There are two film reviews in this post
Wolverine – ehh. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t awe inspiring. It seems Super Hero movies have died in favor of genre specific films like “the war movie,” “the gang movie,” “the mob movie,” etc., with super heroes in them. In this context, Wolverine does a stunning job at being a “military movie” with X Men in it. Fans will be happy that it mostly follows the original comic books/ graphic novels.
The supporting cast are all compelling and their powers entertaining. I wish they’d spent more time on character development with them as they were largely wasted in this film; but then the movie wouldn’t have been called Wolverine.
There are only two women in the film – the love interest, who is surprisingly less flat than she should be given her limited role, and her sister, who I assume is there to keep you from criticizing the film for making women “the love interests.” It isn’t really worth a break down except to say I wasn’t fooled.
Finally, there is a ridiculous amount of fatphobia that could easily have been edited out. Honestly, it makes Mike Meyer’s Fat Bastard character look tame. And while it is true to the comic book, the scene itself could have been cut down to edit out nearly all of the fatphobic dialogue and still kept the character in the film. In truth, Wolverine will likely have less fatphobia than the entire slated franchise given the handling of this same character in the comics/novels.
There are great fight scenes and the special effects are spot on. Hugh Jackman does his typical wonderful job in the titular role. Ryan Reynolds, who just got a two picture spin-off deal, nailed his fight scenes as well. And I was extremely excited to see Gambit, as he was one of my favorite mutants. His accent comes and goes in the film, but his powers far overshadow most of the other mutants showcased here. His powers look exactly the way any Gambit fan would have imagined. Let’s hope we get to see more of him in the future.
Star Trek – when I heard they had dissed Shatner, right down to re-recording the famous “space the final frontier . . .” speech, I got worried. I liked Shatner and I liked Kirk. The Director of this film clearly liked neither, reducing James T. Kirk to an overgrown case of blue balls barely elevated by the fact that he ultimately saves the day. Centering Spock was a fascinating twist. However, those of us who get the homosociality of Spock and Kirk, as well as the well-honed dynamics of the entire male crew (leaving Uhura aside for a moment), understand that each of these characters plays a beloved role that is only enhanced by the role they play in the ensemble. None of them has ever been diminished or over shadowed by the other characters in any incarnation of the franchise until now.
I am also old enough to remember Star Wars films when they were good and most of the inspired scenes in this version of Star Trek are stolen from them. Let’s make a list:
- ship that destroys planets – death star
- fight on narrow bridges in the middle of the ship – “Luke, I am your faather” Vader vs. Skywalker
- sword fight on a tilting platform – Vader vs. Skywalker again and the insipid new Star Wars fight with Obi One (tho I loved the way this made Sulu integral to the Star Trek film and brought in the best Sulu episodes from the tv series)
- dusty road chases between antiquated machines owned by locals and flying bikes owned by authorities- Tatooine much
- whiny, seemingly parent-less, locals spending their days in farm country, on dusty roads, and bars with town and gown envy, turned heroes – Skywalker (Chris Pine is certainly a much butcher local than Mark Hamill, & I was glad not to hear Pine whine his way through these scenes like Hamill did)
- ice planets and big scary monsters – Hoth and the Wampa (just b/c the Star Trek movie kills the Wampa with a big red spider thingy doesn’t make it any less Hoth-like; and lets be clear, Hans Solo was way more bada** than Spock in the rescue scene)
- less humanoid looking aliens – the background aliens in this Star Trek look strikingly similar to the background aliens in Star Wars. Roddenberry and Lucas both spoke about the differences in their vision of aliens that would make such similarities improbable (and tell me it is a coincidence that they show up in the bar scene or that the little alien w/Scotty has no real purpose except to be cute and make cute noises)
- Tatooed Romulans (this one comes from gay prof in the comment section) – Darth Maul (Romulans in Star Trek were distinguished by their “chain mail” over brightly colored pleated fabric and occasional gold helmets not tats)
It is for this reason that David Letterman no doubt introduced Leonard Nimoy as the star of the “new Star Wars movie” instead of the the “new Star Trek movie” when he did the top ten list a while back. Letterman acted like it was a mistake, and Nimoy corrected him several times to his annoyance, but think the slight was intentional.
Despite being an updated version, the new Star Trek also steals heavily from The Wrath of Khan, the most beloved of the franchise. We all remember Khan screaming out Kirk’s name as his plans are foiled. Eric Bana’s Nero has nothing on Montalban’s Khan when he yells out “Spock!” Seriously . . . There are more subtle “borrowings” from the whole Khan vs. Kirk series to film moments but that one was missed by no one. (And let’s be clear, I really think J J Abrams missed the point of The Search for Spock as evidenced by his reframing of this quintessential precursor scene as a Spock moment.)
That said, the movie both nods to all of the beloved lines and moments of the 60s series while updating the franchise. It is also clearly written for men and boys, full of “man up” speeches and centering around the lossof Spock’s mom (Amanda, who has no name in the film version) and who gets to be in Uhura’s pants skirt. (On screen, that is no one but the entire audience cast as voyeurs; however, there are more than enough kisses between her and Spock to let you know she wants to be Ms. Spock.) I appreciate that women are not completely reduced to sex objects in this summer flick as they were all last summer and well into this one, but I am not ready to call the women of Star Trek 2009 characters in their own right. While Uhura’s linguistic skills are spelled out for those who saw her simply as a glorified switchboard operator in the original series (am I the only one who remembers her struggling to translate things while an impatient Kirk leaned over her?!?), she gets very little recognition for them this time around either. Let’s all be clear, Uhura locates and translates the message about the Romulan attack that helps Kirk figure out what is going on and warn Pike. Despite this key information, Zoe Saldana and the director play Uhura like she is a love sick teenager not a specialized Star Fleet Officer. I doubt anyone could balance feminine appeal and independence better than Nichelle Nichols, but Zoe Saldana is woefully inadequate. And tho she holds her own sometimes, Sirtis and McFadden were much better as “feminist” or feminist inspired female characters than Saldana, who is more Yoeman Rand than Lt. Uhura. And you know, Yoeman Rand, despite her mostly throwaway role on the bridge, was pretty cool too. The actress who played her, infused the role with high femme camp and occasionally intelligent comebacks that were not lost on this high femme even if they escaped the rest of the viewership.
I really don’t have much substantive to say about this movie: it is action packed and sometimes suspenseful. All of the characters, except Kirk & Uhura, are fleshed out in entertaining ways that nod to the past yet give room for whole new interpretations in what is likely to be a new vision for the franchise. Either in its hybrid form or with scripts that actually give us plot lines devoid of borrowing, it should entertain well into the future. Though as someone who did enjoy the tv series, I have to point to how messing with beloved shows’ storylines only leads to bad things like Bionic Woman for instance.
Women and POC
While women are often reduced to their skivvies in this “new” Star Trek, they are strong and varied in comparison to other offerings this summer. For people who think that women who can hold their own in a fight are the epitome of feminist characters, Saldana’s offended beat down of Kirk for copping a feel, will pave the way to praise for her. I tend to think that feminism translates to more than “she can walk alone at night and kick a man’s butt.” Luckily for Saldana, who as I’ve noted, seems outmatched by the character, Uhura’s special linguistic skills also far exceeds her male counter part. She is so good at what she does in fact, that she replaces an officer at the key position of Communications as a Cadet. This triumph is undermined by the fact she would not be on the Enterprise at all if she had not been having a relationship with Spock, who first bans her from the ship to prove he isn’t influenced by their relationship and then puts her back on when she insinuates that if he wants to continue to be with her, he’d better change the roster. Once again proving that men think smart women advance not through knowing three more obscure languages than their far out-ranking male counterparts but by sleeping their way to the top. This moment is also significant b/c Uhura replaces the only acknowledged Latino in the crew (more on this later). Her incessant caretaking of Spock also completely overshadows the fact that Uhura, not Kirk, discovered and translated the quintessential transmission that saves the Enterprise and opens the door for Kirk’s plan. Worse, tho Captain Pike takes her seriously in her own right in the scene in which she confirms she discovered the transmission and Kirk is right, Spock’s further confirmation of her serves to undermine her skills by once again reducing her to his gf. Pike’s nod to Spock also seems to imply that his recognition of Uhura as an equal member of the crew was fleeting as he needed confirmation from a man to listen to Kirk. Bottom line, both the way the character is written/directed and Saldana’s performance are not as compelling as Nichols. She lacks both her sass and her sense of self. While some of this can be explained away by Saldana being new to the character and the character being brand new to the Enterprise (ie, not the seasoned Communications Officer we get in the tv series), I just think there is a complete lack of awareness, or feminist consciousness if you prefer, that hampers the character and reduces it to as written/directed. One thing the women from the 60s tv show understood was that if they did not take charge of the characters and infuse them with consciousness, they would ultimately just be eye-candy and appendages.
Ryder does a fine job in her role as Spock’s mother despite being about 10-15 years too young. It’s nothing special but it isn’t supposed to be. In fact, it is such an unremarkably written role that they don’t even use her name in the film. Ryder manages not to be as fawning as the original, which I was grateful for, and to make the mother convincing as an important figure despite her short-lived run in the film. There was absolutely no reason to kill Spock’s mom. In the original tv series, it was Amanda who often brought back or reminded Spock of his humanity and encouraged him to follow his gut. In the film Amanda’s saged advice is uttered by his father and older self instead. Not exactly a feminist triumph there is it? (It should be noted however, that from the early release movie stills, Ryder’s part was severely cut down. There is no telling how significant she would have been in a different director’s hands.
Tho Kirk’s mom only gets a limited amount of screen time, Jennifer Morrison breathes life into the role and makes it memorable. I would have liked to know what her rank and/or job was on the ship, but obviously, like nameless Spock’s mom her role was “mother.” Its odd that both of these mothers, Spock’s as ever present and Kirk’s as absentee, are so significant to the characters’ emotional development and yet so fleeting to the film’s writer and director. There is no explanation given for why Kirk is off rebelling on his own sans mother during his car stunt. We are left to fill in the blanks, none of which are good. And both women are reduced to property in the quintessential scene of the movie in which Kirk taunts Spock over his lack of love and compassion for his mother and thus his unwillingness to seek immediate revenge. The new Star Trek is a world where subjecthood maybe afforded any number of species but mostly only one gender.
There is nary a hint of some of the other major oppressions oft present in summer blockbusters in this film, by which I mean neither the spectre of overt racism or homophobia rear their ugly here. There are very few recognizable people of color in this film (besides Uhura & Sulu). With the exception of the Communications Officer mentioned above, all of them are either high ranking, geniuses, or skilled fighters. One of thethings Roddenberry tried to do was ensure that people of color were always present in Star Trek. Racial diversity is something that the multiple series and the films have retained. This film carries on the tradition by including all of the ethnic and racial characters from the 60s original. However, it does not give us any new poc characters and it does focus more on its white ones, with the exception of Spock of course. While this is the more subtle problem with imagined worlds in any given Hollywood summer, at least Star Trek gives both ethnic and poc characters considerable airtime. (Neither the new Jack Black vehicle nor Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum have people of color in it. Even when they are in places populated by black people or talking to historical figures who were black, neither of those anticipated films thinks to cast black people in the roles, even as extras. But I digress . . . ) What Star Trek does better than the original tv series is make the Romulans, who along with their cousins the original Klingons were barely disguised negative versions of Chicanos in the 60s tv show, less stereotypical and offensive. (And one of the main Romulans is played by a Chicano, their Communications Officer is also a Latina, in an equally important shift away from darkening people’s skin to play fake brown parts.) The Romulans are the villains of the film but their villany is played with pathos rather than bloodlust. In the original series, bloodlust was the primary motivator for many things in the Romulan and Klingon universes, playing off the stereotype of hotblooded and hotheaded poc, and I never got over how uncomfortable that made me back then. (The Next Gen shift to making Klingons stand-ins for black people erased “Latinos” completely and yet continued the offensive racial narrative, making Klingons angry, violent, and manipulative and reducing Klingonwomen to any number of sterteotypes about black women without having to own a single one.) Thus the film could be seen as an update of an originally racially questionable narrative; other films in this genre have failed to do the same and most fans have failed to criticize or worse champion the racism when challenged. At the same time, the only major African American part in this film (there is also an Admiral with a minor part) is played by a Latina which means that not only does new Uhura lack the character of the original but a part that was specifically written for an African American woman and was hard fought for by both Roddenberry and Nichols has been undone. And while it is nice to see a Latina on board the enterprise, just as it was no pleasure to see her best 1 of 2 poc on the bridge, itmakes little difference that she will be read by audiences as African American. An African American role is lost, in a world with so few of them, and in arole whose legacy is part of black hollywood, and a Latina in the role is eraced as surely as her Latina played counterpart on the Romulan ship b/c few people know she is Afra-Latina.
Despite all the testosterone flying, there is also a complete absence of overt homophobia in this movie. After the Watchmen fiasco, that is a plus. (Wolverine is also homophobia free if I remember correctly.) And while the homosocial relationship between Kirk and Spock is mostly destroyed here, it is replaced with a bond between Kirk and Bones which was often sublimated to the Spock-Kirk moments in the original series. In some ways, this moves us away from stereotype since McCoy is very masculine and Spock was originally imagined as “effeminate” by Roddenberry to compensate for the female character he had to omi from the Bridge to get the show greenlighted in the beginning. Avoiding the masculine-feminine dynamic does open the possibility for straight people to move beyond their heterosexist imaginings of how queer sexuality works & that is important. Yet, I think all of these characters’ heterosexuality and masculinity has been ratcheted up in this movie to the point that gay boys dreaming of their reflection in this movie may have to default to Sulu and Kirk here. I think the scene of them “hugging” on the transporter was definitely meant to be window-dressing but the hypermasculinity of the characters and the blocking of the scene itself undermined it completely. And just writing this paragraph is making me re-examine what all that kissing was about . . . was it an emasculation of Kirk as I originally thought or a hypermaculinization of Spock through a heterosexist medium? Well that will take more thinking. But I’m sure that sentence will get me on all of the heterosexist fan boys sh*t lists for this review as well . . . Can’t seem to write these things without upsetting someone’s misogynist apple cart can I?
UPDATE (thx gp) – The film is also hampered by its ending scene ablism. In the original series, conflicts have reduced Captain Pike to a paraplegic mute whose severe burns mean he is confined to a body cast like wheel chair communicating through the use of lights on the wheel chair. In the new Star Trek, Pike is the victim of the brain stem munching maggots first introduced in . . . drum roll . . . The Wrath of Khan. The use of these creatures is extremely painful and, if you fight them, can cause serious injury. It is for this reason, I initially missed what the film ultimately says about disability. Though Pike has been gone for an extended period of time, in which he was first tortured and then implanted, the only thing different is that he seems to have lost the use of his legs. When Kirk is promoted, he takes over Pike’s commission, implying that one is not qualified to either command nor serve on a starship without the ability to walk . . . In thinking about this ablist twist in the film, I began to wonder about the depiction of ability in the entire franchise. Not only is Pike a problematic character in both versions, but I cannot seem to remember any differently-abled characters as regulars on any of the Star Treks . . . again, alien-ness stands in for disability like Spock’s emotions or 7 of 9’s implants, but these characters further an ablist plot rather than undermine it as Spock is often criticized, mocked, and/or encouraged to find his emotional sides and 7 of 9 struggles to have all of the implants removed rather than learning to live with the ones that cannot be taken out. The film had an opportunity to change this narrative and instead made it worse. End Update.
I don’t know . . . for people not as old me and therefore not as familiar with either the original Star Wars Trilogy or the 60s Star Trek tv series, this movie will likely be the best the summer offers. For people who are neither feminists nor firmly entrenched in queer and feminist cinema theory, they’ll be even more to like. (I don’t know what Trekkers will think . . . but I can say that I once lost a sewing machine, I never actually learned to use, to the convention cause; there’s no telling how many uniforms it made before it broke.)
I’m going to risk it and say Star Trek will end up being better than Terminator, which I get less and less excited about with every new promo. I also think Star Trek was better than Wolverine, but I’m not sure comparing them is fair. The former seems more likely to compare with Transformers, while the later is more akin to upcoming summer ender GI Joe.
Surprisingly, the updated GI Joe looks like it might skunk all of the competition. The updated mechanized suits in the series certainly look better than what Star Trek offered; to be perfectly honest, the Star Trek suits and the nose dive scenes with them in it, complete with trailing uniform colors, made me think of the Power Rangers. (The image to the left doesn’t capture the streaming color of their uniforms behind them, but it does show a little of what I mean.) Clearly, I have seriously gotten far too cynical in my old age . . .