BitDepth#889 - June 11

What two blockbuster films might be telling us about modern global politics and social issues.
Behind the blockbusters
Kirk, Spock and Khan in suitably explosive promotional materials for Star Trek: Into Darkness.

This wet season, or summer as our friends up north describe it, cinemas have exploded with action beginning with Iron Man 3 and continuing with Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Both are films that seem riddled with amazingly realised but utterly impossible technology, but neither, ultimately is about science.
Once you get past the beautiful people making pretty on the screen and the convincingly loud and colourful explosions, they are both really about politics and terrorism.

Exploring that is going to mean discussing the stories, which in turn means that there be spoilers here. If you haven’t seen either of these films, cut this column out or bookmark it, depending on your preferred reading medium, and get back to me if you want your cinema surprises intact.

With the unspoken, post 9/11 ten-year moratorium on cinematic destruction of cities apparently up since the coming of the film 2012, it’s seems that it’s now okay to blow up buildings in heavily populated city centres again, though the imperatives for such plots are much weightier than they used to be.

Tyler Durden might have been able to destroy buildings in the name of casual nihilism in 1999’s Fight Club, but such motivations seem flimsy to the producers of today’s special effects epics, even if the digital destruction is so much easier than it used to be.
You can’t just blow a beach house into the sea or unleash a savagely destructive alien horde or even crash a spaceship into a city anymore without getting your politics right it seems.

In both the third instalment of Iron Man, and the second in JJ Abrams' revamped Star Trek series, the real villainy is to be found in genetic manipulation for profit.
Seeking human perfection for such petty concerns as racial purity seem pretty lame when weighed against conquering all of known reality.

Yet in both films, the vehicle for planning the triumph of the superior man is old-fashioned terrorism, the blunt instrument of fear through intimidation and uncertainty.
One might think that a more nearly perfect human specimen might be inclined to think beyond using fear as a tool, but screenwriters are all too human, unfortunately, and a plot designed to support the machinations of a superior mind might be something of a non sequitur in a film that’s buoyed by people running around jumping off things that are breaking apart.

The engine of evil in Iron Man 3 is a weasel of a corporate scientist (disturbingly well played by Guy Pearce) who conscripts the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) to be the face of his wicked plans.
The Mandarin of the film abandons his comics origins as an Asian genius with super alien jewelry to become a Bin Laden analogue, the role further distanced from an itchy proximity to real world terrorism by an amusing plot twist.

Star Trek: Into Darkness deftly, if worshipfully resurrects the best film in the original series by rethinking Star Trek’s Nazi ubermensch cautionary tale, Khan Noonien Singh, as the perfect Mujahideen, a superweapon who outgrows his trainers and handlers.
Benedict Cumberbatch displaces Ricardo Montalblan’s theatrical flourishes of superiority with an unrelenting ruthlessness and casual manipulativeness that’s even scarier than the cold dead eyes and deadly physical precision that anchor his performance.

The new Khan doesn’t just see humanity as bugs, they are bugs he can’t be bothered to squash when he can just get them to kill each other.
Both of these films have been wildly successful. Is it because they blow stuff up real good or because they are quietly telling us something about our reality that we might never pay attention to if Charlie Rose or Noam Chomsky laid it out for us?
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