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Star Trek: Into Darkness vs. Iron Man 3

Wow you guys, there is a WORK UPDATE coming. So much going on, literally no time to examine it/write about it, collective sighs of "thank God she shut up for a while."

That will happen later, though. Today, with what little fragmented energy I have left, I want to talk about SUMMER MOVIES.

Because yes, it is that time again, time for superheroes and explosions and archetypes and the number of women dwindling in the movie universe like someone has weaponized breast cancer. I saw Iron Man 3 when it came out, and I saw Star Trek a couple of days ago, and at first I was kind of pissed in that lazy/unproductive way I get when I have something to say but no time and no outlet after I failed to collect my thoughts re: Iron Man, but now I'm glad I waited.

Because I have a thesis, and it involves both of the movies.

There is one main difference between Iron Man 3 and Star Trek as far as I can tell, in terms of structure. And that difference alone almost entirely dictates quality.

I'm beginning to realize that they're never going to make a summer movie that 100% makes sense. There are too many expectations, too many variables in the formula that have to be tightly regulated, too many people with too much input trying to construct a product that has to please too many different customers in too many different ways. We have foreign markets to worry about, merchandising, we have to hit the right story note on specific page numbers in the script lest the masses get bored, our casting has to perform different functions, as does our choice of director, producer, weekend release date. Summer movies aren't art anymore, they're carefully regulated commodity, and I know I'm not exactly unique in saying this. Plot is the very fucking last thing they actually care about when they're telling these stories.

So I don't think I've seen a movie come out between April and August in the past five years that didn't have me go, "come on man" within 20 minutes of the thing ending.

Either I'm getting jaded or I'm growing up, but this is starting to worry me less and less. Maybe it's just that it's less of a triumph for me to go "ah hah!" when the movie stumbles over its own plot holes, maybe it's that I'm finally accepting the fact that though I enjoy tightly-plotted, well-moving movies, no one else seems to care. And they exist for me, in smaller markets, to smaller fanfare. In a medium called TV.

So obviously, both Star Trek and Iron Man fail in their plots. Each of them has at least one big plot hole that I'll probably discuss later. And I thought about both of these plot holes in the theater, so according to FilmCritHulk they count as plotholes.

But Iron Man 3 was still way better than Star Trek. Why? Fucking character.

Character is all that matters, you guys. I've been teaching this to my SAT classes for months but the more time goes on, the more sure I am. If you're telling a story, your focus needs to be on your character unless you have a REALLY GOOD IDEA of what you're doing and why.

Iron Man 3 was about Tony. I still can't figure out what Star Trek was about.

So in Iron Man 3, Tony is dealing with the aftermath of the attack on New York in The Avengers. He's prone to panic attacks, suffering from PTSD, whatever you want to call it. He's on a hair trigger. Even talking to Rhodes about the rebranding that War Machine underwent sends him into his own suit for a quick medical diagnostic.

There's a plot, too. Something about some ridiculously implausible inoculation called Extremis that makes humans regrow their lost limbs (shit, didn't that happen in the Amazing Spider-Man?) but also turns their insides into lava. So this guy puts his hand on the Iron Man suit and it melts?

There's a little bit of political commentary. The Mandarin, who was marketed as the main bad guy, is actually an actor redirecting focus from the plan that Killian has in mind to weaponize and mass-market the incredibly unstable Extremis mutation or whatever with the help of the Vice President, whose granddaughter is in a wheelchair. Also William Sadler plays the president and that made my fucking day. But anyway, there's a little bit of commentary about how this narrative of these brown evil masterminds from far-off, war-torn countries threatening American sovereignty is becoming so codified that we don't need much of an explanation or motivation to buy into it. There's some clever monologuing about a fortune cookie, but it's never established what the Mandarin really wants. It doesn't need to be. He reminds us of Saddam, Osama, Ahmadinejad, and that's all we need to know to be scared and to listen. Of course a moderately unscrupulous American businessman could exploit that. It's a good idea and it's well developed.

But the virus itself...and a lot of the plot...just kind of, eh. Procedural. Going through the motions, going from A to B to C to get us our hot-buttered Hollywood action that ends in an explosion that happened frame-by-frame inside of a computer.

So why did this movie work?

Because Tony was there for every second of it. As he was uncovering the truth about the mysterious explosions with no residual casings, as he met the actor behind the Mandarin and got the exposition about the true villain, as he fought of Extremis test subjects with his sheer mechanical wizardry (poor guy was dealing with a broken suit for the middle 60% of the movie), Tony was there. And he was dealing with shit. And that's what fucking mattered.

And by the end, most surprisingly of all, there was GROWTH! Tony realizes that Iron Man is controlling him now. He's afraid, and his fear is driving him to make Iron Man suits for all inevitabilities. Big, overarmed ones, small quick ones, ones with jack-hammer arms, amphibious ones. And of course the big scene at the end is all of them fighting together (he can control them remotely now, which is awesome and one of many ways this movie gently disregarded and mocked the canon established in Iron Man 2), and after that, he self-destructs them all. He doesn't need Iron Man to live. He controls Iron Man, not the other way around.

And he gets the remaining shrapnel taken out of his heart, which is a physical manifestation of the "get-over-it"ness that the internal struggle achieved. Tony can be Tony now, he doesn't need to be a superhero. He could be, if the call comes, but he hasn't been crippled by the expectations and responsibilities like so many other white men with two first names. It's a new story in the genre, and it's done well. The movie's not perfect, but it doesn't matter because we got what we come to stories for.

A character arc. The other bullshit didn't matter because at the center of it was a character arc.

This is not true of Star Trek: Into Darkness.

I didn't like the first one, okay? Everyone was creaming themselves when it came out and I didn't get it. It was loud, brash, exciting, and totally fucking generic. I like Zachary Quinto, but he can't do Spock. My mom was right, the only actor on planet Earth who can correctly play "Vulcan" is Leonard Nimoy. You could put Kevin Spacey in pointy ears and he wouldn't be able to do it. Nimoy doesn't just own Spock, he owns the entire fucking race.

Okay, rant for a different time. Chris Pine is no better. What has he done since the last Star Trek? What else has he been in? That Reese Witherspoon movie that totally fucking bombed. Anything else? Was he in any small indies that nobody saw but absolutely wrenched the hearts out of the critics?

No. He's Captain Generic in Generic: The Movie with his sidekick, Mr. Articulate Generic.

And the rest of the cast. Everyone was so excited about the casting but it feels like all of their careers are stuck in 2009! Neytiri was Neytiri, and I guess she's in that biopic that's coming out but what else? Anton Yelchin played Kyle Reese in the new Terminator and just made me miss Michael Biehn, I guess Simon Pegg was in Paul and he's doing that apocalypse movie a la Shaun of the Dead with Nick Frost, so he's still relevant I guess. I like John Cho and Karl Urban, but same question.

It seemed like such a good cast but what have any of them done?

Genericness is part of the problem. I mean, I'm cynical not just about the future but about the present of movies, but even I still believe that movies not only are capable, but SHOULD represent a single artistic voice. Iron Man 3 did. The dialogue was goofy-funny, not the same kind of wry wit from the first one and TOTAL MISFIRE CRAP from the second one. It was Shane Black's movie. Whose movie is Star Trek?

Honestly, JJ Abrahms. The guy is the most generic director working now. Everything he does is so...ugh. When your trademark is letting too much light into the camera you've got fucking problems.

So we're starting off, at least I think, on a very bad foot. The color scheme in this movie is primary colors. I mean I know the uniforms are red, yellow, and blue and that wasn't his choice but even elsewhere, there's no nuance, no mood. It's a fucking preschool classroom.

Let me start at the beginning of the movie, because the opening kind of encompasses everything I'm trying to say in a 10-minute sequence. Bones and Kirk are running through some BRIGHT RED forest chased by ALIENS IN WHITEFACE. Kirk is carrying some sacred scroll which is clearly the reason they're chasing him.

"Why did you take the scroll?" McCoy asks.

"I don't know!"

I don't. Fucking. Know.

The aliens wouldn't be chasing you if you hadn't taken it. But the movie needs to start off with a BANG, with KIRK AND MCCOY getting chased by hostile aliens, with spears flying out into the audience which has diligently forked over $10 extra so they can flinch from the IMAX 3DTM, ending with a jump off of a cliff into the roaring sea.

So many white men jump off of so many precipices in this movie.

Anyway, so after we establish what Kirk and McCoy are up to, we see Spock and Uhura who are impossibly still dating doing work in skintight spacesuits in some little shuttle. They see that Kirk and McCoy are in trouble, but the transporters on the shuttle aren't powerful enough or something. They need the Enterprise's help to get them out. At least it wasn't a fucking holodeck malfunction I guess.

However, we learn that Spock actually has a different mission. The volcano on the same island as the whitefaced aliens is about ready to go critical, and this one puny volcano is going to destroy the entire planet. He needs to go down there with New Star Trek Science Magic to stop it (what they call it later...I was agape. Let me get to it though.)

So I guess they have enough power to transport him down inside the volcano, but not enough to transport Kirk and McCoy back up, god I can't remember already and I don't fucking care, but Spock ends up in the middle of Mount Doom in his New Star Trek Science Magic suit that keeps him from getting fucking melted. He goes about setting up his New Star Trek Science Magic device, but the volcano starts to go critical. Uhura clutches at her breast and faints or something while Kirk has to decide whether he wants to reveal the Enterprise to the natives, thus breaking the Prime Directive which still apparently exists in a universe where there's so much light shone over everything you can't narrow the aperture enough to keep it from glaring. Kirk is obviously in favor of this, but Spock, a stickler for rules because that is what Logic Dictates, says no don't do it let me die!!!!!

Kirk and McCoy, once they're submerged in the unforgiving, briny sea, turn on little propellers in their boots and swim down.

Down in the ocean. Where the Enterprise is waiting.

I still have trouble viewing these movies outside of the context of My Star Trek, which was obsessive about making sure its science at least sounded plausible. And in My Star Trek, a ship that had to brave not only the emptiness of outer space but also the stresses of warp, would never be able to GO UNDER THE FUCKING OCEAN. Starships never land on LAND, they weren't even BUILT ON LAND. Why would you spend the time/resources making a huge fucking Galaxy class starship SUBMERSIBLE when IT'S NOT EVEN LIKELY THAT ANY OLD M CLASS PLANET IS GOING TO HAVE THE SAME WATER COMPOSITION AS EARTH?

And why did they hide it there in the first place? I was thinking, cloak? No, okay, no cloak, fine. Even with no cloak, JUST STAY IN FUCKING ORBIT it's not like you can see the International Space Station with your naked eye in broad daylight!!


I feel like Mr. Plinkett in the Insurrection review. This mistake was ridiculous then, repeating it is fucking unforgivable.

Anyway, so Kirk and Spock yell at each other about whether Kirk should save him. Spock finally sets off his device, which he reveals runs on COLD FUSION, because OBVIOUSLY COLD FUSION means making things that are very hot turn to ICE (as bad or worse than the giant ball of blackhole fuel?), and right when he's about to die or whatever Kirk beams him out with the more powerful Enterprise transporters and they fucking book. The whiteface aliens are seen drawing a picture of the Enterprise in the dirt, thus proving that the Prime Directive was indeed broken.

Oh, and the scroll? Kirk just hung it on some tree to distract them so he and McCoy could get away.

So this, let me remind you, is the first 10 minutes. And I know what they were trying to do. It's like the first 10 minutes of Indiana Jones, when you're on an adventure and you're not totally sure about the context, but the fact that you didn't have to sit there being spoonfed exposition for 20 minutes before anything cool was allowed to happen was such a revelation that OF COURSE it works the exact same way almost 40 years later. They were too afraid of the audience being bored with setting up plot that they had to shove us in the middle of a scene that a) made no sense, b) didn't fucking matter c) sort of kind of set up a thematic thing that was poorly handled and not at all original.

So there's some drama about Kirk breaking the Prime Directive and lying about it in his report, Zachary Quinto badly imitates a Vulcan's demeanor (I mean there is SOME smug, but he plays it like Spock is some UChicago student I just want to punch in the face), they squabble about passion vs. impassivity, because obviously 3 years of one TV show, six movies, seven years of another TV show and four more movies wasn't enough time to explore that theme.

The plot...this is honestly the main problem I have with the movie. Iron Man plodded too, don't get me wrong. Tony Star was stranded in fucking Tennessee with some little latchkey kid for like, 80 minutes.


Every single time something happened in Star Trek--there was movement, advancement, traveling, a twist. Any time there was a motion in the plot, there was a fucking set piece. Oh, we're loading torpedos in the cargo bay? Set piece. Oh, we just arrived in Klingon territory? Set piece in the engine room. Oh, we need Kirk and Khan (not even touching that controversy but I'm glad there is one) to get from this ship to the other ship?


It was insane, you guys. I actually felt myself watching this movie going "you know it would be nice if someone could say, 'hey, I'm really glad we got back to Earth without incident.'" Every single time something happened in this movie, we had to see it happen.

I don't need to see every step. I need to see the steps that fuel the fire of drama. Watching Kirk and Khan fly through a debris field, WAY TOO FAST, in space suits while Kirk's GLASS HELMET is breaking (THIS IS STAR TREK TRANSPARENT ALUMINUM MUCH??), as exciting as it sounds, as cool as it sounded in the pitch meeting, and as much fun as I'm sure it was to film and edit in post, is not dramatic. There are no stakes at all. The story dies entirely if Kirk and Khan, even if either Kirk or Khan, dies, so of course they're not dying. Forcing us to sit through a scene where they fly is not dramatic. It's superfluous, redundant, and plodding. Most of all, it's fucking BORING.

I'm kind of amazed that these two screenwriters (and Damon, and God every movie he lays his hands on just teaches me a little bit more about why LOST failed so badly) are writing like, every summer movie ever. Let me just list the last few credits of Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman:

Van Helsing (announced)

???? Secret Cabinet (TV movie) (writer) (pre-production)

2014 The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (screenplay) (filming)

2014 All You Need Is Kill (post-production)

2013 Star Trek Into Darkness (written by)

2013 Star Trek (Video Game) (writer)

2012 People Like Us (written by)

2012 Exit Strategy (TV movie)

2011 Cowboys & Aliens (screenplay)

2011 Locke & Key (TV movie) (teleplay)

2009 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (written by)

2009 Star Trek (written by)

2007 Transformers (screenplay / story)

2006 Mission: Impossible III (written by)

2005 The Legend of Zorro (screenplay / story)

2005 The Island (screenplay)

2004 The Secret Service (TV movie)

All right, so I exaggerated, but it is sort of funny that the big-budget, impossible-to-ignore movies from the past four or five years that I found the most exhausting were all written by them.

And they all have the same flaws. The mistaken belief that action itself is a reason to get invested in movies. Maybe it is for some people. But I need more. I need not just to feel tension, but to care about the characters. I need to know what they want, why they're acting, and most importantly, who they are. Spock uses long words is not characterization. Hell, Kirk likes sleeping around isn't, either. I don't know what's missing, I can never put my finger on it when it happens, but these characters do not feel like people, and they need to in order for me to enjoy a movie.

Shit, I just watched The Dictator while I was proctoring today, and I cared more about that caricature of pure evil than I did about Kirk.

So all of that, plus the fact that the movie was trying WAAAAY too hard to be clever (there were so many allusions to, and reversals of, stuff that happened in The Wrath of Khan that I just wanted to go home and watch that), just made it terrible. It was terrible you guys, and I'm tired but seriously, if this is what the next ten years of Hollywood Summer Sci-Fi is going to look like can someone just put me to bed Rip Van Winkle style? Maybe when I wake up we'll have implantable iPhones.

omg I can't believe I published this without talking about the women in Star Trek.

There are two women characters with speaking roles. I wanted to say three but now I can't remember? The voodoo lady from the first season of True Blood played a truly fierce bridge officer, but I mean, Star Trek bridge officers come and go, it's the MAIN CAST we care about.

There was Uhura, whose entire purpose was to expand upon and define Spock's initial brush with and complete disregard for his own death.

And there was the blonde girl, who...you guys, I have never seen a lazier attempt in a movie to shoehorn in a character that wasn't supposed to be there. Like she was on the manifest, but then she wasn't. That person didn't exist, she was using a pseudonym. But she was the Admiral's daughter, so surely someone in Star Fleet would have recognized her, even if she was on a ship that wasn't commanded by her father?


God I can't even do it, I just can't. This movie sucked on so many levels. Bring back Rick Berman, that's how depressed I am.


( 4 pennies — Things I love about you )
May. 20th, 2013 07:30 pm (UTC)
I like Tony Stark, he's just this unapologetic alcoholic, rich dick, money wasting, sleeping around with whomever, Republican prick. But you still end up liking him, idk, I guess because even in the comics he's never really about being a hero, that's just some shit he does on the side to mask his romance with Captain America into a bromance, even though everyone fucking knows what's up (in the comics).
So I usually just let myself enjoy the movies, even though Paltrow is there and I hate her with an all burning passion, because, as you mentioned, it is about character and Stark is a strong enough character to keep you interested. So I guess I'll watch this one too.

I didn't really care for the 1st Star Trek either. I mean, Quinto? I was just like, "Oh, it's Sylar... during Halloween." Because, I mean, it is. Whomever played his dad in the 1st one was a good Vulcan, though, Jen, don't hate.
I don't care about Saldana, i just don't, not as an actress and not as a person, she's been saying some really fucked up shit regarding race and I can't wait for her to fall off the face of the earth, so it really bothers me that she's playing Uhura, a character I LOVE.
Pine is just a pockmarked Prince Charming, lbr, he's like white bread, no, not even that, I like white bread, he's like oatmeal made with water and no sugar. Idg why he's there? I mean, I guess he could be seen as attractive, or something, but I never even liked Kirk so w/e.
But tell me, Jen. TELL ME. Is Bennyhill Chasemusic really playing Khan?! Because even in the fucking 60's they got an ethnic dude to play Khan, are you telling me that in 2013 we get that white curdled milk abyssopelagic fish faced taxonomically defying abortion bucket escapee fuck?!
May. 20th, 2013 07:39 pm (UTC)
YOU KNOW WHAT'S AWESOME IS I ACTUALLY DIDN'T HATE PALTROW IN IM:3. I don't know how they did it (well tbh they strapped her to a vertical gurney and tortured her for like half the movie) but even when she came back to life or whatever I was like U GO GOOP! I liked her! How did they do that!

wait...who played his dad in the first one? Original Sarek was p. good too, you're right. Lemme see if I can find new Sarek though...

here is a fanvid WHATEVER

IDK LIKE I GET WHAT YOU'RE SAYING, and maybe it's just Spock's specific human vs. Vulcan duality, but even in the first ten seconds of that video like WHAT ARE YOU DOING QUEENTO?? HAVE A REACTION TO WHAT YOUR FATHER IS TELLING YOU. SPOCK REACTS TO THINGS, JUST NOT EMOTIONALLY! GAHD

Saldana has said some fucked up things about gender too. Why are movie stars paying their handlers if their handlers continue to let them think they actually have valuable insight into difficult topics? They only end up embarrassing themselves.

okay I have to be honest I sat here with my face in my hands laughing at "pockmarked Prince Charming." I'm going to start throwing that insult at dudebros irl if you don't mind. Because YES HE IS JUST SO BLAND AND GENERIC! Like I get that he's supposed to be CUTE but I can't actively care about cute men in Hollywood unless there is SOMETHING THERE! HE IS NOTHING! HE IS THAT KID YOU WERE TOO AFRAID TO TALK TO IN HS BECAUSE HE SEEMED MYSTERIOUS BUT THEN WHEN YOU DID YOU FOUND OUT IT WAS JUST BECAUSE HE WAS DUMB AS ROCKS! CRUSH EVAPORATED!

And YES, Isa, Bumberbatch Cucumbers is fucking KHAN. Like, just read this, she says everything I have to say about it.

"white curdled milk abyssopelagic fish faced taxonomically defying abortion bucket escapee fuck"

May. 20th, 2013 09:10 pm (UTC)
Wait, I may enjoy watching her suffer, I'm sold. But yeah, even in the other IM... I'm not going to say I didn't hate her (because even the way they wrote her was insulting, like they made her refer to accompanying one of Tony's one night stands as "taking out the trash" and that's not GOOP's fault it's the misogynistic writers', but it didn't HELP EITHER). But they manage not make make my hatred blind me to the rest of the movie, so they must be doing some movie magic shit, idek...

Yeah, but even the TOS Spock expressed emotion because his mother is human, so the issue there should be addressed as him battling himself, figuring out what/who he's meant to be and how much of each, you know, character development, not some relationship bs which ends up with him proclaiming to be emotionless while sobbing for Kirk.

You described Pine so well, omg, that is him EXACTLY. And he tries to get that smarmy thing Shatner was (lol is) doing 24/7, but he doesn't quite get there either. Like, I don't even want to punch him in the face or anything. He's just forgettable, I'm not lying when I tell you the only scenes I remember featuring Kirk were the ones with Karl Urban in them because I like him (but, as you said, what has he done lately?).

May. 20th, 2013 09:29 pm (UTC)
yeah I hate GOOP in 99% of her movies, but like idk, I don't hate her in IM!! Maybe she and RDJ have some legit chemistry, maybe she actually is sort of kind of an okay character, or maybe it's just because in IM:3 she was OFF SCREEN for most of it (I wanted to throw her in the ocean in IM:2 because she was just THERE so much) but yeah, movie magic or whatever it is, Pepper Potts isn't the worst.

lol omg Isa they end up doing a role-reversal of the "KHAAAAN!" scream, so Kirk is on the wrong side of the glass and Spock screams it in agony and bloodthirst and I was just like "Spock would never do that?" I GET HE HAS A DUALITY BUT EVEN SO HE IS MEASURED AND CONTAINED.

yes, exactly, it's like Shatner owns Kirk as much as Nimoy owns Spock. And I do kind of feel bad for the kids, because they have to wrangle with whether to imitate them, do something totally unique and different, or something else, and I feel like they both tried to land in the middle which just turns the performances into mush. There is such like, a sprightliness when Shatner does Kirk that's missing from Pine, he's just a slobbering manwhore and/or Participant in Boringness.

But yeah Karl Urban needs to be around more :( I guess Judge Dredd was supposed to be really underrated but I never saw it.

lol omg Splice 2: Electric Bugaloo, starring Real Human Genetic Experiment Gone Wrong Benadryl Cortisone.
( 4 pennies — Things I love about you )