FILM: Four Summer Movies

From "The Great Gatsby"

Superman, Star Trek, Gatsby, & Other Magic ◆ by Lucy Morrell

● Man of Steel

Man of Steel is the newest reboot of the Superman franchise and it attempts to split from the other cinematic incarnations of the iconic superhero. Directed by Zach Synder (300) and co-scripted by Christopher Nolan (Memento, the Dark Knight Trilogy), Man of Steel begins with the military coup and destruction of the planet Krypton, necessitating the flight of newborn Kal-El to Earth, where adoptive parents raise him as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). Flashbacks of childhood experiences punctuate Clark’s adult life, as the film attempts to establish the new Superman as a complex, brooding character, much like the most recent imagining of Batman. In taking this serious approach to Superman’s development, the film weaves between the two sets of parents, each sharing wisdom and advice, and although their speeches never quite turn into morality sermons, they do not lack inspirational fodder.

From "Man of Steel"

“Man Of Steel”

These familial relationships, specifically those with the father figures played by Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner, are weighted with questions of life and death, responsibility and acceptance, and lend the film a solemn air. The movie clings to this gravitas, quite understandably, as it tries to give the story its own credence and importance in order to stand apart from the other Superman films. The visuals, too, contribute to the sense of grandeur and seriousness, with beautiful shots of moments on Earth and the well-rendered demise of Krypton. In maintaining the tone, though, the film sacrifices humor and lightheartedness. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and her interactions with Superman provide most of the (sadly few) comedic moments, and the audience seems to laugh as much out of relief as out of genuine humor. There is a desire, conscious or unconscious, for anything to break through the severity of the film.

When General Zod (Michael Shannon), one of sole remaining Kryptonians, comes to Earth looking for him, Clark has to make choices that determine the fate of both humans and Kryptonians, Thus the endless battling of the second half of the film begins. The damage is wrought in incredibly realistic detail, and whole city blocks and skyscrapers collapse into rubble. Yet for all the destruction and fleeing crowds, the fighting seems to have no meaning because it requires no sacrifice and offers no change. Superman and the other Kryptonians are basically indestructible, so their fighting is impersonal, despite occasional verbal bouts, and has little emotional weight. When a weakness does present itself, there is a hasty retreat back to the ships, and the fighting resumes again as though nothing has happened. Only the surroundings are permanently affected. The fighting’s significance, then, lies in what happens to the humans, but they, too, are treated impersonally. They die off in droves, not from the fighting itself, but rather indirectly from the resulting destruction. Superman never even thinks to draw the fighting out of Metropolis. Only when he is finally confronted with the death of a few (the deaths of a thousand unseen not having influenced his actions) does the status quo change.

So even though the film is visually dramatic (with plenty of explosions) and brings up interesting issues related to morality and the determining one’s fate, it is neither light-hearted enough nor clever enough to be truly pleasurable to watch. It is not a fun superhero film like The Avengers, nor is it as darkly intimate as the Dark Knight Trilogy. It seems to operate detached and distant on a scale of its own.

● Star Trek Into Darkness

J.J. Abrams, the mind behind this Star Trek revamp and the soon-to-be director of new Star Wars installments, gives us Star Trek Into Darkness, a film more comfortable than challengingly new. In it Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are ordered into a potential war-zone on a manhunt for a terrorist later discovered to be Khan, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. There are a few twists, but the whole plot just seems to be an excuse for Captain Kirk and Spock to explore their feelings for one another. Depending on how one measures weepiness, Kirk cries about three times, and Spock about one and a half. But then again, Spock is only half human. Near constant fighting and explosions (which somehow make noise in empty space), however, work to offset any offense of overt sentimentality.

From "Star Trek Into Darkness"

“Star Trek Into Darkness”

The crew is a family now, no longer in the getting-to-know-you phase of the last movie, and with the actors interacting as such, the film comes across as easy and heart felt, if not particularly deep. All of the main characters from the series command the screen for at least a few minutes of dedicated airtime. Scotty complains, McCoy says snarly one-liners (replete with country metaphors), Spock is logical, and Kirk is bullheaded. While Ahura demonstrates her linguistic intelligence, she seems little more than her romantic role with Spock, providing a few heterosexual sparks in a movie filled with male romance.

In one of the few moments of depth, Kirk struggles with an ethical dilemma concerning his orders and their source. Butting against the always rational Spock and even the manipulative terrorist, Kirk has to determine where his loyalty lies and whether or not to compromise his principles for an order. For Kirk, who is always breaking the rules, such a conflict was bound to arise, yet this comes down to conflicting sources of authority. Unfortunately, a twist at the end sharpens rather than blurs the line between right and wrong, putting Kirk and Star Fleet firmly on the right side. What could have been an interesting dilemma, bound forever to a gray area in our minds, is resolved by having a traditional bad guy pop up in the last half hour. In the end, we do not have to fear for Kirk’s conscience, any more than we have to stress about the inevitability of a happy ending.

While the movie may not have made the audience think beyond its two-hour duration, it had a lovely and familiar display of characters that kept me engaged and smiling throughout. If the crew is a family, then it is the sort of family that I wouldn’t mind being a part of.

● The Great Gatsby

The latest re-imaging of The Great Gatsby comes with the typical visual extravagance of Baz Luhrmann. It is a spectacle of bright colors and glitz befitting the casual wealth, sex, and booze of New York City in the roaring twenties. The movie stays true to most of the original novel as Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) relates the tale of the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Nick’s married cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). The novel itself is a voyeuristic first person narrative, but now in the transition to the screen, in order to justify a single man’s lengthy retelling of past events, the film conjures up a new framing device: an older Nick struggles to write about his experiences from within a sanitarium. His psychiatrist’s file neatly lists his reasons for being there, providing convenient and instant characterization, albeit heavy handed. This framework keeps emerging at every pause in the main storyline with the flashing to a feverish Nick surrounded by pages as he inner voice reads what he’s already written. While the Nick in the book is almost forgettable, a watcher of the protagonist Gatsby rather than the protagonist himself, the movie’s ever-present voice-over and frame device prevent him from ever fading into the background. Toward the end, the voice-over is even further emphasized with the addition of text, which dominates the screen and distracts from the story. Some of the beauty of the language is lost with the accompanying text because there is so much pressure on the words to stand apart from their written context and compete with the moving images. The text seems to exist only to prove the filmmakers capable of quoting from a book.

From "The Great Gatsby"

“The Great Gatsby”

That being said, the acting is well done, even if it takes a moment for the actors to disappear into their roles. DiCaprio is such a recognizable figure and Gatsby such an indeterminate character that at least initially it is hard to separate the two. The emotional intensity is there, but much of the subtlety of the novel is lost in the visuals, or marred by unnecessary flashbacks—flashbacks that revel in the beauty of the shot with little concern for an audience discovering truths on its own. Emerging from troubled clouds and star-studded skies, the flashbacks border on the ridiculous. At one point, Gatsby even marks the passage of his life with a grand gesture only to have a shooting star trace the path of his finger a second later.

Overall, the spectacle, while exciting to watch, seemed almost too obvious for a story about half-truths, rumor, hidden desire, and underlying social problems.

● Now You See Me

From director Louis Leterrier, Now You See Me is a movie about four street magicians gathered together by a mysterious organization to perform illusions, which involve real heists like robbing banks. The story is told mostly from the perspective of FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Dray (Mélanie Laurent) as they search for the truth behind the illusions. The law enforcement officers are, however, sadly formulaic. Rhodes is the experienced cynic, out of his depth and in a state of continual disgruntlement and aggression, while Dray, being a stereotypical rookie and woman, is more in touch with her emotions and talks about having faith. In a few instances, professional magician debunker, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) suggests the possibility of Dray double-crossing Rhodes, but rather than having their whole relationship evolve into a delicate power-play, it ends up turning into blunt confrontation again and again, with the oft-repeated conversation of “How can I trust you?” and “You must! Just have faith!” Rhodes and Dray’s relationship goes nowhere new in these exchanges, and the filmmakers seem to have confused dull antagonism with romantic chemistry, leaving the two to “naturally” pair up like soul mates in the end.

From "Now You See Me"

“Now You See Me”

As for the other characters, the movie relies heavily on letting the established personas of the actors stand in for much of the characters’ development. Jesse Eisenberg plays the same slightly neurotic fast-talker that he always does, and Woody Harrelson hangs out on screen as his typical affable wise-cracker. Within a few minutes of meeting each, we know exactly who they are, and nothing ever challenges our pre-conceived notions of them. Who really suffers from this sort of fallback characterization are the characters of the less-established actors like Dave Franco and Isla Fischer, whose only noticeable traits (at least to the other characters) are her beauty and her weight. The motivation of the four magicians is vague, as we spend almost no time with them, but it seems to be encompassed in the mysterious secret society known only as the Eye, which ostensibly protects magic and goes back to the days of the ancient Egyptians.

Despite all of its problems with characters, though, the film is entertaining and contains many of the staples of a fun summer action flick, namely heists, secret societies, and chase scenes. The magic tricks are actually explained as the film progresses, although it never goes seriously in-depth into their set-up. There is even a twist at the end, which is definitely unexpected, but may or may not be altogether believable. Overall, the film delivers what one might expect from a summer blockbuster: an action-filled plot with big-name actors in unremarkable roles.

The Ryder ◆ July 2013