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

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3Iron Man 3

Release Date: May 3, 2013

Director: Shane Black

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle

Runtime: 130 min

When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

Iron Man 3 is the strongest of the trilogy. It might disappoint the fan-boys and girls, but for casual movie-goers just wanting a taste of the super hero niche genre; it’s rather satisfying. The first of the trilogy was good, but the second was a disappointment. Most fan-boys (and fan-girls) could just forget about Iron Man 2, and see this merely as a follow-up to universally beloved (for the most part) The Avengers. The fans will at least be satisfied with the movie’s great little Easter eggs.

Shane Black, genre newcomer, breathes some fresh air into the trilogy. He takes the directing duties over from Jon Favreau (but he still plays the lovable Happy Hogan). It’s really one of those situations where when a new guy comes in, it ends up benefiting mostly everyone. His humour and wit is present in the movie, and he finds a great cast to match the lines. They fit like a glove. Or almost like an iron suit. Many might appreciate the flairs of humour, but others, most notably fan-boys and fan-girls, won’t enjoy the inconsistencies of the movie’s overall mood.

Sometimes it’s dark and gloomy when characters are in mortal danger, especially when Stark’s Malibu home falls into the water. It’s doom and gloom one minute, somewhat hysterical and silly dialogue the next. Both Black and RDJ can hardly help themselves. The plot flows well, but the mood is unpredictable. One minute, the egotistical Stark is having an anxiety attack (because of the events in New York City, that occur in The Avengers), and the next, he’s exuberantly confident again and cracking joke after joke. However, it does remind us that Stark – genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, mostly invincible in his iron suit – can still be vulnerable and is quite human.

This instalment is better than the second. It’s smarter with its humour, and that could be thanks to Black. The action sequences are great and fast-paced, and it’s a real adrenaline rush that will go best with some poppin’ corn and a Pepsi. It’s still a great ensemble cast, where RDJ is great as ever, as is Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle. Ben Kingsley is outstanding (like he is in every role he takes on) and Guy Pearce rocks his role. Great twists and turns of the movie are really enjoyable, and usually unpredictable. The enemies posing a potential threat to the well-being of Stark are much better than Rourke and Rockwell of the second.

The Mandarin is handled with effective care, even if the way they portray him is disappointing to avid comic book readers. If you want a movie that stays faithful to the source material, you won’t find it here. The portrayal of the character is good, as he is a worthy opposition for Stark, but, even for someone who only reads Archie comics, the character could feel like a wasted opportunity with the direction they choose. It is a shame that the Marvel universe might not get its chance at an Supporting Actor Oscar this year. The Mandarin isn’t nearly as great as The Joker of The Dark Knight, but it’d be nice if Kingsley at least nabs that Oscar nomination. The Mandarin is the terrorist mastermind of the Marvel universe. Did I say terrorist? I meant ‘teacher’. (If he were a teacher with actual credentials, he’d be fired in a hurry!) James Badge Dale is also one of the movie’s biggest surprises, besides the twists, in a role best fit for Robert Patrick, and it is great to see the actor in a big summer movie like this.

The mood of this movie feels inconsistent throughout, and the direction the producers choose for the Mandarin could be disappointing to many; but this is better than the second, and it’s my favourite of the trilogy. The casting is great, and Black is a good fit. The action sequences are compelling, and there’s a reason that Iron Man is arguably the most popular of the Avengers squad (Hulk could be, if a decent Hulk movie could be made).

80/100

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises

Release Date: July 20, 2012

Director: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway

Runtime: 165 min

Tagline: A fire will rise.

This one was quite impressive.

   Eight years after Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes, a new terrorist leader has come to the surface in Gotham. There hasn’t been a spotting of Batman for eight years, and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse around the same time. Wayne must overcome his own personal turmoil and once again protect the city that has branded him an enemy.

It’s a great summer blockbuster that offers many incredible thrills great plot execution, some great twists and turns, and great direction and writing from Christopher Nolan.

The character of Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) wasn’t all that great. She offered a nice presence, but she wasn’t developed well enough as the other characters. The other new characters, like Bane or Officer John Blake or Miranda, are really good, and got solid character development. Although, other new characters like Daggett or Stryver, weren’t very interesting at all and weren’t extremely well-developed. The old characters are, as expected, as great as always.

The usual great Nolan atmosphere is offered, and it is one heck of a super-hero film. Its only possessive flaw is the sometimes slow build-up, and the plot feels a little too overused. Of course, what can you expect from a super-hero film? It will obviously have the whole hero vs. villain play-out, and this one has an extremely memorable climax. Its length may also feel like a flaw to some, but really and truly it doesn’t feel nearly as long as it actually is. Also, some of the realism of the whole thing feels off in areas.

This was obviously highly anticipated, and it really does live up to its hype. The cast is stellar, and Tom Hardy delivers a great performance – considering all he must act with are his eyes, voice, and gestures. His British drone and sometimes barely-audible dialogue make his character cringe-worthy, but the majority of his dialogue was understandable – if you listen very well. The subtitles should be helpful to those who will watch it on home media.

Now, here come the inevitable comparisons to the first two films, and the villains before Bane. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t nearly as great as The Dark Knight, but it is much better than Batman Begins. The atmospheric action was greater in D.K., and it had more memorable scenes. Though, this was still amazing. In this Nolan trilogy, Bane is better than Ra’s Al Ghul (as Ken Watanabe), but not Cillian Murphy’s The Scarecrow, Two-Face or especially not The Joker. All Bane has really is a frightening stature, strength, and the whole mystery of why he’s wearing that freaking eerie inhaler thingy-ma-bobber. That isn’t very scary, right…? He’s probably not the best villain because he doesn’t use a whole lot of psychological warfare. Heath Ledger’s The Joker used that all-too-well, and he was downright terrifying with his extreme psychopathic nature. The Scarecrow was just really cool, and he obviously used psychology as a weapon as he poisoned his victims with that gas to make them hallucinate like crazy.

This flick stars Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, with Liam Neeson and Juno Temple.

The Dark Knight Rises is an extremely impressive piece of cinema that may be flawed, but still awesome. The length may threaten some, but it is an experience that should be had, and even people who don’t like super-heroes can enjoy this. It isn’t as great as The Dark Knight, as [it was] expected, but this is still quite must-see. This is a summer blockbuster at its finest which should snatch up an extremely respectable amount of awards.

90/100