May 31, 2013

My Family Reviews 'Star Trek Into Darkness'

Where they're going, they don't need roads. Because they're in space.
I love watching movies, there's no doubt, but I REALLY love talking about movies. So, when I was staying with my sister and brother-in-law over the holiday weekend, and I happened to find out that we had all seen Star Trek Into Darkness, I was obviously going to talk about it. And write down the conversation, to enjoy the talk at a later date. Just as a bit of background information, my sister is not normally a fan of action movies. She's screamed more than once at more than one Harry Potter movie, and not just the later, scarier ones. She screamed while watching Chamber of Secrets.

Warning: Some of the conversation is a little spoiler-y, so I blotted out everything that might give too much away. You can scroll over the red portions if you want to have some elements of the film spoiled.

Tableau: So, what did you think of the movie?

Sister: It never lets up. It is intense all the time. It felt like it was so constant that you
couldn't take a break or a breath.

T: Now, a lot of the movie has to do with solidifying the Spock/Kirk bond. The filmmakers try to do a lot of the work of the TV show and the original movies, which are all null and void due to the new timeline established in the last film. Character-wise between the two of them, there are a lot of moments similar to those in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, except many character moments are switched between Kirk and Spock.

S: I didn't see any of the original Star Trek, so I have no basis in the story comparisons.

T: …which makes you more qualified to answer the question. Do you think that the relationship, and specifically the sacrifices that they make for one another, feels natural?

S: Well, when Kirk (Chris Pine) is actually selfless, it does make him seem like less of a douche bag. It's nice that he actually cares about Spock.

T: He's a terrible person, but he loves his crew, so…

S: He's kind of a jerk, to everyone in general and to women specifically, but…he really cares about his crew. So that makes him likable.

T: There's a sleaziness that I think William Shatner could overcome that Chris Pine just hasn't been able to do. Shatner's sexism is charming, whereas, whenever Chris Pine does something sexual or flirtatious, I'm a little skeeved out. It might have something to do with his weird, pug face.

S: He's okay.

T: He's fine. Chris Fine.

Brother-in-law:  Kirk's character arc works well. He's supposed to come in as an arrogant asshole and full of himself, but he's also smart and he does a lot of good.

T: To me he doesn't make the connection between asshole and savior.

S: Not quite.

T: He's very human, though, and he acts as the entry point into a not-normal world. 

S: He's the jerky guy you want to stay away from at a party.

T: And he's a captain. He's a boss. It might have been his call to put all the women in miniskirts and go-go boots while the men on-deck wear long-sleeve shirts and pants. It's a staple of the original show, but it just feels very 60's and dated for a franchise that purports to be ahead of its time in terms of female empowered and civil rights issues. There are just some carryovers that don't quite mesh with a modern sensibility.

S: And in the movie, when all the captains and the first mates get together, there's diversity, but it's still a bunch of old dudes. Also, when that meeting happens, it happens in a window-filled room at the top of a large building. Let me just say that that is a stupid place for all of the most important people to be. There should be a more secure location.

T: People are often meeting in the glassiest areas possible. Even the ship is unnecessarily filled with glass. I understand they need a screen to see out, but the sleek design is not super functional.

B: It's all a little overblown. But, they're peacekeepers. They're not building things with defense in mind.

T: But then the war ship comes along and there are no windows on that. The only way to get in is through the trash chutes. 

B: Clearly, someone figures out that glass is bad.

T: Now, getting back to the Star Trek female problem, these movies are certainly doing something. Director/Writer/Producer J.J. Abrams has a long history of creating great female characters. And. while Uhura is a big character in the original show, she wasn't really a lead character until this reboot. They give Zoe Saldana a lot more to do here than her character has been given in the past. Granted, a lot of that is relationship-based.

S: I didn't mind the relationship moments (between Uhura and Spock). I like the light-hearted bits that are mixed into the intensity. I guess that's their version of including up-and-down emotions in the story.

T: Relationship conversations amidst heavy gunfire.

S: At least there's that.

B: It's got a certain level of camp.

T: I think this movie did humor better than the first.

B: I think they do a good job of interspersing humor that doesn't feel contrived. There's a little bit of thinking in the fun, but it's an action movie with moments of levity that other big budget movies often fail at. It's easy to be funny in the beginning of a movie, but as the movie goes along it usually feels hokey. In this movie, though, the writing is so much better than in a normal summer movie. Like, in Thor.

T: I quite like Thor.

B: I don't want to pick on Thor, but summer action movies often try for humor and then have to abruptly get rid of it as the movie progresses, because all of a sudden 'fun' doesn't make any sense. People who have an attachment to the Star Trek series might want it to be more serious throughout, but that isn't really where the reboot is going.

T: Now, my understanding of the show is somewhat limited. I've seen some of the original series and a few of the movies, but I'm not coming at it from a super-fan perspective. That being said, I think there is a lot more in this movie than in the previous one that will make Star Trek fans happy. There are a lot of heady concepts introduced: the difficulty of peacekeeping, the idea starting war to prevent war, lots of conversations about purity. Plus, we get Klingons!

S: Indeed.

T: And they are super-creepy. They're updated, but still creepy. And they now have added forehead ridge rings.

B: And they're bigger. Star Trek suddenly has a budget to work with.  That whole segment was fun.

T: It was the most Zoe Saldana had to do in the whole movie. She got to use her skills.

B: There are so many characters where it's incredible what they can do, but it's rarely the case with her. So at least with the Klingon scenes she gets to do something.

T: I think they parody Uhura a little in Galaxy Quest, with Sigourney Weaver’s character, whose one job involves speaking to a computer. Uhura gets more to do, but she doesn't have much agency. She's forced into participating at every turn.  It's a good thing she is, because we get to see her kick butt in a cool leather jacket that she has on-board for some reason, and her hair in a high pony. She gets stuff done.

S: She has to fight some Klingons.

T: Now that is a fight scene in the middle, but it's merely a precursor to the gigantic battle scenes at the end of the film. How do you feel about the way the movie ended?

S: The last part of the movie was completely unnecessary, and it's definitely the weakest part.

B: There were too many obstacles to overcome.

S: Now, before I get into the ending, I want to say that I like Spock and Zachary Quinto.

T: The actor who plays him.

B: It's a tough character to play.

T: His non-emotional reactions could read as evil really easily. It's a difficult balance.

S: He's got that stare. With that dead face. 

T: The face that gave so many viewers chills when he was a homicidal maniac in Heroes. 

S: So, I like Spock, but I don't like what he does in the end of the movie. It seems so un…

B: un-Spock

S: Right, well, it's strange that he goes from being normal to being the most physically capable person. All of a sudden he's jumping from one space cruiser to another. And Uhura joining the action was weird. It was all jarring.

B: It was unnecessary, and everyone was doing things that were out-of-character. After Kirk dies, the rest of the movie feels superfluous. It could have ended a lot simpler.

T: The ending lacks confidence. I hate in movies when the second film in a trilogy feels unnecessarily open-ended, but in this movie it feels like they close off things too completely because they were worried they wouldn't get a third shot at the material.

B: Closure for every character!

T: It leaves some stuff open, and the movie does end sort of where the original series begins, with the crew going on a longer, extended journey.

B: They've set up the next movie pretty well.

T: There is an opening up of the universe, but a lot of character dynamics feel closed. Now, all of this conversation has been a precursor to what I really want to talk about in the movie: Benedict Cumberbatch. I don't really want to give away who he plays in the film, since it's sort of a big reveal.

B: The reveal comes in the middle of the film. It's not like an ending twist or anything.

S: Let's just say that Benedict Cumberbatch is awesome.

B: He was intense.

S: Still, you know he's bad the whole time. I thought that Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) might be the real villain of the movie.

T: I did kind of like that. You don't know exactly what her motivation is or what she's doing on the ship.

S: But you do know Cumberbatch is a bad guy.

T: He does kill all those people.

B: Easily.
T: I think we should talk about his preferred method of killing people in this film.  He actually physically crushes people’s heads! You never see it on-screen; it's all implied, which is good.

B: Yeah, it would be too much to actually see it.

S: It was already too much. I stopped watching the  Admiral Marcus scene. I closed my eyes.

T: The scream that Carol lets out as she watches is probably the most intense moment of the whole movie.

S: Why is that his preferred method of murder?

T: Because it's so intense!

S: Like, why doesn't he just karate-chop someone's neck or something?

T: Because he's crazy. He's insane.

B: He was an interesting villain. I like that he says he and his crew were misunderstood, and that they were on a peacekeeping mission, but his crew was essentially killing people with the idea that they need to kill everyone who is inferior to themselves in order to create peace. It's a fascinating motive.

T: He has points, but his lunacy…

S: It's still a terrible motive.

T: Yeah, but the clean slate idea is a well-trodden sci-fi story line that has a certain validity but no practical applications. In general, the machinations and motives of this movie are interesting, and the stakes for the characters make more sense than they do in the first film. It's a little more small-scale, with the lead characters reacting to the death of Pike instead of a whole race of people. Killing all the Vulcans in the first movie was ballsy and heart-wrenching, but it all felt a little unearned. It relied on the audience caring about Winona Ryder's death.

S: Or caring about Vulcans in general, which meant you kind of had to know the TV show and the franchise ahead of time. I understood the story line and the character motivations more in this movie than in the first one. The first one…

T: ...with the magic red liquid...

B: ...the planet destroying red blob...

T: …that also makes time travel possible. You can time travel with red blob, you can destroy planets with red blob, you can cook with red blob.

B: But Eric Bana was amazing in that movie.
My Brother-In-Law and Sister

S: He was. It just that the movie was... yeah. The story line in this one is easier to follow.

T: I love the first one, but it's so stupid. This one was just as fun, but there was more to it.

B: It's a great summer movie.

S: In terms of this genre, and knowing that it's not my thing, the movie is very strong.

T: I think that the 3rd one needs to have Jennifer Garner in it.

S: Oooo.

T: J.J., get that done. Make it happen. He put Felicity in Mission Impossible 3.

Film Scores:
Brother-in-law: B+
Sister: B+/A-
Tableau: B+/A-
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