Monday, May 20, 2013

Blockbuster Check-In

We're will into the noisy madness of the summer movie season.  While I was struggling to write a formal review of Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams' sequel to his 2009 prequel that rebooted the long dormant franchise, I realized I haven't even discussed Iron Man 3 yet and in the spirit of giving-- with more to do with my own inherent laziness, I have decided to take a different approach on the first big summery blockbusters of the seasons.  This weekend's arrival of Star Trek, which opened strongly albeit disappointingly to the tune of $70 million, trails the behemoth, gangbusters kind of numbers that Iron Man 3 set as the movie to best in the summertime sweepstakes.  There's a great many things wrong with this picture-- first and foremost in the notion that a $70 million opening can be in slightest way considered a disappointment, and secondly in the disparate narrative outside the films themselves that their box office picture has painted.  Here's the breakdown:

Opening Weekend Gross: $174.1 million
Domestic Gross (so far): $337 million
Worldwide Gross (so far): $1,073.2 billion
Production Budget (reportedly): $200 million

Those numbers are massive across the board-- right from the start from the start considering how much dough was poured into the latest cog in the Marvel machine (it just about makes you want to watch Steven Soderbergh's infamous, it's-all-gone-to-hell speech he recently gave and give him a great head bump before drinking yourself silly in a sad state of bitterness.)  But wait, it nabbed the second highest grossing opening weekend in North American box office history (second only to, how novel, Marvel's The Avengers) and as of this writing is currently the ninth highest grossing worldwide success story of all time, not accounting for inflation.  Happy days for the Disney-acquired Marvel, as well as Robert Downey, Jr., who returned in his venerable Tony Stark role yet again, and director Shane Black, who after making a name for himself penning early 90s staples like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, and directing the glorious neo-noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (a film that brought both Black and Downey, Jr. from the pits of extinction) can now claim partial ownership of a big, epic piece of franchise hokum.  What's not to like? 

Everyone's a winner.  The truth behind the numbers is that Iron Man 3 needed a dramatic facelift after the diminishing returns of Iron Man 2, a film that was hopelessly branded more of a mammoth Marvel-sized commercial than anything resembling a piece of deliciously nutrient-free popcorn goodness.  The first Iron Man was, of course, a pleasant diversion-- a riff almost of superhero nonsense that gleefully played to the finely verbose, foot-eternally-in-his-mouth comic sensibilities of Robert Downey, Jr.  The Marvel universe wasn't quite yet a sure thing and the film was able to sustain a sense of spontaneity and a light degree of magic before the machinations of corporate politics took it over.  Remember, Iron Man 2 wasn't especially well-liked by critics, fanboys or the more arbitrarily inclined.  The massive box office is an offshoot of goodwill spurred on by the colossal colossal-ness of The Avengers-- currently the third most popular movie of all time if box office means anything about behavior or is a reflection of passion (I certainly hope it isn't!)  So now what? 

Well, Iron Man 3 is the first of Marvel: Phase Two and the film is all over the place situated in that dreadful position of trying to be and be for everyone while not likely to please many-- the fanboys protest the way the central villain (in this case, The Mandarin) was handled-- while trying to be darker, deeper and substantial, and you know...everything, whilst maintaining that singular Robert Downey, Jr. ironic/quirky vibe that gave the first film such a shot in the arm to begin with.  The tone is all over the place and not in a good way, but in a seemingly desperate way-- almost a cry for arms amalgam of the cheery, candy-colored Marvel way of movies forcibly tinged with the global terrorism and complexity that The Dark Knight provided.  The problem is that those two world will never quite work together and it just makes the film more tired and silly for trying to be both massive pop entertainment in a paint by numbers sequel sort of way while trying to be art at the same time.  C-

Opening Weekend Gross: $70.5 million
Domestic Gross (so far): $84.0 million
Worldwide Gross (so far): $164.5 million
Production Budget (reportedly): $190 million

Perhaps J.J. Abrams second go at the Star Trek saga was always going to be bridesmaid, the underdog to Iron Man 3-- I mean it did cost a whopping $10 million less to make and that has to make a world of difference.  While I protest the ridiculous notion that Star Trek Into Darkness must be a failure because it didn't manage to break any box office records, that distinction is already, unfortunately, a part of its conversation.  What happened?  Was four years too long a wait after Abrams and team so freshly and adroitly rebooted the long in the tooth Starship (not Star Wars) machine?  Was all that goodwill that was extended four years ago just a lark?  What happened?

Perhaps the truth is that nothing really happened.  Critics and audiences seemed to enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness quite a lot, even the ones who criticized the genetic re-engineering of the Star Trek machine, as well as the continuity errors, character sidesteps and overly cynical touches to further bridge the international divide over the series to begin with (historically Star Trek has been an American-only type success story-- this film is doing better overseas than any prior.)  What happened, is well, movies are expensive and Iron Man 3 (and to a less extent, The Great Gatsby) have been phenomenal sellers in the past three weeks and well, people need a break from it all sometimes.  Star Trek Into Darkness secured an allusive "A" Cinema Score grade which will go far in making sure the film has playability throughout the next couple of weeks and its multiplier should be steady because of that.

Beyond that, Star Trek Into Darkness-- however it extends or contorts from it's established lore-- is a crisp and grandly entertainment summertime popcorn thrill ride.  It may not exactly overshadow the singular surprise factor of the first prequel, but it's a confident and enjoyable companion piece.  The spot-on ensemble is aces, expertly mining the right, just slightly exaggerated way to posit their famed characters with the right balance of humor and homage.  Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto continue to further expand the wonderful bromance at the very core with their respective Capt. Kirk and Spock-- their love story really is the uniting focus of not just Star Trek Into Darkness but perhaps the entire franchise all together.  Whilst Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious villain at the center is a alluring, magical and frightening.  Fanboys must just relax...Star Trek Into Darkness is a blast.  B+

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