Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek Into Darkness

Release Date: May 16, 2013

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana

Runtime: 132 min

Summer 2013 seems like a time for vulnerable heroes. First, Iron Man/Tony Stark of Iron Man 3 experienced anxiety after the events of The Avengers. Now, it’s Captain James Kirk’s time. After losing something he holds dear, he takes his U.S.S. Enterprise crew after a Enterprise agent turned war criminal, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), to settle a personal score. This mission is really bigger than any of them ever expected it to be.

It has become apparent that the plots for Star Trek movies are essentially spaceship wars, where the ship with the biggest guns wins, and it is practically always, the U.S.S. Enterprise. They are also traditional revenge stories; and they don’t elevate above that, because they stick to the formula. These stories are average, but this franchise makes them fun, maybe because it’s a revenge story set in space with big weapons on spaceships. The fun story-lines still don’t make me feel incredibly impressed. That is the reason why, while both of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films have been well-done, I am not so eager to seek out any of the Star Trek TV shows or movies with Shatner and Nimoy. I’m good with watching Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto rock their roles.

Simon Pegg’s Scotty and newcomer Alice Eve’s Carol become more primary characters of the Enterprise, as well as, of course, Kirk and Spock. However, there isn’t enough of a focus on Uhura (Zoe Saldana) or Bones (Karl Urban), and the mostly secondary characters of Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) become more secondary. While they have critical duties to fulfill, it feels like they have a very limited amount of screen time. Bones is usually the prime comic relief character, and while he does produce a few good yuks; Scotty’s the main comic relief in the movie. Will you hear many complaints about that? Probably not, because Simon Pegg is very funny. The whole crew still works as an ensemble, where Alice Eve makes this sci-fi fun a little more sexy. We are still able to become invested with these characters, where even Vulcans become human. The computer-esque, logical thinking Spock is very likeable; and Quinto is such a strong actor, that you might yearn for more of him in roles where he doesn’t have pointy ears and a bowl-shaped haircut. The layer of emotional vulnerability that is added to Kirk is creative, and so is the contrasting layer added to Spock; where he is afraid to portray specific, all-to-familiar, painful emotions.

Some of the best scenes are emotionally powerful ones, as well as some fun scenes where the crew mostly banters in a hilarious way. While that isn’t good for an action movie, the amusing banter is more than welcome. Some of the action sequences are stunning and usually thrilling. That’s the point, they’re bigger, they’re badder, they’re bolder; even if they don’t feel quite as magical as they did in 2009’s Star Trek. More than a few are forgettable, but some really special ones stand out. The story is mostly easy to follow, even if it has the tendency to be complex.

That is mainly thanks to the main villain, John Harrison. Benedict Cumberbatch is a booming on-screen presence. When Kirk relentlessly hits him, he just stands there without a scratch with a facial expression that asks, “What are you trying to do, puny man?” He’s savage, he’s deadly, he’s brilliant, he’s terrifying. He makes Eric Bana’s Nero look like a forgettable, little mouse. I think it further exemplifies the influence of The Dark Knight‘s Joker on blockbuster, good vs. evil action movies, where writers are now trying to find the next, big, brilliant terrorist mind. This guy just might be him. Cumberbatch is the most memorable part of the movie, and he absolutely dominates every scene. Even when he isn’t on-screen, the audience misses him. This isn’t Pine’s show, not Quinto’s, and not even Abrams’ any longer. He dominates it so well, in fact, it should hereby be known as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek Into Darkness.

In a nutshell: While I wouldn’t call this 2013’s best film, I will call it 2013’s best action and science fiction movie. There are memorable action scenes, good twists and turns, and amusing dialogue exchanges. The villain outdoes the villain of its predecessor; but I think the crew isn’t utilized as well. To Trekkies, the plot might feel reminiscent of a few prior movies; so contrary to one of the franchise’s most prominent taglines, it’ll feel like it is going where prior movies have gone before. Still, this is really fun summer entertainment.

83/100

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Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek

Release Date: May 8, 2009

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy

Runtime: 127 min

Throughout elementary school, my dad would turn on the TV at 5 P.M. to channel 50; the Space channel. That’s the time Star Trek: The Next Generation (or whichever Star Trek TV show it was) would play. I’d make a face and say, “Do we have to watch this?” My dad would reply, “Yes.” Suffice to say, I loathed the show. I comprehend why it has such a fan-base, but man, did it bore me to tears!

If a future me told me that, one day, I’d like, let alone love, a movie that had Star Trek in the title, I would call myself crazy. It looks like I should be calling every mental institution in town; because this Star Trek is freaking awesome!

The brash James T. Kirk tries to live up to his father’s legacy with Mr. Spock keeping him in check as a vengeful, time-traveling Romulan creates black holes to destroy the Federation one planet at a time.

Star Trek is built to introduce a great franchise to a younger generation, and I’m really glad that it’s so great. The viewer doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to understand what’s going on or even enjoy the hell out of it, for that matter. It’s fairly easy to follow, for a movie that has a lot of time-traveling. Even people with little brains who don’t understand science fiction so well would be able to follow this. To me, that’s very cool. Someone doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to enjoy what’s going on, mostly because it’s actually an amazing action movie.

There’s explosions, flying bullets, cool creatures, et cetera. All in space. Sweet! J.J. Abrams is able to bring excellent direction to the feature and some humour to the feature. This makes me want to re-watch all that I’ve seen of Abrams’ work, and re-assess my opinions of some of his movies (Cloverfield, Super 8). He truly brings everything to the table, here; and the movie has some great cinematography and visual effects, as well.

Whilst the film has an excellent pace, I don’t think the story is incredibly impressive. The story is very good for what it is, but it is limited and it doesn’t have much room to elevate itself above a mere revenge story. It has a lot of time travel, but I think the story is only slightly above average. There’s lots of action and some nice drama, and the witticism of it all is very awesome. I think the movie’s strongest aspect are its characters and its ensemble cast.

Chris Pine portrays James T. Kirk this time around, and he’s the great face of the franchise for a new generation. The character becomes suffocated by the shadow of his late father, because he wants to live up to everyone’s expectations. This doesn’t stop him from being very confident and having a good time while performing his duties on the U.S.S. Enterprise. The relationship between he and Spock is a fascinating one. Spock is the main target of the villain Nero (Eric Bana). The Romulan villain is out for vengeance of something Spock did or possibly didn’t do, and that’s what thirsts his anger. Bana is intimidating at the time, but truly forgettable.

Anyway, about Spock. Spock is faced with much emotional turmoil throughout the feature, and it hardly helps that he doesn’t know how to effectively portray – or put into words – what he’s feeling. He’s played awesomely by Zachary Quinto, and I think he and Pine are great to lead the Enterprise. It’s great to watch Quinto, because he reminds me why I spent my time watching every episode of TV’s Heroes (I did that task for Hayden Panettiere, too, though). The rest of the cast (Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, among many others) helps make the fantastic ensemble. They’re an ideal cast to lead the Enterprise. Simon Pegg is also part of the crew, and his role of Scotty reminds me why I enjoy watching him perform so damn much. He’s perfect for this role, and he brings the most wit to the feature. After he shows up, it becomes that much more entertaining and hilarious.

Star Trek isn’t able to elevate itself above a solid revenge story, but there’s hardly anything wrong with that. This enjoyable film will still appeal to both Trekkies and newbies to the franchise. This is immensely entertaining, a great space adventure, and an excellent action film.

88/100

Identity Thief (2013)

Identity ThiefIdentity Thief

Release Date: February 8, 2013

Director: Seth Gordon

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman, John Cho

Runtime: 111 min

Tagline: She’s having the time of his life

As a follow-up to the hilarious Horrible Bosses, Seth Gordon brings us Identity Thief, a film that isn’t the gut-buster everyone was expecting, but it is quite funny.

Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) has a good life: a beautiful family, a decent job, and a silly name he swears to be unisex. He’s almost living the American dream. He is able to land a Vice President job at a new firm when he and a good majority of employees at his old one start a new company. Everything’s going well, until he finds out that he is the next victim of identity theft, Diana (the hilarious and charismatic Melissa McCarthy), who is living it up with his credit cards down in Winter Park, Florida. Since the cops can’t do it, he must travel from Colorado to Florida to retrieve her so he can get his life back, and all will be hunky-dory. Unexpected threats arise, and comedy and action ensue.

This film follows a pretty traditional road trip formula that is structured to get asses in seats, eyes on the screen, and money in the studio’s pocket. Thankfully, it’s fairly deserving of many people’s money. It’s mostly entertaining, but sometimes predictable. It suffers many flaws on the way to the end, but it finds its way, thanks to the great comedy team that is Bateman and McCarthy.

Jason Bateman plays the straight man here, lobbing up lines so the hysterical McCarthy can smash down some hysterical comebacks. A lot are aces, but some are just a little too out there, and even for a crude comedy, some of it’s a little too raunchy. The scene with her and Big Chuck is only funny because of poor Bateman hiding away in the bathroom. It’s nice that he is able to make the audience laugh a few times. The extreme crudeness is the case only on one to three occasions, but this suffers greatly from poor comedic momentum. It’s funny in the beginning, it begins to be hilarious when Bateman and McCarthy are united for the first time, and at times, five minutes go by without a joke. It forgets to make its audience to laugh, and that’s something that a comedy should promise. However, part of this is to blame on the excessive marketing campaign. If you haven’t been living under a rock since December, you would know that a good 60% of the film’s best jokes are revealed in the trailers.

Thankfully, they’re still a little funny when they come around (but I go to the movies so much that I probably saw the trailer six times beforehand), and there are points in the film where some jokes are really, really funny. The big laughs are separated by some good chuckles, so that’s decent. There are also some nice surprises in this film as a whole. Diana receives a nice emotional layer added to her, as she seems to be stealing identities because she doesn’t know her own. Because of this, many might be able to relate to the material and find a solid emotional connectivity to her character. This adds a sweetness to her, and the film in general, when car chases aren’t going on. Or Diana isn’t punching 92% of the people she meets in the throat. It is also nice to see her character transformation go from antagonist to anti-hero and so forth.

Back to the flaws, since many road trip concepts have been walked on before, this isn’t very original. It’s good enough entertainment, though. This film is also very crowded. There are antagonists left and right, and to make the film longer and put in more laughs, another is added to the mix. At first, Sandy is chasing Diana. Then Diana finds herself in trouble with a drug lord to whom she sold bad credit cards, and his drug dealers (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) come after her. Then, as a pleasant surprise, Robert “T-1000” Patrick is back in his element: chasing people. He portrays a bounty hunter who is also after Diana. Then there are cops who are also chasing Diana, and at times, Sandy. It’s a real jumbled nightmare when they are all chasing each other and when some of their paths cross. The conflicts also get solved almost too conveniently and unrealistically, so for some of it you have to turn off the logical part of your brain. I guess it’s better than having no conflict at all, like last year’s The Guilt Trip, which is almost completely bereft of conflict.

Due to all the antagonists, the writing often comes off as lazy. Especially part of the haphazard ending, which makes the writer, Craig Mazin (who also wrote The Hangover Part II and Scary Movie 3), come off as completely disorganized and idiotic. He does not know whether to end it off as mean-spirited, dramatic, sweet, or hilarious, so he practically decides to do all four.

In a nutshell: Despite all Identity Thief‘s flaws, it’s a funny, often charming, and fun, yet sometimes unrealistic, ride and it flows to the end fairly well. It isn’t a gem and the writing stops it from being great, but it’s still a slightly above-average comedy. By the end of 2013, many might forget about this comedy; but it is inarguably the first big comedy hit of the year, thanks to a lack of competition and a great comedy duo.

72/100