Peter Weller

Star Trek Into Darkness

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2013

Paramount Pictures

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof

Based on “STAR TREK” created by Gene Roddenberry

It was in the theaters 30 years ago and there have been ten Star Trek movies that came after it but none of them have matched the popularity and success of “The Wrath of Khan.” Ask any Star Trek fan what his favorite Star Trek movie is and 9 out of 10 times you’ll probably get “The Wrath of Khan” as an answer. Which kinda explains why Paramount Pictures has been trying their best to remake that particular Star Trek movie. They tried with “Nemesis” which I consider to be the worst Star Trek movie of all. Yes, even worse than “The Final Frontier” which is at least goofy nonsense that plays like the first cousin of “Spock’s Brain” on steroids. And the last Star Trek TV series to date; “Enterprise” tried to pull a “Wrath of Khan” in a three-part episode that guest-starred Brent Spiner as a Khan Lite bad guy.

Almost from the time when 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot hit theaters, fans have been asking if the new Star Trek team was going to remake “The Wrath of Khan.”  J.J. Abrams, the director of that movie and the sequel, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS continually insisted that they were not going to remake “The Wrath of Khan.” And you know what? He’s right. Oh, there are characters in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS named Khan and Carol Marcus but they bear only a superficial resemblance to the characters in that earlier film. And yes, that scene is recreated and somebody gets to scream “Khaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnn!” but for me, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS isn’t a remake of “Wrath of Khan” at all. That doesn’t mean I’m as giddy about this movie as I was with the first one but my reasons for that have nothing to do with the nods to “The Wrath of Khan”

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A secret Section 31 installation in London is bombed and the bomber is a rogue Starfleet Intelligence agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) Turns out that the bombing was a ruse to get as many starship captains and first officers to attend an emergency meeting at Starfleet HQ so that Harrison can attack them with a gunship and eliminate as many as he can. Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) the mentor and surrogate father of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is killed in the attack.

Kirk gets permission from Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to pursue Harrison to his hideout on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos. Armed with 72 prototype photon torpedoes, Kirk gets the band back together; Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) Dr.‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) Chief Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) Lt. Sulu (John Cho) and Ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and takes the starship Enterprise into forbidden Klingon territory to bring Harrison back to Earth to pay for his crimes. The mission is quickly complicated by the revelation that Harrison is actually Khan, a genetically enhanced superhuman who has been in frozen cryosleep for 300 years. The photon torpedoes actually contain cryogenic pods holding more genetic supermen. Turns out that Marcus had been holding them hostage to get Khan to develop advanced weaponry for him. Beats me why Admiral Marcus is so hell-bent on starting a war with The Klingon Empire. Or how he thinks that a 300 year old man could help develop advanced weapons but STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS isn’t the kind of movie that slows down enough to let you engage your brain long enough to ask pesky questions like that.

Marcus has constructed a sort of super-Enterprise, the USS Vengeance and he goes after the Enterprise himself, determined to eliminate Khan once and for all. And if that means destroying Kirk, his loyal crew and the Enterprise as well, so be it.

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Strangely enough for a movie that aims to be as loud and as punchy punchy run run as it possibly can, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS contains plenty of good, solid performances and some really nice scenes between the principal characters. I got a big chuckle out of a moment on the bridge when Sulu is in command and has to run a really big bluff.  Karl Urban and Simon Pegg I enjoyed the most as they do an amazing job of evoking the essence of DeForest Kelley and James Doohan without imitating them. I’m half convinced that Urban must somehow have been related to Kelley.

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Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison/Khan makes for a formidable bad guy and maybe I’m a little off in my thinking here but for me, Cumberbatch was much more interesting as John Harrison. Once the big reveal that he’s Khan is made, I was actually disappointed. I wanted to know more about Harrison and his deal and when he proclaims that he’s Khan my first thought was; “That’s the best they could come up with?” But it’s just such a pleasure to listen to Cumberbatch and see what fun he’s having double and triple-crossing everybody in sight.

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Peter Weller follows admirably in the tradition of previous Starfleet Admirals who have gone batshit crazy (seriously, doesn’t Starfleet do annual psych evaluations on these guys?) with gusto and it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen. As Dr. Carol Marcus, Alice Eve appears to be on the ship for two reasons and one of them is her already infamous scene where she strips down to her underwear for no apparent reason at all. It didn’t bother me at all but what does bother me is that guys are complaining about it. Really? Since when do guys complain about gratuitous scenes of hot chicks in their underwear in a movie?

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So should you see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS? It’s a solid action-adventure space opera, full of explosions, chases, fist fights and yelling; “Fire all phasers!” If you’re a long-time Star Trek fan like myself I think that in order to watch it you have to come to terms that this is a Star Trek that is made for the movie audience of today. It’s the overblown spectacle, shouty rapid-fire dialog and CGI extravaganza audiences demand in their science fiction summer blockbusters. Star Trek TV shows are the way to go for allegorical explorations of contemporary culture and to delve into character.

No, it’s not the Star Trek I grew up with but it’s heart is in the right place and that goes a long way with me. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is an acceptable sequel but now that the five-year mission is underway I’m going to be looking for more from the next one than just a Warp Nine thrill ride.

PG-13

132 minutes

Robocop

1987

Orion Pictures

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Produced by Arne Schmidt

Written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner

Even if Peter Weller and Paul Verhoeven had never made any movies after they made ROBOCOP they would be assured of a place in Movie Heaven solely on the strength of this one movie alone.  Peter Weller went on to make “Buckaroo Banzai” which is a masterpiece, plain and simple.  He also starred in “Naked Lunch” which in the words of Nelson Muntz is neither about being naked or about lunch.  But it’s still one hell of a head-trip movie that you don’t have to get stoned to watch and you’ll still feel like you’re in an altered state of mind.  Paul Verhoeven went on to direct “Total Recall” the infamous “Showgirls” and “Starship Troopers” a movie that apparently I’m the only one on the planet who enjoyed for what it was instead of what it wasn’t.  But in 1987 they teamed up for ROBOCOP, a movie that I saw during its original theatrical run and enjoyed greatly.  I’ve only seen it once or twice since then in bits and pieces.  Recently I watched it from start to finish and I’m amazed at how well the movie holds up.  The stop-motion animation is a little shaky in spots but otherwise, ROBOCOP could have been made this year.

I think it’s because I had forgotten how truly well made and how multi-layered ROBOCOP is.  It’s an extremely violent action movie.  But it’s also a superhero movie.  It’s a social satire of capitalism, business and the media.  It’s science fiction.  It’s a whole lotta things that work extremely well together and provide an outstandingly entertaining package.  I really was surprised at how much I found myself enjoying ROBOCOP all over again as if I was seeing it for the first time.

The time is the near future.  In Detroit, crime is insanely out of control.  The most horrifically violent acts are commonplace and legitimate government has turned over the problem of policing the city to the multinational Omni Consumer Products Corporation, in effect, privatizing the Police Department.  The Old Man (Daniel O’Herlihy) is more interested in building a new city to replace the old.  A utopia he calls Delta City.  To this end, the massive crime wave plaguing Detroit has to be stopped.  More and more cops are poured into Detroit including hotshot rookie Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller) who is teamed up with the hardened veteran Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen).  Their first day as partners in the extremely dangerous Metro West Precinct they run across the path of Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith).   This bespectacled crime boss of Detroit   has an intellectual appearance hiding a psychotic personality.  Murphy is brutally shotgunned to death by Boddicker and his gang which includes the sadistic Leon Nash (Ray Wise) and the bloodthirsty Joe Cox (Jesse D. Goins) who has a laugh The Joker would envy.

Murphy is claimed by OCP junior executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) who has deliberately been sending police officers into high risk situations so as to have a dead body for his Robocop Program.  He takes Murphy’s shattered, mangled corpse and turns him into an indestructible cyborg police office that he proclaims as the future of law enforcement.  This doesn’t sit well with Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) the Number Two man at OCP who has his own law enforcement program in the works and doesn’t appreciate a hotshot like Bob Morton trying to slide into his spot.  And the crime wave continues as Clarence Boddicker extends his empire.  Murphy, reborn as Robocop is hailed as the savior of the city as he proves to be a one-cyborg police force.  But Dick Jones has plans in the works to get rid of Robocop as he has his own agenda for Detroit and Delta City.

While cleaning up Detroit and eradicating all crime in the city Robocop meets up again with Anne Lewis who awakens his memories of the man he once was and even though Robocop is supposed to have no mind at all he begins to remember his life as Murphy.  He beings to remember his wife and his son.  And more importantly he begins to remember the faces of the men who murdered him.  And he wants them brought to justice.  But doing so will put Robocop into direct conflict with OCP.  And they don’t take kindly to one of their ‘products’ turning against them…

It’s easy to just sit back and watch ROBOCOP as a mindless action flick but then you’d be robbing yourself.  There’s actually a whole lot of really funny satirical stuff going on that lifts ROBOCOP out of the genre and makes it something really special.  We have the “Newsbreaks” which are spaced throughout the film and presented by two android like news reporters (one of them played by Leeza Gibbons) which gives us a flavor of this near future world much better than any other method.  There’s the wonderfully well done dialog, especially memorable lines given to Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer, all of whom look as if they’re having the time of their lives playing really, really bad guys with relish and diabolical charm.

And how about the star himself?  Peter Weller doesn’t have much time as the human cop Murphy in the movie but he makes the most of it and he wins us over before he’s so brutally killed.  When he’s reborn as Robocop he’s so convincing it’s scary.  He does this thing that seems small but went a long way toward convincing me he was actually a cyborg: He first turns his head and then he turns his body.  Yeah, it doesn’t seem like much but the way Weller does it gives the character a whole new dimension just through the body language.  Nancy Allen is one of my favorite 80’s movie actresses and along with Wendie Jo Sperber starred in one of my all-time favorite movies “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” as well as “Carrie” and she provides solid support for Peter Weller.  Her dad actually was a New York City police officer which probably accounts for why she’s as believable as a tough cop.

The bad guys in ROBOCOP are all memorable, starting with Kurtwood Smith.  Clarence Boddicker is skinny, wears glasses and speaks like a college professor on crack.   Kurtwood Smith turns him into one of the best bad guys in movie history.  Ronny Cox sheds his previous good guy image here and Dick Jones is the perfect incarnation of corporate greed.  Miguel Ferrer easily holds his own with Ronny Cox in their scenes together as their characters are engaged in a behind the scenes struggle to rise up the ladder of success by any means necessary.

I think it’s worth mentioning the violence in this movie.  It’s a bloody superhero revenge adventure with the accent on ‘bloody’.  Like I said earlier, I haven’t seen ROBOCOP in about 10 years and I’d forgotten how marvelously violent the movie is, even by today’s standards.  The shotgunning of Murphy is shown in all its horror and that’s in the first half hour of the movie.  And it goes on from there.  People are getting shot, stabbed, thrown out of windows, bludgeoned, dumped in acid, run over by cars and blown up every five minutes in seems.  The final fight between Robocop and Boddicker is memorable in the sadistic glee the two characters seem to take in trying to kill each other.

So should you see ROBOCOP?  No doubt.  It’s a movie that hasn’t dated at all for me unlike a lot of action movies made in the 1980’s.  And even though the stop motion animation is a bit creaky that adds to the overall charm of the movie.  The acting is top notch, the story is tight and the plight of the human trapped in a robot body fighting to get his humanity back gives it a poignant emotional resonance.

102 minutes

Rated R: For extreme violence and language.  And yeah, for once I think a movie deserves the rating it got.  In fact, ROBOCOP originally got an X rating for its language and violence before Verhoeven trimmed some scenes that were restored to the DVD version.