25 November 2009

Another Double Feature (G.I. Joe & Star Trek)

Just finished watching two movies I'd been half-looking forward to seeing. In short, I'm disappointed in myself for not seeing the first in theaters (and not just for starring two of my favorite actors, Eccleston and Quaid), and I'm not disappointed by the second.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was really good, beyond expectations by leaps and bounds. In fact, if the Transformers movies had been given this kind of care and attention, the world would be a better place. When it comes to the revivals of these time-honored properties and criticisms thereof, there's always an argument that crops up without fail between those who are eager with anticipation and those who are anxious with it. It goes something like this:

Eager: This is gonna be awesome!
Anxious: I don't think it's going to be any good.
Eager: Dude, it's based on a buncha toys, what do you expect?
Anxious: I expect at least what I got from the cartoon.
Eager: Like what?

Here's the long, but not that complicated answer to Eager's question:
I may not have kids, but I'm not old and/or jaded enough to forget what being one was like, and I know then as much as I know now that parents frequently and sadly underestimate them. Children are not sheep that have to be guarded from all the dangers of the outside world. They don't have to stick their hand in the fire to know it's hot, but that doesn't mean they're afraid of it, either. The point is, throughout history, certain groups of adults (of the not old and/or jaded enough variety) have acknowledged the fact that children see the world differently from adults, and therefore things that adults may regard as unsafe and/or damaging to children may not actually be so. This is how we get shows like Doctor Who, Thunderbirds, Starblazers, Transformers, G.I.Joe, Thundercats, Batman: The Animated Series, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, shows that are made for and aimed at children, yet never come across to them as remotely juvenile or condescending. Tom Clancy it is not, but it sits comfortably on top of pulp-era escapades like Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow or Indiana Jones, sharing the same floor space as the films of Pixar studios and the James Bond franchise.
It's as intelligent as any Bond movie, and certainly as exciting. The characters are broadly drawn, yet just deep enough to be interesting. Relationships and origin stories are re-written, at times drastically, from their source material, but keeps a high degree of familiarity and integrity to elevate above a pale imitation.
Possible Spoiler: The makers left this film open for a sequel, but given the state both sides are left in at the end and the way certain beloved characters are resolved, I won't be disappointed if I don't see it or it never happens; This is a good film, let's keep it that way.

Star Trek was better than I had expected. I was expecting some bland and generic science fiction drama that only vicariously uses the well-known name and occasional trappings to get attention (case in point, Battlestar Galactica). Fortunately, this isn't the case, but, by virtue of the movie's own metafictional admission, it is not to be an acknowledged part of the Star Trek universe. Don't get me wrong, I like this movie, and it's distinctly superior to the last two Star Trek films, but it can't really be a part of the greater whole. It's equally demanding of its acceptance by Trekkies as it is dismissive of its own place in regards to canon. In other words, it does just as much to be Star Trek as it does to not be Star Trek. What we have here, then, is a movie that has a love/hate relationship with its own audience.
Maybe that's why I liked it so much.
I've always had a love/hate relationship with the franchise, and it probably plays out like most middle-of-the-road Trekkies: The original series is equally fondly remembered by those old enough to see it at the time and those who came after, acknowledged by both as an unprecedented cultural landmark; The movies came and went, and we liked at least half of them; The Next Generation did the impossible, appealing to a new audience without coming at the expense of the old; Deep Space Nine was a welcome change of pace and scenery for the franchise, but wore out that welcome after the first year; Voyager wasn't much better, was practically ignored for it, and couldn't have died a quieter death; Enterprise was a competent enough return to form, but was too little, too late, and is tragically under-appreciated as a result.
Rather than do a full and proper review, list the problems I had with the film and its treatment of certain characters and concepts, comparing/contrasting them with what I liked, I'm going to give you a simple formula to use as a guide if you're unsure about seeing this film or what to expect going in:

If you LOVE Star Trek, you'll HATE this movie.
If you LIKE Star Trek, you'll LIKE this movie.
If you HATE Star Trek, you'll LOVE this movie.
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