The sliding scale to movie hell

The last time I ranted peremptorily about Star Trek Into Darkness, the conversation in the comments reminded me that not everyone agrees what Star Trek was or should be. Yet the opening lines in this early review only reinforces my curmudgeonly stance toward the rebooted franchise. See if you can spot where the problem lies:

How quickly a steady starship can veer off-course. JJ Abrams’ brainy, ballsy 2009 reboot of Trek has given way to a shallow, shrill, all-action sequel that reduces the characters to parodies. The camaraderie between Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) now makes no sense: one is a risk-taking, rule-breaking rascal, the other’s a whiny geek; their dynamic brings to mind a socially inept schoolkid who thinks his bully is his friend. Scotty, Chekov and McCoy are just silly voices in uniforms, and beyond demonstrating her fluent Klingon, Zoe Saldana’s Uhura gets little to do except wonder why her pointy-eared boyfriend is bad at discussing his feelings (d’uh!).

If Nick Dent didn’t specifically mention in the second sentence that this is a review of the 2013 sequel, I would’ve thought this to be a near-perfect encapsulation of the first reboot. The fact that he regards Star Trek 2009 as “brainy” and “ballsy” compared to Into Darkness suggests that film critics have had to hire the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a ladder down to Hell to find a place low enough to set the bar for what counts as brainy and ballsy. Perhaps that’s another reason why the love for ST09 pisses me off so much. It’s not that I’m against enjoying big, dumb summer blockbusters. But when a big, dumb summer blockbuster rolls off the Tinseltown assembly line and it’s directed by Michael Bay, it is what it is, and is recognized (and most often derided) as such. When it’s directed by J.J. Abrams, it’s brainy and ballsy, though no smarter or technically more proficient. Apparently J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek is now a golden standard by which we measure summer blockbusters, so much so that even his own sequel can’t measure up. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the sliding scale to movie hell. I’m not, by the way, using this review to confirm whether or not Star Trek Into Darkness is really as bad as I’d feared; it may, contra whatever this critic says, be a very good film. That’s the not the point. The point is that I don’t think Dent is alone in his perspective on Abrams’s Star Trek. The point is that we’ve lost our cultural moorings where it comes to establishing benchmarks for taste and accomplishment. When the first film — which itself was a shallow, shrill, all-action reboot of a franchise that was initially intended by its creator to be the opposite — now towers above its successor as a model of depth, restraint, and thrills, it’s pretty clear to me that we expect nothing from our entertainment, and we therefore get nothing in return. Except we call it an embarrassment of riches when the next-worst thing comes out a few years later. No wonder Purgatory looks so enticing if you see it from a subjacent angle.

Via Opus. ☕

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About mjschneider

Reads. Writes. Watches movies. Occasionally stirs from chair. Holds an advanced degree in heuristic indolence. View all posts by mjschneider

16 responses to “The sliding scale to movie hell

  • Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse)

    Tell us how you really feel. So are you going to like it or not? This is all so ambiguous.

    I feel like I should get a little defensive, given that my enthusiasm for the new Trek apparently earmarks me with a whole host of moral and intellectual failings, but I find I just can’t rouse any high dudgeon. Maybe it was all those years arguing about Batman with Alex.

    • mjschneider

      I never got the impression that you enjoyed the film for more than it was: a diverting genre action flick. Obviously, you thought it was done well, and I didn’t. Either way, I don’t know how it qualifies as “brainy” or “ballsy.” Or how the critic’s recap of the sequel differs substantially from the way characters functioned or behaved in the first film.

      I see a difference between saying something like, “I enjoyed Transformers for what it was” and saying something like, “Transformers was a highwater mark of summer entertainment, brainy and ballsy.” That’s what this critic did for Star Trek. Am I being unfair to people who would say something similar?

    • mjschneider

      There are plenty of moral and intelligent people who enjoyed Star Trek 2009, yourself included. I’m sorry if you felt that I was indicting you simply for enjoying something you enjoy. That wasn’t the point I wished to convey.

    • Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse)

      No offense taken even if that WAS what you intended to convey, Matt. I’m just sorry that there (apparently) isn’t a summer movie you’re really excited about at the moment.

  • mjschneider

    I’m actually really excited for several summer movies. Pacific Rim, Lone Ranger, RIPD, Riddick, Percy Jackson, Sin City, World’s End, and that movie where Seth Rogen & Co. all die in the apocalypse are all flicks I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing in the theater if possible. I might even check out Iron Man 3. It’s not likely, but I’m still hoping that Upstream Color and Much Ado About Nothing open near me.

  • jubilare

    Thoughts? You might be able to help me appreciate it more.

  • mjschneider

    I dunno if my reasons for enjoying it are all that compelling, frankly. Shane Black simply has a better sense of how to structure climactic action sequences than Favreau does. The plot was a bit sleight-of-hand-y, but Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley were terribly fun as the villains, and I think it simply covered the basic arc of the previous two films (jerk protagonist into heroism by dealing with the unintended consequences of his actions) with a bit more economy and panache. It did what most sequels do — deliver more of the same — only better. And it really brought home the notion that “Iron Man” is not a mask Tony Stark puts on, but an extension of his personality in a way I think the previous films whiffed.

    On a gut level, though, this is the only Iron Man film that I wanted to watch again immediately after seeing it. I haven’t rewatched the others, but I’ll probably buy this one. Maybe I’ll do a proper review.

    • jubilare

      I enjoyed Kingsley immensely, but Pearce felt strangely like a cardboard standup villain to me. That, in itself, might be my biggest problem with the film. I found his minions far more interesting.
      That and the final combat was something I found pretty but not compelling.
      I appreciated Tennesseans being represented as normal people, but I do wonder where the heck they were supposed to be in TN with all that snow. :)

      You have a point with the “‘Iron Man’ is not a mask Tony Stark puts on, but an extension of his personality” though. I will have to mull that one over some. I hope you do a proper review.

    • mjschneider

      I think you’ve already put your finger on the key difference between our receptions of the film. Pearce was a cardboard cutout, but he was a fun cardboard cutout for me, and I greatly enjoyed the final combat. I still might do a proper review, though. :)

  • jubilare

    I hope you do!

    That may be the nub of our differences on the whole series, now that I think about it. Hmm…

  • Daniel Swensen

    So hey, I hated this movie. Just thought I’d update you on that. I thought it was really quite awful.

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