Thursday, May 30, 2013


I’ve already gone on at length about Star Trek Into Darkness, so I’m going to keep my own comments to an absolute minimum this time. Suffice it to say that I went to see it again, this time with my wife Ginny and our 10-year-old daughter Maddie, with whom I collaborated on our now legendary Star Trek Through Fresh Eyes series of blog posts. Why would I go back to see a film I didn’t particularly care for? The honest answer: I didn’t want to miss out on being with Maddie when she went to see a Star Trek movie in the theater for the first time.

Having seen the film again, I find that my opinion of it hasn’t changed much—but I definitely dislike the last third even more now, and I feel even more strongly that Benedict Cumberbatch is the most miscast actor since John Wayne as Genghis Khan. 

Okay, now I’ll turn things over to Maddie—and yes, these are HER opinions, with no coaching or influencing from me. If you haven’t seen the film yet, note that there are SPOILERS along the way. You have been warned!

“I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. It’s not one of my favorites.

“I liked the special effects—they were really good. I liked the action a lot, and the intensity. 

“It’s 2013, so they can do all this cool stuff with the story and since it’s in an alternate timeline, anything can happen. I think they should have gone with a new villain and not used Khan. They should have done something new and fresh for the audience. This is supposed to be a new timeline, so why use characters we’ve already seen?

“I didn’t like the casting of Khan. He didn’t look like Khan and he didn’t act like Khan. I think the actor tried the best he could to be Khan, but he just wasn’t Khan. 

“My favorite characters were Kirk and Bones. Kirk was very different from the old Kirk—the old Kirk would never have teamed up with Khan. And I don’t think the old Kirk liked to be in fights all the time. He didn’t like to hurt people. He liked to sort things out with words and negotiations. But I like the new Kirk because I think he’s cool—it’s a new way for Kirk to act, which is okay because the stories are being told in a new and different way. And I thought Kirk was funny, especially in the scenes where he was dealing with Spock and Uhura not getting along. ‘Are you two fighting? Oh my God, what is that even like?’

“I’m really disliking Spock in these new movies. I don’t like him being with Uhura—he’s not supposed to be in love. And the old Spock was funny. I find the new Spock just annoying. He filed a report against Kirk after Kirk saved his life! The old Spock would never have done that. The actor plays Spock well, it’s just the writing that’s bad. 

“I want Bones to have a bigger part in the stories. He should have a bigger part than Uhura!

“I like Sulu a lot—I was glad they gave him some stuff to do. It helped the story. And Scotty is really good! He’s very funny, and I like his little friend. 

And I really enjoyed it when Scotty was running back and forth on the deck of the enemy ship and making those funny noises!

“I didn’t know why the Enterprise was underwater at the beginning—why didn’t it just stay in orbit? As long as the ship was in beaming range, they could’ve gone down to the planet and not have to worry about being seen by the natives.

“I liked the intensity in the last part of the movie, even though I saw a lot of it before in The Wrath of Khan. It was interesting that they did a twist on Wrath of Khan—it was a new way of telling the story. But I knew that Kirk would be all right because of the earlier scene with McCoy and the tribble. And it was interesting that in this movie, Khan wasn’t really the bad guy.

“I wanted to see more done with the Klingons. I think they’ll be a big part of the next movie.

“I want there to be another movie, but I hope it’s more like the one from 2009.” 

And there you have it—straight from the next generation.  

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2013.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


The folks in charge of Star Trek these days have said that it took them four years to produce a sequel to their 2009 hit because they didn’t want to rush things, they wanted to take their time and make sure they got it right. Judging from the finished product, they should’ve taken another four years. 

As a movie, Star Trek Into Darkness is no better than passable. As a Star Trek movie, it ranks among the worst. It has some good, strong moments, but they’re buried inside a loud, sloppy, unfocused, derivative film that doesn’t seem to know what it’s about, and that fails to follow through when it actually introduces an innovative and intriguing idea. 

For example, Captain James T. Kirk, once again played by Chris Pine, is demoted to Commander after a mission on an alien world goes awry. He’s now slated to be the first officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the ship that he had commanded, and will serve under returning Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, also returning from the previous film and once again delivering a fine performance). This is an interesting turn of events, one we’ve never seen before, and one that promises some very interesting character dynamics. Too bad it goes absolutely nowhere and the status quo is restored within about five minutes.

Returning screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are now joined by Damon Lindelof, who co-created Lost and wrote last year’s major misfire, Prometheus. Their work on Star Trek Into Darkness is, for the most part, generic. There are no truly memorable lines of dialogue, not even from Dr. McCoy (once again played by Karl Urban, who does the best he can with what he’s given). There are no particularly compelling character arcs. The main plot hinges on the villain seeking vengeance—which is what the previous film was about. Two films in a row with the same basic theme? That’s something the six films starring the original cast managed to avoid. 

Things happen in this movie, and characters pop in, not because they make sense or help move the plot along, but because the filmmakers apparently felt they were “cool.” Just two examples: Early in the film, the Enterprise rises from the bottom of the ocean on an alien planet after trying to remain hidden from the primitive beings that live there—a very dramatic and well executed visual, but why was the ship down there in the first place? Why didn’t it just remain in orbit, where there was no risk of it ever being observed? And while it’s certainly nice to see a certain cast member from the original TV series have a scene in this movie, the scene serves no real purpose. 

The screenwriters, along with returning director JJ Abrams, also display a distinct lack of understanding of who the main characters are. Their handling of Kirk is particularly appalling. In short, he’s an ass. He’s portrayed as a sleazy horndog who beds multiple alien women at the same time, and who seems to think that the only way to resolve a conflict is with his fists or a phaser pistol. William Shatner’s James Kirk was a ladies’ man, to be sure, but he wasn’t a creep—and he was as much of a diplomat as he was an explorer and a military leader. This was a guy who could talk planet-ruling computers into short-circuiting themselves. Chris Pine’s Kirk is a bruiser, a reckless, thickheaded know-it-all and a real jerk where women are concerned.

It should be noted that at certain points in the film, Kirk also comes off like Indiana Jones and Han Solo. It seems like Abrams and company want him to be pretty much anybody but James T. Kirk.  And that’s a real shame, because James T. Kirk is a great character in his own right. Too bad his current caretakers don’t seem to appreciate that fact. 

As for Zachary Quinto’s Spock—instead of drifting closer and closer to Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal, which one would quite reasonably expect as the character matures and develops, he’s drifting further and further away. He’s way too emotional and intense, two words that shouldn’t be used to describe Spock. 

Along the same lines—I really wish Abrams and company would end the romance between Spock and Zoe Saldana’s Lieutenant Uhura. It’s not interesting and it makes Uhura far more prominent than she should be, at the expense of Dr. McCoy. The heart of Classic Star Trek is the trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy: the captain at the center, with the science officer representing his logical side and the doctor representing his compassion and humanity. Spock’s girlfriend isn’t part of this triangle. 

(Uhura does have a great scene in this film in which she confronts a team of angry Klingons and addresses them boldly in their native language. It’s nice that she gets some time to shine, and that she gets to show off her impressive abilities as Chief Communications Officer—something Nichelle Nichols rarely got to do when she played the character. But I don’t think her function in the grand scheme of things should extend much further than that—call me old school.) 

The rest of the supporting cast—Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho as Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Chekov—are fine here. Pegg’s Scotty is actually one of the highlights.

It’s no secret that Dr. Carol Marcus, a character introduced in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as Kirk’s old flame and the mother of his son David, appears in this film. Originally portrayed by Bibi Besch, Carol is now played by the stunningly beautiful British actress Alice Eve. 

But like many of the other key characters in this movie, she’s Carol Marcus in name only. Eve, who has dropped her British accent convincingly for other roles, retains it here for some reason. (Needless to say, Besch’s Carol was not British.) And in this film, Dr. Marcus is shown to be a weapons specialist instead of a molecular biologist researching the possibility of reorganizing matter at the subatomic level. And there’s virtually no chemistry between her and Kirk. 

So why call her Carol Marcus? Why not just make her an all-new character? The cynical part of me can’t help but think that this was just a way to pillage from The Wrath of Khan, still the most popular Star Trek movie of all.  

And then there’s Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the central villain. 

I can’t comment much about him or his character without revealing a major plot twist. I’d never seen Cumberbatch’s work until this film, but I do know that he’s a very popular actor and that he currently plays Sherlock Holmes in a widely acclaimed BBC TV series. And if he were playing a different character in Star Trek Into Darkness, particularly one we’ve never seen before, I’d say that he did an adequate enough job. Without giving too much away, I will state that, considering the character Cumberbatch is actually playing, this was miscasting of the highest order. Which is appropriate, I guess, because the part is written and directed completely wrong too, to the point of distraction. I don’t think it’ll work for longtime Star Trek fans. And I don’t think newcomers will be particularly impressed either. 

As far as I’m concerned, this shows just how much Abrams and his team don’t fully understand the property they’re working on. This surprises me, because overall, I thought they did a good job on the previous movie. They do seem to get it on a superficial level, but no more than that. They don’t really grasp the essence, unlike producer Harve Bennett and writer/director Nicholas Meyer, who, as total newcomers to the series, successfully recaptured the spirit of Star Trek when they made The Wrath of Khan.

It’s clear that Abrams and company are very much aware of the long shadow that The Wrath of Khan casts over the franchise to this day, considering how much they crib from it in the new movie, right down to dialogue, imagery, and key plot points—to the point where the only appropriate response is an exasperated groan.

It’s also clear just how much Abrams prefers the work of George Lucas over that of Gene Roddenberry. In addition to trying to turn Captain Kirk into one of Lucas’s Harrison Ford-portrayed characters, Abrams begins the film with an impossible-to-miss homage to the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In a later scene, he does a riff on the asteroid field sequence from The Empire Strikes Back, with Kirk, Spock, and Uhura in a ship that looks suspiciously like the Millennium Falcon.

Star Trek Into Darkness most likely ends JJ Abrams’s direct involvement with the series. As you probably know, he’s heading off to direct Star Wars: Episode VII, to which I say, “I wish it had happened sooner—preferably before this movie got made.” At least on his next film, Abrams will keep the Lucas worship where it belongs.

As for Star Trek Into Darkness, personally, I think you’d be better served watching the classic 1967 TV episode “Space Seed,” followed by Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I consider that combo a far more satisfying viewing experience—Star Trek at its best. And if the franchise continues in this current direction, it may be a long while before we see that again. 

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2013.

Friday, May 3, 2013


In my review of Iron Man 2 back in 2010, I wondered whether its follow-up would be able to avoid the fate of so many other “threequels.” Would Iron Man 3 defy the odds and maintain the standards set by its predecessors, or would it join the ranks of such franchise hobblers as Superman III, Spider-Man 3, and X-Men 3: The Last Stand?

I’m pleased to report that Iron Man 3 is a worthy addition to the series. It doesn’t surpass the original 2008 film or even last summer’s blockbuster The Avengers (which I tend to think of as Iron Man and his Amazing Friends), but it’s an improvement over Iron Man 2—dont get me wrong, I liked that second movie and still do, but upon subsequent viewings, I came to realize that it occasionally lost its focus and seemed to want to serve more as a launching pad for future Marvel movies. In contrast, this new film is very much an Iron Man movie—well, not so much Iron Man as Tony Stark. He spends far more time outside of the armor than he spends inside of it. And let’s face it, that’s to be expected when Stark is being played by Robert Downey Jr. 

What can I say about Downey that I didn’t already say in my reviews of Iron Man 2 and The Avengers? He simply OWNS the part of Tony Stark, and if the folks at Marvel know what’s good for them, they’ll do whatever it takes to keep him happy and in the fold for years to come. Yes, it’s inevitable that someday the role will have to be recast . . . but they should try to put that off for as long as possible. 

In Iron Man 3, Downey gets to show a new side of Stark, a vulnerability resulting from his traumatic experience in The Avengers (that film is referenced several times, very amusingly in some instances). He also shows that even an adorable kid can’t upstage him—he’s just too quick, too witty, and he won’t allow too much sentimentality or cuteness to creep in. 

His chemistry with returning co-stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau, and Don Cheadle is as strong as ever. Paltrow, as Stark’s one true love Pepper Potts, ends up in stereotypical “damsel in distress” mode at one point, but she also gets to share in the action much more this time around, which follows recent developments for the character in the comic book series. 

Favreau, as Stark’s security chief Happy Hogan, has some great moments. It’s nice to see Favreau still involved with the series, even though he’s relinquished the director’s chair (he retains an executive producer credit). 

As Stark’s best friend and frequent partner in armored crimefighting, Colonel James Rhodes/War Machine (here renamed “Iron Patriot,” much to Stark’s chagrin), Cheadle seems like he’s having a ball. He doesn’t have all that much to do until the last act, but there are some really nice character moments throughout. 

The newcomers to the series include Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, a scientist who once tried to forge an alliance with Stark but has since found remarkable success on his own. Pearce is effective and compelling, but I preferred Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane in the first film, and even Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer in IM 2—I thought he was a riot. But Pearce is definitely a step up from Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko—Killian is far more interesting and has much more personality. 

I was particularly impressed with Rebecca Hall, who plays Maya Hansen, a beautiful female scientist with a past connection to Stark. She re-enters his life at a most tumultuous time and, as you can imagine, sparks fly between her and Paltrow’s Pepper. Hall delivers a strong, grounded performance and holds her own in her scenes with Downey and Paltrow.

Incidentally, both Maya Hansen and Aldrich Killian were introduced in a comic-book story entitled “Extremis,” which this film is loosely based upon. All I’ll say about the comic book is that I found it to be a highly effective cure for insomnia. The movie is a vast improvement. 

Both the print and film versions of the story center on a biotechnological advancement developed by Maya called Extremis, which can be used to heal—and even rebuild—the human body. Whether it works—and the potential dangers of its misuse—becomes of utmost importance to Tony Stark and the people closest to him. 

On top of that, Tony makes himself the target of a terrorist mastermind known as the Mandarin, who is using human operatives to blow themselves up across the United States. The Mandarin sends his forces to attack Stark at his Malibu home, resulting in one of the film’s most riveting sequences. This mysterious figure, whose existence had been hinted at and foreshadowed in the previous two films, finally emerges from the shadows in the form of Ben Kingsley, dressed in flowing robes, sporting a beard reminiscent of Osama bin Laden’s, and wearing a distinctive ring on each of his fingers. Kingsley’s performance is thoroughly entertaining, and I’m interested in seeing how comic-book purists react to the cinematic depiction of this character, who is one of Iron Man’s oldest and most popular foes. While I like Iron Man, I’m certainly not a die-hard fan, so the liberties that the filmmakers took with the Mandarin didn’t bother me all that much. 

I should also mention Ty Simpkins, who plays young Harley Keener, the boy who encounters Tony Stark when he’s at his lowest point. The kid is very likable and interacts extremely well with Downey. The interplay between them is a lot of fun to watch, especially since Downey never lets things get too sappy between them. In fact, Stark treats the kid pretty much as an equal, which means he’s not above pulling some really dickish moves on the boy, and it’s hilarious.   

Iron Man 3 was directed and co-written by Shane Black, who first came to prominence when he wrote the screenplay for the original Lethal Weapon. He also wrote and directed a wonderful little film from 2005 called Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which starred a pre-Iron Man Downey alongside Val Kilmer.  Black manages to make Iron Man 3 feel very much connected to Favreau’s films, as well as The Avengers, but he also brings his own sensibilities to the table. For one thing, there’s a little bit of Lethal Weapon-style interplay between Downey and Cheadle during the big climactic action sequence. And this film is without a doubt the most violent of the Iron Man series—probably of all the Marvel movies in general. There’s also some really creepy, disturbing imagery, so parents with kids under the age of 13 should take that into consideration before bringing the little ones along. 

It’s not a perfect film—it feels like it’s about 15 minutes too long, Stark doesn’t spend enough time in the armor for my tastes, a couple of the big plot twists were a little too obvious (I saw them coming from a mile away), and the main villain’s master plan isn’t really clear. (Maybe it will become so after another viewing.) But the performances are strong, the action sequences and special effects are spectacular—wait till you see the scene involving an attack on Air Force One—and there’s a lot of great character stuff. 

I saw the film in 3D, and didn’t think it really enhanced the experience all that much, so my advice is to save a few bucks and see the standard version. 

Oh—and as usual, stay to the very end of the closing credits. You’ll be glad you did!

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2013.