It’s the onset of Summer 2013, and the world, as we know it, is once again in peril. Spring passes through rather quickly, only enough to thaw the soil, bud the trees and wet the grass. On it’s way out it drops the first tornado, flood, and forest fire. Politicians blather on as they did throughout the winter. People still medicate, then text, or post on Facebook. The crusade for the attainment of Heaven continues, led by those who aspire to Salvation but enjoy living in Sodom and Gomorrah too much to really give that aspiration the proper effort. The media is in a perpetual frenzy, and every single hour of the day reminds us of our fragility and vulnerability. Amidst the hum the all those polemics, not one answer to one problem surfaces. It’s a losing situation.
So, we go to the movies.
About this time of the year, the U.S. motion picture industry releases its summer “action “series. It is usually a precursor to the stoner, hangover, and midlife crisis road picture films of mid to late summer. In late May, however, it is not just the world that is in peril, but the entire universe. Galactic battles rage, planetoids explode, and every nebula holds some foreboding doom hiding inside a gas cloud, poised to pounce. Within Earth’s atmosphere global hysteria is rampant. Terrorism becomes its own reality show. The unilateral devastation staged to epic soundtracks plays out on a mega-scale reducimg anything we might experience in the real world to the size of an atom. Conditions are much, much worse.
So why do we go to the movies? In fact, why do we squirm with delight at the previews in March and April?
Well, no matter how dark, how impossible, how utterly hopeless the situation is on the screen, by the end of the film, the universe is safe, the world is primed for recovery, heroism is acknowledged, and order is restored to await the next epic disaster. On the screen there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon, and, as an added bonus, we’re given the chance to boost our adrenaline levels safely for a few hours.
This year, two action films spearhead the pre-summer perilous picture season – Star Trek: Into Darkness (directed by J.J. Abrams) and Iron Man 3 (directed by Shane Black). Both of them are adrenaline boosters.
Star Trek: Into Darkness (directed by J.J. Abrams)
Four years ago, J.J. Abrams introduced a clever concept regarding the Star Trek Saga. After the 257 television episodes, which include the 179 Star Trek: Next Generation and 11 major motion pictures, what new could be said about Star Trek? At the press release regarding a new version, Trekkies everywhere rolled their eyes skeptically. However, J.J. Abrams re-introuduced the space myth in an alternate timeline. His “What-if?” scenario not only hooked the old-timers but also managed to net a whole school of Trekkie Newbies.
Star Trek: Into Darkness picks up some time after the initial J.J. Abrams version. The Enterprise is a seasoned voyager, her crew a band of ripened veterans, and her captain fearless, impetuous, and unorthodox. Within the first fifteen-to-twenty minutes: Kirk, Bones and Spock are nearly killed; Kirk breaks the prime directive of the Federation regarding non-interference in other cultures, and loses his command; Spock and Uhura have a lovers spat. …and there are still two more hours to go!
How those hours are spent is in the retelling of Star Trek’s “Khan Story”. Enthusiasts devoted to the Trek will recall Khan Noonien Singh (Khan) – Captain James Kirk’s ultimate nemesis. Originally portrayed on television by Latin heartthrob Ricardo Montalban in 1967 (episode Space Seed) and then resurrected in the role in the 1982 motion picture (Wrath of Khan), the role is recaptured in this film by English actor Benedict Cumberbatch (who has recently acquired a cult status as Sherlock Holmes in the modern BBC TV series Sherlock.) . The re-interpretation works. Certain elements from Wrath of Khan are lifted, twisted and cleverly dropped into the plot. Cumberbatch as Kahn Khan is quick, intelligent, driven and powerful. He seldom smiles, but when he does it’s venomous. Zachary Quinto’s Spock has more to do. His relationship Zoe Sakdana’s Uhura infuses a bit of steam into the story. Christopher Pine’s, Captain Kirk, leaves fans pining for more. The cast, the graphics, and the musical score of the film more than fulfill a Trekkies expectations for a high adrenaline rush.
Iron Man 3 (directed by Shane Black)
Of all the recent superheroes on the screen, Iron Man has become the most popular. What makes Iron Man appealing is the fact that he is not a being endowed with superhuman powers. Rather, he is a charismatic genius, with immense resources, an over bloated public ego, and an atomic reactor embedded his chest that keeps him marginally alive. Despite his accomplishments both as an industrialist and a superhero, he is fragile.
In this third Iron Man installment, we find Tony Stark suffering from post-traumatic syndrome after the alien incident in New York City (The Avengers, 2012). Stressed, unable to sleep and susceptible to panic attacks, he buries himself in his work, neglecting his relationship with his lover, Pepper Potts, (played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who , without spoiling the film, literally sizzles on the screen). The turmoil of Stark’s world is further enhances by the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) a master terrorist who stages and broadcasts mass bombings and assassinations, and by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce) a political strategist intent on dismantling the Stark Industrial empire. Stark is shaken from his personal trauma when his close friend Happy (played by Jon Favreau, who directed the first two Iron Man movies) becomes a victim of one of the Mandarin’s staged explosions. Stark publicly challenges the Mandarin, who in turn destroys the Stark mansion in Malibu, leaving Stark and Iron Man presumably dead. None of what has just been revealed, by the way, is a movie spoiler. All of this is just the beginning of the story which continues for the next hour and a half in typical Iron Man style froth with battles, explosions and gadgets.
The real success of the film is due to Robert Downey, Jr., an actor with an innate charm that seems to permeate every role he plays. The Iron Man series could have very easily become just one more lemon drop in a basket of pulp cinematic candy. Downey’s personal style, however, adds just the right tincture of mortality to the superhero that makes the series very appealing. Iron Man 3 is not a complex film. It is just plain fun.
According to the previews, the universal/world situation will not get any better. A plague will break out that will cause mass hysteria and world war. All Earth will again face extinction. Teenagers and pre-teens will be trained as special space commandos and sent on suicide missions. Concurrently, someone will get drunk or high, take a road trip and leave a path of devastation, while the partyers he left behind face the ground sinking beneath their feet and still have the ability to wisecrack about it. Meanwhile, in the real world, gas price will rise, entire towns will be leveled by mile-wide tornadoes, and the politicians will just keep blathering on. Inside the movie theater however it will all turn out all right, giving us, the audience, at least the sense that no matter what level of Armageddon confronts us for those few hours, there is hope for some level of salvation.
As always, dear reader, that is my own opinion. Escape to the movies and decide for yourself.