Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek

This is not the Star Trek you know. At all.

Star Trek is an insanely fast and fun re-imagining of the Star Trek franchise, and it generally works. Those who pine for a methodical, thought-provoking film may be disappointed, as this film makes momentum its primary concern. If the 1978 Star Trek: The Motion Picture was focused on slow plot development with minimal action, then this new Star Trek is its polar opposite. While there is plenty of character definition and development, this film does it in a very quickly-cut style, giving us hundreds of great character "snippets" rather than a few dozen longer sequences. Sadly, the film is perhaps too focused on the momentum, often interweaving too many subplots into the narrative in order to keep the pace going strong. It's a trade-off, and while I'm not sure it was for the best, it certainly keeps the film interesting, which is, at the very least, fun.

"Fun" may be the key word in this new film, which seemingly ditches the science fiction "thinker" feel of the old Star Trek for a much more exciting narrative. Humor similar to that seen in Star Trek IV (the one with the whales) abounds in this film, which may annoy some and thrill others.

The new Trek crew is much more evenly-balanced than the old. While the Original Series shoved characters like Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, and Scotty to the background, this film gives each crewmember their own spotlight, usually seamlessly.

Chris Pine's portrayal of James T. Kirk is remarkable in that the viewer is not constantly reminded of William Shatner, as there aren't too many comparisons to be drawn. While Shatner's Kirk was a slightly foolish risk-taker, Pine's Kirk is a younger, brasher, and much more thrill-seeking character. He doesn't show the maturity of Shatner's Kirk in this film, but the ending certainly seems to suggest that we will see that in the sequels.

Zachary Quinto's Spock is one of the most significantly different portrayals, as he does not have the complete emotional control that Leonard Nimoy's version of the character possessed. This Spock is shown to be a somewhat conflicted character, constantly confused by his half-Human-half-Vulcan heritage. It's enjoyable to watch, though I do wonder how future storylines will deal with the fact that Spock is now a much more emotional character. Will he still retain his reliance on logic? It seems essential to the character, so I hope so. In any case, Quinto plays the character extremely well, to the point where one actually forgets Nimoy's famously powerful voice, even despite Nimoy's appearance as Spock in the film.

Leonard "Bones" McCoy may be my favorite re-imagining of any of the characters. Karl Urban, known for his Rohirrim-mustering in The Lord of the Rings, plays the slightly manic and constantly paranoid McCoy in such a sensical-yet-constantly-humorous way that the viewer cannot help but be entranced at his every appearance. He can switch from being hilarious to completely serious and dramatic at a split-second's notice, and with absolutely no sign of inconsistency. This McCoy is simultaneously accurate to the original character and completely different, all while being wholly entertaining.

The characters of Scotty and Chekov are played mostly for laughs, and while 80% of the time it works, every fifth gag comes off as childish and stupid. Hopefully that'll change by the time the second film rolls around,

The villain of the film, Nero, is a little bit underdeveloped. Star Trek: Countdown, a comic book prequel to the film, developed Nero's character in an amazing way. However, his portrayal in this film is hampered by the fact that certain very important scenes for Nero were cut out of the theatrical release, leaving us to wonder exactly how and why this seemingly silly character is in command of the massive Romulan mining ship-turned-warship, the Narada. I would have loved to have seen more of the tragic and powerful backstory of Nero in the film, as it really developed him into a character that was sympathetic, truly vengeful, and enthralling.

One significant point must be addressed: two of the main characters become romantically involved. Every time I hear myself or anyone else bring up that relationship, I have to stop and take a moment to gather my scrambled thoughts up off the ground. While the film certainly explains why their coupling should occur, it is still very off-putting. However, the humorously shocked reactions of the other characters to this relationship both acknowledge and alleviate viewers' concerns.

Some of the plot choices in Star Trek are confusing. Why exactly did the writers feel the need for a Willy Wonka-style "Scotty's stuck in a water pipe" scene? It added NOTHING. Also, the reveal of the film's backstory was badly done, leaving many--including myself--scratching their heads as to why the choice was made to reveal the central driving force of the external conflict in such a schitzophrenic and vague manner.

Another seeming plot hole is the fact that Kirk and most of the main characters are mere cadets, yet are almost instantly promoted to being the senior staff of the Federation's flagship by the end of the film. From what I've heard, there was a bit of dialogue that was cut from the film which explained that, due to the time-altering events of the film's prologue, the timeline is attempting to "mend itself" by pushing the same people from the Original Series into their same roles, despite the altered state of the universe. That line would have gone a long way to explain things, and I'm not exactly pleased that it was cut.

There are several events in this film that are so mind-shatteringly epic that they forever alter the Star Trek universe. This new series of films is not the same Trek we've known for 40 years; this is something entirely different, slightly akin to Joss Whedon's Serenity. Some may not initially welcome the change; it took me about twelve hours to accept it. Now that I've had a good morning's sleep, I've realized that I love this new movie. It's character-based, fast, and fun.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Seven years ago, when I first saw the original X-Men film, I was hooked forever. I've now read dozens of X-men comics, seen countless episodes of X-men cartoons, bought action figures, watched all the films, and spent countless hours poring over X-men lore.
And even after all of that, I am honestly not sure what to think of this movie.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not an X-men film, nor is it entirely a Wolverine film. It's actually a strange amalgamation of various elements that all come together into an oddly-constructed narrative.

The plot basically follows Wolverine as he goes through the various events that will lead him through his membership in the superpowered black ops unit, Team X, and end with him losing the memories of his past.

An odd amount of time in the film is actually spent on a dozen or so other mutant characters that honestly feel like "extras" in a film that should be centered solely on the title character. At times, the film feels like a video game with the way that it constantly switches from character-fight-scene to character-fight-scene.

Some characters ultimately work (though the story might have been better-told without them), while others only hold the story back. Most of them fit into the latter category.

Wolverine's biggest flaw is that it doesn't allow you to feel for the character(s). While Hugh Jackman gives it his all, the script, direction, and editing don't allow for the film to work on the personal level that it should. Also, there are many changes in Wolverine's story that seem rather odd, such as the choice to make Sabretooth, a villain seen in the first X-men film, Wolverine's half-brother. Since Wolverine has his memory wiped in this movie [not really a spoiler], it would make sense for him to not remember Sabretooth, but how exactly did Sabretooth go from a cold and calculating murderer to a blonde guy who just stares funny at people and has no memory of anything having to do with Wolverine?

Another disappointment is the fact that Logan's much-hinted-at past is shown to be a lot more boring than we thought it was. X2 had flashbacks showing a horrifying surgery scene which involved Logan escaping from a government facility, traumatized and amnesia-stricken. As it turns out, that surgery scene actually only lasted TWO MINUTES (that's in-story time, not even screen time), and he doesn't lose his memories until several days later. While the comics (and X2) showed Wolverine's past to be bloody, brutal, and horrifying, this film shows the tale to be extremely flat and devoid of deep emotion. It's no wonder that the film version of Logan is so much softer than his comics counterpart; his past is practically happy-go-lucky by comparison.

The visual effects are... hit-and-miss. There's nothing that really blows the mind of the viewer, nor is there really anything with much artistic quality. Many of the special effects are actually pretty bad.

All in all, this isn't a terrible film, but it's not amazing either. Go see it if you're a huge comics fan (if only because this will be the subject of many a geek-discussion in the months and years to come), but otherwise wait until the DVD, then NetFlix it.

As I have recently learned, if you are a female, this film apparently is much, MUCH more enjoyable, and you should add another five points to the below score. (thanks, Hugh Jackman). :P