bow down to hollywood season is upon us. if the line, "we're going to make you indestructible, but first we're going to destroy you," seems awesome, you're probably male and more than likely a child-at least emotionally. that consumer-oriented line is from x-men origins: wolverine, which, like the new star trek movie, is designed for adolescent awe. problem is: it's not just niche marketing, it's become the way of american film culture. these action/comic book/tv/fantasy/cgi flicks are not about plot. their only purpose: teaching audiences to watch movies crudely, as teenagers, as a boy. at that, wolverine and star trek succeed damnably.
wolverine's the worst of the two, reducing its marvel comics story of individualism, eccentricity and ethical choice to childish commotion. in 1845, canuck teen logan becomes wolverine (hugh jackman) when his feral nature expresses his inner turmoil. he gains superhuman strength and bone claws sprout from his knuckles. aroused by oedipal kitsch, wolverine and brother sabertooth (liev schreiber) become immortal. these killing machines go through political history via war movie clichés (civil war, wwi, wwii, vietnam), arriving at contemporary political paranoia. wolverine gets upgraded with an adamantium skeleton-a gleaming adolescent power fantasy expressive of rejiggered hollywood exploitation.
watching the brothers bash each other and authority figure danny huston is like enduring those polar bear brawls in the golden compass. watching invulnerable characters wallop and thump is ridiculous. wolverine is the latest marvel franchise to co-opt what once was independent or subversive in comics. director gavin hood (a lawyer-turned-hack) goes through the motions. each cgi set piece erases distance, space, weight, gravity and wit. it's empty, soulless action-visual noise.
* * * or it's television-like gene roddenberry's now-legendary 1966-1969 television series star trek, which uncannily simulated pop culture conformity. rigid sets, contrived futurism and made-up aliens offered a cast that was "multi-culti" avant la lettre, while domesticating the sci-fi genre. the u.s.s. enterprise's deck was essentially a living room commanded by a father figure sitting in an easy chair who, with his crew, watched a big-screen tv-also avant la lettre. this non-cinematic concept now comes full circle with the new star trek movie directed by j.j. abrams, a contemporary roddenberry-type network mogul ("creator" in tv parlance), who fulfills his trite tv sensibility. star trek isn't a movie so much as a confirmation of tv's cultural dominance. it's watchable, yet still terrible cinema.
abrams recreates the genesis of the star trek franchise (after the '60s series ran dry, there were 10 theatrical sequels and five spin-off tv series). abrams reconfigures capt. james tiberius kirk, half-human vulcan mr. spock and the other star trek crewmembers as nubile cadets in the starfleet academy. their battle with capt. nero (eric bana), a vengeful, time-travelling romulan intent on turning earth into a black hole, displays the enterprise crew's personalities and skills. abrams doesn't revive a crucial western myth; just relentless marketing. girlish spock (zachery quinto) and pin-up kirk (chris pine) embody new-style masculine-prettiness. they resemble the little archie comics, or the tiny toons serial depicting warner bros. cartoon characters as kids. not only geared to fan boys (or trekkies), this is designed to thrill people who cannot tell the difference between movies and tv.
this star trek sells cuteness, sentimentality and explosive f/x as if starship troopers, minority report, mission to mars or even blade runner or the matrix (all visionary standard-setters) never happened. abrams directs action where you can't see anything-just blur, like in cloverfield. the overture cuts from a woman giving birth to a space battle (mawkishness and sensationalism) with no aesthetic tension or rhythm. instead of satirizing sci-fi clichés, abrams yearns for tv simplicity. still selling soap, his flimsy imagery zaps substance from the drama of kirk and spock fighting to control their emotions while combating mankind's enemies.
the "energy" is nostalgic. while visually distinct from the cardboard-and-styrofoam tv episodes, abrams' swish pans and light glares are far from the dazzlingly tactile minority report. battle scenes don't develop or vary; it's remote-control entertainment. anyone who accepts this doesn't respect eisenstein and peckinpah's formal/spiritual innovations and will probably never understand spielberg's genre transformation. they're settling for abrams' idiot savantry; he's tv's fincher, not an artist. (only fanboys will enjoy how zoe saldana's heavy-breathing uhuru's wet, noisy kisses on spock audibly blur into nero sloshing through intergalactic puddles.)
my skepticism isn't a matter of lacking fan devotion but simply of star trek breezing along familiarly-even appropriating the beastie boys' "sabotage"-yet not measuring up. leonard nimoy's guest-star voiceover epilogue about man, "boldly going where no one has gone before," feels as false as fox news' "fair and balanced" slogan. turning cinema audiences into easy-chair kirks, star trek is literally big-screen tv.
-- star trek directed by j.j. abrams runtime: 126 min.
x-men origins: wolverine directed by gavin hood runtime: 107 min.