I felt a pang of guilt at not having seen so many of the current movies (because I’m “supposed” to keep up with these things), and so I got hold of three of the biggest titles from this year’s summer block and barrelled through them in one day. (Hey, I had to work on slides again. I needed something going on in the corner of the screen to split my attention from slide-making to keep me from falling asleep at my desk.)
Star Trek Into Darkness – ★★½
JJ Abrams brings us the second installment of the rebooted Star Trek movie franchise, which sees Kirk & Co. take on a new bad guy in the form of John Harrison/Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch). I think this movie suffered far too much from the issues surrounding Khan – the constant “Will Khan be in the movie? No, there’ll be some guy called John Harrison. But wait! John Harrison is Khan!” Abrams should have either just admitted that he’s Khan from the outset, or just ditched the Khan idea altogether. (I prefer the latter option.) In the end, it didn’t seem to matter what his name was. All that mattered was the impact he had as a character. And that, sadly, fell a bit flat to me. He was just another angry, vengeful villain who… kind of wasn’t the main villain in the end?
They attempted to bring in some character drama with Kirk’s demotion (which didn’t last very long) and Spock’s friends having problems with his lack of emotion. A good part of the last third of the movie seemed to revolve around Spock showing emotions at last. I wasn’t sure that was necessary; something about it felt a bit forced.
Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) was superfluous. If they had removed her from the story, I doubt it would have changed a great deal. She seemed to exist purely so Kirk (Chris Pine) would have some pretty girl to ogle. Fortunately Uhura (Zoe Saldana) gets to be a bit more useful and doesn’t just exist as eye candy.
The ending puzzled me. This Khan has shown himself to be untrustworthy and dangerous… but all you do at the end is put him back in stasis? Why – so he can be woken up another few hundred years later to cause more trouble? Benedict Cumberbatch deserved a better villain role than this.
Pacific Rim – ★★½
Gundam vs Godzilla. Presented by Guillermo del Toro.
Pacific Rim takes place in some vague future where Earth is constantly getting attacked by giant reptilian monsters that burst out from the interdimensional portal under the sea (in the Pacific, of course). Mankind fights back with equally gigantic robots called Jaegers, each controlled by two pilots linked together in a “Drift” (because the neural connection to the mechanics of the robot is too much for one person to handle).
This I have to say: you can see del Toro’s passion for the mecha (robot) and kaiju (monster) genres. That being said… I thought the human element was totally overshadowed by the fight sequences. They tried to give the story some pathos in the three main characters – Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) was a former Jaeger pilot who retired about his brother was killed in action, and Mori Mako (Kikuchi Rinko) was orphaned at a young age after a kaiju attack. (The young Mako was played by current Japanese child star, Ashida Mana.) Whilst those are tragic backstories, I felt they were very quickly lost in the frenzy of battle once the fights got going.
There was never any real doubt that mankind would win in the end. (Does mankind ever lose in this sort of movie?) This lack of suspense probably took away from it. The stakes were high – Earth could be colonised by the invading kaiju! – and yet low – we all know Raleigh and Mako will ultimately defeat the monsters and conquer their own fears. It was all a question of how ferocious the next kaiju would be, how they would take it down, and how they would manage to close the portal that lets the creatures reach Earth.
(There’s a smattering of Japanese here and there in the movie – mostly when Mako gets emotional. A couple of the subtitle lines bothered me. They seemed to not quite match the dialogue, and though they made sense, I think I preferred what I heard to what I read. E.g. Mako remarks in Japanese that Raleigh is different from what she expected, and he responds with “Chigau tte?” This was translated as “Better or worse?” but I think the direct translation would’ve read better: “Different, how?”)
Man of Steel – ★★
I think one thing is clear: Marvel is taking the route of “Hey, it’s just a comic book movie! Let’s have fun with it!” whereas DC is aiming for the Christopher Nolan style that says, “The world is grim, reality is dark. Be serious.”
Man of Steel is yet another tale of Superman’s origins, but made gloomier than previous iterations. Visually, the movie is just an array of browns, greys and blues so desaturated they’re almost grey. Zack Snyder directed it but I saw Nolan’s fingerprints all over it – might as well have made him director instead of producer.
One of my friends – I forgot who – told me that when Man of Steel began, she didn’t even recognise Clark Kent. The same was true for me; took a while before it sank in that I was looking at Clark. I’m too accustomed to the clean-cut Superman of old (and I admit to being very influenced by the Lois & Clark TV series in my interpretation and understanding of the characters). They were trying to make him more complex and more contemporary, I suppose. There were valid questions posed, such as the potential reaction of other people to the presence of a super-powered being like Kal-El, which is what makes Jonathan Kent teach him to by wary of showing his true self. But the whole approach turned Superman into… almost-Batman. Makes me dread the next Superman movie, which supposedly pits Superman against Batman. Half the interest is gone if they’re both going to be angsty types.
Many reviews noted the high level of destruction in this film. They’re right. There was just so much smashing-into-buildings that I’m pretty sure the destruction in both Smallville and Metropolis would have sent the whole country into debt, if not bankruptcy. (The destruction wrought on Hong Kong in Pacific Rim would probably have depleted China’s coffers too…)