The big film this weekend is that of the second film in JJ Abrams quest to relaunch Star Trek with a new generation of fans in tow. It’s almost bittersweet, as well, as Abrams has been tasked with doing the same to Star Wars and as such he will eventually decline to come back for a third film with the new cast of characters in the roles of Kirk, Spock, et al. There hasn’t been anything outright said about it, of course, but Abrams is both a director and a producer on both projects. That’s an exceptional amount of work, especially with Star Wars coming up soon, and as such putting together a pair of $200 million plus films at the same time is a task no director has ever done successfully. Something has to give and Star Wars: Episode 7 will wind up with his services.
It’s a shame, too, because I’ve dug the way Abrams has tackled the project of Star Trek. He took the original franchise points and gave us an alternate reality, so as to not mess with the continuity of everything that’s already happened. It allows for a certain amount of new thinking and new stories by changing up the history behind the show as well as giving us tropes about the characters that make them that much more interesting. Trek has gone from a “Science fiction tackling modern issues” type of film franchise and has become a slimmed-down, ball to the walls action franchise that just happens to take place in space.
Much like how Firefly and Serenity managed to take the western tale of cowboys living on the fringe between criminal pathos and ethos and turn it into a space adventure Abrams has done the same and I’ll be disappointed when he eventually declares publicly that Star Trek III: Electric Bugaloo will go on without him in the director’s chair. Hopefully there will still be plenty of time for keyboard solos though.
As we move into Abrams’ victory lap of launching Star Trek into a franchise more friendly to the masses, instead of the diehard fan base that allowed it to survive and thrive over the years in various forms, we have to look at his contributions to the franchise. And I think we can boil them down to five major ones.
5. Rebranding the franchise from science fiction to science action
Science fiction is a rough thing to do as a film because you’re ceiling is only so high; there’s never been a true science fiction film that’s been superbly popular. They’ve all been blends of something, the most successful having fringe elements of sci-fi in them and latching on to a more successful genre. Star Trek was an action franchise that just happened to be in space and it also managed to be the only film in the franchise to cross $200 million domestically. Abrams tapped into something; there are more people who want to see a kick ass action film with sci-fi elements than a great science fiction film.
4. Giving us an alternate reality with which to play with
The one thing that becomes a problem when you want to reboot a franchise like Star Trek is that there’s an insane amount of history you have to deal with. Ignoring it is one thing, of course, but Abrams did something really gutsy by splintering history as it was. Instead of having to deal with the entire history and sculpting a film around it, or ignoring it and doing his own thing, he’s got the best of both worlds by giving us our cake and letting us eat it too. Everything that happened in the original franchise has happened; this is a splinter universe where a key moment has been changed and as such history in this universe has taken a dramatically different turn. It gives him story-telling room, which is never a bad thing, by allowing him to incorporate what’ll work
3. We get to see Khan through a modern set of eyes … or so we think
I have no clue who this Harrison guy in Into Darkness is, as I have avoided spoilers and reviews of Into Darkness like the plague, but everything in the trailers and TV spots suggest that he’s Khan. You don’t bring in a brilliant actor like Benedict Cumberbatch and give him this badass super-villain type without him being Khan Noonien Singh; he was the best villain for James T Kirk and Abrams is an astute director. If this is about young Captain Kirk dealing with things in the universe long before he should’ve then it makes sense. Khan is such a brilliantly written character in Wrath of Khan and makes perfect sense, especially with the trend of bad guys in major action films to do the “intentional capture” bit.
2. Young Kirk and Spock
One of the things I’ve always wanted to see play out was how Kirk and Spock became the combination they became. Shatner and Nimoy weren’t young men during the original series and the original films. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinton are a great combination so far and seeing the two of them developing that bond, and that friendship, is something we never got to see. We saw them advanced and into their careers, after the mistakes and teachable moments they had made as younger men. Seeing them as younger men is something that could be special.
1. A chance to go on that five year mission one more time
Let’s be frank: after dealing with Khan as a young, inexperienced crew the only path forward is one of exploration. And while it probably will be under another director it could be interesting to see what kind of new action the franchise finds.
A Movie A Week – The Challenge
This Week’s DVD – Jack Reacher
The one thing I think not enough actors get credit for is when they reach and play down the traits that they’re historically known for. Playing against type is one thing but avoiding turning on the well known personality from an actor has to be difficult. Which is why Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher in the same titled film intrigued me: can Cruise turn down the voltage of his rock star personality and be a guy who lurks in the shadows?
Jack Reacher starts with a horrific shooting. Five people are shot, seemingly at random, by James Barr (Joseph Sikora), in Pittsburgh. They’ve got him dead to rites, too, and he requests one thing when asked for a confession against the truckload of evidence against him: Jack Reacher. They’ve got a past with one another from their days in the service, when Reacher was one of the best investigators in the Army’s Military Police. Reacher’s hired by Barr’s attorney (Rosamund Pike) to figure out if he did or not. The evidence looks solid to everyone but us, the viewer, as we know that it’s an elaborate setup. It’s up to Reacher to figure it out, and the end game behind it, while a bad guy (Werner Herzog) and his henchman (Jai Courtney) tries to prevent him from connecting points A to B.
It was one of my Top 10 of 2012, of course, and I enjoyed it just as much on DVD as I did in theatres because it gives us Tom Cruise without the megawatt presence. It’s the one thing I think he doesn’t get enough credit for over the years: his ability to turn down his screen presence and charisma is something we don’t get to see enough. He has this rock star aura to him that makes it impossible for him to take a lot of roles now that he could years ago; Cruise is in that same area that Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington are in that they have to pick and choose their roles carefully.
Which is why Reacher was such an interesting pick for him: Lee Child, who wrote the novel series the film is based on (the film covering “One Shot”), endorsed Cruise and thought what he lacked in the character’s physical presence (Reacher is supposed to be a massive man in the books) he made up for by being the character mentally. Its why you could enjoy the film, and Cruise as Reacher, unless you’re one of the hardcore fans of the novel series: Cruise being a traditional everyman.
This is Cruise being a normal guy, turning down that insane level of charm and presence to its bare minimum, and might be one of my favorite films with him in it. It’s the same way with Collateral; this is Cruise being just a guy, something he can’t do in most films, and it’s pretty darn special.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club
Star Trek: Into Darkness – J.J Abrams next venture into the Trek world has a new bad guy.
See It – So far so good for J.J.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .