Comparing the Daredevil Netflix TV Series and Daredevil (2003) Director’s Cut

The following is a discussion of one man’s personal taste, and not an attempt to make an argument about which version of Daredevil is “objectively better.” (My standard disclaimer for a post like this.)

Having now watched four episodes of the Netflix series I feel fairly sure that I have a pretty good sense of the basic tone and feel of the series, and how the Matt Murdock/Daredevil character will be portrayed and developed; enough so to compare those dimensions to the 2003 Director’s cut of the Daredevil film.

daredevil - netflix v movie 2

Oh, and I realize that one might ask: why post about this before having seen all the episodes? Well, because it’s going to take quite a while before I complete viewing all 13 episodes watching them piecemeal now and then over the next 10 weeks of a school quarter. And I feel like playing hooky from my studies today… ;-P

Okay, first off, I know nothing of the comic book hero, as I don’t buy or read comic books. But I am a film buff, and I grew up on a diet of Marvel and DC comic books from the late 60’s through mid 70’s during my childhood and adolescence.

Secondly, I’m a big fan of the Director’s Cut of the film. Yes. I am. I look past its faults (the main one being the cringe-worthy performance by Colin Farrell as Bullseye). I loved the film, in fact. It was my first exposure to the character, and I’m very pleased to have discovered Daredevil. I already blogged my review of the film, so I won’t rehash the entire thing here. But watching the Netflix series actually reinforces for me the things that I did like about the film. So I will discuss that alongside observations about the series.

The main positives of the Netflix series for me are that it is well written, well cast (for what the series is aiming for), well acted, and tightly directed. The overall narrative is well developed. In general, the series is quite well produced.

Although it’s apples and oranges to compare a two hour feature film to 13 hour long episodes of a TV series, we can compare how well each succeeds in these areas in their respective mediums. And for the overall production I think few will disagree that the nod there goes to the series. While the Director’s Cut of the film actually told its story reasonably well in my opinion (I’ve never seen the theatrical release version), it is fair to say that there is room for improvement. In contrast, best I can see thus far the series seems to totally nail story development. (I’m projecting on the basis of having watched only a third of the series, but from what I have seen I feel confident saying this.)

Nevertheless, there are things that I still like better about the film in comparison with the series. Here they are:

Point-of-View Graphics for Daredevil’s Sensory Powers

I really enjoyed the subjective point-of-view shots in the film of Daredevil’s mental imagery from his bat-like “sonar” in connection with his super hearing. Those shots worked well to connect me to the character and made the utterly amazing feats Daredevil can perform seem more believable, even though truly remarkable.

What Type of Person Matt Murdock Is

This may be attributable to my having no experience with the comic book character, but I really got a kick out of Ben Affleck’s free-wheeling regular guy, who is also a schmoozing, clever pick-up artist with the ladies. In the same sense, I enjoyed the comedic banter between Matt and Foggy in the film better than in the TV series. Affleck’s Matt Murdock is a breezy charmer–he’s actually a bit of a sly con man. (Shocking for a lawyer, I know!) This version of the character has clearly adapted psychologically by heavily capitalizing on people routinely underestimating him because he is blind. I prefer that guy to Charlie Cox’s stony, broodingly intense, emotionally colder character (who reminds me more of The Punisher, let’s say). There is a lighter more spontaneous side, and a vulnerability, to Affleck’s Matt Murdock that for me makes the character much more relatable. He feels to me more of a rounded, multi-dimensional character.  (I realize I have more character development to watch for the TV series, so forgive me if I’m commenting on this prematurely.)

Here’s the main thing: honestly, I don’t like the TV series’ Matt Murdock/Daredevil very much as a person. And I admit that does make a big difference for me as to how much I can enjoy watching any person’s story in a film. if I don’t like them, then I’m not going to care as much about them.

Religious Symbolism

There have been some scenes in the first four episodes of the TV series that depict Matt’s relationship with the priest. But thus far (four episodes in) it just feels like a bit of narrative padding. In the film Matt’s relationship to the church serves as a richer metaphor for the moral struggles that Matt wrestles with internally within himself. He wears a red suit with devil horns, and commits tremendous violence without regard to any sort of civilized law–and yet he is a force for good. Now the same basic trope is seen for most superheroes who are anti-hero vigilantes. But I can’t think of any other vigilante superheroes who seem to have any sort of conscience about it. And Matt Murdock does–very much so, in fact. (Without being whiny about it, thank goodness.) So he is not just extraordinarily sensitive in terms of his hearing; he is also in terms of his moral conscience. At least for just the first four episodes of the TV series I’ve only gotten the slightest hint of that.

The Overall Mood and Atmosphere

While I do somewhat appreciate the tenseness of the TV series, and don’t mind its somber mood and gritty violence, I find that the “dark” direction doesn’t actually always turn out to be the most entertaining viewing experience at the end of the day. In contrast, there was a kind of exuberance to the film’s combat scenes–a thrill to Daredevil being so amazing in his extraordinary fighting abilities–that I eagerly looked forward to watching him take on the next bad guy, and what twists that might involve. In the TV series (at least after four episodes) it just feels more like down and dirty bare knuckle brawling (with Daredevil just being better at it than everyone else). The aforementioned absence of point-of-view subjective shots to the TV show probably contributes to this sense that there isn’t anything exceptional-feeling (for me) about the fight scenes.

Now where I think the film fails in regard to an overall sense of mood and atmosphere is that as friends of mine, Matt and Brian, have observed, it was made during a time of transition for superhero films. The overall mood of the film is a bit uneven and unsure of itself, whereas the TV series is rock solid in its identity. The film was produced at a time that Hollywood was just beginning to treat superhero films seriously as cinema, rather than mostly whimsical fun. The Daredevil  film (as I think Brian pointed out) probably has Bullseye as over-the-top in the same way that Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman villains were. The film also seems to gratuitously try to capitalize on the success of The Sopranos at the time by casting Joe Pantoliano as reporter Ben Urich. Anyway, in my opinion the film’s overall mood isn’t wildly uneven due to these somewhat weird and ill-fitting elements; but it also isn’t nearly as seamless as the TV series is. Then again, as I mentioned, I’m willing to overlook those flaws for all the things that I do like about the movie.

Okay, anyway, I’ve pounded out yet another tl;dr type post about this recent fascination with the superhero film/TV genre. I guess I’ll stop here.

As will be no surprise to the reader by now, I like the film better thus far in my viewing of the TV series. I still have two thirds of the series to watch. But I expect that the Netflix series will become “more what it is,” rather than surprise me by opening up in ways that I did not expect. Time will tell.

***

Addendum: I have now seen all 13 episodes and I do take my hat off to the Netflix series, which is extremely well done. In particular Vincent D’onofrio gives an outstanding performance as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin. Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson also give very, very good performances. Indeed all the supporting actors do a great job.

However my feelings are pretty much unchanged regarding what I like better about the movie. I realize that this is just the first season of the TV series. And that in the final episode we got treated to the Daredevil character more as we saw him in the 2003 film, i.e., Matt wearing his suit and showing off his acrobatic skills. I’m sure we’ll see more of that next season and beyond. But for example, comparing the TV series season one knockdown-dragout finale between Daredevil and Fisk, I still prefer the movie’s fight scenes better. Perhaps not the film’s last fight between Daredevil and Kingpin, which although not ‘bad’ is still oddly anticlimactic. But pretty much all the other fight scenes in the film were kind of amazing to watch for the combination of acrobatics, martial arts, Daredevil’s crazy-inventive use of his billy clubs/nunchucks/bo staff, creative use of the environment, and the special effect point-of-view shots of Daredevil’s perceptions.

And while I can’t really fault Charlie Cox for it… for what the Netflix wants he is doing a fine job… I’m just not as much of a fan of that characterization as Ben Affleck’s version. Affleck’s Matt Murdock/Daredevil strikes me as a bit quirkier, has more personality facets, and seems more vulnerable to me.

Comparing the Daredevil Netflix TV Series and Daredevil (2003) Director’s Cut

New Trailers Compared – Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The last couple of days has given us trailers for two heavily anticipated films that fellow Star Wars and superhero film genre nerdlings are eagerly awaiting: Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Here are the trailers side-by-side:

As to which trailer piques my interest more and gets me more excited, personally I give the nod to Bats versus Supes. In a big way, actually, as I’ll explain.

First, a bit of context for both films:

The DC Comics Shared Universe (DCSU) of films commences with 2013’s Man of Steel, and its development is slated through 2020 with a total of eleven films planned. DCSU is basically DC Comics’ answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Outside the recently launched shared universe body of films, there is of course a past body of 24 movies featuring DC Comics characters, mostly featuring Superman and Batman (all told now, including Man of Steel, between the two characters a total of 15 films ).

As we know, the Star Wars franchise (SWF) centers around the film series, with the original 1977 Star Wars film situated in the middle of the timeline for the fictional universe’s chronology. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is episode 7 of the space opera, and it is set at a time when Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbaca, et al, have reached their late middle-age (as the actors are today). The Force Awakens  is actually the first of a trio of films, with the next two (as yet untitled) scheduled for release in 2017 and 2019. There is also a scheduled standalone SWF film slated for 2016: Star Wars: Rogue One.

I’ll admit a bias that over the years I’ve grown increasingly less keen on the SWF, and by the same token I am actually very enthused by the possibilities for the emerging DCSU.

As to the reasons for my waning interest in SWF, that is of course an individual subjective experience, and should be understood as simply that. I would also expect that I am in the minority. But in short: as critics and the fanbase have noted, the three prequel films are just plain bad  (which however doesn’t seem to stop most fans from still watching again and again, and talking about them!) And while episodes 4 and 5 (Star Wars (1977) and the Empire Strikes Back ) are both very well crafted, and are truly epic tales, episode 6 Return of the Jedi  suffers from cutesy Ewoks and hardly ends the 4-5-6 trio of films on a strong, resounding note.

SWF’s Iconography Feels Outdated

More personally, some of the iconographic conventions of the SWF feel rather clumsy to me now, such as the Empire’s unintimidating segmented plastic white trooper armor, Darth Vader’s amusingly phallic helmet (“Big Helmet” as parodied by Mel Brooks), and to some extent even the light sabers. When I view these visual conventions they stand out so much in my mind as outdated that I find it hard to willingly suspend disbelief and just innocently immerse myself in the story.

A big part of the reason for that is that CGI has advanced so tremendously that filmmakers today can invent virtually anything they want from imagination. So to base the look and feel of a cinematic universe reboot (okay, technically not a reboot; but that is essentially what we’ll be getting in spirit) on a dated appearance circa late 70s to early 80s, kind of makes the whole thing suffer, imho. I would love to see this entire fictional universe sweepingly transformed into something more breathtaking, as it truly deserves. The merging of science fiction (technology) and metaphysical magic via the Force and Jedi and Sith disciplines should be set free from the clumsy visual trappings of its origins in the early films.

It Now Seems Much Clearer How Man of Steel  Sets the Stage for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The DCSU got off to a controversial start with Man of Steel, which aggravated many fans by having Superman deviate from one of the character’s core defining principles: Superman never, ever takes a life. Similarly, that Pa Kent paints a morally gray picture for teenaged Clark regarding possibly letting a bus of school kids die in order to keep his identity secret, which comic book fans argue is out of character. In terms of the film’s narrative much more attention is given to the alien invasion story than to the personal development of the Clark/Supes character. (Henry Cavill can’t be blamed for this, of course, as he isn’t given much to work with script-wise.) And finally, it is a film with a rather cold and somber mood, featuring a far more pensive Superman than we have seen in the past. He is certainly more enigmatic, I would say.

Myself, I actually liked Man of Steel  very much. I wasn’t troubled by Superman taking Zod’s life in order to save innocents (even though Supes conceivably might have found a way to protect peoples lives without killing Zod). I felt at the time that this was likely intended to set the stage for further more complex character development in the DCSU films to come. And as fond as I am of Christopher Reeves’ endearingly mensch-like portrayal of the character in the original 1978 Superman film (the only one of that series that I like–and I like it a lot), I was ready for something fresh to be done with this character, i.e., to be treated to a new vision for him.

So to finally get to the trailers, I will start with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:

Superman Viewed by Humanity as a god

First, I almost can’t overstate how much I like the premise for the story that is established by this trailer: Superman is indeed a equivalent to a god. How would that play out in our modern world? In my opinion, this premise is about as epic as there is.

My speculation from the trailer’s collage of imagery is that we will see a Superman who is vulnerable to human failings (as we have already seen with him killing Zod), and likely struggling with how to respond to the cult that apparently grows up around him as a living god. This appears to be an appropriately anxious Superman who may become uncomfortable about whether he can meet the responsibilities of caring for the welfare of an entire world that looks to him for leadership. And humankind would surely have a strongly mixed reaction to him.

Note that in Man of Steel,  Zod’s second in command, Faora-Ul, states to Superman “You are weak, Son of El, unsure of yourself. The fact that you possess a sense of morality, and we do not, gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if history has proven anything… It is that evolution always wins.” Kal-El has the Codex of the entire civilization of Krypton woven into his DNA. That is a lot of evolutionary force that is pressing Superman to be amoral for his socially learned human side to struggle with. Superman would be at high risk to become Zod-like. Although, that said, it seems that Kal’s parents Jor-El and Lara-El were highly prosocial, whether that is a genetic mutation, a recessive gene reappearing, or the power of reason plus personal agency (will) and choice over genetics. So Superman likely has a strong “morality” gene as well, despite Kryptonians apparently having evolved to dispense with a moral conscience.

Anyway, if this is correct then I think that makes for a very compelling story with regard to his relationship with the Caped Crusader. I think it fair to assume from the trailer that Batman is seriously pissed about whatever is going on with Superman.

The Batsuit looks frickin’ amazing. Love  the metallic-looking helmet and the glowing filtered square eye slits. He is an armored knight, by God. (The helmet is reminiscent of a Teutonic Knight’s.)

And it seems that the voice of Batman is now masked by filtering through software, which makes every bit of sense in order for Batman to protect his secret identity. The husky, raspy alter-ego human voice was beginning to feel a bit hokey.

I seem to be in the minority on this, but I’m looking forward to seeing what Ben Afleck does with Batman.  Again in the minority, I also liked Afleck’s seriously underrated performance very much in Daredevil  (and I greatly enjoyed the film as well). The clip of Bruce Wayne smoldering in anger as he gazes upon the Batsuit looked pretty damn convincing. Batfleck will do just fine, I think. Ben might even hit a home run with this performance, but of course we’ll have to wait and see.

It will also be fun to see Superman’s character developed, i.e., with Cavill now given something substantial to work with.

So anyway, I am totally psyched by this trailer. I’m normally not crazy about excessively dark and dystopian fictional worlds. But this is one in which such a forebodingly dark mood ‘just feels right’ in light of an alien god coming to earth (for all practical purposes that is what Superman would be experienced as), and what that event would do to humanity’s frail psyche. Of course Lex Luther will surely unite Bats and Supes as a common threat. And there too I’m eager to watch Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex.

Reason to Hope for a Story Mainly About Superman and Batman versus Assembling the Justice League

The trailer appears to be giving us a substantial and epic story centered on Superman and Batman. That inspires confidence that the film won’t be mostly about assembling the Justice League. Regarding the first appearances of some of the Justice League characters in this film (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg) I am beginning to have faith that it will be handled deftly enough that it won’t overshadow the main story between Superman and Batman.

In short, I am now expecting to see new life and complexity breathed into the Superman and Batman characters, within an epic and in some ways eerily and darkly compelling story. I’m on board for that.

The Trailer for The Force Awakens is Comparatively Underwhelming

In comparison, the trailer for The Force Awakens doesn’t enthuse me as much, I’m afraid. I’ve already spoken to how I feel about the SWF films. And the trailer echoes back to the visual conventions of the first six film episodes, which reminds me of what are for me shortcomings of the SWF films.

I do think that whatever the film does with Luke as an aging desert (?) hermit, following in the footsteps of his own mentor Obi Wan, feels rather promising. I expect him to grow in complexity as a character in the most interesting ways among all four of episode 4-5-6’s main characters. But that is obviously just a hunch at this point. From what I have read, the struggle between the Dark and Light sides of the Force within Luke has taken a toll. So that should be interesting to see. But I can’t say that I’m quite as excited about seeing Han Solo and Leia as late middle-agers. (It was actually a bit painful to watch Indy/Harrison Ford as an aging swashbuckler in the later Indiana Jones films.)

Anyway, there was nothing in the trailer that lit a fire under me. I think the idea, in itself, of simply getting a new trio of films to further develop the fictional world and the film series’ saga is really what has the fanbase stoked. And understandably so. But the trailer didn’t really do much for me.

Addendum: I just watched Man of Steel again this evening after reflecting as I did above on the trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; and the film makes so much more sense now. I think the film is clearly setting up the story-arc for the first set of DCSU films. Pa Kent’s references to Kal one day altering humanity’s view of itself, Supes killing Zod, the Kryptonian civilization Codex getting melded into Kal’s DNA, etc.–it all makes much more sense given what we get a glimpse of in the trailer.

New Trailers Compared – Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Ant Man – Will It Bomb?

Four days ago Marvel released a full Ant Man trailer. The film is slated for release July 17th of this year. Unfortunately, it seems the film’s production has reportedly been pretty rocky.

The new trailer itself actually inspires some hope for me that the film might not be as bad as many critics and fans fear it might be:

Here is an assortment of blog articles about the picture:

UPDATE: Will Risky ‘Ant-Man’ Be Marvel’s Waterloo Or Greatest Triumph?

How Marvel Studios Killed ‘Ant-Man’

10 Reasons Ant-Man Will Be Marvel’s First Flop

EDITORIAL: Five Reasons ANT-MAN Might Not Suck

Five Reasons I Think ANTMAN Will Be Fine

New ‘Ant-Man’ Synopsis Changes Scott Lang Into A ‘Master Thief’

‘Ant-Man’: Final Script Is ‘Bigger, More Aggressive’ Than Edgar Wright’s

It does seem that when the industry buzz is that a film is in trouble, by the time it gets released to the the theaters it gets panned and disappoints the fanbase. This has happened enough times in my experience that I’m setting my expectations low for this film.

But what strikes me about this most recent trailer is that there is essentially no way that a film portraying a superhero with Ant Man’s powers can avoid being strongly comedic. It pretty much has to be. The premise is outlandish and bizarre even for the superhero genre!  Ant Man packs a superhuman punch when miniaturized down to the size of an ant. And he flies around on winged ants. There is no way I can see to do that without the film becoming tongue-in-cheek much of the time.

So… as I see it, the question is : Will the humor work, yet at the same time while keeping the premise (Ant Man’s super-powers) from coming across as one big silly joke?

Time will tell, obviously. But  I’m looking forward to this film just because I find the character concept so creative and amusing from the get-go. I think I’ll have a good time enjoying the special effects and jokes. And as long as the action is well executed, I should be able to have a fun time watching it. I am ever the optimist, I guess.

Ant Man – Will It Bomb?

Some Thoughts About the Evolution of Star Trek

Over this current quarter break (which, sadly, ends today) I again watched the two recent Star Trek reboots by J.J. Abrams starring Christopher Pine, Zachary Quinto, Carl, Urban, and Zoë Saldana: Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013). I also watched Star Trek: First Contact (1996). And within the past year I finally got around to watching Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan (1982). It got me reflecting a bit about my own personal reaction to the development of the franchise.

I will add my usual disclaimer that I’m not even trying to talk “objectively” about the evolution of the franchise. Each person has their own unique tastes and reasons for liking or disliking any particular aspect of the Star Trek fictional universe. This is just my own subjective experience. (Note: I added bullet points for this tl;dr post at the bottom if one wants to look there first to decide if any of this will be of interest.)

I guess as such things are measured now in the cultural geek zeitgeist, I would not qualify as a die-hard Trekkie by any means. As a teenager I loved The Original Series (TOS) television show. The show was on too late in the evening for my parents to let me watch it during its first three years from 1966-1969. I began watching it in syndication around 1970 and soon thereafter became a long-haired youthful teenager of the early to mid 1970s. I became a devoted sci-fi and fantasy book fan/avid reader from about the age of 12. So of course Star Trek immediately became a favorite TV show of all time.

Star Trek: The Next Generation I also enjoyed quite a lot. By then I was a young adult, and I enjoyed sharing the experience of watching the revival and continuation of the Star Trek fictional universe mainly with other young adult friends at work. However, I certainly did not view every episode of the series, and I didn’t take in the entire series all the way to the end. I did watch enough to become well familiar with the series characters and its recurring plots and themes, though. Still, overall my interest began to wane, which I will elaborate on below.

I never watched the spin-offs such as Deep Space Nine, Voyager, or Enterprise. I’ve watched bits of an episode or two of the animated series out of curiosity, but its not my cup of tea. I’ve never read any Star Trek novels or film novelizations.

Here is what I’ve seen *, to the best of my recollection:

  • Star Trek, The Original Series (1966 – 1969) (I’d be shocked if I haven’t seen every episode)
  • Star Trek: Next Generation (1987-1994) (saw most of the episodes overall, but I missed the last couple of seasons)
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
  • Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
  • Star Trek (2009)
  • Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Okay, so in assembling this list I realize that my interest actually first began to flag a bit during the mid 80s after The Search for Spock. I didn’t analyze it at the time, but in looking back on it now I think it was that I just didn’t really care as much for the aging cast of TOS. In particular, while I had tremendously enjoyed Shatner as the youthful, dashing swashbuckler of the TOS, he had by this point in his career become for me too “Denny Crane-like.” And in general I just couldn’t take the same enjoyment in watching the TOS characters during their late middle-age. I was also an undergraduate in college by then; and lacking a sense of strong motivation to begin with, I also had way too many distractions to take time to go to the theater to see the last three films featuring the TOS cast (all together).

The Next Generation (TNG) did for a time breathe new life into the fictional universe for me in its first four or five years. But by this time I was also beginning to feel that the lack of truly top-flight special effects (now CGI) was for me seriously puncturing and deflating the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ balloon that carries the entire viewing experience aloft. I did feel an affinity for the TNG’s characters (although not as greatly as TOS’s). But I became increasingly conscious of the sense that the show was filmed on a studio set despite the better quality set design in comparison with TOS. (Well, was there anywhere to go but up? ;-p) Also, some of the series’ conventions were for me becoming patently stale–particularly, the obligatory combat scenes. Increasingly, I could no longer effortlessly escape into/buy-into on those conventions on own terms any longer. Unfortunately, I found myself not caring much anymore about whatever was happening in that fictional world, i.e., the exploits of the characters and the stories about them.

It has I’m sure been argued by many fans that Star Trek has historically worked better as a TV series than in the feature film format. After The Search for Spock I began to experience something along these lines (although as mentioned it was more consciously that the aging cast had started to spoil my memory of them as I most fondly remembered them from the TOS TV series). The special effects of Star Trek’s TOS cast feature length films hadn’t really “arrived” yet (i.e., were still too primitive) for my taste. And TNG’s feature films were essentially just extended episodes of the TV series.

I feel no interest or inclination to watch TOS TV series episodes at this point because for me now they simply constitute fond memories of adolescence. I “can’t go home again” with respect to what made the series originally enjoyable. The tone of the entire series is now way too camp for me. And the production value is so poor that I’m constantly reminded of it in a way that breaks immersion.

So, basically for the last two decades I’ve had little interest in the Star Trek fictional universe…

That is until the recent Abrams’ reboots. Which I absolutely love. And which have totally rekindled my enthusiasm for the fictional universe.

How so? Well, first of all I can now finally relax and completely ‘willingly suspend disbelief’ for this fictional world due to the extraordinary CGI development over the last couple of decades. The fictional world can now feel to me both normalized as something that could very much exist as an everyday reality at some point in humanity’s evolution, and astonishing in depicting a world that we can as yet only dream of in our imaginations. (Whereas for me earlier forms could not, although I didn’t mind that as a teenager watching TOS.)

And secondly, I’m extremely flexible in my willingness to see the TOS characters somewhat reinterpreted and to have their shoes filled with new actors. I actually really like seeing the characters refreshed as such. I know this is heresy to many Trekkies, but I actually prefer the Christopher Pine version of Kirk to Shatner’s. Or at least I prefer Pine’s to Shatner’s feature film portrayals of the character. For me it’s basically a draw between reboot Pine-Kirk and TOS TV series Shatner-Kirk. But even there, for reasons to be explained below I now give the nod to reboot-Kirk.

Leonard Nimoy as TOS TV series Spock is essentially impossible to surpass. But for my taste Quinto has done him justice and matched him (well enough). And again, for reasons about to be elaborated, in some aspects I actually like Quinto’s version better now. (To add more fuel to the heresy.) The reboot depiction of Spock as truly half Vulcan and half human, in closer to equal measures, is just more compelling to me than one we’re accustomed to in which his Vulcan identity supremely dominates by successfully repressing his emotions and emotional connections. We’re used to seeing Spock as about 95% Vulcan and 5% human. Youthful reboot Spock is more like about 75% Vulcan to 25% human. And it’s just more interesting (to me). He’ll probably evolve to bury his human side almost completely. But until he does I like this guy better.

Karl Urban as Bones is such a pure pleasure to watch in channeling Deforest Kelly, that I actually think I enjoy him more as well (if just for the sheer uncanniness of it). Reboot Bones is a bit darker and edgier in certain ways (more obviously bitter and twisted up, it seems), and for me that works well to pique my interest about what makes Leonard McCoy tick.

Uhura has been hugely reinvented, with the character’s importance elevated above that of Bones’. At first I wasn’t sure if I cared for that. But in the second viewings of both reboot films I found myself going with that flow; and I very much enjoyed the acting performance of Zoë Saldana and the re-imagined character identity and backstory for her. She is badass.

Similarly, while I was at first dubious about Simon Peg’s reboot version of Scotty I have come to accept it as good fun. (I’ve never been particularly invested in that character to begin with.) John Cho is fine as Sulu, although the actor is of Korean descent whereas the character is supposed to be Japanese. Chechov is another character that doesn’t matter to me either way; but reinventing him as a curly-headed blond 17 year-old seemed a little strange, actually. (Why make him 17? According to Wikipedia in the reboot he’s a science prodigy, but still.)

Beyond each character’s re-imagining, casting, and the acting performances, what I really love about the reboots is the emotional character interaction and the various personality chemistries–both of which work so wonderfully in these two films. The bond between young Jim Kirk and Spock… the surprising “shipping” of Uhura and Spock… the growing friendship trio of Kirk, Spock, and Bones… these are all immensely satisfying to me. I love learning the backstories for these characters, and how their relationships were established. It doesn’t bother me that the reboot doesn’t deal with any complex social or moral issues. I’m simply enjoying learning who the characters are all over again–but with surprises along the way! I have discovered that want to be surprised, that is. So anyway, all of this is more than enough for me in terms of content; at least for now, at this particular stage of the overall evolution of the Star Trek fictional universe via this reboot.

The humor in these films (particularly Into Darkness) is also subtlety interwoven into the fabric of the film a very satisfying way. I found myself smiling and chuckling a lot in the second viewings, and appreciating how well the films’ jokes flavored the meal.

Some have criticized Star Trek (2009) for, at the film’s end, having Star Fleet promote cadet Kirk to captain of the Enterprise before he even officially completes his academy training, regarding this as implausible. This did not bother me. James Kirk has just literally saved planet Earth! His promotion had Captain Pike’s endorsement (and indeed is likely happening mainly because of it). Pike is evidently held in the highest esteem by Star Fleet (note that he had been given command of the flagship vessel of the fleet). But above all, Kirk is truly an epic character. In his own fictional universe Kirk is on par with any of the Greek heroes in theirs. He is destined to go on to become one of the most important men in the history of human civilization. He is special.

Christopher Pine is obviously not James Shatner. And whereas Quinto and Urban happily were able to do extraordinarily good jobs at channeling their inspirations from TOS, I think Abrams was wise to simply “let Pine be Pine” as a thoroughly engaging version of young James T. Kirk. As fun and endearing as Shatner’s youthful Kirk is from the TOS TV show, I actually find there is more “heart” to Pine’s reboot Kirk. He’s a bit more three-dimensional as a person, and has more vulnerabilities. I like actually him better as a person than TOS Kirk.

I’ll add a final thought here about the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in Into Darkness : he is miscast, pure and simple. Cumberbatch is always entertaining, and he does his usual impeccable acting job despite the miscasting. But the Khan character that we have come to know via Ricardo Montalban is regal. He is a sauntering proud lion who would convey enormous gravitas in his physical presence and charisma. Cumberbatch’s Khan is more reptilian by comparison, like a sneaky snake. This is one case where I do feel that the reinvention of the character did not work so well. But in any event, this casting choice fail wasn’t enough to ruin the experience of the film for me.

Okay, well as usual I’ve gone on way too long. I’m well into tl;dr territory by now. Here are the bullet points:

  • I lost interest in Star Trek for the last 20 years mainly because the lack of convincing special effects did not allow me to willingly suspend disbelief.
  • At this point I don’t care for TNG (either the series of feature films) or the TOS feature films. I now only like the TOS TV series (as a memory) and two recent reboot films. Sadly, I don’t actively enjoy the TOS TV series anymore.
  • I actually like the reboot characterizations a lot better than the TOS ones! And I like the character interaction and chemistries for the reboots tremendously. Total win for me.
  • The reboots’ visual graphics (CGI) refreshes this entire fictional universe again for me in such a way that I am excited to “boldly go” again.

* Addendum: I watched Star Trek: Nemesis (a TNG film, and the final one, I believe) since writing this and all I could think of was Dr. Evil whenever I saw Shinzon:

Poor Thomas Hardy. He’s a really good actor, and I can’t really fault him for unintentionally reminding us of Dr. E. I’m in the minority of people that loves his voicing of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. But anyway, the association with Dr. Evil made this film a pleasure for probably all the wrong reasons!

Some Thoughts About the Evolution of Star Trek