This past weekend, the Central Valley weather was windy, the kind of weather that makes Sand Pilarski irritable, sneezy, and ... more irritable. The only thing Bernie Pilarski could do was take her to see things get blown up at the movies. X-Men Origins: Wolverine sounded like a safe bet for explosions. So did Star Trek.
Technical Editor Josh Brown (the brains behind the Piker Press) couldn't have cared less what the weather was like, but has been waiting to see Star Trek since he first heard whispers of the project years before. And when Pikers go to the movies, they are bound to tell about them ...
I am always aware when I do movie reviews that the possibility/probability exists that my reaction to a movie is much like that of your in-laws when you make your first visit to them and somebody yells "Hey, show 'em what Billy can do with a bean." And of course Billy is paraded out in front of everybody, and as promised, proceeds to do unquestionably unnatural things with a bean and his nose, much to the delight of the in-laws for whom this is a regular ritual at family gatherings. Aside from the quite natural concerns you may have about the possible genetic transfer of this disgusting trait to your own offspring, you are also left wondering what in the world the family is thinking by encouraging such a behavior.
I was going to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Star Trek no matter how bad they were because, well, they are exactly the kind of mindless, CGI crammed escapism I like. Yet having said that, I am not totally uncritical when I view such things. Take for example, Spielberg's 2005 movie War of the Worlds -- slick, the usual Spielberg technical mastery, lots of blow 'em up CGI, aliens. While I would probably sit through it again if it was included in a free HBO weekend, in my opinion it fell flat on Tom Cruise's face, and I wouldn't recommend it despite its elite pedigree.
I am pleased to say, however, that both of these new movies exceeded my expectations.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the backstory of Hugh Jackman's "Wolverine" character, is a well written, fast paced film. You don't need to have seen the X-Men movies to enjoy or understand this story, but if you did, you'd be better able to appreciate the incredible job of acting by Hugh Jackman. The portrayal of the James Logan/Wolverine character in this movie is identical to the Logan/Wolverine character in the first three X-Men movies. Of course some actors are like that. John Wayne was John Wayne no matter what character he played, and he was John Wayne when he wasn't in character. Jackman, however, is playing a character with an accent that is not his own, and a character that he first created nine years ago, and is a character that is totally different from any of his other roles and apparently far different from the person Hugh Jackman (of course he's such a chameleon, it's hard to tell if I've ever seen the "real" Hugh Jackman). I have to believe that is difficult to do, but he does it very, very well, imparting a dignity and a depth that you would not expect of a character out of comic book.
Star Trek was also a delightful surprise. I've watched all the Treks, even the bad ones, and I thought that this had the potential to be the worst of them. This movie was attempting to tell the story of how the characters from the original Star Trek television show came together as a crew. These were characters (Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, Uhura) who had always been portrayed by the same actor. The characters aged as the actors aged because they were one in the same. Kirk is Shatner, Spock is Nimoy. James Doohan was given an honorary engineering degree by a school where a survey indicated that fully a half of all the engineering students were inspired to study engineering by his character Scotty, the Enterprise's chief engineer. So when they make a movie where all these characters are played by new people (kids even), you have to believe there is going to be disappointment.
Surprise! The characters survived the transplant into new actors' bodies. Star Trek is two hours of pure fun and excitement. Even if you had never seen the original series, this would be a fun movie to see -- lots of action, good special effects, laughs, and things that blow up. The casting was great. Watching these guys was like looking at old home movies. These were the younger images of the people you know. You recognized the young Dr. McCoy, but it was also easy enough to see a young DeForest Kelley in Karl Urban's performance. Leonard Nimoy could well have been Zachary Quinto at one time. Chris Pine played a true-to-life James Kirk, and at times channeled William Shatner, although we all know that the world, indeed the universe is not big enough for two Shatners.
So listen, right after Billy shows you the bean trick again, let's all run down to the theater and take in a movie. There's two good 'uns out there right now.
When I read early reviews of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I found that quite a number of people loathed it, complaining bitterly that it didn't do justice to the comic books' legacy of this Marvel hero. I hadn't been overly thrilled with the third X-Men movie (X-Men: The Last Stand), and sequels do tend to stink, so I wasn't exactly frothing at the mouth to see the film. But there was the fact that Hugh Jackman starred in it, so when Bernie suggested we go see it, well, have you ever dumped catnip in a big paper bag and left it on the floor for the cat to discover? The cat may pretend not to be interested, but will feel compelled to check it out. (Hugh Jackman = catnip, in case you didn't get the image.)
Myself, I never read a single X-Men comic book, and I don't know that I ever even heard of the character "Wolverine" before the first movie, X-Men. For me, the story of the X-Men has been the movies, and I found Origins: Wolverine to be a super-hero movie in keeping with its predecessors, and captivating in its own story.
Hugh Jackman is flawlessly "Wolverine," developing the character even further than he has before, and the CGI is up to snuff (although the people who did the scenes of Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania obviously have never been there to experience the murky haze of humidity that swathes the land in all but the coldest parts of the year) -- so much so that my palms were dripping from the all-too-real images of height.
Ignorant of the comic book history, I thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine was WON-derful.
But then there was Star Trek. That was a whole 'nother story.
By the second week of the original TV series, I was a Trekkie, and so were my friends. We DID NOT MISS AN EPISODE, and as soon as the show was over, my friend Cat and I were on the phone, comparing what we loved and what we hated (Jill Ireland foremost for fascinating Spock), what color things were -- Cat had a color TV and my family didn't) and was Dr. McCoy sexier than Scotty or was it all Spock, Spock, Spock? We would write quotes from the show on our school tablets, and draw silly adolescent cartoons of the characters ... Star Trek was part of our cosmology, influencing our lives and taking the place of Santa, the Easter Bunny, and even plowing under Sean Connery as James Bond.
I hated all the spin-offs before I ever saw them, though I came to enjoy Patrick Stewart's captaincy of the Enterprise in "The Next Generation", and later, wished I was Benjamin Sisko of "Deep Space Nine." ("Voyager" and "Enterprise" I would not even use my neighbor's dog to ... no, let's not continue that thought. I didn't like them.)
Hearing that a Star Trek movie was going to be made with young people, I immediately gnashed my teeth and looked around for someone to blame. Baby Star Trek? HOW STUPID COULD HOLLYWOOD GET? I vowed to avoid the film like it had herpes. But with this weekend's windy weather, Bernie figured I couldn't get any nastier than I already was, and insisted we go see the movie.
Walking into the theater a hater, I think that perhaps all of fifteen minutes passed before I had begun to integrate this Star Trek into what I had known as a kid and cherished as an adult. From there, it was a downhill slide into loving what had been done with this new film.
No, the "history" of the Star Trek universe is not quite the same as I remember, and could have pointed out here and there and here and there, but there is a reason for that, and the reason is good. What's more, that good reason just serves to deepen the characters who crew the Enterprise and made me love them all the more.
With money tight, it was an extravagance to go see two movies in one weekend, but both of them were worth the cash, and I'll be hard put to refrain from going to see Star Trek in the theater again.
Guest Star Josh "TVAddict" Brown said:
I'm a television guy. Seeing as it's Star Trek, and the man that made the movie (J.J. Abrams) is a television guy, I couldn't resist seeing this movie. And it was awesome! While I'm normally not a fan of reboots and changing things from original materials simply because people think they can do better, I do appreciate the effort that was taken to at least explain the inevitable changes that have taken root in the Star Trek universe with this movie.
All the classic characters are there and they are greatly matched up with actors that can not only play them, but play them well enough that you'd almost believe these are the actual younger versions of them all. As far as reboots go, the characters all more-or-less survive the process intact (I always dreaded the thought that someone would think it'd be the most perfect idea to turn Spock into a woman and have her pining over Kirk!)
Overall the movie is excellent. That, however, depends on what you are looking for in the movie itself. If you went to see Star Trek reborn, to see how the crew of the Enterprise ends up together, to see how life will be different in this new Star Trek universe, then you will receive everything you can hope for and more.
Unlike most Trek movies, though, that is about all you receive.
There's way more action in this Trek movie than in any other before it. Some times that action even seems pointless: there's a scene where Kirk is chased by a monster that could be cut and nobody would notice the difference.
One annoyance that really sticks with me is the lack of Trek aliens in the movie. You have Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons are mentioned (I've read there was a scene with Klingons, but it never made it to the movie), and one Orion. Other than that, the only other aliens to pop up were completely new, made-up aliens where a long list of Trek aliens could have been picked from instead. Not that big of a deal -- the movies are famous for randomly making up aliens and sticking them in the background, but it would have been nice to see more familiars milling about.
The villain and the plot that follows him through the movie is weak at best. His motivation lacks reason and ultimately it becomes clear that he is nothing more than a plot device to help reboot the universe. But I'm all right with that. Because this movie did exactly what it should have done. It showed us the new universe, brought the crew together, and prepared us for a whole new string of movies that will blow our minds.