Friday, May 24, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Where No Joe Said Yo Before

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody doubles up on both Trek and Joe.

I've been getting more into going to drive-ins over the last couple years, for several reasons - nostalgia for a moviegoing era that I largely missed; drive-ins are my father's preferred way to see a movie; I want to see the remaining drive-ins around me stay alive, so I want to do my part in supporting them as they try to raise the funds to make the switch over to digital projection, which will soon be necessary and costs a ridiculous amount, around $80,000 per projector.

You get a good deal going to the drive-in, two movies for the price of one. When I saw that a nearby drive-in was going to be hosting a double feature of Star Trek Into Darkness and G.I. Joe Retaliation this past weekend, I was totally on board for that, and the drive-in booking those sequels together is how this mash-up article happened. I went to the drive-in on Sunday night, so on Saturday I revisited the movies' predecessors:

STAR TREK (2009)

I'm a casual fan of Star Trek, specifically a fan of the movies only. My fandom may extend to the television shows at some point, it's not like I've disliked them - though I've read episode-by-episode summaries of entire series in the past, until this year I had never actually watched a single full episode of any of the TV shows. I'm now a few episodes into watching The Original Series on Netflix. We'll see how that goes, but I have been a fan of the films for a long time, starting by watching them as they aired on cable movie channels, then renting them (I remember having the video store reserve a copy of part VI: The Undiscovered Country for me so I could see it the day it came out), buying the VHS collection, finally starting to see them theatrically as of Star Trek: First Contact, replacing the VHS collection with a DVD collection... I enjoyed the cinematic adventures of the original crew, and when The Next Generation bunch took over the film series, I quickly came to like those characters as well.

I was intrigued when J.J. Abrams came on to revitalize movie Trek after the TNG farewell installment Nemesis (which I liked more than most fans), but also became a little concerned when I heard rumors of the approach that would be taken. Rather than moving forward in a completely new direction, Abrams was taking things backwards, going back to Kirk and Spock's early days in Starfleet. That was an idea that had been getting tossed around for many years, but I wasn't sure about it. Who could fill the shoes of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the rest of the original cast members? Would this be a total reboot and wipe out the continuity that Trek fans had devoted thousands of hours to?

I was quite satisfied with how things turned out. Instead of just callously starting all over again, Abrams and his collaborators found a way for their story to both kick off after the events of all the TV shows and movies and give them a clean slate to work from the beginning with. Thank you, time travel.

129 years in the future of the film's primary events, an elderly Spock leads an attempt to save the planet Romulus from being destroyed by a supernova, the plan being to use a substance called "red matter" to create a black hole that would swallow up the supernova's energy burst. Unfortunately, Spock arrives too late to save the planet. A Romulan named Nero, captain of a massive mining ship called Narada, blames Spock for the loss of his homeworld and gives chase to his ship... Causing both of them to get caught in the red matter black hole.

Narada enters the black hole first, and so exits first, being transported into the distant past. The "lightning storm in space" that accompanies the ship's arrival draws the attention of Federation ship USS Kelvin, on which George Kirk is the first officer. As Nero attacks the Kelvin, George has to take over the role of Captain and sacrifice his own life to ensure that the eight hundred others aboard the ship can get away safely. During the attack, George's pregnant wife goes into labor, and seconds before his death he hears the cries of his newborn son over the ship's communications system. James Tiberius Kirk has been born, but unlike the Kirk of The Original Series, this Kirk will never get to know his father. While The Original Series and all that followed continues to exist in its own timeline, Nero's accidental trip into the past has created an alternate reality for J.J. Abrams to play in and tell his own Kirk and Spock origin story.

We're given glimpses into moments from both Kirk and Spock's childhoods, then see how they both come to join Starfleet. The story of the film is centered entirely on these two, where these characters came from, how they'll grow to be versions of the men we know, and the development of their relationship. For most of the film, they don't like each other very much, there are intense moments of the two butting heads, but the arc takes them to a point of mutual understanding and respect, the seeds of the great friendship the two shared in the original timeline.

When the elder Spock emerges from the black hole, mere seconds have passed for him, but it's an event that Nero has been patiently waiting for for twenty-five years. Now he can put his plan of revenge in motion. Nero wants Spock to feel the same pain he felt when Romulus was destroyed, and so he intends to make Spock watch as he uses Narada's mining equipment and the red matter to destroy the homeworlds of Spock's parents - Vulcan, the planet of his father, and Earth, the planet of his human mother.

Luckily, enough time has passed that the young, alternate versions of Kirk and Spock are members of Starfleet and aboard the Federation ship USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. As the Enterprise tries to stop Nero from carrying out his intentions to wipe two whole planets out of existence, Pike is captured, and with their Captain out of the equation the rivalry between Kirk and Spock really heats up as they argue over what the best course for them to take is. Who is right, and who will lead?

Remember, this is an alternate reality, so anything can happen... as Trek fans in attendance realized when Nero successfully destroys the planet Vulcan. When I saw the movie theatrically, fans in the audience were visibly and audibly shocked at what they were seeing. Vulcan gone at this point in Kirk and Spock's lives? It took a few seconds for it to settle in for them that it was the fact this was occurring in a different timeline that made this possible.

Abrams' Trek is a very entertaining movie, but it wouldn't work nearly as well as it does if he hadn't managed to find such appropriate actors to step into the shoes of the original cast. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are great as the new Kirk and Spock, they put my worries over how anyone could live up to Shatner and Nimoy to rest almost as soon as they arrived on screen. It's also great to have Nimoy himself in the film as the elder Spock, passing the baton, providing exposition about the Nero situation as well as advice and guidance to the young Kirk, and even his young self. The rest of the recast crew also do well in their roles, I could never complain about Simon Pegg and Zoe Saldana being in a cast, Anton Yelchin handles Chekov's thick accent, John Cho is a fine Sulu, and I was amazed by Karl Urban as Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy. Though I had seen him before in several other movies, this is the performance that made me like Urban as an actor, his impression of original Bones DeForest Kelley is dead-on perfect.


I was a huge fan of G.I. Joe when I was growing up, a regular viewer of the cartoon series, an occasional buyer of the comic book, a player of the video game, and a major collector of the toy line. I had a healthy amount of toys related to other cartoons I watched, like He-Man and Thundercats, but in sheer numbers of figures and accessories, G.I. Joe trumped them all. I had a ton of Joes and Cobras, a large airship, a space shuttle, a base, battle vehicles, etc. My friend Noah was also big into G.I. Joes, and I had some good times going over to his house and playing out skirmishes with his figures. He lived in a two story house, so we would play our wargames at the top of the stairs, with the forces of good and bad both taking heavy casualties, dying spectacular deaths and tumbling down the steps. I've only recently discovered that fellow fans don't like the seasons of the cartoon that were produced by DIC as much as the original Sunbow seasons and that the 1987 cartoon movie wasn't well received. I was just a young kid, I didn't differentiate between episodes made by different production companies and I dug the movie, I watched them all mixed together, took them as they were and enjoyed it. Action figures of characters introduced in the '87 movie were important members of my team.

If a live action movie had been produced when I was a child, I would've been all about it. By the time one actually did happen, I was a good 15 years away from my G.I. Joe fandom. I had grown out of it and moved on. The toys had been stowed away, viewings of the cartoon had ended. When I heard a G.I. Joe movie was going to happen, I was very wary of it. I found many things questionable as it was being put together. I was sure that it wasn't going to be for me, so I didn't see it theatrically.

When I did watch the movie, I was surprised at how enjoyable I found it to be.

As is the trend, the live action film takes the origin story approach, introducing viewers to the G.I. Joe special forces unit, which consists of the best and the brightest that militaries from all over the world have to offer, through the eyes of a soldier named Conrad "Duke" Hauser as he and his buddy "Ripcord" are accepted in by team leader General Hawk. A different approach than previous iterations of the franchise, as Duke had been an established second-in-command when it all began. Like the title says, we're also shown the beginnings of the evil organization Cobra.

Those aren't the only origin aspects in there, it is a very background-happy movie, giving us flashbacks to the childhood training sessions rival ninjas Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow went through together, a unique-to-this-movie backstory in which Duke is shown to have had personal connections to Cobra Commander and his lackey Baroness before they went bad, we're shown exactly how Cobra Commander becomes his familiar self, and he's neither a former used car salesman (the comics) or a snakeman (the cartoon movie). The film even opens in 1641 France to set up the villainous Destro's metal mask, which he doesn't don until the end.

The story in the present (actually the not too distant future) has Duke, Ripcord, and fellow Joes including Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Heavy Duty, Breaker, Cover Girl, and Sergeant Stone attempting to stop the fledgling forces of Cobra and their performance enhanced soldiers from firing warheads packed with Doctor Mindbender's weaponized nanomites on locations around the world. Despite our heroes' best efforts, the Eiffel Tower is lost to a nanomite bombing. The outcome of the climactic battle will decide if the targeted cities of Beijing, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. suffer similar fates...

This is definitely not my ideal G.I. Joe movie. Some of the backstory elements are unnecessary, there's too much origin telling going on for my taste, there's dopey dialogue and scenarios, things get overblown toward the end, there are attempts at humor that annoy rather than amuse me, which is par for the course when I watch the works of director Stephen Sommers. And yet not only did I find the movie to be much more tolerable than I expected, I actually had fun watching it. It reminded me of those left behind days of watching the cartoon and the enjoyment the brand had previously brought to me. Seeing these characters battling it out with each other once again in big, noisy action setpieces gave me a sort of nostalgic thrill. It wasn't the G.I. Joe movie I would've asked for, but I was entertained for the most part. If it had come out when I was a kid, I probably would've loved it.

With the 2009 films fresh in mind, I was then ready for my drive-in excursion.


Four years have passed for us viewers, but only one has gone by for the crew of the Enterprise. As they've been going out on exploration and observation missions for the Federation, everyone's been settling into their classic roles and things are pretty much like old times - except Spock and Uhura are still dating, a relationship established in the 2009 movie that I still can't quite wrap my head around.

Sometimes, Captain Kirk will break rules and take risks to do the morally right thing rather than doing the logical thing or strictly adhering to the limitations of his job, which causes disagreements between him and Spock, even if Kirk's actions are to benefit his Vulcan first officer. Kirk gets into some trouble at the beginning of the film, but his punishment is quickly brushed aside when a serious threat arises.

While Starfleet teeters on the brink of war with the Klingons, one of its own members, John Harrison, whose job entailed doing threat assessment, has gone rogue, masterminding the bombing of a Starfleet location and then opening fire on a room where its higher-ups have gathered, causing the death of Christopher Pike. Kirk wants revenge, and Starfleet head Admiral Marcus gives him the chance to get it, sending him on a mission that others on the Enterprise have serious misgivings about - Harrison has fled to an abandoned city on the Klingon planet Kronos, and the Enterprise is tasked with following him there, not to attempt to capture him but to kill him, opening fire on the city with dozens of torpedos. Kirk and his crew are to be assassins... and if things go wrong when they're in the vicinity of Kronos, this could be the event that kicks off the brewing war.

Of course, some things do go wrong, and orders are not followed to the letter. There are twists and turns, secrets are revealed, our heroes come to find out that things are not at all what they seem.

The story of the film, like Star Treks past, definitely uses politics, situations, and theories from our own time as its base. There are unmistakable shades of world events from the last twelve years in the film, there's even a dedication to soldiers who have fought in the post-9/11 War on Terror in the end credits. It was interestingly done for the most part, with the returning actors handling the material well and Peter Weller and especially Benedict Cumberbatch doing some great work as Admiral Marcus and John Harrison.

Toward the end, things take a turn. Leonard Nimoy has a cameo to deliver some information, and while it's always nice to see him, the set-up is kind of awkward. Young Spock gives him a call to ask his older self a question, but it's not quite clear why he's doing this. The way it happens, it almost feels like the younger version does this all the time, even though the elder version has vowed never to tell him too much, he has to live his own life, figure things out for himself, make his own choices and all that. After the information is given, things got more questionable. The movie seemed to start leaning on the audience's presumed familiarity with scenarios past as situations arose where it starts repeating beats, or reversing beats, from one of the most popular original crew Star Trek movies, and being made to think of that other movie blocked me from being able to make an emotional connection with the moments. During the action-packed, race against time, cathartic climax, I was removed and wondering about the logic of certain issues.

The film's most popular image
I liked Star Trek Into Darkness quite a bit, but there are so many things that put it in direct comparison to a great previous entry that it just made me think of how it didn't match up to that one on a storytelling or emotional level. It was an entertaining movie, but very light and fluffy compared to the one it was referencing. The choice to use their clean slate to go into retread territory, even though the story around things was very different, brought it down a bit for me.

And since Star Trek Into Darkness, Skyfall, and The Avengers have all done it over the last year, I don't think any other movies should do the "villain in a glass cell" thing again for a while. It has worked every time, but it needs a break.


Four years have passed for us viewers (it would've been three years if the movie's release hadn't been delayed for 3D conversion), but mere months have gone by in the world of G.I. Joe since the events of The Rise of Cobra. Cobra operative and master of disguise Zartan is in the same position he was in at the end of Rise, using the nanomites to pass himself off as the President of the United States while keeping the real President captive in the White House's nuclear fallout shelter. With his stolen executive powers and the aid of the forces of Cobra, particularly members Storm Shadow and Firefly, Zartan sets events in motion to bust Cobra Commander out of the subterranean prison he's being held in and to get the G.I. Joes out of the way so Cobra can begin carrying out an evil plan.

Over the months since we last saw him, Duke has struck up such a great friendship with a fellow G.I. Joe called Roadblock that it feels like they've been hanging out for years. We get to see the Joes go on a couple official missions, which are presented in a more realistic and militaristic manner than in the previous film. The missions are successful, but then things go very wrong... The Joes are framed for a political assassination and the theft of nuclear weapons, and in response President Zartan orders that they be wiped out in strikes by the "special forces unit" Cobra.

Cobra strikes, a lot of G.I. Joes are killed. We don't witness the fates of Rise characters like Scarlett, Ripcord, or Heavy Duty, just the deaths of a lot of nameless faces and a rookie called Mouse. The credits say that Grunt and Clutch were around as well, but they're just background characters who don't have lines. The movie also kills off Duke, which the '87 cartoon feature attempted to do but then backtracked from in fear of fan backlash. When the dust clears, it appears that there are only a few Joes left alive to get to the bottom of what's going on: Roadblock, Lady Jaye, Flint, and Snake Eyes. It's like in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protcol when all of IMF was disavowed and Ethan Hunt and his team had to take it upon themselves to right the wrongs.

While the others head to Washington, D.C. to enlist the help of the man their team was named after, retired General Joe Colton, and figure out why the President had their team killed, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow's cousin Jinx go on a side mission to capture Storm Shadow and bring him in front of the Blind Master to face justice for his evil deeds that stretch all the way back to the murder of the man who trained Snake and Storm when they were children.

Eventually, we learn that Cobra's Zeus project gives them the capability to threaten countries around the world with satellite weapons that would make some Bond villains jealous. Speaking of James Bond - the G.I. Joes are unable to stop Cobra Commander and Zartan from causing the destruction of London, and every time I see the shots of London falling apart, I can't help but think of how angry that would make 007. Unfortunately, Bond does not show up to help The Rock's Roadblock avenge the city, but he did fight The Rock's grandfather in You Only Live Twice.

Though the story is a direct sequel to The Rise of Cobra, Retaliation's style and tone are very different, things are much more down-to-earth this time around. Designs are also more recognizably based on the cartoons and toys of the '80s. Cobra Commander looks just as he should, and there are classic battle vehicles put to use. The ninja angle allows the film to feature some cool martial arts action sequences, and the climactic battles are refreshingly simplistic compared to the CGI madness the previous film spiralled into. It all comes down to two men beating each other up on a beach.

Retaliation is certainly a mindless popcorn flick, but the script had some fun lines (my favorite scene has Walton Goggins monologuing as the warden of the prison where Cobra Commander is being held) and director Jon Chu did well stepping up into the action world from the dance movies he worked on before. Overall, G.I. Joe: Retaliation feels much more like the sort of live action Joe movie that might've been made in the '80s.

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