Mission Impossible

Star Trek Into Darkness

It can be a risky move to reboot an old television franchise.  Occasionally the magic of the original show gets lost in translation when updated.  Sometimes it works (Mission: Impossible, Charlie’s Angels) and sometimes it doesn’t (Dukes of Hazzard).  2009’s Star Trek is another example of a successful TV reboot.  It was fairly entertaining and did pretty well at the box office, so of course Paramount Studios went back to the well again; it’s only right.

Star Trek Into Darkness finds the cocky young James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, This Means War) back at Starfleet as Captain of the Enterprise.  The movie opens with Kirk and company on a recon mission on a foreign planet.  The natives are “uncivilized,” and the Enterprise has a directive to keep its presence undetected.  There is a volcano on the planet, threatening to erupt and destroy everyone on it, unless Spock can set off a device to prevent it.  Spock plants the device, but is unable to escape the scorching lava.  The only way for Kirk to save Spock is to disobey the directive and save him with the Enterprise, rescuing him from the volcano’s peak.  Spock is emotionless about his impending doom, and he doesn’t mind sacrificing himself to execute the mission.  Kirk is a wild card, and he doesn’t mind breaking the rules, even if it’s a Starfleet directive.  He rescues Spock, and in doing so exposes the highly advanced interplanetary spacecraft to a people who haven’t even invented the wheel yet.

This act of defiance leads to Kirk’s demotion and his ordered return to the Academy, courtesy of his superior officer and mentor Commander Pike (Bruce Greenwood, Flight).  His exile is short-lived though, as emergencies call for reinstatement to the Enterprise.  An act of British terrorism at a Starfleet Records location implicates a treasonous officer named John Harrison.  Harrison takes it a step further with an attack on Starfleet, and now the crew must hunt him down and make him pay.  Their quest to apprehend him takes them throughout the galaxy, to the forbidden planet of Kronos – a planet they dare not visit, as tension with the Klingons is at an all-time high.  The remainder of the movie centers around the battle with Harrison, who is a much greater foe than Kirk and Company anticipated.

JJ Abrams (Super 8) has done it again.  Star Trek Into Darkness was everything you’d want in a summer blockbuster: non-stop action and entertainment, and cool special effects.  I’m starting to hate the entire concept of 3D, because 90% of the movies that are released with this “special feature” are not enhanced by it at all.  The difference is negligible, and audiences should smarten up and stop falling for the trick.  Studios are shameful with this blatant money-grab.  I digress.  Despite the useless 3D aspect, I have no real criticism of the movie.  The plot made sense and it was easy to understand.  I don’t want a plot that’s completely dumbed down, but give audiences something they can wrap their heads around.  I want the plot to make sense; I don’t just want to be entertained by stuff blowing up, although that works for me too.  Chris Pine is a likable leading man, and he’s ably shouldered the load in the few performances I’ve seen from him.  Abrams brought an emotional backstory to the movie, adding an unexpected heft to the movie’s tone.  With him at the helm, Star Trek should be a summer franchise to watch for a few years to come.  Grade: A

Jack Reacher

Sometimes it’s hard for me to separate the artist from the work.  If I dislike the way an actor conducts themselves outside of their movies, I don’t really look at their movies the same way, if at all.  Clint Eastwood pisses me off now.  I think he’s an ornery old cracker.  His movies are dope, but I just don’t rock with him like that.  Which brings me to Tom Cruise (Rock of Ages), my old favorite up until recently.  I have always liked Cruise, the venerable star whose movies were sure blockbusters.  And then he started to seem like a kooky scientologist.  Granted, I never heard of him doing anything really bad; he just seemed kind of weird.  But dammit, I couldn’t completely give up on him.  I liked him in the last Mission Impossible movie, because he’s still a great action star.  He’s charismatic and capable and seems like he performs his own stunts.  I’m sold on him in these types of roles, so when I saw the trailer for Jack Reacher, it looked worth checking out.

Cruise stars as Jack Reacher, a military investigator who is “off the grid.”  He served honorably, receiving numerous medals of distinction.  He hasn’t been definitively heard from or seen in a couple of years, and only resurfaces after being requested by a domestic terror suspect.  The movie begins with a vivid and terrifying sequence of events where members of the public are seemingly shot at random.  In light of the recent shootings in Connecticut, I’m sure this scene was particularly disturbing for some.  It reminded me of the DC Sniper, as we see the killer hunt his victims as they engaged in routine activity.  First he trained his sight on a woman walking alone, then on a man seated on a bench, and so on and so forth.  At first it seemed that he was bypassing his targets, whimsically sparing each one – but he quickly retraced his steps and picks off each victim in rapid succession.  He makes his getaway quickly, and soon the wrong man is arrested for the heinous crime.  We know this right away, but what we don’t know is why this unsuspecting former soldier named Barr was chosen as the fall guy, or why he wants Reacher to help him.

Rosamund Pike (Wrath of the Titans) and David Oyelowo (Lincoln) round out the cast as Barr’s lawyer Helen and the detective who wants to put him away, respectively.  They were serviceable in their roles, though something about Pike annoys me.  I think I haven’t forgiven her for replacing Gemma Arterton in Wrath of the Titans, which is unfair.  Nevertheless, I was glad that her character and Reacher kept it professional throughout the movie.  I didn’t notice any particular chemistry between the two, which was in keeping with Reacher’s solitary nature.

Reacher was similar to some of Tom Cruise’s past characters, in that he was a skilled antihero, a good guy who isn’t afraid to punish mercilessly when pushed by an adversary.  Despite his toughness, I liked that Reacher was more of a thinker than a bruiser; he only used violence as a last resort.  His mysteriousness only heightens the suspense of the movie, and I thought much of it was smart and well done.  However, after mulling it over with a friend who also saw it – I have to admit that certain scenes were foolish and didn’t quite make sense.  One fight scene between Reacher and two foes looked like something out of the Three Stooges, and it dumbed down an otherwise smart movie.  I’m not sure why the scene played out that way, though writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is brilliant to me, on the strength of The Usual Suspects alone.  I thought the writing was very sharp for the most part, but I was admittedly sucked in from the opening scene, so I may have had blinders on.

Tom Cruise is like a timeless, cryogenic wonder.  He is either genetically blessed, or he has the best plastic surgeon in Hollywood – because he still looks great and is believable.  At the age of 50 he is still convincingly playing the action hero, which is pretty impressive.  I’m not familiar with the series by which the movie was inspired, but I understand there was some backlash from its fans about his casting.  The Reacher of literary note was a blonde behemoth – which clearly does not describe Cruise.  Like I said, I’m not familiar with the books, so I share no such disappointment.  In sum, I thought Jack Reacher was pretty good, but it’s not a must-see.  Grade: B.