It’s easy to look down on the blockbuster. They are often not taken seriously and written off as a kind of cotton candy cinema—goes down easy, but not a lot of substance. However, like any genre, not all blockbusters are bad. Some push new grounds on the technical side of film innovation when it comes to new cameras, frame-rates, and 3D. This summer has no shortage of massive movies making their way to the multiplex, but the one I’m most looking forward to is Star Trek: Into Darkness.
It should be said that J.J. Abrams’ reboot of Gene Roddenberry’s original television series isn’t really classic Star Trek, per se. In the Roddenberry universe, for instance, explosions are secondary to dialogue (or treknobabble); Abrams clearly didn’t go this route. But what Abrams did manage to capture was the sense of levity and wonder that Star Trek embodied. To be sure, it is serious sci-fi, but it’s also a lot of fun. That this came through in Abrams’ version is largely thanks to the casting of Chris Pine as Kirk, who as a relative newcomer at the time played the cocky captain with an affable air. This factor, combined with his chemistry with Zachary Quinto’s Spock, made for blockbuster magic.
With both Pine and Quinto returning in the sequel, hopefully this will happen again. Based on the trailer there will be no shortage of Abrams’ telltale lens flares and action sequences (and yes, even the Enterprise crashing). Visually, we are promised a show. Benedict Cumberbatch, who has proved his alluring acting chops in Sherlock, seems like the perfect villain. There is the concern that this Trek instalment might fall into the self-serious grim tendencies of so many big budget films as of late iIt is called Into Darkness, after all), but then Trek dealt with darker emotions too. It all comes down to how Abrams’ manages to negotiate this. Either way, we’re already beamed up for this blockbuster.
There’s no shortage of name brand franchises in theatres this summer. Star Trek into Darkness, The Hangover Part III, Fast & Furious 6, Before Midnight, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Despicable Me 2, Grown Ups 2, The Wolverine, 300: Rise of an Empire, and many more sequels/reboots promise predictable—or at least familiar—filmgoing experiences. Fortunately, Hollywood also has some originals on the schedule, several of which (This is the End, The World’s End) explore apocalyptic or otherwise dystopian subject matter. The most ambitious of these is Elysium, a sci-fi blockbuster with A-list stars (Matt Damon, Jodie Foster), an overtly political emphasis, and one of the year’s most eye-popping trailers.
Building on the promise of 2009’s District 9, writer-director Neill Blomkamp is working on a much larger scale (Elysium was made for roughly $90 million more than its predecessor), without sacrificing the real world echoes that gave his debut its surprising impact. Tapping into the Occupy movement’s concern about the growing disparity between the wealthiest one percent and everyone else, Elysium is set in a grim 2154 with most of the human population suffering on a crumbling Earth while the rich continue to thrive in a luxurious space habitat. In spite of this territory’s daunting security, Max De Costa (Damon) embarks on a high-risk mission to bring it down.
This is not the first Hollywood feature to tackle issues of income disparity—writer-director George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead also revolves around an attack on a futuristic gated community—but Elysium is a far more expensive film with genuinely mainstream aspirations. The Occupy movement similarly aimed to reach a broad audience (roughly 99 percent of the population), but a much smaller percentage supported its efforts. However, unlike that movement, Blomkamp’s film is only obligated to entertain, not persuade anyone of its political perspective. All indications suggest Elysium will do precisely that—and possibly much more.