“STAR TREK” (2009) Review

Chekov,_Kirk,_Scott,_Bones,_Sulu,_Uhura

 

“STAR TREK” (2009) Review

Many fans of the STAR TREK franchise seemed to be in agreement that its last television series – “ENTERPRISE” (2001-2005) – had more or less killed the franchise. That opinion proved to be false with the release of the 2009 film – “STAR TREK”, directed by J.J. Abrams. 

This latest installment in the franchise is about the early years of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 from “THE ORIGINAL SERIES”(1966-1969). In other words, the movie is about how James T. Kirk became captain of the Enterprise and Spock, its first officer. What made this particular story unique is that the film’s opening sequence – an attack upon the Federation starship, U.S.S. Kelvin in 2233 that led to an alternate timeline for the rest of the film.

When a supernova threatened the galaxy in 2387 (nine years after the U.S.S. Voyager’s return to Earth), Ambassador Spock piloted a ship carrying “red matter” that can create a gravitational singularity, drawing the supernova into a black hole. Before Spock completed his mission, the supernova destroyed the planet Romulus. Captain Nero of the Romulan mining ship Narada blamed Spock and the Federation for his planet’s destruction and its inhabitants, which included his wife and unborn child; and attempted to exact revenge on Spock. But both ships are caught in the black hole’s event horizon and travel to different points in the past. The Narada arrived first in 2233 and attacked the Kelvin. The attack resulted in the death of the Kelvin’s commander, Richard Robau and first officer Lieutenant George Kirk; and James T. Kirk’s birth aboard a shuttle fleeing from the damaged starship. The rest of the movie featured both Kirk and Spock’s early years, their subsequent first meeting at Starfleet Academy and their clashes aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, commanded by Captain Christopher Pike. Meanwhile, Nero has survived and 25 years following Kirk’s birth, is still seeking to exact revenge upon Spock.

Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman penned an adventure filled with time travel, plenty of action and characterization. Which is not surprising, considering that the story strongly reminded me of the Season Four episode from “STAR TREK: VOYAGER” (1995-2001)(4.08-4.09) “Year of Hell”. But there were differences. Whereas ”Year of Hell” dealt with the moral ramifications of time travel, “STAR TREK” merely revealed what happened after the timeline was changed. After all, it is more action oriented than the majority of TREK episodes. I had no problems with that. Somewhat. But this slight difference deprived the movie of the depth found in “Year of Hell”. And I did have problems with other aspects of Orci and Kurtzman’s script.

First of all, I want to point out one thing. This alternate reality or timeline created by Orci and Kurtzman has its origins in the arrival of the Narada – and Nero, to the year 2233, 154 years before his time. His arrival marked the destruction of the U.S.S. Kelvin, along with Robaud and George Kirk. But it is Kirk’s birth aboard the shuttle where the movie hit its first snag. Many TREK fans pointed out that James Kirk had been born in Iowa, not aboard a Starfleet vessel or one of its shuttles. Robert Orci replied that Kirk would have been born in Iowa if Nero had not arrived from the late 24th century and attacked the Kelvin.  I say . . . bullshit to that. Why? One, Winona Kirk was never a Starfleet officer in the original timeline. This has been supported in “THE ORIGINAL SERIES”. And Nero’s arrival would have NOT changed that. She had no business being aboard the Kelvin . . . even before Nero’s arrival. Two, the families of crewmen were not allowed aboard Starfleet ships until the 24th century. Orci and Kurtzman also failed to hint that Kirk had an older brother named Sam. Another problem I had with the film was the manner in which Kirk joined Starfleet Academy. At a bar near Kirk’s home in Iowa, Captain Pike urged him to apply for the Academy, claiming that Kirk would attain an officer’s commission within four years and command of a starship within eight. So, what does Kirk do? He shows up at a Starbase the following morning on his motorbike . . . without even encountering one sign of security. Then he boards a shuttle for San Francisco . . . just like that. He never even submitted an application. Nor was he wearing the uniform of an Academy cadet. Come to think of it, neither was Leonard McCoy. Was this Starfleet’s idea of military discipline in the mid-23rd century? What the hell was this, anyway?

Within three years, Kirk is close to completing his Academy training. Yet, he ended up getting into trouble, when he passed the Kobayashi Maru test by cheating. When Starfleet receives a distress signal from Vulcan regarding a lightning storm in space, the cadets are mobilized to help the Starfleet ships in orbit. Kirk is unable to join this expedition due to being suspended from the Academy. I have two problems with this scene. One, why on earth was it necessary for Starfleet to mobilize so many cadets for a distress signal over a lightning storm in Vulcan space? Two, no one inside the U.S.S. Enterprise’s Sick Bay had bothered to questioned Kirk’s presence on board and McCoy ended up ordering others around, despite the fact that he was a mere cadet and not the ship’s Chief Medical Officer. In fact, where was the CMO before his death? And why was it so important for Uhura to join the Enterprise’s crew? She was a cadet. She was not supposed to be there on a permanent basis, in the first place. And could someone please tell me why the cadets assigned aboard the Enterprise were wearing the same uniforms as the regular crew . . . instead of cadet uniforms? They had not graduated from the Academy.

Upon reaching Vulcan space, the Enterprise finds the fleet destroyed and the Narada drilling into Vulcan’s core. Pike promotes Kirk to First Officer. Then he orders Kirk, Lieutenant Sulu and Chief Engineer Olson to do an orbital skydive onto the Romulan drilling platform and destroy it before it can drill a hole into Vulcan’s core. Meanwhile, he would meet with Nero aboard the Narad. Unfortunately, Olson is killed during their dive. Kirk and Sulu are forced to fight Romulan miners aboard the drill platform before stopping the drill, using phasers. However, Nero manages to successfully drill the hole, drop the red matter into the planet’s core and destroy Vulcan. Spock transports to Vulcan to save his parents and the planet’s High Council. However, his mother, Amanda Grayson, is killed before she could be transported safely from the planet. Not only did I find this sequence, heavily contrived, I found it so unnecessary. Why was it necessary to promote Kirk to First Officer? Aside from identifying the lightning storm for what it was, he did nothing to earn that promotion. What was Amanda doing with the Vulcan High Council? And if Starfleet issued phasers could stop the drill, then why not the Enterprise’s phasers? If Captain Pike had simply ordered his Weapons Officer to fire at the drill, then perhaps it would have been destroyed before it reached Vulcan’s core. Alas . . . we are given this exciting, but contrived nonsense with a fight on the drill platform, the Chief Engineer and Amanda Grayson dead, Vulcan destroyed and Captain Pike a prisoner of Nero’s.

Chekov manages to transport Kirk and Sulu back to the Enterprise. Pike is tortured by Nero for information on Earth’s defenses. Meanwhile, Kirk (who is now First Officer) and Spock (the Acting Captain) have a quarrel on the Bridge about Spock’s decision to return to Starfleet. Kirk wants to go after Nero. During the quarrel, Spock has Kirk marooned on Delta Vega. There, Kirk has an encounter with snow monster straight out of ”STAR WARS” and meets the elder Ambassador Spock. Old Spock informs Kirk about what led Nero and himself to the 23rd century. He then leads Kirk to a Starbase, where they encounter engineer Montgomery Scott. I really disliked this sequence. Nero needed information on Earth’s defenses, but did not need the same for Vulcan’s defenses? And both planets were the premiere members of the Federation? And why maroon Kirk on some snow planet? Spock could have easily hauled the Human’s ass into the brig for insubordination. As for Kirk . . . what is this guy’s problem? Confronting the Captain on the Bridge? Kirk would have never tolerated any officer or crewman doing the same to him. Kirk’s monster encounter was a joke. And after meeting Old Spock, the latter reveals his knowledge of a nearby Starbase. Now, I really have a problem with this. Why did Spock fail to warn Starfleet about Nero? He was pulled into the 23rd century, captured and marooned on Delta Vega by Nero at least two days before Vulcan’s destruction. This was not merely a joke. This was criminal. And why was it imperative to transport Scotty to the Enterprise, along with Kirk? Without Starfleet knowing?

Before Spock transported Kirk and Scotty to the Enterprise, he informs Kirk that the latter needs to assume command of the Enterprise. Once aboard, Kirk deliberately enrages Spock to force him to acknowledge that he is emotionally compromised, allowing him to pass command over to Kirk. Here was another scene with which I had a problem. Kirk . . . should NOT have assumed command of the Enterprise when Spock removed himself as captain. You see, Kirk had been relieved of duty by Spock before the latter marooned the former on Delta Vega. And Kirk was never reinstated back to duty upon his return to the Enterprise. Nor do I recall Spock deliberately handing over command to Kirk. Whoever was acting as Spock’s first officer during Kirk’s adventures on Delta Vega, should have assumed command. Not Kirk.

Spock, Scott, and Chekov devise a plan to ambush the Narada by dropping out of warp behind Saturn’s moon, Titan. Kirk and Spock beam aboard the Narada. While Kirk rescues Pike, Spock retakes the elder Spock’s ship, destroys the drill and lures the Narada away from Earth before piloting a collision course. The Enterprise arrives and beams Kirk, Pike, and Spock away before the collision, which ignites the remaining red matter and creates a black hole within the Narada’s superstructure. Kirk offers to help rescue Nero and his crew, but the Romulan refuses and the Narada is destroyed. The Enterprise escapes the same fate by ejecting and igniting the ship’s warp drive reactor cores, the resulting explosion pushing them clear. Why were Chekov and Scotty needed to devise a plan to ambush the Narada in the first place? What was Scotty doing on the Bridge? What was he doing aboard the Enterprise? He was not an official member of the crew. And could someone please explain how Spock managed to fly a starship that was 154 years ahead of his time? Who was in command of the Enterprise, while Kirk and Spock were aboard the Narada?

The movie ends with Kirk receiving adulation by Starfleet for his actions against Nero and command of the Enterprise. Spock decides to remain in Starfleet and become the Enterprise’s First Officer. God, I hate this. What exactly did Kirk do in this movie, besides act like a complete asshole? Well, he did rescue Captain Pike. But the latter also assisted in the rescue. It was Spock who came up with the plan to ambush the Narada. It was the person in command of the Enterprise who prevented Spock from being blown to bits by Romulan missiles, while he was inside Old Spock’s ship. It was Spock who destroyed the Narada. Sulu’s flying and Scotty’s engineering skills prevented the Enterprise from being destroyed by the black hole that destroyed the Narada. Why in the hell would Starfleet give most of the credit to Kirk? How in the hell did a cadet, who had yet to graduate, end up with command of Starfleet’s flagship? What kind of military organization is this?

I had one last problem with the movie . . . namely one Pavel Chekov. In the original timeline, Chekov was born in 2245, which would have made him thirteen years old in this movie. According to one of the screenwriters, Roberto Orci, Nero’s appearance in the past caused a ripple effect, allowing Chekov to be born four years earlier in 2241. God, how lame! I suppose one could accept this explanation. But how does one explain Chekov’s transformation from an intelligent and competent Starfleet junior officer to a child prodigy? I really cannot see how a time ripple effect could change a character’s personality traits. Not to that degree.

The movie’s only strengths proved to be the characters originally created by Gene Roddenberry, and the cast of actors hired to portray them in this film. Both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto did excellent jobs in creating the genesis of the Kirk/Spock friendship. They also managed to re-capture the essence of both characters without parodying William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s past performance. Zoe Saldaña’s Nyota Uhura seemed a little more fiery than Nichelle Nichols’ interpretation, but I thought she was great as the Communications officer. Her only misstep was that she had been forced to attempt some kind of romantic chemistry with Quinto.  Fortunately for both actors, they actually managed to achieve some chemistry in the second and third films.  Karl Urban was also great as Leonard McCoy. Granted there were moments when he seemed to be aping DeForrest Kelly, but I had enjoyed his performances so much that I tolerated them.  John Cho was deliciously cool and slightly sardonic as Sulu. And I thought it was a great touch that the screenwriters remembered Sulu’s penchant for fencing . . . and used it in a great fight scene. Anton Yelchin made a charming and energetic Chekov with probably a more authentic Russian accent than Walter Koenig. However, I found his role as a 17 year-old commissioned Starfleet officer rather questionable, considering that Chekov has never been portrayed as some kind of “boy genius” like Wesley Crusher. I hate to say this, but I found Simon Pegg’s interpretation of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott disappointing and rather annoying. Pegg tried to infuse the character with a lot of broad humor. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too broad. His Scotty was so over-the-top that I found myself longing for another character to shoot him with a phaser.

I had seen “THE ORIGINAL SERIES” pilot episode, (1.01) “The Cage” only once in my life. Which means I have vague memories of the late Jeffrey Hunter’s portrayal of Christopher Pike, Kirk’s predecessor aboard the Enterprise. However, I thought that Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of Pike in the movie to be definitely memorable. Clifton Collins Jr. gave admirable support as Nero’s henchman, Ayel. Both Winona Ryder and especially Ben Cross were believable as Spock’s parents – Amanda Grayson and Ambassador Sarek. I would not exactly call Nero one of the best villains in the TREK franchise. But I must admit that Eric Bana had given it his all with a performance that infused the character with a great deal of passion, malice and complexity without going over-the-top. Last, but not least, there was Leonard Nimoy portraying the late 24th century Spock. There were times when Nimoy seemed to be struggling with the role due to his age (he was at least 77 years old when the movie was filmed). Fortunately, these moments were very few and his Spock was a warm and more matured character who finally seemed to be a peace with his mixed heritage.

Look . . . I will admit that “STAR TREK” had a lot of exciting action sequences. And some of the performances seemed top-notch. But upon second viewing, I discovered that I disliked Daniel Mindel’s photography. I especially disliked the fact that most of the scenes seemed to have been shot with close-ups. I disliked the new transporter style that featured swirling circles. But what I realized that I disliked the most was the script penned by Orci and Katzman. Not only did I disliked the fact that they used an alternate timeline plot device to stray away from the franchise’s original continuity; I disliked that they used badly written plot holes to achieve this goal. “STAR TREK” might have been considered one of the best movie of the 2009 summer season. But in my opinion, it was one of the lesser movies I had seen during that particular and certainly one of the worst in the franchise.

 

JDTU

Advertisements

“IRON MAN” (2008) Review

iron-man-downey-jr

“IRON MAN” (2008) Review

I had never heard of the Marvel comic book hero, Iron Man, until I saw the trailer for the new movie, a few months ago. Mind you, I had heard of Iron Man’s alter ego – Tony Stark. The latter’s name had been mentioned in several Internet articles written about Spider-Man. Which is why I could not summon any excitement when I saw the trailer for the new movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.

Until the release of 2000’s “X-MEN”, I have never been that familiar with most of Marvel Comics’ costumed crime fighters – with the exception of Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four. I had spent a great deal of my recreational time with DC Comics characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Just about anyone could imagine my reaction when I learned that Robert Downey Jr. had been signed to portray Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Not particularly thrilled. But I was impressed by the major cast of actors who had signed up for the film – Downey, Gwenyth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges. All four performers have been favorites of mine over the years, along with director Jon Favreau. And since “IRON MAN” was a Marvel Comics film, I decided to give it a chance.

I might as well say it right now. “IRON MAN” has already become one of my favorite movies of 2008. And if I must be honest, I think it is one of the BEST superhero movies I have ever seen, hands down. I would place “IRON MAN” in the same golden circle as“X-MEN 2: X-UNITED” (2003), “SPIDER-MAN 2” (2004) and “BATMAN BEGINS” (2005). Yes, it is that good.

What would be the point of focusing upon the movie’s many virtues, when my previous statements pretty much said it all? But . . . I am going to try, anyway. And I would like to start with the excellent screenplay written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Arthur Marcum and Matthew Hollaway. They managed to create a good, solid story focusing upon Iron Man’s origins. In an unusual move, the writers began the story with Tony Stark in Afghanistan in the company of an Army escort. Stark had just presented a demonstration of Stark Industries’ latest weapon – the Jericho missile. While Stark jokes around with his military escort, Afghan terrorist group called Ten Rings. At this point, the movie rewind back to thirty-six hours earlier before Stark’s departure from the States. This opening immediately conveyed to me that the movie might turn out to be ten times better than I had originally assumed. By the time Tony Stark uttered those last words – ”I’m Iron Man” – it proved me right.

There are two aspects of “IRON MAN” that truly made it a cinematic gem for me. One happened to be Jon Favreau’s direction. The other turned out to be the movie’s superb cast. And speaking of the cast, I might as well start with the man of the hour. What can I say about Robert Downey Jr.? He IS Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Downey now owns the role. I have never seen an actor take possession of a role so thoroughly since Daniel Day Lewis in “THERE WILL BE BLOOD”, Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond in“CASINO ROYALE” and Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” trilogy. Downey is also the first actor or actress I have seen portray a comic book hero as a wiseass. And he also managed to produce sparks with not only his supporting cast, but also with an android and a computer voice.

Supporting Downey was Terrence Howard as USAF Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Air Force liaison to Stark Industries and personal friend of Tony Stark. Howard portrayed Rhodes as a stalwart military man who found Stark’s cavalier life both exasperating and enduring. I have never seen Howard do comedy . . . until this movie. And I was surprised to discover that his flair for comic timing seemed to match Downey’s. Some people have pointed out his role had been reduced. I cannot say that I agree. One, he had yet to become War Machine, Tony’s future armored crime fighting partner. However, his line – ”Next time, baby” – as he glanced at the extra armor suit seemed to hint that he will play a bigger role in future movies. And two, Howard possessed such a strong on-screen presence that no one was bound to forget . . . no matter how many scenes he had.

When I first learned that Gwenyth Paltrow would be playing Stark’s personal assistant, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, I found myself wondering if her career was in a decline. Playing the main hero’s Girl Friday seemed like a step down – even from her role in”SKY CAPTAIN: WORLD OF TOMORROW”. Fortunately, the script and Paltrow’s witty and elegant performance gave her the opportunity rise above the usual cliché of the Girl Friday role. Mind you, “Pepper” Potts never struck me as interesting as the charming and conniving Polly Perkins from ”SKY CAPTAIN”. But instead of becoming the “damsel-in-distress”, Paltrow ended up helping Stark/Iron Man to defeat the main villain. Good show!

Speaking of villains, I must applaud Jeff Bridges for portraying one of the smoothest that I have seen on the silver screen – namely Tony Stark’s business partner and mentor Obadiah Stane. Not even Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine from ”STAR WARS” had possessed such subtlety when it came to evil. At first glance, Bridges did not seem the type who could effectively portray a villain. Then I recalled his performance in the 1985 thriller with Glenn Close, ”JAGGED EDGE”, in which he portrayed a similarly subtle villain. Being a skillful actor, Bridges managed to convey many aspects of Stane’s personality – a superficial warmth and intelligence that hid a murderous and manipulative streak.

Another memorable villain was portrayed by actor Faran Tahir, who portrayed Raza, leader of the terrorist group – the Ten Rings – hired to kidnap Stark while the latter was in Afghanistan. Like Bridges, Tahir did an admirable in projecting villainy with suave, sophistication and a strong presence. In regard to a strong presence, I could say the same about Shaun Tolb, who portrayed Dr. Ho Yinsen, an Afghan surgeon and captive of the Ten Rings that saved Stark’s life. I have seen Talb portray some interesting characters over the years. But I must admit that his warm, yet firm portrayal of Yinsen made me realize that he possessed quite a commanding presence.

As I had earlier pointed out, the movie’s four screenwriters managed to produce a script that featured a very solid story. Unlike many other comic book movies, ”IRON MAN” seemed to be laced with a great deal of witty dialogue and humor. There were times when I wondered whether I was watching a superhero action film. But there was plenty of action-filled scenes to remind me that this movie was basically an adventure film – like Iron Man’s two encounters with the Ten Rings group in Afghanistan, his encounter with two USAF fighter planes and his showdown with Stane in downtown Los Angeles. Director Jon Farveau, along with the four screenwriters and cast, managed to bring together all of the action, humor and drama with perfect balance.

Okay . . . let me rephrase my last sentence. Perhaps ”IRON MAN” was not completely ”perfect”. I do have two quibbles about the movie. One of them happened to be the first sequence in Afghanistan. I realize that the setting of Iron Man’s origins could not be in Vietnam. And it would make sense for the setting to be changed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. The problem is that most of the sequence featuring Stark’s captivity by the Ten Rings was boring as hell. It almost seemed to drag forever. And matters did not help much that most of this sequence was set inside a series of caves. Another problem I had with the movie was its score. Quite frankly, I found it unmemorable. But I am not surprised. I can only think of three comic book hero movies that had a score or theme song I found memorable. Unfortunately, ”IRON MAN” is not one of them.

But despite the first Afghanistan sequence and the movie’s score, it is easy to see why ”IRON MAN” proved to be one of the best summer movies of 2008. With Jon Farveau in the director’s chair and Robert Downey Jr. as the leading man, the movie has become –for a while – one of the best of its genre.