Rambles around Star Trek: Into Darkness [spoilers], movies these days, and Richard Armitage

As I mentioned last night, I went to see the new Star Trek film. As I was watching it some things sort of started to gel … or something …

Anyway.

I. Reading the entertainment world through Armitage preoccupations

i.28.cover_vanityfair_273Do you ever find yourself reading the news differently from the Armitage fan perspective?

I’ve been a Vanity Fair reader for about twelve years, because I enjoyed the writing and the more serious cast on entertainment and celebrity news. It’s sort of a New Yorker for news of the frivolous, a nice thing to read on a plane or when trying to fall asleep. I’m not a subscriber anymore, but I still pick it up in the grocery store occasionally.

A few weeks ago I was reading the June 2013 issue. It had two articles that I’d have read entirely differently before Armitagemania. First, a long piece called “Brad’s War,” about Pitt’s struggle to bring a film called World War Z to the screen and give himself a franchise to star in. (Summary: Pitt was not a very smart producer.) Normally, the extent of my musing would have been to think, “huh, interesting,” but this time I found myself thinking, “Maybe action franchises aren’t all they are cracked up to be … maybe it’s good that Richard Armitage hasn’t moved in that direction so far.” Then, “The Road to Manderley” discussed a financing scam around bringing a popular Viennese musical, Rebecca, to the Broadway stage. This piece presents, among other things, a totally unexpected tale of sock puppetry in the name of attempted virtue, which would have fascinated me on its own, but this time I found myself remembering that I’d heard some gossip among fans about the possibility that Armitage would appear in the London version of the musical, and thought, “Oh, my gosh, well, he has to be really careful then, doesn’t he, if he goes back to the stage via Broadway. Scams are everywhere!”

World_War_Z_posterAs I was reading I mused over these novel reactions and laughed at how invested in his interests I’ve become.

So what does this have to do with anything? Remember, I said this was a ramble.

II. me + Star Trek: Into Darkness

I had decided I was going to give this film a miss, but a friend’s opinion changed my mind. Also, I used to go to the movies a lot, in my last city, and thought to myself, “As rare as entertainments are in your life, maybe you should get yourself back in the habit.”

I’d skipped the hype for the film in advance (hadn’t viewed the trailer even once) and was a bit late getting to the theater, so I only saw three previews. The first was for something called “Despicable Me 2,” and I have to say, I didn’t understand the trailer. The second was for “Ender’s Game” — I understood this trailer, but I thought, “Aha, Harrison Ford cashing in again,” and “What is this with the dystopian films?” The third trailer I saw was for “World War Z,” which recalled to mind the article about it that I’d read, completely verifying the point that Pitt et al. overspent on extras, and looked mostly like crowds of people running around trying to escape things. (When I told my students about this in class today — all of whom are excited about the latter film — they explained that the crowds of people were at least partially made up of zombies. Okay, then.)

StarTrekIntoDarkness_FinalUSPosterSo I started watching Star Trek: Into Darkness in a bit of an alienated mood. Yes, I know they pitch the trailers to the target audience in the theater and so that’s why all the dystopian science fiction. But I’d just read some comments a few days earlier from Steven Spielberg about the impending implosion of the U.S. movie industry that more or less squared with the discussion I was having with FilmProf several months ago. I thought, “The first film doesn’t even require humans — entirely computer generated, and eventually they’ll figure out how to do voices without actors. These other trailers could basically have all been made with CGI. And the stories are essentially not about humans — they’re about organizations, or evil supernatural beings.”

Maybe I should also say that while I’m not an original-era Trekkie (I was born right around the time NBC was canceling the original series), I watched it in syndication very early. I saw and remember the original broadcast of the animated series. All of the Blish stories were in our public library (I read them, as I did the Pocket Books novels as they appeared). I wrote a story about me + Star Trek when I was around twelve (now I realize that’s called “fan fiction”!) As a teen I had a Spock poster in my bedroom till my mom made me take it down. And while I haven’t seen every film, I saw at least the first five in their theater appearances — including the one this piece most closely touches on, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In college and grad school, I was a fairly devoted watcher of The Next Generation, as well. And I saw the 2009 prequel to this film.

StarTrek_Logo_2007So I’ve been watching Star Trek off and on for approaching four decades. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while I didn’t follow the series very closely after I moved to Germany, and I’ve long last track of the universe timeline (so I’m not going to comment on the plausibility of this plot, because I had forgotten about the alternative timestream created in the 2009 film), and while I wouldn’t call myself a Trekkie, I nonetheless do care — particularly about these characters, who introduced me to the world of the twenty-third century.

I can’t explain exactly why I was a Star Trek fan as a child (as opposed to Star Wars, which I saw and enjoyed but never fell in love with, let alone a lot of the more concentrated, serious science fiction), but I’m sure it had something to do with the stories. As silly as they often could be, even the terrible ones made interesting (if occasionally simplistic) points, and they were often intensely emotional, a tendency enhanced by William Shatner’s at times overly theatrical style. There were some truly horrid episodes, especially in the third season (remember “Turnabout Intruder”?). But when they were good, they were very, very good.

All of which probably says that I’m hardly hostile to cheap sentiment. I might even like it. Remember, my favorite book as a girl was Little Women.

tumblr_mf4ck4mNYi1rmjy6mo2_1280The beginnings of Star Trek: Into Darkness were thus not reassuring for me. I’d walked in late, felt alienated watching the trailers, and then the film started with an awful chase scene ooga-booga paternalistic naïve natives broken Prime Directive beginning. They saw the Enterprise and threw away their sacred papyrus roll and from now on they worship a drawing of a starship. Blerg. That’s not really how cultural change works even in less developed societies. Sigh. Didn’t these scriptwriters notice the responses to the physiognomy of the natives in Avatar? Boys, playing on a starship, it seemed to me, facilitated by the most trite scriptwriting ever. Who cares about the Prime Directive? Not James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), it seems. Of course, you already knew that if you watched the original series, but here he states it baldly. Good, that that’s finally out in the open.

Star_Trek_Into_Darkness_Benedict_CumberbatchIt did get somewhat better for me, from there, especially as I realized that the opening scenes were supposed to demonstrate exactly that — that this Kirk was a kid playing with a really amazing toy, a man still much too immature to be commanding a starship. Even so, I thought, as the movie moved along, this is still going to be a film for — well, who, exactly? Even teenagers have some access to honest emotion. A film for video game players, I thought, as the library in London exploded, and then again, as the meeting at Starfleet Command was attacked by the villain, “John Harrison” (Benedict Cumberbatch). A film for teenage boys, I thought, when Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) disrobed to bra and panties for no reason at all (the dustup in the press about this was, in my opinion, totally justified — not least because it heavily cheapened the character of Carol Marcus for me.)

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsIt’s not like they weren’t trying. In the brief debate on the question of whether Harrison (who turns out to be Khan in this new timestream) can be torpedoed where he’s lurking on the Klingon homeworld, or must be captured to be returned to the Federation for trial, one could catch a faint gesture in the direction of our debates over the acceptability of killing our enemies with drones (although the virtue of hand-to-hand combat is more and more often agreed to be overstated). And as the script needed a structuring metaphor for the parallel it was going to draw to Spock’s death scene in Star Trek II, it chose emotionality and the apparent decision by Spock (Zach Quinto) not to feel anything or to say anything to Uhura (Zoe Saldana) as his death was threatened on Nibiru (a name with an interesting series of connotations that connote that sequence of scenes as jokingly ironic) as its setup. That moment could have been an iconic one for me — when Spock tells Uhura, as they travel with Kirk on the shuttle to Kronos, that he chose not to feel anything on Nibiru not because he did not care, but precisely for the opposite reason. That is something I often think myself, and that people who know me well occasionally observe — that my merciless sarcasm in certain situations provides a defense mechanism against emotional allegiances that would be too troublesome (for whatever reason) to express. I thought it was a brave script choice at that point and Quinto delivered the lines with sharp, stinging effect. I only wish that kind of honesty had held up in the end.

startrekintodarknessBut the film ultimately did not ring true for me on the basic level of its connection with the simple emotionality that characterizes the best of the series. At its worst and its best, for me, Star Trek trumpeted a certain flavor of honesty about its own commitments (however simplistic they might have been) that this film simply undercuts, relentlessly, almost as if it wants to encourage the viewer not to believe in the very values its script wants to underline — leadership, heroism, self-sacrifice. Part of the problem is the trajectory for the Kirk character here — he’s still and always reprogramming the Kobayashi Maru simulation, cheating the odds, doing the most daring thing — until all of a sudden he’s not. It’s hard for me to believe that the person who’s playing various games, who falsifies his reports of events on Nibiru, castigates Spock for telling the truth, tries to make him feel guilty (which doesn’t work on a Vulcan), engages in near-constant daredevilism, and quite honestly can’t remember the names of his sexual partners has the guts or the honor to climb into the warp core in the face of certain death. My James Kirk had was a scoundrel as well, but he had at least a little more honor than this man does. He considered moral principle regularly — not just when his friends pushed him to do so. That Chris Pine simply doesn’t sell Kirk with any energy beyond that of the surly post-adolescent doesn’t help Kirk’s case. If that’s his major addition to the Kirk canon, I am emphatically uninterested.

star trek into darkness benedict cumberbatch In the end, I found myself agreeing with reviews that noted that Benedict Cumberbatch was the only person in this film who showed that s/he really can act. I don’t want to blame it on Pine, Pinto et al., either, however. I think the problem is that those actors are still way too tied to the personas and acting styles of their predecessors, down the point of quite obviously being cast in most cases with strong resemblances to them along the lines of physiognomy and coloring. Pine is thus not playing Kirk — he’s obviously playing William Shatner playing Kirk, and the pieces of Shatner’s performance he likes to copy most frequently are apparently not the serious or sincere moments. But even so, no matter how well it’s executed, this style of acting can’t help but looking like ironic imitation. Given that they’ve apparently opted for the mousetrap as a general strategy, the most successful portrayals fall into two groups: First, those by actors who really succeed at that task completely, so that we really believe that Karl Urban is a young, slightly fleshier DeForrest Kelley (Simon Pegg as Scotty is another great success in this regard). Though: what artist would want to be praised for being a successful imitator of the acting style of a group of people who were widely considered by critics to be — at best — hacks? As much as I disliked Pine in this role, I understand completely that he doesn’t want to be typecast as Shatner. The second group of successes are those who seem not to be trying very hard at all to imitate their predecessors at all — like Zoe Saldana, who reminds me not for one second of Nichelle Nichols.

Khan1Of the entire cast, Cumberbatch is the actor most divested of his connection to his predecessor in the role, not least because he enjoys the advantage of not having been cast for his physical resemblance to Ricardo Montalbán (googling reveals that the filmmakers –reasonably– didn’t want to cast yet another dark-skinned villain). And Cumberbatch (this is the fourth role I’ve seen him in, and while I’m still not wild about him, I’m starting to get why people are) is indeed strong. He manages Khan’s obsessive energy, but adds his own chillingly frigid twist. Cumberbatch displays an amazing charisma and energy; his elocution is frightening in its precision; his eyes transfixing; his body icily rigid in both its violence and constantly impervious response to abuse. No problems there — but no real thrill for me, either. The problem for him, I think, is that the character is simply scripted so poorly. Khan Noonien Singh, in his previous (with the new timestream we must now say — subsequent) incarnations, was a seductive character. Montalbán’s Khan was charming as well as cruel, espousing a particular sort of (mistaken but) attractive higher ideal in “Space Seed” (in which the script compares him to Lucifer in Paradise Lost); or betrayed and angered by his imprisonment on Ceti Alpha V, which had turned into a desert by an astronomical accident, leading to the deaths of most of his crew and his wife, in The Wrath of Khan (where Khan quotes Moby Dick repeatedly to justify his obsessive, (self-)destructive pursuit of Kirk). Montalbán’s Khan was frightening in the scorching heat of his obsession — but we knew what he was obsessive about. He had his reasons, particularly in The Wrath of Khan, and the ambiguous shades of his commitments especially in the film made him magnetic. In contrast, Cumberbatch is frightening in appearance, speech, and propensity to violence — but the script simply gives us no clue as to what drives the character beyond a rather simplistic notion of having been betrayed by Admiral Marcus. Like the villains that populate our newspapers today, this Khan is just, and only, bad. He has no actual motivation other than his desire to hurt us — a post-9/11 villain for a nation that can no longer be persuaded to ponder or evaluate the motivations of terrorists?

Star-Trek-The-Wrath-of-KhanAnd now I have to get at the thing that bothered me the most about this film, and this is going to be hard to write about. It’s the citation of Star Trek II. The Wrath of Khan was definitely an iconic moment of my preteen years (I was thirteen, and that was a hard time for me). I’m not sure I can fully describe in words how Spock’s death scene in that film affected me. But a great deal of the effect — aside from the points about aging, losing one’s friends, and the utilitarian philosophical commitments involved in crisis decisionmaking (the needs of the many vs. the needs of the individual) — stemmed from the fact that I actually believed Spock (Leonard Nimoy — at left) had died [ETA: and that Kirk was truly aggrieved]. Not only because of Spock’s sacrifice — an unreservedly noble death genuinely motivated by his absolute devotion to his philosophical and ethical principles, and marked by his decision to remind Kirk of their friendship as a secondary moment — but also for their effect on Kirk. The point of the Kobayashi Maru exercise in Wrath of Khan, as Kirk explained to Sa’avik (Kirstie Alley) was that it teaches you how to lose — a lesson that, despite the many vagaries of his career, Kirk had never truly assimilated and was forced to learn by Spock’s death. Now, I’m not saying that Star Trek III didn’t undercut the significance of Spock’s death by using the deus ex machina of the Genesis device to bring him back. But Kirk had to make a sacrifice in order to achieve that — his son, David, for his friend. In Star Trek: Into Darkness, in contrast, no one really sacrifices anything. The script makes Kirk die of radiation poisoning via a stunt that could be as much gamesmanship as sacrifice — Spock’s words that he’s now failing at choosing not to feel transform his words to Uhura in the earlier scene into transparent lies (indeed, he simply wasn’t attached enough to her that he lost control at the thought of losing her; he loves Kirk more than her, something we’ve always known) — McCoy finds an immediate solution to the problem of Kirk’s death, Spock and Uhura slug it out with Khan to get his blood — Kirk comes back to life and as the unstained hero, he’s the one preaching the platitudes at the end of the piece.

How can I believe any of these characters’ emotions if they last for approximately eight minutes before the script says, “Oh, no, don’t take that seriously?”

As a viewer, I found myself reminded of my reaction to Kirk’s write-off of the Prime Directive in the opening scenes. Once upon a time (in the future), Kirk said he believed in the Prime Directive. He railed against it and broke it. He proved his loyalty to it, even if often in the breach. In this film, he just comes out and says he doesn’t care. The script seems to be implying that Kirk is saying that friendship is more important than abstract principle. Kirk goes back to get Spock because he values his friends over the abstract principle of protecting the development of the inhabitants of Niburu. But nothing in either Pine’s performance or the script itself convinces me of any genuine philosophical conflict at work. This Kirk is simply not deep enough for that. He only gives in to philosophical questions when his friends chivvy him into it.

Lest it be objected that I’m quibbling about the superficiality of something that was always meant superficially — that once again, I’m taking something too seriously that was always mostly a joke — let me say the following. On the level of response to acting and art, my conclusion is this. Once upon a time, in Star Trek, the interpreter was forced into some sort of emotional distance — into making jokes — by the extremely histrionic quality of both the storytelling and the acting. (Indeed, sometimes the actors, particularly Shatner, seemed to be doing that themselves — drawing back from heavily emotional or preachy moments in the script by making jokes.) Emotional distance was a choice the viewer made. Now, we’re all much smarter, and the scales have fallen from eyes. We don’t believe in the values of Star Trek anymore but more importantly, neither does Star Trek. The film steps away from the emotion so we don’t have to. In the closing scene, the man who does what he can to explicitly write off the values of Starfleet in the first scene preaches to a uniformed audience about values that his own words and actions deny. The actors engaged in this drama play actors who played roles of forty years ago, whom everyone now laughs at. In the end, where once there was emotion and irony as refuge from things too deeply felt to be said out loud without ironic distance, now the emotions and the things that motivated them are revealed to be meretricious from the start. Nothing remains to be believed or rejected. Only irony — and a bit of female skin, and a lot of CGI — are left.

Depressing. A depressing watch. There was nothing wrong with the film — but also nothing inspiring, nothing great.

As I walked out of the theater to drive home, the first fans were assembling in their Superman costumes to line up for Man of Steel. Excitement was in the air and a policeman was leaned up against his car, watching in enjoyment. “Evening, ma’am,” he said, as I walked past. “Not staying for the big show?” I may be wrong, but I think that any generation that can dress up in the costumes of its most admired superheros is not only attuned to irony — but also open to the sort of unabashed love that laughs at the people who’d laugh at sincerity. It’s a generation that deserved a more honest film than this one. Then again, perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Spielberg is right — filmmakers will only make blockbusters with effects and plenty of signs that they don’t believe in the messages of their own films, and cinema will become like live theater, confined to a small group of people with specific tastes and the money to pay for them. The rest of us will stay at home and watch intimate dramas — provided anyone is still scripting them — on our computer screens.

That’s how I felt last night, anyway. Disappointed. Not in an angry way. In a tired way. Star Trek: Into Darkness left me — tired.

III. me + the entertainment news + Richard Armitage

There’s a final point here, from my drive home — but I’m getting kicked out of my café. More tomorrow afternoon. Feel to discuss / object now, of course!

[Note — I edited this slightly for typos the morning afterwards.]

~ by Servetus on June 15, 2013.

73 Responses to “Rambles around Star Trek: Into Darkness [spoilers], movies these days, and Richard Armitage”

  1. Benedict was the only reason I loved the movie. His portrayal of Khan was brilliant, though I could see shades of Sherlock in it. And I was the only person rooting for him.Apart from that, yes, the Carol Marcus disrobing scene was seriously unnecessary. I was the only Trekkie in the theater whereas rest of the people were either making fun of Spock’s ears or asking each other what was going on. Not sure about Man of Steel but I think I would give it a try for the Snyder-Nolan combination!

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    • He was good, as far as it went, and he was more convincing to me here than in Sherlock (After the first series I thought, “Martin Freeman is a good actor and Cumberbatch is a strange person.”) I just didn’t get that delicious thrill of evil off of him — it was like the film forgot that one reason that villains are attracted to evil is because it’s actually tempting.

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  2. Sorry your night out to the movies was not great. I think the only reason I would go to see the movie is for Benedict. I really never got into Star Trek, I think part of this is that I didn’t have a TV growing up other than a couple years in my teen’s. I do like a good British actor, so there is the reason for Benedict. Can’t wait for December, ok I do want some summer first.

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    • Yeah, you deserve some summer. I would say if you like Cumberbatch that’s a reason to see the film.

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      • I checked the movie list the other day and Star Trek is all ready gone. I am still trying to plant flowers and get some seeds in yet. Weather has been pretty good with temps in the 70’s, rain today, but we can always use some.

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  3. I thought Star Trek was OK as light entertainment. I don’t get the Benedict allure, but we all react to different qualities, except for one person, obviously. I saw Man of Steel today, and in my opinion, it made ST look like a masterpiece. The acting was better than most, but there was very little plot to offset CGI explosions. Superman was appropriately super, but he and his fellow actors had little to do in the dialog department. It wasn’t unwatchable, but I did nod off for a spell. OT, but I have to say, This is the End is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in years. It is a blend of Animal House, Ghost Busters and puerile stoner comedies. Extremely stupid and gross. but hilarious.

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    • Interesting. When I mentioned to my students in class that I’d been to ST on Thursday night, we started talking about current cinema and they all said they loved “This is the End.”

      I think we’re starting to be in a situation where if you don’t play video games regularly you just won’t have the visual reflexes necessary to enjoy the action scenes. I had that experience a little with TH already.

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  4. Reading other people’s opinions of films I have loved reminds me, once again, that I am definitely a shallow viewer. I loved the film. Admittedly the main attraction for me was Benedict Cumberbatch but I just lost myself in it as I do with most films I watch. I do remember being a bit taken aback and annoyed when Carol Marcus showed off her undies thinking that it was just horribly gratuitous and pointless, but apart from that I left the cinema in a state of minor euphoria, having predictably cried for both the bad guy and the good guy at different points. I even gushed to my parents about how good the film was. This is all very common for me although I’m not sure anything will ever match the euphoric feeling I had after seeing The Hobbit for the first time. To put my film viewing in perspective I recently watched the latest Die Hard film in the cinema and whilst I was able to appreciate that it was hardly the best film in the franchise, I loved it! 🙂

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    • I like Die Hard in any incarnation. A guilty pleasure. Love Bruce
      Willis’ one liners.

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      • Die Hard is for me a bit of mindless entertainment which allowed me to switch off for a short while from everything that was bothering me the day I saw it. It is the sort of film that requires no emotional investment from me and was perfect for my mood. I agree about the one-liners 🙂

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      • Die Hard I will live in my memory forever as the piece that introduced me to Alan Rickman.

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    • I’m there with you in the “shallow viewer” department, at least in relation to action-thrillers 😉 I’m there for the visual stimulation, and my knee-jerk reaction/ baser instincts 🙂

      I loved Benedict in this movie, but will admit that he made the other actor’s portrayals of other actor’s portrayals seem even more campy then they were supposed to be. I’m not a purist when it comes to adaptations, though I have my opinions on what needs to stay true to the original and what doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. but for me it only stands to reason that if we’re operating within an alternate reality storyline, not only events may be affected but personalities too *shrugs*

      I understand not being able to get past certain things to enjoy a movie though, for me it’s usually historical inaccuracy or appropriate accents. a lot of the time I’m being told to “just turn your brain off and enjoy the movie for what it is”…if only it were that simple!

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      • Oh goodness yes…historical inaccuracies really annoy me, especially when they try to portray something that is non-fictional e.g. the Tudors making up a fictional Portuguese King to marry Henry VIII’s sister who was a mixture of the two sisters he had in real life. And I also get annoyed with accents…again I use The Tudors as an example…the only time I’ve ever known Henry VIII have an Irish accent (series 4) 😉

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      • it’s not so much personalities that bother me except as they completely transgress against what I saw as the values of the original idea / story concept — which they did here, IMO.

        I am lately often pondering why my political values seem so opposed to those of the mainstream and I was wondering this morning whether obsessive ST watching contributed to them.

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    • kathrynruthd, can you put your finger on why you cried for Khan? That was a major objection of mine — I couldn’t get into Khan’s motivation — so if you know why, that would interest me as a way of revisiting my reaction.

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      • As I said I’m a shallow viewer…he cried, I believed he had some good reason for doing what he did (at least in his own mind) and I cried. Maybe I love Cumberbatch too much…

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        • fair enough.

          One of my issues with Cumberbatch is that I apparently have a hard time connecting to him emotionally. This has something to do with the roles I’ve seen him in, I think. In Sherlock he’s supposed to be autistic, and in this film the character lacks depth. He seemed to me to be suppressing laughter in Amazing Grace. The only exception to this general rule for me is Tinker, Tailor … which I finally saw a few weeks ago. I want to post about that separately b/c Armitage praised the movie — but I think it’s not betrayal of that plan to say that this was the role in which I’ve liked him best — the scene where he crumbles after breaking up with his lover. That, I really connected with.

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          • I’ve not seen much of his work to be fair. I love him in Sherlock which is the role in which I discovered him. I found myself admiring the character’s intellect first and foremost. His version of Sherlock captured my imagination which for me is all it really takes.

            More recently I loved him very much in Parade’s End – a recent TV series. I have a long list of so many things I want to see that he’s been in it’ll take me several years to get round to them all!

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  5. I know next to nothing about Star Trek, so I’ll leave that one alone, but I did wander off to read the fascinating article about the behind the scenes attempts to raise funds for the musical ‘Rebecca’. Well, there’s a cautionary tale for you, the moral being always dig a little deeper and, sadly, don’t take anything at face value.
    ‘Rebecca’ was one of the first ‘grown up’ books I ever read as a young teen of about 13, and I remember being blown away by the sheer romance of it. I would kill to see RA play Maxim de Winter in either a straight play or musical- bliss!

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    • There was speculation about that several years ago, but afaik it was only speculation.

      It was an amazing story — particularly the twist at the end where the PR person on staff turned out to have been the whistleblower.

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  6. Thanks for the review. I so rarely go to the movies–only for RA films in recent years. It’s so much more convenient to to rent the films and watch them at home. So thanks for saving me a trip to the theatre and/or the price of a rental. Ha!

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    • My students told me I should see this in IMAX or 3D, but for various logistical reasons that didn’t work out. I do not think that the film would have been that much better — it was filmed in native 2D so the 3D is a computer enhancement. There’s no reason you wouldn’t enjoy it on a home screen, IMO.

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  7. You hit the nail on the head, whereas Montalbán’s Khan was alluring Benedict’s wasn’t even charming,and I enjoy Benedict immensely as an actor I wouldn’t say I’m crazy about him. It’s on my list to see some of his older things, he was the ONLY reason I went to see it. In my opionion The Star Trek actors do a nice job re-enacting the bromance but nothing beyond. I’d rather watch the original stuff again frankly. And the bra & panty scene didn’t even faze me, I don’t take offense, it was a frivolous moment; Star Trek always had those sexist frivolous moments.

    Action for me only works when the story is solid, if I’m not emotional engaged its just boring speed, peril and explosions and I hated that sequence of the ship going down and Kirk taking forever to save it, that it became more and more improbable I wished everyone to die already!

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    • I was emotionally engaged with the old Star Trek, I cared about its characters and had genuine affection for them. Just having seen the first film, I knew I wasn’t going to get that from the new franchise. The dots didn’t connect for me. And the original Khan was one sexy M-F, alluring as well as dangerous.
      Wanting everyone to die already is never a good sign. 😉

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      • I was trying to recollect how I felt after the 2009 film — and I realized I saw it three days after I turned in my (failed) tenure folder. I looked back at my (hidden) blog from then, and I said almost nothing about it — I was essentially emotionally catatonic. I have very little memory of that film — but I think it’s not worth going back, either 🙂

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        • *hugs* That’s understandable. We didn’t see it until it came out on DVD, and sadly were let down, so from what you’ve said here, I don’t think you need bother. OT but while it is on my mind, I want you to know I saw “The Lives of Others” today on Starz Cinema, a film you recommended to me. Wonderful! Thank you for giving me that heads-up. Many good performances there and very thought-provoking material.

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          • Oh, I’m glad you liked that. That is such a fantastic piece. I wrote a study guide for it, i liked it so well 🙂

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    • Thank you from the bottom of my heart for spelling ‘faze’ correctly 🙂

      re: Marcus — of course you’re free to see it as frivolous, but I have to confess that while the press coverage I read before seeing the film made me wonder why people were making such a big deal out of it, when I saw it myself, I found it far worse than had been implied by most of the press, to the point of being vomit-inducing in tendency. Star Trek originally had sexist moments, but I didn’t care for *those* either, even as a girl, and I always had to remind myself that it was in some ways a quite progressive show for its time (e.g., the interracial cast and famous kiss between Kirk and Uhura). But it’s 2013 now and not 1969. The point for me with this scene was that only lines before she disrobes, Marcus tells Kirk that she knows Christine Chapel — i.e., Marcus states that she knows Kirk is a womanizer or worse, something of which her line about how Kirk can’t remember Chapel indicates she disapproves, then she still flirtily takes off her clothes in the same room with him when there’s no need, and then acts flirtlly mystified when he doesn’t turn around and delivers her line in this cutesy pinupish tone. Women don’t say what they mean when they mean it, much? It was truly offensive to me on every level and without the excuse that it’s 1969. Carol Marcus is a highly intelligent woman, in the second film we learn that she has extremely stringent ethical values, she’s commanding enough to organize an entire highly complex project on her own. Marcus would never have done something that stupid, even as a young woman.

      I agree re the scene where Enterprise is going down — since we know Kirk has to die from radiation exposure, there’s no tension in it.

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  8. As someone who watched and loved the original series as a child, you’ve expressed what I feared might be my own reaction to this film (and a major reason why I felt no need to rush out and see it).

    I was disappointed in the first new “Trek” film–no, not terrible, but just “meh” for me and Pine irritated me in the Kirk role–and having read this, I realize I would be disappointed yet again. Something that was key component for me in original series, that captivated me as a child and kept me watching the films and TNG and some of the other spin-off series, is missing. And all the CGI wizardry and much-improved budgets doesn’t do it for me.

    My husband and I found the writing in the first film less than stellar and it sounds like more of the same here. As much as I like Benedict as an actor, I will give this a skip until it shows up on our TV screens.

    Not hearing good things about Man of Steel, either. 😦

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    • I was wondering this morning whether I had undersold it — is this curmudgeonly me writing this review? I’ve often observed that my colleagues who are ten years younger, relatively new PhDs who are new professors, have a *much* higher tolerance for explicit, bitter irony than I do.

      I’m not sure. But it was clear this was not my Star Trek. I’m not sure how I’d build a larger meaning onto this story, which was something my mind was always doing with the original episodes.

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  9. Your review is pretty much what I expected based on the first film. And am I the only one who is going to suggest that Khan would have been much better played by our own very dear RA? Montalban, as fedoralady said, “was one sexy M-F” and although I enjoy Cumberbatch’s acting skills, he just is not sexy enough to play Khan. We’ll watch it when it comes out on DVD simply because my kids are obsessed with watching Spock come out as the better person than Kirk, no matter what incarnation. (Gee, I wonder where they got that from?) But I am wondering if Star Trek might turn into a kind of Robin Hood phenomena in that the story gets retold by many generations, yet the people playing these iconic characters always want, or feel the need, to play to the stereo-types of the roles?

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    • I couldn’t help but think the same thing as I was reading the review–that RA would have made a far better Khan. *sigh* The man simply oozes sexual allure and we all know how dark and dangerous he can be onscreen. Oh, well. You make a great point, Chaifreak, about the possibility of Star Trek becoming that “tale oft retold over time.”
      (Spock was always my favorite character from the beginning. I like the way your kids think. 😉 )

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    • You ask an essential question, chaifreak — one that I had noted as I was writing but didn’t have time to explore here. That is to say — no one playing Macbeth (I guess Ethan Hawke will be the next?) expects to copy even Antony Sher, let alone Richard Burbage. Indeed, the mark of the artist on that level is that rather than taking refuge in the familiar, the actor brings something new to the role that the audience hasn’t seen before.

      When I was talking about this with my students and expressing my reservations, one of them said he’d read an interview with JJ Abrams in which Abrams had stated that the point of this was to come up with a Star Trek that would appeal to a new generation who didn’t have the vocabulary of the original series in their minds. Fair enough — but if that’s true, and the audience for this film is supposed to be people who never saw Shatner et al and don’t care, then why cast all of the ongoing roles with people who look so much like the original actors and why are they all apparently pretending to be those actors?

      It’s like they don’t trust their material somehow.

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      • I thought they chose new actors that resemble the “original” ST cast to appeal to the Trekkie fan base. I know nothing about this fandom but I think it is large, especially in social media, and good word of mouth is important for financial success. Since Hollywood is currently into sequel mania, I think that is why they look to the past, otherwise they would make a film that fans might reject as being too far from the original. I am just speculating.

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        • fan base: which makes sense, but that seems to me only, or perhaps the most superficial, step in that direction — I didn’t love ST because I adored William Shatner, but because I adored Kirk.

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      • Well, maybe, like Robin Hood or any other hero-myth, it takes a few generations for the “vocabulary” to slide itself into the unconscious, so they rely on physicality? Or maybe the writing was simply just not up to par…

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  10. I hardly ever go to the cinema these days but these blockbusters are just about the only thing I will go to see, because I know what i’m getting; 2 hours of pure entertainment (and enough sugar from the pick and mix to induce a diabetic coma).

    I’ve stopped going to see good or great movies because most of he time, they’re so hyped that I’m expecting excellence, and end up being very disappointed. I find it’s far better to leave those films alone and catch them on TV or DVD, because by then i will have forgotten the hype, will have only average expectations and actually stand a chance of appreciating them.

    Hollywood always goes for the easy sell and the fact is, blockbusters like The Avengers, Iron Man and Star Trek always sell. Even the few that flop make their sales up on DVD and pay-per-view. It’s sad that the cinema is no longer a place to have an experience, simply mindless entertainment, but like so much these days, things are boiled down to the lowest common denominator.

    I’m even getting tires of blockbusters now (even although i perhaps only see 2 a year) because so much of their running time is made up from epic fight sequences or battles. These thin gs have their place, no doubt, but they just go on too long and i prefer character interaction to battles. But i suppose when your characters are paper thin, you cant afford to give personalities too much screen time, just in case it becomes too obvious that you’re watching a caricature, rather than a character.

    I do think that the Avengers and the Iron Man 3 were a cut above most blockbusters and did focus on the characters more than many, but not enough to elevate them from being simplistic entertainment.

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    • The food I bought at the theater was actually more expensive than the film ticket … I usually get popcorn and a drink.

      I will go to see movies if someone bugs me to go (Dear Friend, I’m looking at you), or if i hear that it’s a “must see,” but I’m usually not looking to see a blockbuster per se. The point about the hype is an interesting one, just because I did not catch it for this film. I wonder if I’d have been more invested if I’d have spent that time in advance and that in turn makes me wonder about the quality of my reactions to TH. The issue for me is that I’m usually hanging on a slow wifi connection and so I have to *want* to watch web vid.

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  11. I was a fan of the original Star Trek – watched the reruns religiously on late night TV, just before Dr. Who – and saw the movies in the theater. So when Kirk died, I was sobbing quietly. As soon as McCoy sat down next to the Tribble, however, I twigged to the “Star Trek effect” plot twist: they were going to save Kirk!! Oh joy! Hooray! Oh, how stupid and dull. I stopped crying, and worse, I felt stupid for crying… for having invested so much into a movie that clearly wasn’t invested in its own message. What a disappointment. I still enjoyed the movie, but it definitely lacked the heart of its predecessors. :\

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    • I was thinking about my main association with Kirk dying and coming back to life, which was “Amok Time.” Which worked for me — but I think it did so precisely because in that episode, Nimoy so obviously sold Spock’s belief that Kirk was dead — both in his speech to the Vulcan elders, and then in his astonished reaction to seeing Kirk alive again in sick bay.

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  12. I’m of a similar feeling about a lot of these issues – from the “are you freaking kidding me?” beginning to the “did they run out of writing time?” Wrath of Khan character switch. I did like BC, which I had not expected to. He’s a good actor and I’ve enjoyed him in other roles, but I went in already resentful of him as Khan. It’s to his credit that he was able to draw me in despite that. I wish they’d written a new character for him, because I think he could have run with it.

    In the end, my problem with this film is that it was not brave, in the way that the best of Star Trek is brave. They couldn’t even let Kirk be dead until the next movie? They couldn’t send us out of the theater with questions and angst? They had to wrap it up neatly, because the audience can’t handle uncertainty and ambiguity? On the other hand, I have to note that up until the WoK shenanigans, I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the moment. Without that, this one might have ended up a decent summer pleasure for me, instead of a disappointment.

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    • not brave=well put.

      yeah, totally agree. If they’d not cited one of my favorite Star Trek moments of all time so incompetently, I’d ahve thought, okay, fluff, why not.

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  13. As a summer flick, I enjoyed. It was fun entertainment, a nice ordinary movie to watch where you don’t really have to think about things much.

    But I’ll be honest, the story arc itself was rather meagre. I mean where Spock, Uhura & Khan fight it out was more or less one very long action scene where almost no word was spoken for nearly 10 minutes or so. You don’t really understand why Adm. Marcus was so intent on engaging war with the Klingons, or the true extent of him using Khan. Indeed, as you stated Khan’s reasons were just so…black & white. There is no room for seeing those characters anything else but “Bad evol people!!” It’s all about Kirk’s “Look at ME! I’m such a great rogue!” spiel. Shallow, yup, entertaining, very much so.

    I think the latter seems to matter more than providing a good story arc with stellar performance. Shame, but nowadays most movies fall in 2 camps: the easy blockbuster with great commercial gain, or the more so-called ‘high brow’ artsy movies that aren’t as commercially interesting.

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    • but there’s no reason a blockbuster couldn’t have a great story, is there?

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      • No, but that’s what the major studios seem to think of the general public though, which is a real shame. And the marketing will be planned as such as well. I don’t think they have a very high opinion of ‘us’ and are more concerned about earning back their investment & profits. Dumb it down to appeal to the masses seems to be the motto.

        Currently a blockbuster with a great story are few and far between. And if success is iffy, it usually gets relayed to a smaller studio, so the big guns don’t run the risk of losing too much. It’s truly is a weird beast.

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  14. I wasn’t disappointed in the movie. In fact, I enjoyed most of it until the end. I like the Enterprise cast. Star Trek lost me a long time ago when Rick Berman and company ripped the original intentions of Gene Roddenberry to shreds in ST: Voyager. It sucked and the following ST: Enterprise was unwatchable.

    That being said, I loved the 2009 movie. It was fun. I loved the joke of the old and new Spock. Did not love Chris Pine, but oh well. Thought it was interestingly different. Really loved it.

    Into Darkness, not so much. Benedict Cumberbatch was absolutely wasted in it. Such a stupidly written Khan. I was sad that they didn’t take the second film anywhere of interest to me.

    FWIW, there definitely was remorse expressed by the film’s creators for the Carol Marcus debacle. Really bad mistake. Still, I’m glad I saw the movie. It was fun in a lot of parts (love Karl Urban and SImon Pegg and even Zachary Quinto). I had a nice afternoon and now I’ve forgotten about it and don’t care if I ever see another.

    You can never take Star Trek too seriously! Remember that! 😉

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    • I didn’t watch Voyager — it premiered a few months before I left for Germany. I think I saw two episodes, maybe. Had I stayed in the US, I probably would have gotten into DS-9, of which I saw probably a dozen episodes or so — it had really interesting moral conflicts, and I *just love* Avery Brooks, who I am convinced would be an A-list star if the U.S. weren’t such a racist society. And when the final series appeared (the one that was canceled), I either didn’t have a TV or didn’t have a TV with cable, I forget which it was.

      For me, admittedly, this universe doesn’t appear to be something that I can “not care about.” It involves the recycling of identity moments in my life. Star Wars is something I can “not care about,” or “Indiana Jones” … That said, I think that if this film had been successful for me as pure fluff (perhaps the first one was — as I stated above, I can now no longer remember my reaction to it), I wouldn’t have cared this much and wouldn’t have written about it. But the opening scenes with the ironic comment on actual moral issues tripped my trigger.

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      • I was massively into Voyager. I had just gotten the internet and found an online group of friends to chat with about it. Loved the premise of a woman as Captain and the ship being “lost in space” – disconnected from the motherland. Unfortunately the show runners decided to turn it into a “monster of the week” type show – stand alone episodes as opposed to a story arc. Really lost me.

        I care about Star Trek more than Star Wars too. I loved the first 3 Star Wars movies, but they never effected me the way Star Trek did.

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  15. ah-ha!…then I’m buying a basket of a sweet cherries and strawberries..
    ( the equivalent of the ticket price) 😉

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  16. We just saw Superman and had the exact same discussion after. It was bombastic and over the top. When the actors had room to act the film really worked. I could not imagine seeing it in 3D. It was a film made for a generation with severe ADD. I was really disappointed with the over use of CGI and special effects. Pretty much everything in your post.

    I really enjoy super hero films. Super hero films with heart. These films makers are forgetting the real reason we are drawn to these stories — for the heroes journey. Instead of feeling uplifted, I felt empty.

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    • I read an absolutely devastating review of Man of Steel last night in the local paper and thought it could have been a review of this film as well.

      You get onto something that I think was always a really important force in these superhero stories period (even before films) which is their loving heart, their steadfast belief in the possibility of good — the action is only ever in service of that.

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  17. […] from here, kind of. Or maybe it’s a detour. But not really. Anyway, there’s more to that piece […]

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  18. I agree with everything you wrote about the new Star Trek movie. For me, it was fun but it wouldn’t convert me to Star Trek if I didn’t already love it so.

    And the scene where Kirk lays dying and it’s Spock who screams “KHAAAAAAAN!” was totally unbelievable to me. That scene in TWoK is so emotional because you know that Kirk is just absolutely devastated at losing his BFF of so many decades with whom he has gone through thick and thin together. In the new movie, Spock being devastated and screaming just didn’t make sense to me since they barely know each other and don’t necessarily like each other at all. The relationship as portrayed doesn’t merit said scream.

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    • yes, agree — it was a sort of cynical parallel of the earlier film which is exactly as you say. Kirk is really losing something in WoK — a piece of himself along with his friend.

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  19. […] Continued from here, discussing my reaction to Hobbit hype, drawing on this earlier post. […]

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  20. […] a way, what I feel about Batman offers the natural conclusion to what I’d wanted to say about my reaction to Star Trek: Into Darkness before the discussion got so heated. (It also applies to my reaction to […]

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  21. […] I probably should have been watching Mike Bartlett’s Wild yesterday, but given what’s happening in the U.S. at the moment I knew I was likely to have little patience with reflections on the theme of whistleblowing. And I knew I needed to get away from the news, so I decided to go to the movies, and I’d been planning to see the new Star Trek film. I was a little leery because (despite being a long time Star Trek lover), I was neutral on the first film of the reboot and I emp…. […]

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  22. […] in 12 Years a Slave; the only thing I’ve considered extensively was Star Trek: Into Darkness, which I did not like, but he was the most talented person in it. And I’ve seen the first series of Sherlock, although not more than that. My main reaction to […]

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