Showing posts with label zachary quinto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label zachary quinto. Show all posts

Saturday, May 18, 2013

movie review: 'star trek: into darkness'

"I've never really been a fan of Star Trek.

Granted, I've seen the movies, but I've never watched the TV show, and while I have vague ideas about certain popular elements of the franchise (most drawn from when I had to research elements of the franchise for a high school debate), I've never really cared about it all that much. You could say that it was because I was exposed to Star Wars before Star Trek, but for the most part, I just have never really been interested.

That being said, I respect Star Trek for what it is, and Gene Roddenberry's original vision of the franchise. It was a series filled with great dreams of manifest destiny, of going to places where no human has gone before, exploring that last great frontier. As a guy with more than a passing interest in science, I have huge respect for that drive, and I'm still pissed that the US space program, once one of the frontrunners of science and technology in the world, has been gutted over the past several years.

So with that in mind, it might not come as any surprise to most of you that I never really liked the Star Trek reboot. Oh, don't get me wrong, McCoy and Scotty were great, and Spock was pretty good, but the writing was very subpar (even on the standards of Star Trek) and Chris Pine has the emotional range of a tree stump and is maybe a tenth as likeable. He is a terrible Captain Kirk, and I sincerely hope that they don't continue this franchise - I mean, when your writing sucks and your leading man is awful, your franchise doesn't have much hope."

I wrote those paragraphs a bit less than two years ago as a part of my Transformers: Dark of the Moon review that I published on Facebook (spoiler alert, that movie was shit), and to the most part, I stand by them. Having had more of a chance to get familiar with the Star Trek franchise (albeit not to the level of serious fandom), I can definitely see why the franchise earned its place among sci-fi and pop culture. There have been rough patches and bad spots, but generally the series had some respectable concepts and occasional moments of absolute brilliance.

And really, so much of my admiration of the Trek franchise comes from two factors: the embrace of intelligence and philosophy in the plotting (at least in the better episodes); and the thematic undercurrent of futuristic utopianism. Star Trek, unlike some of its counterparts, tended towards an optimistic belief in humankind, that we as a species were good enough to go where no man has gone before, that we could indeed begin to colonize the galaxy.

And then J.J. Abrams reinvented the franchise as a popcorn action flick for the lowest common denominator.

And you know, as much as I strongly disagree with Abrams being selected as the director of the upcoming Star Wars film, I'd take him as a director there over Star Trek any day of the goddamn week, mostly because Star Trek is a franchise that at least tries to have more intellectual heft than Star Wars. To see a franchise like Star Trek boiled down to an at-best action blockbuster isn't just bad, it's depressing. It reflects the state of modern action movies, which has absolutely no faith in the intellect of its audience, and where elements of legitimate science are tossed aside in favour of ridiculous action setpieces that can only hope to make some vestige of sense on a good day. It gets even worse when I saw The Daily Show interview with J.J. Abrams where he flat-out admits he didn't like the original Star Trek series because it was 'too philosophical' - that's the fucking POINT! It's science fiction, and so much of science is inherently linked to philosophy that when you strip away the philosophy, you lose the rich undercurrent of meaning that made the Star Trek movies at least engaging

And frankly, that's one of the reasons J.J. Abrams has never endeared himself to me as a director of anything - because I look at him and I don't see anything besides some decent technical chops in direction and writing. Yes, the man can write a decent homage and build a decent mystery. But so many of the pay-offs to those mysteries are so limp and lacking in meaning that all the weight of his films gets sucked out the airlock. As a filmmaker, I have no goddamn idea what Abrams is trying to say or any underlying philosophy behind his work, and as much as he clearly worships Spielberg, he has none of the genuine heart and optimism in his direction and composition that makes his movies feel like Spielberg. Looking at the great popular directors - Kubrick, Spielberg, Lucas, Mallick, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese - all of them had deep thematic resonance in their films that made them stand out and mean something, damn it! There's a reason that so many gangsters began adopting Vito and Michael Corleone's mannerisms after seeing The Godfather, and it wasn't just because they 'sounded cool' - it was because on a subconscious level the performances and script had a resonant power and dignity and class that so many gangsters deeply desired.

Hell, take a look at the modern wave of directors. Shane Black, Neil Blomkamp, Michael Mann, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, they all have something to say with their direction that can elevate their films. Hell, even fucking Michael Bay and Uwe Boll and Tyler fucking Perry have something to say through their direction and writing when they make films! Sure, it might be absolutely incompetent or repugnant, but at least it's something attempting to add weight and mood and atmosphere and meaning to what they put on screen. But with directors like J.J. Abrams and Tim Story, I see none of that ambition, none of that underlying philosophy that steers their camera. At best, I see technical proficiency - that's it. At worst, I see a complete misunderstanding and disregard of theme and symbolism, to say nothing of the intellectual properties from which their films are derived.

And coming back to Star Trek, it really doesn't help matters when you replace William Shatner (who isn't that good of an actor, but has had some great moments) with Chris Pine, the biggest walking dearth of charisma this side of Tyler Perry (who was, incidentally, in the Star Trek reboot in 2009). Coupled with a lightweight script and a forgettable villain, Star Trek is a film that might have satisfied box offices with impressive revenue, but did so by catering to the lowest of the cultural demographic.

But to be completely fair, Chris Pine has improved marginally as an actor in the past four years, and when buzz began to circulate that Benedict Cumberbatch (he of the magnificent Sherlock BBC series) would be joining the cast as the main villain, I was intrigued despite myself. Sure, I had no hope in J.J. Abrams as a director, and I had no illusions that the writing would be good, but at least they'd have to take the film in an interesting direction, right? They've already established the new cast, that'd mean we'd be forced to see character development now that the origin stories are out of the way. It couldn't be that bad, right?

Oh, I was wrong. It wasn't just that bad - it was worse than I ever could have imagined. In fact, Star Trek: Into Darkness stands as a colossal failure of a movie - and to discuss it, I'll need to go into deeper detail on why it fails, and that'll require spoilers, which I will place after the jump and/or the next several paragraphs. Like with Iron Man 3, you will have plenty of warning.

Let's start with the good. Most of the characters aren't bad - Karl Urban as McCoy, Zoe Seldana as Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, and even John Cho delivers impressively as Sulu. The score is excellent, and for the most part, the film seems well-shot (although I'd still argue Abrams moves the camera around way too much and the lens flares do get aggravating). The dialogue can occasionally be witty or humorous, with Zachary Quinto's Spock getting some great laughs simply by giving Chris Pine's Kirk a look or simply due to some awkward silence (although I will say the audience I saw this film with was way too eager to give this film any sort of laughter, which was frustrating).

As for new characters, Peter Weller did deliver as the Starfleet Admiral, and it's always nice to see Robocop take the screen. And yeah, the inner Sherlock geek inside of me loved Benedict Cumberbatch's intense terrorist John Harrison and it was more than a little awesome to watch him kicking all amounts of ass. Cumberbatch is working his ass off here, trying to invest his character with as much depth and complexity as he can, and on a surface level, he's kind of awesome.

And that's also precisely where I have to stop talking about the good things and go into the real, disastrous problems with this movie (before discussing the spoilers that make me and other Trek fans scream bloody murder). For starters, as occasional beautiful as this film can be, it has a strange weightlessness to it that really threw me off, mostly due to the camera's gymnastics and the extreme overuse of CGI. I had a really hard time getting invested in the characters and the plot because too much of the direction stripped away the weight of the film. This comes from a major issue of pacing, which is half a problem of the script (I'll get to this) and half the issue of the editing, which is very choppy and doesn't allow the film to breathe in the slightest. Say what you will about the 2009 Star Trek movie, but at least it took the time to have slower moments and get acquainted more with the characters and what they think and feel. Into Darkness, on the other hand, feels rushed in the worst possible way, and has no idea how to build to a proper emotional climax. For a quick example, Kirk loses captaincy of the Enterprise and gains it back within ten, absolutely tension-less minutes, right at the beginning of the film.

Granted, any character development feels like it was blasted out the nearest airlock, because no character goes through the slightest bit of an arc in this film, or at least not one that hadn't been blatantly recycled from better movies, mostly from the 2009 reboot. Kirk's in particular feels like a major retread from the last film, with him learning absolutely nothing by the end of this movie. Now, I could typically overlook some of this, but Chris Pine's terribly wooden acting and the awful, awful script just make it shit-blisteringly obvious. I wouldn't be surprised that if at some point, they just copy-and-pasted dialogue straight from the previous movie.

And speaking of dialogue, this is also an issue where the script falls apart completely - mostly because nobody in this film talks like a reasonable human being!  Sure, you can get away with hammy dramatics (this is Star Trek, after all), but when you contrast it with the weak witticisms that feel forklifted in from your average sitcom, the tone completely collapses. And while Simon Pegg and Karl Urban play their characters damn near perfectly, neither of them are on screen long enough to save this film. The one thing that Cumberbatch does that's inestimably good for this movie is add real heft and emotion to his lines, so much to the point where his character was a lot more engaging than the rest of the film.  

And now I have to get to spoilers. No jokes, after this paragraph, I'm going to spoil every single one of the twists that Abrams piles into this shit and explain why they turn this film into the colossal pile of junk it is. If you want my advice, skip this movie. Sure, on the surface, it's the average popcorn flick and if you have an air-cooled brain and just want to watch flashing lights on the screen, you'll probably find this movie engaging. But if you're looking to think in this movie, or you're a fan of Trek at all, this movie isn't worth the heart palpitations you're going to get coming out of this movie. Do not see this, do not give Abrams any of your money to see this, do not validate his filmmaking or his 'mystery box' ethos of plotting. And I'm about to smash that mystery box apart in the next paragraph: you have been warned.