Gatsby, Star Trek & Iron Man

Herewith my reactions to the “big three” mass audience Hollywood films released in May, now having seen all three.  I thought that the best of the three was The Great Gatsby, which, despite some anachronistic touches, did a fairly good job of animating the novel and telling a coherent story with good performances and memorable scenes.  In third place, by a long shot, is Iron Man 3, which I found to be virtually incoherent as far as plotting went, a noisy succession of fights and explosions that seemed never deeper than its special effects.  Somewhere in the middle languishes the second Star Trek film in J.J. Abrams’ rebooting of the saga of the voyages of the Enterprise.

First, as to Gatsby, I think Leonardo di Caprio was absolutely fantastic in the title role, and he was not let down by his supporting cast.  Baz Luhrmann’s production is a bit over-the-top in the big party scenes, but then the big party scenes are supposed to be over-the-top, and my only real objection to them is the music.  Everything else seems period-appropriate to some extent, but the party music is at times too 21st century and wrecks the dramatic verisimilitude.  (It isn’t helped much by injecting Rhapsody in Blue into the first big party scene, either, since that wasn’t written until a few years after the party was supposed to be taking place.  I notice these things and they really bug me.  I once had a letter published in the Sunday Arts section of the NY Times complaining about the use of a Schubert Piano Trio in a drawing room concert scene in a movie set in early 19th century England, pointing out that the piece in question wasn’t written until a few years after the scene was supposed to be taking place.  You’d think these studios had no money to spend on research to avoid such anachronisms!)  Is the film perfect?  Of course not, no film is perfect, but I think this was a much more interesting Gatsby than the previous Hollywood attempt.

On Star Trek: Into the Darkness. . .  I’m of an age to have watched and loved the original 1960s TV series when it was new, and I always felt the most important thing about Star Trek was the fantastic interchange between the characters – Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura.  Even as the plotting grew less ingenious in the second season, and the sets and plotting turned shabby in the third (when the show was kept alive with a sharply reduced budget for writers and sets, mainly in response to a campaign among fans of the show to write to the network protesting the planned cancellation after the second season), those characters had been created and set in motion, making the show absorbing for its fans despite these flaws.  The Star Trek movies using aging members of the original TV cast were a bit overblown, but the survival of those characters and their continuing interactions made them watchable as well.  When J.J. Abrams launched his first “prequel” a few years ago, casting young actors to play Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura as the youthful StarFleet recruits setting off on their first mission, I was dubious that the original flare would be recaptured, but that first film really “clicked” for me – especially Pine and Quinto as Kirk and Spock.  And the story, plotting, sets, etc., were more than adequate as a vehicle to reintroduce the characters at an earlier stage in their lives.  This second episode let me down a bit, not so much because the plotting is weak, but because I thought that the characters were a bit under-written.  Only Quinto’s Spock emerges satisfactorily.  McCoy was always the complainer, but never quite as “one note” as in this film, and Pine’s Kirk seems not nearly as thoughtful as the young Shatner of the first TV season.  Scott is almost written out of the story, only to make a late re-entry, but with not much to do, and Sulu, Chekov and Uhura are very much neglected by the screenwriters, who have undermined the legend of Spock by creating a spurious romance with Uhura.  I realize that they included elements in the prior film to justify departing from some aspects of these relationships as they were developed in the original TV series, but I hope they don’t undermine Spock’s strangeness and make him too human as the reboot continues.  (I’m assuming here that this film will be successful enough to make a third film possible….  Here’s hoping, since I definitely want to see more of Pine and Quinto in these roles.)

Finally, the mess that is Iron Man 3.  I really enjoyed the first film in this series, since I enjoy watching Robert Downey Jr. do his shtick, and he had plenty of good material in that first film.  The second was less interesting, but still watchable.  This third film is almost unwatchable.  I realize these Iron Man films are supposed to be filmed version of comic strip characters, but I think it goes altogether too far to keep resuscitating characters after they have apparently been killed off in circumstances that even a “super” character could not survive.  I like Guy Pearce as well as the next guy, but c’mon!!!  Are they planning to bring him back in Iron Man 4, if there is a 4?  This film was all about noise and explosions, and Downey was giving very little good material to play with.  The kid who saves him stole the show, as far as I was concerned.

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