Movie Forum: Star Wars into Darth-ness
05:00 AM, May 17, 2013
Every Wednesday, the Movie Forum convenes to discuss the latest news from the film world and answer questions submitted by you, the reader.
This week, USA TODAY film critic Claudia Puig and movie reporter Scott Bowles took an in depth, but spoiler-free(!) look at J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek into Darkness and discussed whether it was possible the director could feasibly helm both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises at the same time.
We also considered whether the abundance of R rated films are ruining Hollywood and pondered why, after an increasing abundance of strong female leads, we’ve still yet to see a quality superheroine film from Marvel, DC or the other major studios.
Finally, we finished with your questions about how DC can compete with Marvel at the box office, our favorite superhero films and We Don’t Live Here Anymore.
John Elliot: Welcome to the USA TODAY Movie Forum…
Just kidding…if anything we’re like the Star Trek movie where they can talk to the whales.
I’m John Elliot, online producer for USA TODAY Movies and I will serve as your moderator. Joining me today are USA TODAY movie reporter Scott Bowles and film critic Claudia Puig
How this works - Each week we solicit questions, online, from our readers on the latest news from the world of film.
This week? Spoiler-free Star Trek talk! Also: Where are the female superheroes? AND…are the abundance of R rated films ruining Hollywood?
Remember: you can submit questions right here and now and we will tackle them later in the chat.
So let’s get started!
Let’s talk Trek! And do so in a very deliberate manner…no spoilers here!
Claudia, your review of the film is online now and it’s a pretty hearty endorsement of the sequel. Why did you enjoy the film?
Claudia Puig: I will do my darndest to avoid any and all spoilers. But I will happily sing STID’s praises. I will be the first to admit I’m no Trekkie, but I did like JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek. This worked for me on so many levels: the humor was pitched just right. It was just inside enough that we most of us could get it. The effects were jaw-dropping and I really loved the bromance between Kirk and Spock. And of course there’s Benedict Cumberbatch as a fantastic baddie
AND…it was perfectly paced, exciting and SMART— with a look at morality and justice vs. vengeance
John Elliot: Does it bridge the gap for longtime fans of the franchise and newcomers? I guess the question is: Is there something for everyone?
Claudia Puig: I definitely do think there’s something for everyone. I think there’s plenty to please Trekkies, like referring back to an old villain and other elements, but if you don’t know the universe as intimately, there’s still a rip-roaring great time to be had at this movie. I have a feeling this will be the summer’s best blockbuster. I know it’s early to say that, but I’m going out on that limb.
Scott Bowles: Hi moviegoers.
I agree completely, Claudia. I saw it last night and I think it’s my favorite movie of 2013.
The performances are great, but what I loved about most is that while it may have the most technologically advanced special effects (and biggest budget) of all 12 Star Trek movies, none is as entrenched in the Star Trek universe as Into Darkness.
There are myriad nods to the original TV show, and a few nice touches to the second Star Trek film. Some younger viewers may actually miss a few reference points, but not enough to take away from the film.
This gives me a lot of hope for the next Star Wars film, which JJ Abrams is also directing.
Claudia Puig: This is a GREAT and hopeful sign for the Star Wars movie Abrams is directing.
John Elliot:Star Wars VII: A Newer Hope
Claudia Puig: Another thing I liked was that Zoe Saldana as Uhura was used more prominently. I think she’s proved to be a kick-ass action star, given Avatar and Columbiana and it was great to see her take part in this largely man’s world
John Elliot: The strongest buzz seems to be for Cumberbatch. Does he live up to the hype?
Scott Bowles: Cumberbatch, who also stars in Sherlock, is terrific. He has a great malevolence, aided by the post 9/11 themes. They aren’t enough to be preachy, thanks to Cumberbatch, who makes a surprisingly effective villain.
He work for you, Miss Puig?
Claudia Puig: I LOVE Cumberbatch—as I know most of the female population does. I’ve always liked him in other movies and see him having a career like Ralph Fiennes or Alan Rickman or who knows, Sir Ben Kingsley? He has this icy stillness in this rogue terrorist role and as David Letterman said the other night he’s pretty much all that’s needed in the movie!
John Elliot: How long are the legs on this franchise, Scott? Could we see as many films as the original Star Trek canon?
Scott Bowles: If JJ keeps this up, Star Trek could have many more missions. What’s interesting is what an event Star Trek has become under his helm. I don’t remember this kind of bluster leading up to a Trek release since the first film.
And its nice to see a sequel eclipse its predecessor for once.
Claudia Puig: I don’t know about as many as in the original Star Trek canon, but I think there will be as many as Abrams wants to make. At least let’s hope no one else takes the reins from him. He really knows what he’s doing. I’ve liked his other movies—loved Super 8 and also liked Cloverfield, but he is Mr. Star Trek clearly
John Elliot: What is the future of the franchise, vis-a-vis J.J. Abrams in particular? I know a lot of the fanboy/girl community seems to be concerned (to say the least) the Abrams could be at the helm of the two most important sci-fi franchises (Star Trek, Star Wars) at the same time…is that a possibility?
Claudia Puig: Yeah, I wonder about doing both of those franchises…especially given the rivalry between fans of each? But mostly I wonder how he can tackle both of the franchises and keep standing. Each are such HUGE undertakings. I am very curious about what he’ll do with Star Wars 7, but I think he needs to stick with Star Trek above all, having proven himself so brilliantly.
Given how long it takes to make these kinds of movies, I guess it could work. The last Star Trek was in 2009, so four years elapsed. I guess he could spend the next few years on Star Wars and then go back to Trek and so it would go.
Scott Bowles: That’s a great point, John, and perhaps the only red flag of a JJ-ruled universe.
I couldn’t help but notice a little Star Wars element in this Star Trek, including Scotty in what looks a lot like the Cantina Band.
And it’s hard to imagine that the brain behind both franchises (which are extremely competitive with each other) would not overlap some in tenor and theme.
If there’s any risk here, it’s that people think The Force is with the USS Enterprise.
Claudia Puig: You are SO right about that Cantina Bar, Scott! That alien buddy of Scotty’s would fit right in in Star Wars
John Elliot: Well, we’ll see if we end up with Star Wars VII: Into Darth-ness
John Elliot: Now from Sci-Fi to Superheroes…and female superheroes specifically
Each summer we face an onslaught of superpowered saviors at the cinema, in both solo and team efforts. Over the years these films have become more refined and, rightfully, received more critical (and commercial) acclaim.
And yet, after a year in which we’ve seen a growing number of strong female leads (Brave’s Merida, Hunger Games’ Katniss, Snow White to name but three) and in this golden era of superhero films, why have we not seen a solo superheroine effort from Marvel, DC, or the other major studios? Where is Wonder Woman? Where is Black Widow’s solo film?
Claudia Puig: I think there could definitely be a Black Widow film. Scarlett doesn’t seem to be doing too much these days….But perhaps Catwoman really scared off the big studios? But I can think of plenty of actresses who have they physicality to pull it off—Zoe Saldana, as mentioned above, Rosario Dawson, maybe even Blake Lively.
It would be fun to see a sort of clumsy indie girl like Greta Gerwig (I just saw Frances Ha) pull off a kind of femme Clark Kent/Superman role
Another one who could do it: Natalie Portman
And of course the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence
Scott Bowles: Great question. I think one hindrance is simple economics. Elektra and Catwoman were bombs, and that has dissuaded studios.
The bigger issue, though, is the fanboy mentality. In 1999, write Gail Simone coined the term Women in Refrigerators, after the Green Lantern discovered his girlfriend murdered and stuffed in his refrigerator.
The trend has taken off in comic books to such a degree that there is a website that lists Women in Refrigerators, or WIRs, because their fates are so often gruesome.
There’s more of a mentality change that needs to occur here, and hopefully films like Brave and Hunger Games are bringing that about.
Claudia Puig: But what about fangirls? I think Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph should do a kind of X-Women brigade….
A Bridesmaids or Baby Mama with superpowers…I know this is heresy to real comic book fans, but you have to think outside the box,
Scott Bowles: That’s a great point, Claudia. They would make a great film together. The question is whether fans would turn out. There’s a growing contingency of fangirls, certainly. Maybe they’ll exercise the clout of their nerd counterparts.
John Elliot: Well, if we can’t get a decent Hulk film, maybe we’ll get a quality She-Hulk flick!
John Elliot: Finally…the R rated movie is back and in abundance, and not everyone is happy. Scott, what is the explosion of R rated films doing to Hollywood, theatre owners and movie goers?
Scott Bowles: Theater owners are up in arms over all the R rated movies out this year. Right now, the number of R films is about double the number of PG-13, and three times the number of PG flicks.
The results haven’t been great. Box office is down 11% from last year, and theater owners say it’s because we have a dearth of family films. The highest return on investment is the PG-13 movie, but directors prefer R. It’s a stark conflict of interest.
You prefer a rating, Claudia?
Claudia Puig: Both Iron Man 3 and Star Trek into Darkness are PG-13 and very wisely so. So that should help the box office overall. I don’t have a personal preference, it depends on the theme, subject and tenor of the movie. But I don’t own a theater. I prefer not to see gratuitous violence, but then I’m a Tarantino fan, so I just like good movies—regardless of ratings. But as far as the issue, next week we have Hangover 3 which is R so Fast and Furious which is PG-13 should rise to number one, if the theory holds. Another R-rated summer movie was Pain and Gain and while it was made for relatively cheap ($25 million) it’s certainly no blockbuster, despite being made by a blockbuster master, Michael Bay.
Scott Bowles: Hangover is the reason we’re seeing the glut. After becoming the highest-grossing R rated movie of all time, studios opened the floodgates. But aside from Bridesmaids, the industry hasn’t found that wide-appeal R.
John Elliot: Do you think the growing number of R rated films is a reaction to something larger going on in our culture, or, at least, the entertainment side of our culture? Or is it purely an economic choice?
Scott Bowles: As Joseph Gordon Levitt put it, he wanted an R for his film Don Jon “because life is R-rated,” a sentiment I think a lot of directors share. Particularly in an era where we see mutilated bodies on the evening news, it’s had to argue that he’s wrong.
Claudia Puig: I think you and JGL are right. And John I think it is a reaction to something larger in our culture, at least entertainment wise (and possibly deeper). Look at TV–especially cable and which shows are popular. When you can see all kinds of sex and violence and hear a wide range of language on HBO and Showtime, etc movies have to be affected by that.
John Elliot: After seeing Dark Shadows, a friend commented to me that she enjoyed the film but also realized that it was a bit of a throwback, that we don’t make movies like that anymore - films that are for the whole family; a little bawdy (but not overboard), not too dark, not too gruesome, not too dramatic. Do you think this is an accurate statement about the current state of cinema?
Claudia Puig: I think we don’t make many of those kinds of relatively clean, just kind of bawdy, movies. You can thank Judd Apatow and before him, the Farrelly brothers, for the R-rated comedies that have become a staple at the multiplex. Tim Burton pulled it off with Dark Shadows (though It wasn’t his finest moment). It would be an intriguing challenge to see him, or someone else, try for that tone again.
Scott Bowles: Actually, I think that Hollywood is going back to some of its themes of yesteryear, though your friend is right that Dark Shadows was a unique take.
But if you look at films like Avengers and Iron Man, they are comic book movies cut from the cloth of the 1950’s Superman serials, with little graphic violence or language. And animation hasn’t seen this kind of business since Walt Disney was doing his own animation.
That said, the R rated phenomenon you brought up above is definitely a break from classic Hollywood.
Claudia Puig: Another example of that Scott is Captain America
Scott Bowles: Exactly. Our heroes are becoming more square-jawed, if occasionally more foul-mouthed.
Claudia Puig: And not to overdo the praise for Star Trek, but the violence was essentially bloodless
John Elliot: Now some questions from our lovely readers!
In terms of Warner Bros. trying their hand reviving their superheros(Man of Steel), what do you think Warner Bros. should do(besides Justice League) to bring more of their superheros on the big screen?
Scott Bowles: If I were DC, I would go the dark path abandoned by Marvel of late. Dark Knight, Man of Steel, this is DC at its best: conflicted characters, dark themes.
But Justice League, DC’s all-star counter punch to Avengers, has every film fan salivating, including this one. It would be nice to see the kind of competitiveness in theaters that we see on comic book stands.
Claudia Puig: They certainly did hint at a Robin spin-off in the last of Nolan’s Batman movies, with JGL’s character….What do you think, Scott, are there others from the Batman franchise that could spin out on their own? Anne Hathaway as a ‘cat thief’ aka Catwoman? Do they dare utter that title again?
Scott Bowles: You know, Batman’s sidekicks have never fared well on their own. The key to these characters, I think, is how the next director of the franchise treats them when Batman is revived (Chris Nolan has said he’s done with the franchise, and is producing Man of Steel).
DJ Bourque from Tucker, Georgia
I know you’ve probably answered this one before, but what is you favorite comic book movie or movies? I’m sure most critics would say the Batman Trilogy by Nolan. Personally, I enjoyed the first three Spiderman movies. And, who can forget what started them all Superman of 78’ with the late great Christoper Reeves. Finally, from what I’ve seen and read, I really hope Man of Steel gives Iron Man a run for its money. Also, I like the fact that there is no Krypton in this movie and they chose to not feature Lex Luthor.
Claudia Puig: I’m going to be predictable, DJ and say the Batman trilogy by Nolan. Though I was a big Avengers fan too… I guess I’d really shock you if I said Ang Lee’s Incredible Hulk…NOT! I liked Raimi’s Spiderman 1 and 2. But I agree with you about Christopher Reeve and the original Superman movies. He was such a great Superman—just inhabited that role so perfectly.
Scott Bowles: I am a huge fan of Dark Knight, but the original Superman remains at the top of my list.
A close second for me, though, is Spiderman 2, one of the most psychologically layered comic book flicks in recent years.
Finally, I have to give a plug for Unbreakable, a superhero film that never declared itself one. M. Night Shyamalan, who directs this summer’s After Earth, never got enough credit for that one.
Claudia Puig: I wanted to love Unbreakable, but when it comes to M. Night only Sixth Sense did it for me. But I may have to go back and see it again….Are you looking forward to After Earth, Scott? I like the Will and Jaden Smith pairing.
Scott Bowles: What? No Unbreakable? That’s it’, Puig. We’re arch enemies. :-)
I’m looking forward to Earth, but I can’t say I’m hopeful. Night has sputtered of late. He could use a superhero.
Claudia Puig:The Happening??? There’ s a sputter.
Emma from AZ asks:
Years ago I watched a romance movie where man of one couple has an affair with the woman of other one and visa versa. These were college friends and yet lovers. at the end of the movie all four friends (two couples) go on vacation in a big house and spend their night with each other remembering those days where they were sweethearts. now I am desperately looking for the NAME of this MOVIE. BTW, it’s name is not CLOSER. Help me plz!!!!
Claudia Puig: Emma, did it have Naomi Watts in it?
Scott Bowles:King Kong!
Claudia Puig: Was it called We Don’t Live Here Anymore? With Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern and Peter Krause?
Scott Bowles: You are the authority, CP!
John Elliot: Unfortunately, it’s time for us to wrap up!
Claudia Puig: I hope Emma lets us know if that was the right movie!
Scott Bowles: Thanks guys.
John Elliot: BUT before we go, you can enjoy more of Claudia and Scott this and every Friday with their new video feature The Screening Room, where they tell you what films opening this weekend you should watch, skip or rent.
Claudia Puig: Thank you, lovely readers. Live long, prosper and don’t go into sequel madness next week?
John Elliot: Thank you Scott and Claudia!
And a VERY big thank you to all our readers who participated and submitted questions.
Remember: you can submit your burning movie questions all week long, right here.