggy, Erskine, and Phillips. He's got just the right amount of tough attitude, depth and likable comedic timing. He's also a great action hero character. More than anything, however, it's his friendship with Steve that really makes Bucky remarkable here. They feel like brothers, and it really helps to personalize the movie. For fans of the comics who know Bucky and his history, seeing him—and specifically the events that affect him in the movie—is a special treat.

The other side characters, including the scientist Abraham Erskine, Col. Chester Phillips, Iron-Man's-dad Howard Stark, and the rest of Cap's team known as the Howling Commandos (never named in the film), are all well-acted and plenty-enjoyable to watch.
The antagonist, Johann Schmidt—The Red Skull—is the very definition of a power-mad evil villain. He's so incredibly perfect in his archetypal portrayal that he and Cap are the perfect balance, as well they should be.

The action in this film is exactly how comic fans always imagined it would be: stylized, slightly unrealistic (in a good way), and extremely cool. There's nothing quite like the glee you get when Cap throws his mighty shield into a Nazi and it bounces back into his hand. It's sheer comic book magic.

The movie isn't without a few problems. There's a framing storyline that's a bit underwhelming, and the final moments of the movie act as more of a setup to 2012's The Avengers, rather than rounding out this particular story itself.
While this film is the very definition of good, honest fun, it's not quite on the level of perfection that Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade mastered. Then again, not being as good as the two best Indy films isn't really saying very much.

In the end, Captain America is an awesomely fun movie. It's definitely one of Marvel Studios' best, and may go down as one of the best superhero films to date.

9/10

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Update (6/30/11)

New reviews:
Daredevil
Green Lantern
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
X-Men

I felt like delving into the Green Lantern and X-Men franchises this month because of their current films in theaters. Daredevil was just a random whim that came out of nowhere.
Next up is Transformers: Dark of the Moon, just as soon as I get the chance to go see it. Otherwise, the next few films will probably be X2, Tangled, Thor, and whatever else I get around to.


Upcoming reviews:
Green Lantern: First Flight
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Juno
The Lion King
The Matrix
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
Mulan
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Pocahontas
Quantum of Solace
Serenity
Spider-Man
Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 3
The Spirit
Sucker Punch
Superman: The Movie
Superman II
Superman III
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Superman Returns
Tarzan
Troy
X2: X-Men United
X-Men: First Class
X-Men: The Last Stand
Tangled
Thor
Wonder Woman (2009 Animated)

Movies I have yet to see this year:
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Captain America
Cowboys and Aliens
The Muppets
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Sherlock Holmes 2