In my seventh summer as a movie critic, I’ve reached the conclusion that tent-pole films are best taken in small doses — one or two CGI-paloozas per season, say. If your job requires you to see one every single weekend, you are bound to develop blockbuster fatigue.
Here’s what blockbuster fatigue sounds like:
I’ve heard anecdotally that J.J. Abrams’ second rebooted Star Trek movie is a fun ride for both hard-core fans and moviegoers unfamiliar with a tribble or a Vulcan nerve pinch. I know that, while the aforementioned fans are busy arguing online about the movie’s callbacks to past Star Trek films, the casual viewers enjoyed its judicious blend of pulse-pounding action, digital spectacle, humor and character development.
But I’m tired of blockbuster storytelling. I’m tired of the hero’s journey. I’m tired of hothead mavericks like Enterprise Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) receiving wise lectures from their doomed mentors. I’m tired of heavily foreshadowed conflicts between the needs of the many and the needs of the few. I’m tired of villains who mess with the heroes’ minds from a prison cell. I’m tired of terrorist bombs laying waste to Earth’s great cities. (Yes, they somehow fit that motif into a Star Trek movie.) I’m tired of cheeky nerd sidekicks, even when they’re played by the hilarious Simon Pegg (as Scotty). I’m tired of action set pieces that interrupt with sonic booms, like clockwork, whenever the character development lasts more than a few minutes. I’m tired of the sly allusions aimed at the fan-base and the broad strokes designed to get a guffaw out of everyone from 8 to 80, such as the scene where Kirk catches supermodel-weapons expert Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) in her underwear.
Yes, I am tired of it all. So, while I can give you a synopsis of Star Trek Into Darkness, I can’t point to anything in particular you shouldn’t miss. I can say that the film opens with Kirk losing his command after he disobeys Starfleet’s Prime Directive, and that he regains it after a rogue Starfleet employee (Benedict Cumberbatch) unleashes mayhem on Earth and flees to an abandoned planet in Klingon air space, where no one else is game to boldly go.
I can say the pursuit of the terrorist leads the Enterprise crew to uncomfortable revelations about Starfleet command and that meanwhile, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) work out their relationship issues, and there is much bantering and bickering among the frat-boyish captain, his Vulcan BFF and the acerbic Bones (Karl Urban).
I can say that, when the good guys lay hands on Cumberbatch, his menace briefly electrifies the movie and gives it a dose of gravitas Quinto’s Spock can’t supply. Once Abrams and co. have unveiled the startling backstory of their villain, however, they seem to get bored with him; on to the next set piece! Something needs to explode!
I don’t hate blockbusters. I grew up loving everything Lucas and Spielberg produced and cursing the critics who refused to appreciate those well-made popcorn flicks. Didn’t they understand fun? Regardless of whether Abrams’ efforts are in the same class as Spielberg’s (I don’t think so), I now know that, when you take the same ride often enough, it’s not fun anymore. Just tiring.
So if you’re 12 and just saw your first Star Trek movie, or if this was the one 2013 blockbuster you just had to see, I hope you had a great ride. I’ll look out for a summer flick that can surprise me.