June 25, 2013

Thoughts about Star Trek and Man of Steel and whether I'm becoming a movie curmudgeon

We all have that friend who hates everything. That person who must critique every detail of each episode of every television show and any movie who he or she watches, and that person tends to never be happy. You don’t even bother asking them what they think about x, y, or z anymore because you don’t want to pretend to be interested while they rant, barely taking a breath, for 15 minutes. I don’t mind a good debate about pop culture, but what’s the point when someone’s opinion never changes regardless of the topic?

I feel sorry for haters - it takes so much energy to be grumpy – but after Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel I’m afraid I’m becoming one of them.

Spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel after the image.

"You think you world is safe? It is an illusion. A comforting lie told to protect you. Enjoy these final moments of peace. For I have returned to have my vengeance. So, shall we begin?" Khan, Star Trek Into Darkness

Shall we begin, indeed. The thing I dreaded about the new Star Trek movie came true – Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t John Harrison, he was Khan. Lest people yell at me for just hating all Star things that are not Wars, let me back up for a moment. I enjoyed The Wrath of Khan; the 2009 Star Trek was fantastic. I have room for love in my heart. I thought Into Darkness was a lazy story punctuated by cool “hey, this effect would look awesome” moments.

The whole time I was sitting in the movie theater trying to focus one thing kept running through my head: you rebooted the freaking timeline so you could tell new stories with beloved characters, free of the restraints of the established universe and you essentially re-tell a movie that’s already been done? Seriously.

I understand that Khan is important and his presence is intrinsic enough to Star Trek lore to earn him a fixed place in any timeline. I’d expect him to show up or be referenced and be okay with it. The obvious parallels and role reversals and poor facsimiles of classic moments were too much. Leonard Nimoy as older Spock making an appearance? Yes, please do that. Older Spock giving away all the secrets? Too forced and convenient.

Even though ships were crashing and stuff was being destroyed left and right, I felt bored and restless. Besides my issue with the Khan re-telling, too many points didn’t make sense to me. Bones and Chekov didn’t get to do much other than deliver funny lines. And why the heck does Bones have a dead tribble with him?!! Does he just keep it in his pocket? Finally, you have a great ensemble cast. Let them be ensemble-y instead of keeping them apart for most of the film.

I couldn’t wait for the movie to be over. I exited the theater and felt broken. Like a bad geek. There were parts I did dig. Cumberbatch was a wonderful Khan; he hit the right tone of imposing arrogance to sell it for me. I liked seeing Uhura show off her brains on Kronos. Simon Pegg’s portrayal of Scotty made me grin from ear to ear. Some of Kirk and Spock’s interactions were wonderful. But overall? It tried to shove its cleverness in my face, and it didn’t work. I don’t need to see it again.

But it's just one movie? We all dislike stuff from time to time. 
Then I saw Man of Steel.

"You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders." Jor-El, Man of Steel

Superman is my favorite DC Comics character. When I finally started diving into cape-centric stories, I found myself firmly in the Marvel camp in no time. On the big scale, I like their stories better. Period. But Superman grabbed me. I like good guys. Captain America is my favorite superhero. Even among the winning team, there are those who are golden and Superman is in that camp. “Dark and gritty” is my least favorite type of comic book story, and Superman doesn’t go there. I’ve hit some highlights – Birthright, All Star Superman, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Kingdom Come, etc – and I’m always floored by how much Superman cares for our ridiculous race. I wept when he baked a giant cake for Smallville.

That’s the Superman I’ve gotten to know.

Times change and modern events shape modern stories. I get that. However, I didn’t find much to enjoy about Man of Steel. This was a Superman who distrusted humanity (can’t blame him) for 33 years. He’s been hiding his powers for 33 YEARS! Bejeezus. This Superman let Pa Kent tell him to let him die. What. This Superman didn’t take the fight off the streets in Smallville to one of many surrounding empty and void of humans cornfields. This Superman fought every which way through Metropolis. And this Superman killed and it didn’t seem to throw him off his game.

I can’t get over that. Even when you think he should kill to take out an enemy, he finds another way. It’s the smart and compassionate thing to do and Superman is a living, breathing example of compassion.

The level of disaster porn slayed me. Yes, the Avengers damaged New York City. I feel like Man of Steel tried to exponentially out-destroy that movie. The number of wrecked buildings and lost lives was insane. Even if the Avengers did it as much, it didn’t seem as blatant. Something was different because Man of Steel felt like a charred, ruin-filled slap in the face.

The more I think about it, the less I like about the movie. Lois Lane showed up conveniently and not in ways that made sense. I cared absolutely nothing about Perry White and company yet I felt like we were supposed to be relieved when they were spared. Superman’s actions and struggles lost impact because of the flashbacks, and both his fathers had moments of being real tools.

With all those criticisms said, I did like Russell Crowe as Jor-El. There was way too much of him in the movie for my taste, but he fit the role. The Kryptonian designs were gorgeous. I’d be cool with a whole movie focusing on Krypton. Michael Shannon nailed it as Zod, and I loved his line to Superman about  how he was just doing what he’d been born to do and has now lost his soul. Brilliant. As was any line and moment shown in the trailer. I cried at the trailer when Pa Kent told Clark he was still his son. I didn’t shed a tear while watching the movie.

Being negative is easy. Is the world truly a dark and gritty place? Sometimes and some places – sure, I won’t deny it. But how much of it is that way because of our perspective? If you have become a person who complains about every trivial thing, you’ve crossed to the Dark side. Being optimistic is the harder path. It can be exhausting to constantly look for the good in people, to always believe even when it’s perhaps time to give up. That’s what I love about Superman and his bright beacon of hope was lost in the rock’em sock’em building destruction that was Man of Steel.

I left the theater feeling less broken but definitely confused. Was I becoming one of those people? I don't want to be one. 

Perhaps I haven’t become a hater yet. I’ve seen three other movies since May and enjoyed them. I loved Iron Man 3 so much I saw it twice, I was enchanted by Much Ado About Nothing, and I felt like Monsters University was a nice and comforting hug. Three out of five isn’t so bad.

If you comment, please remember we all have different opinions and that is okay. I will not judge your feelings and ask that you don’t judge mine.


  1. I felt that Star Trek does itself better on the small screen. Movies are about spectacle and I felt Darkness went that route. It don't feel out of place with the franchise movies, but where the reboot has a problem is that we've never seen this group assembled on the small problems (see: teleporter malfunction, holodeck Moriarty goes insane, planet's law makes for awkward situation). I agree Pegg and Cumberbatch stole pretty much every seen they were in. There are problems in plotting. The effects though were wonderful, and for me this became a chance to preview how Abrams would handle the newxt Star Wars movies. I'm more confident that will be okay going forward.

    Superman had more problems, but I liked it. I think the problem is this movie was not about Superman, but more like a Zero Year situation where he makes mistakes. I didn't feel that he was really Superman til he donned the tie and the glasses at the end and introduced himself at the Daily Planet, and destroyed the $12 million drone. I do think that going forward in sequels (plus JL) they need to make him more about being good, and they need some comic relief. It was a bit too serious at points.

    1. I'd like to see Superman save more people in the Justice League movie.

  2. Regarding the dead tribble -- when Kirk is arranging the mission for the trip to the Klingon planet -- he or someone else states something like 'Use the shuttle from the Mudd incident'.

    1. AHA! You're right. Thank you - it was bugging me. :)

  3. Pegg was awesome. I couldn't wait for it to end because I had to pee so bad that I thought my kidney's were going to explode. I almost ran to the exit.
    I can still feel it hurt.

  4. I was watch 'Darkness' the whole way through thinking "this doesn't make sense - unless they mention Borg tech... maybe they'll do it soon... nope... maybe later... nope... "

    I get it; this is a reboot; but the strength of Trek is it's background, the rich palette of stories and characters that came before. We've seen what transhumans in trek can do, and there was no reason supplied why Khan could do so much more here.

    The miracle blood bugged me. Was it that the screen writers had never seen any of the TV shows? Did they not understand that if you introduce this sort of thing, you have to be careful, because there's no good reason for it not to become a magic solution from then on?

    An easy answer is to introduce a natural limit; you get 3 wishes, for example. Or it's not magic blood, but tech that can't be replicated; it's literally centuries beyong their level of development. Give an iphone to a medieval scholar and they might work the functions, but they can't fix it if it breaks, let alone make another.

    They've turned Star Trek into cliches.

    I enjoyed 'Darkness', but will i ever voluntarily see it again? No. I've seen "Wrath of Khan" over and over, and enjoyed SFDebris analysis of it for pulling out new depths for my inspection. There was no depth to that movie.

    And as for Superman... well, he's one of my favourite characters too, but I think he's most interesting when he plays off someone else, like Batman, or the Justice League. I thought the depiction in the animated series was perfect.. he was noble, but flawed, idealistic, but able to fall. He got to see what he would become if he gave in to despair, and become a tyrant instead of a protector. He makes sure Batman has the means to kill him in response.

    I read the reviews of these Superman movies lately, and I just ache for a live action movie as good as the animated ones. The Avengers proved it's possible. Will I ever live to see one? I don't know.

  5. Well said, Amy. Can't find a thing to disagree with. i think I enjoyed Star Trek slightly more than you, but not much.

  6. Couldn't agree more. Into Darkness didn't have any of the first films charm. If you're truly concerned about becoming a "hater", do yourself a favour and go see "This is the End". It'll show you that there's still joy to be found in the theatre.

    1. I definitely felt the 2009 Trek had more something - charm is part of it. They all got to act together too!

  7. I think that Superman was going to be controversial no matter who handled the story, and no matter how they introduced a post-Crisis Zero Year Superman. People have come to expect a Superman who just emerges from the Fortress prepared for his job, saying things that let you know he spent 10+ years in the Fortress learning ("golly"). People don't get that John Byrne rebooted the character in 1986, giving Clark the dominant personality and allowing him to make some mistakes that formed the bigger hero (Superman #22).

    I'm confident with where the story can now go, and I'm particularly thrilled with making Lois a smarter character. I personally would have considered a stupid Lois to be a worse development for the films than the act with Zod.

    On the disaster issue - One thing I keep reading is that people think the entire city (in both Metropolis or Smallville) was leveled. The damage is substantial, but the majority of it is contained to the initial locations of destruction. This isn't an excuse, but I keep reading reports of "the entire city was flattened." Also, of note is that that they did show evacuation work after the Black Zero landed; the buildings that they do show the fight in are empty offices (look); some buildings are under construction and one building is a parking garage.

  8. I agree with you on all points Amy even though I still love Man of Steel and Star Trek. It's funny that the debate on whether Superman acting right or wrong is so divisive. I think it's because Superman embodies American culture and, for better or worse, the culture has changed.

    That said, Krypton has never looked more beautiful.

  9. Definitely do agree with you on Star Trek. As soon as Benedict said who he was, I seriously shouted in my head 'oh, for fraks sake'...I did enjoy it to a degree, but it was all style and no substance...Well; no original substance...As a writer, I love originality and creative ways of doing things. I was really annoyed at the fact that so many Wrath of Khan moments were (re)used. What's worse is that they really did push the film in our face...Even before I saw it I knew that the promos were immensely overdone. Best way to describe it; we were cheated.
    But at least it was an IMAX showing and I got a nice poster out of it...Just wish my first midnight showing could've been for something else!

    As for Man of Steel, I do agree with your over-destruction and reduced hope points...But as other comments have said, I do agree with the justification that it was Superman at his beginning. I see this as the Casino Royale of the Superman films; less polished, he's flawed, he makes mistakes, he's not quite there yet, etc.
    I would also justify that the carnage (especially in Metropolis) was at its scale because the whole world was seriously at stake (a common cliche, but in MOS we actually did get that sense a bit, for a change). Though I do agree that the destruction and battle (especially the one-on-one fisticuffs) was a bit too heavy. Speaking of heavy, others have noted the lack of levity, but I'd argue that because it has less, the moments where you *do* have it really stand out (i.e. the scene in the interrogation room) and wrecking the drone near the end). They certainly stand out for me. ^^
    I did love the acting talent too! Aside from Cavill himself, Crowe as Jor-El was a great performance! ^^ Perhaps we'll see more of White in the sequel, because I'm sure that, with Kent now in Metropolis, a lot more of the city will be explored, etc. (some genius came up with an idea that MOS2 should feature Lex Luthor funding the rebuilding of the city, perfectly placing Superman as an adversary to his cause, creating that brain vs. brawn conflict and such).
    I did feel that MOS was a solid film; the last scene really brought that Casino Royale sense into it as well, because by the end we've acquired more recognizable traits of the character we're oh-so familiar with...But the best was the twist on the classic (something STID repeatedly didn't do well) as Lois is fully aware who Clark is, removing the always questionable 'glasses disguise' tht seemed to fool her constantly! And her last line was the icing on the cake! ^^

    But don't worry about becoming a grump just yet, Amy; different strokes, at the end of the day, yeah? These are just two tent-pole films of the whole year. We've got The Wolverine, Thor: The Dark World and more to come! ^^ (And Pacific Rim for me, too!)


    1. I'm looking forward to Pacific Rim!

      I really dig your Casino Royale comparison - makes me think about MOS a bit differently.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Thank you all for the well-reasoned thoughts and comments!!

  12. I actually did enjoy Star Trek, but acquiesce all your points. Man of Steel, however, was a movie I simply could not enjoy. It almost had me at the beginning, but quickly lost me once Superman destroyed that trucker's rig. While, deserved, it was such a disproportional response that it just rang false. Not to mention that he stole those clothes... and made no recompense. The Superman I know would have returned the clothes later, and done something nice for that family... And, so on, and so on... I wrote an elaborate piece about some of the main issues I had with it: http://www.thecomicage.com/2013/06/18/review-man-of-steel-the-movie-we-deserve-not-the-one-we-need/

    In any event, it is fascinating how polarizing of a film Man of Steel is, and for that matter how differently people regard Superman. I do wonder, what this will mean for the DC film universe... I don't even want to imagine a Zack Snyder Wonder Woman.

  13. My biggest question with Star Trek was why didn't Bones simply take some blood from the 70 odd other superhumans they had on ice?

    As for Man of Steel, I found the end of the boss fight was so un-superman like. The Superman I know would of sooner stood in the front of the people to save them and found a way to send Zod back to the phantom zome

  14. I was convinced that no Superman movie would ever be able to trump the original, but now I'm not so sure. Will be watching tomorrow. Thanks for the great review! I'm more excited than ever now!

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