Sci-Fi, Superheroes and Shakespeare: Newly Released Films

It’s summer! Not that you’d know it, since it’s been raining here for a couple of days – but there’s still a whole lot of films coming out. Films that are a big deal in the circles I move in (i.e. circles of nerdery and geekdom). This can mean only one thing: way too much popcorn.

darkness

Star Trek: Into Darkness

If you have no previous emotional attachments to Star Trek as a franchise, you   might like this film. As a big, dumb sci-fi epic it’s really not that bad. There’s explosions. There’s space-ships. There’s pretty cgi – I was quite taken with the sparkly trails ships leave when they go into warp.

But the crucial word is ‘dumb’. I don’t understand how this film has garnered so many positive reviews. It’s not that good a sci-fi film – it’s full of irritating little nit-picks, like why it was necessary for Spock to climb down inside a volcano other than to create a pleasingly tense opening, and why Bones inexplicably has a dead Tribble on the enterprise.

I think that tribble is representative of one of my biggest problems with this film. It’s not a good Star Trek film. It’s a big dumb sci-fi action movie that occasionally throws Star Trek references at the audience in case we’ve forgotten what film we’re watching – ‘wait, we’re making a Star Trek Film? Quick! “The Needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one!” Klingons! Tribble! See the cute tribble?’

And if that weren’t enough, I remain baffled by the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan Noonien Singh. Cumberbatch doesn’t do that bad a job – it just strikes me as a profound misunderstanding of the character. And a reminder that I should really watch Wrath of Khan.

 

MuchAdo

Much Ado About Nothing

I don’t like modern-dress Shakespeare films. I can handle modern dress in a stageplay, but films like this one unnerve me – are we to take the dialogue as symbolic or representative of the characters interacting, or is this set in an alternate universe where there is a country that looks like 21st century America but is called ‘Italy’, and where everyone speaks sixteenth century English? I had the same issue with Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet.

To make matters even worse, Much Ado hinges on a moral issue that doesn’t really exist any more – the importance of a woman being a virgin when she gets married. The basics of the plot – Claudio thinks Hero has been sleeping with another man – still hold, but the dialogue repeatedly and specifically says that the problem is Claudio thinks Hero is not a maid. Except in this film Beatrice and Benedick had a one-night stand at some point before the start of the story and this does not seem to be an issue. It’s a story that needs to be a bit more loosely adapted to work in a modern setting.

This film is a bit like watching a Joss Whedon-characters crossover fanfiction – Beatice and Benedick are Wesley and Fred from Angel, Don Pedro and Claudio are Dominic and Topher from Dollhouse, Dogberry and Don John are Mal and Simon from Firefly. Leonato is Agent Coulson. This is not a criticism. Playing ‘spot the actor’ is a whole lot of fun – though I was very frustrated at not being able to work out where I knew Riki Lindhome from (it was Pushing Daisies).

The modern setting is not as intrusive as in Hamlet. There’s nothing approaching the weirdness of the ‘Denmark Corporation’ or the ‘to be or not to be’ speech being delivered in a video store – things are kept suitably vague and I did get sucked into the setting despite my dislike. Amy Acker is an excellent Beatrice; Nathan Fillion manages to be one of the highlights of the film as Dogberry, a character I’d almost forgotten existed; Fran Kranz is brilliantly cast as Claudio (he excels at combining puppy dog-esque cuteness with repugnance). And the film just looks gorgeous. Thoroughly recommended.

 

ManofSteelFinalPosterMan of Steel

I want Superman’s red underpants back.

To be fair, I really did like a lot of aspects of this film. Lois Lane was pitched more or less perfectly; much like Gwen Stacey in The Amazing Spiderman she becomes more of a side-kick or supporting character than ‘just’ a love interest. Henry Cavill is a great casting choice – at the very least he certainly looks like Superman. There’s a series of flashback sequences showing a young Clark Kent growing into his superpowers that are beautifully executed.

But I want the red underpants back. He looks plain weird without them (see?). The supersuit needs a red belt or something to offset it.

This is not just a nitpick. My main issue with Man of Steel is aesthetic. It’s all in greys and blues. Superman’s trademark red and blue has been muted as much as possible. Superman is all about bright colours and idealism and traditional heroism (and perfect hair); some characters just aren’t right for a gritty reboot.

Man of Steel avoids saying the name ‘Superman’ as much as possible. The lead character’s name is uttered two and a half times in the entire film. I’m not sure if this is something that’ll be correct in the likely sequel, but here it comes across as if they think calling him ‘Superman’ is childish silly. Word of advice: if you think Superman has a silly name and his costume is too brightly coloured, you are not the right person to make a Superman film.

I’ve also had enough of origin stories. Give your audience some credit: we know Superman’s origin story. Megamind managed to do the entirety of Superman’s backstory in about three minutes. Man of Steel takes something like twenty. The whole film is like that: too long, and trying to pack in too much Superman.

But still: Amy Adams is an excellent Lois Lane. I’ll take what I can get.

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