Here is a modest comparison of the two biggest summer blockbusters to be released in the past month:
Both choose explosions and cliche action sequences over character development or plot. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek were movies filled with characters. They grew and developed and suffered and fought and cried and laughed, and we loved the film for it. Yes, there were plenty of action sequences and dazzling effects (particularly inStar Trek). But those explosions never overshadowed the heart behind each story as a boastful and arrogant protagonist (Tony Stark and James Kirk) are humbled and stretched in profound and affecting ways. While both sequels do their best to create an atmosphere of pathos in key scenes, this usually falls short because it doesn’t feel earned. These are just big popcorn explosion movies, cobbled scenes of cliche action sequences intended to make us ooh and aah at all the right moments.
Both feature genetically-modified self-healing villains with a motive of personal vengeance against a large technological corporation and its leadership, and both villains have a secret “twist” identity intended to surprise and/or delight the movie audience. I’ll just let that sentence speak for itself. The parallels are uncanny.
Both tried to go “dark.” After Christopher Nolan’s incredibly successful run with the Batman trilogy, superhero movies are doing their best to be gritty, grim, and gloomy. Just see the Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness poster mashup above–falling out of the skies in flames against a grey, cloudy background. The only problem: it’s rather difficult to have a glum Tony Stark or a morose James T. Kirk. It’s akin to having a peppy and zestful Bruce Wayne.
Both revel in vengeance. Iron Man 3 boasts in Tony Stark’s “you hurt my friend, so I’m gonna kill you” morality. (Spoilers for STID): John Harrison, aka Khan, is getting revenge for being awoken from cryogenic sleep and kills Captain Pike, which leads Kirk to seek revenge on Khan for the death of Pike, which leads Spock to get revenge for the “death” of Kirk. It’s like watching a Tarantino script.
Both have glaring plot holes: Iron Man 3 has more, but Star Trek Into Darkness has a number of its own. A few plot inconsistencies or frustrations, with spoilers:
- Why does Tony Stark create nearly four dozen working Iron Man suits and notuse them until the final battle sequence? During any of the fight sequences throughout the prior two hours of violence and death, why didn’t he just…you know…press a button and make them show up? Like, maybe when the helicopters show up at Tony’s house in the first place, since they’re all just sitting right there?
- If Tony Stark’s suits require an eye-scan identification to work–like they do for Pepper Potts when she receives Tony’s message via his helmet–then how do the bad guys reconfigure the Iron Patriot suit to use for their own schemes?
- Tony Stark has the arc reactor and shrapnel removed from his chest via surgery, supposedly as a moment of closure. If all it took was a simple surgery, why didn’t he get that sooner? And we know he’s not really done being Iron Man; they’ve still gotta make The Avengers 2, after all.
- Speaking of them, during all the attacks and fighting and kidnapping of the president, etc: where are the other Avengers? And where is S.H.I.E.L.D.?
- Why does Spock needlessly fight Khan in order to get his super-blood in order to heal and resurrect Kirk, when there are 72 other sleeping super-blood folks easily at hand?
- Speaking of Khan–why the alias? Why go by John Harrison at all? Matt Singer asks the same question, and comes up with this answer: it’s because J.J. Abrams thrives on mystery and toying with an audience. Abrams calls it his mystery box, and he employs it often. There is no real need for Benedict Cumberbatch to be John Harrison at all, except to make it all the more mysterious for us movie-goers and further Abrams’ desire to keep our curiosity piqued. You can bet there will be TONS of mystery box moments when the new Abrams-directed Star Wars films arrive in a few years. (This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, by the way. I love me some mystery and intrigue. I’m simply stating that Khan could simply be Khan, and Khan alone; there was no need for the Harrison alias to make the character intriguing.)
Both feature unnecessary scenes with main characters emerging from a bed containing two women. Just saying. Not exactly family-friendly. Speaking of unnecessary characters…
Both have unnecessary characters: The kid Tony Stark encounters in in Tennessee and Carol March are each used for their particular cuteness to reveal the “sensitive” side of their heroes (Stark and Kirk, respectively). Neither are real characters with heart and purpose. The kid is just there to give Tony Stark a father-figure moment; Carol’s primary role in Star Trek Into Darkness appears be the brief scene featuring her in her underwear. They have maybe a dozen lines each and have little to add to the narrative arc (though both are used to save the hero from the villain). Yet even as I wrote this last sentence, it reveals the vapidity of both characters–they’re used, like objects, plot points in a story rather than an actual person. A challenge: I’ll give you huge props if you can remember the name of the kid in Iron Man 3 without looking it up.
Both will make loads of money. As of this writing, in the United States alone, Iron Man 3has made $338 million in three weeks. Star Trek Into Darkness has made $83.7 million in less than two weeks. I’m willing to bet that Iron Man 3 will be the highest-grossing summer movie of the year.
Both were disappointing. I wish I liked these movies more than I did. I loved Iron Man. I loved Star Trek. So I was frustrated and disheartened that both of these films left me wishing I hadn’t dished out the cash for the 3D or IMAX tickets.