Star Trek Beyond

July 26, 2016 by  
Filed under Movies

The third installment of the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise takes the best elements of the 2009 film and leaves out the weakest elements of the 2013 sequel, “Into Darkness”. The series has hit its stride with “Star Trek Beyond”, this time directed by Justin Lin (“The Fast and Furious” series), and packs an entertaining punch while also keeping a comic tone intact.

The screenplay was co-written by Simon Pegg, who plays Montgomery Scott on board the Enterprise. His keen awareness of the importance of the chemistry between the characters is very evident, making this probably the most rewarding experience of the three films so far.

The film begins much like “Into Darkness” did, with Kirk doing everything he can to mess up what seems to be a simple mission. The creatures he speaks to look a bit like “Star Wars” prequel rejects, but turn out to be cute little miniature Jumanji hybrids. Though chuckle-inducing, I hope this doesn’t become the standard in subsequent scripts. In fact, the series should probably take a new direction after this one, so as not to become stale too quickly.

The main plot of the film involves a husky lizard-like villain named Krall, who is looking for a relic that Kirk had in his possession in his mission to appease the creatures in the beginning of the film. Apparently this artifact has a lot of unknown power, but Krall is after it. They first encounter him after agreeing to a rescue mission from a distressed former captain of her own ship, Kalara (Lydia Wilson), and seek to aid her while going into the Nebula. While there, they’re greeted by a slew of aggressive ships, and it’s fairly evident that it was a trap laid by Kalara. It’s not at first clear why, until she admits that her crew is at the mercy of Krall (Idris Elba). This is no consolation to Kirk, whose crew is now also taken captive.

Kirk, Chekov, Scotty, Bones and Spock have evaded capture, and are aided by a rogue female being, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who has been living in an abandoned Starfleet ship, the USS Franklin. At first confused why there would be an older Starfleet ship stuck in the rock of this planet, it becomes evident that Krall may have had a link to Starfleet Academy.

Meanwhile, Uhura and Sulu try to release the captives, as they themselves are prisoners as well. Uhura is the one who realizes Krall may not be as simple as a foul tempered, scaly antagonist. There seems to be something deeper within his anger and resentment toward their race.

As mentioned before, the film is directed by the man who gave us much of the “Fast and Furious” sequels, and this film has moments of being too fast and furious for its own good. But for the most part, it’s very well paced and the character interactions are a joy to watch. Bones and Spock have some great scenes together, and Scotty and Jaylah enjoy some nice chemistry as well. The film is probably the most action packed of the three, but it’s never uninteresting; and even at its most brazen and contemptuous of suspension of disbelief, it doesn’t go so far as to take you out of the moment. As unbelievable as some of the stunts are, you’re still rooting for these characters to be safe and return home in one piece.

The strength of the series has always been its cast–that goes back to the original cast of the 1960’s in the first series. It always felt like an ensemble, and this cast preserves that. These characters like each other, and we like them for it. It’s bittersweet to see Chekov one last time, as actor Anton Yelchin tragically died this summer. But he has a nice role in this film, and we will definitely miss him.

Also mentioned before, the series should probably start to take a new direction after this one. They’ve rebooted the cast, rehashed a villain, and now I think we’ve had our fill of revenge plots. Much like the first series of original films, which went in new directions, this series needs to find other stories to tell. They have the cast at their prime, now give them something different. This film is forgivable for its messy antics at times and even confusing narrative; if this is repeated in a fourth film, the series could start to lose itself, and that would be a shame.

For now, though, sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s entertainment at warp speed.

My rating: :-)

Star Trek Into Darkness

May 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

In 2009, we were treated to another incarnation of the original “Star Trek” cast. After all, after “Nemesis” it was evident that there was no more room for the “Next Generation” cast as it seemed their film arc was all washed up. I still don’t know how that happened as they were a bright, fun cast with an introspective and classy captain. I chalk it up to unimaginative writing and stagnant directing by Jonathan Frakes, who played also played Riker.

The series was rebooted and at the helm was “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams who had done a nice job taking an ensemble cast in that show and putting them in interesting situations while growing them as characters (for the first few seasons, anyway). Abrams was hired as director for the “Star Trek” reboot even though he was admittedly not a big fan of the show. That’s not always a kiss of death, however. In some ways it can help because there’s no fanboy bias that you have to worry about. The result, too, was a smashing success, putting together a great cast of young actors to reinvigorate the roles of the original star ship Enterprise. Although the villain was a bit cartoonish and weak, the main story of Kirk and Spock becoming friends was extremely well done.

Now, four years later, we say hello again to the same cast, and it’s a real pleasure seeing them again. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have mastered the roles of Kirk and Spock respectively; though they are friendlier, there are still some kinks to work out. When we are first introduced to them this time around, the Enterprise is on an observational mission on a small planet of natives who are about to be wiped out by a volcano. Acting against their Prime Directive, they are seen by the natives and Kirk saves Spock’s life while he is in the active volcano, trying to save the race from extinction. Though it was a noble effort, Kirk is reprimanded by not only his superiors, but also by Spock because saving his life was “illogical”. Kirk is relieved of his captain status, and Spock is reassigned to another Federation ship.

But don’t think that means we’re not going to see them work together. A bomb explodes on Earth wiping out a department in Starfleet, and the culprit is a former officer known as John Harrison who, for unexplained reasons, has gone rogue. Kirk is given First Officer status on the Enterprise and is assigned to accompany Admiral Pike (reprised by Bruce Greenwood). Before their mission is underway, however, they are attacked at Starfleet Command, and Pike is killed by Harrison. Kirk finds out at this point that this terrorist plot is related to a secret that Starfleet is keeping, one that offers a bit of a twist on John Harrison that I won’t reveal–but you will be very familiar with it if you’ve followed any of the “Star Trek” films in your life.

With Pike dead, Kirk resumes his position as captain and reinstates Spock as First Officer. Their mission is also a secret one: to take out John Harrison on the Klingon planet Kronos, in an uninhabited city. The order is given by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), and the Enterprise is sent into Kronos. Once on the planet, however, Kirk decides to spare Harrison’s life and capture him rather than kill him. They are greeted unexpectedly by Marcus in another Federation ship, the USS Vengeance, and Marcus insists again that Harrison be killed. Marcus’ daughter, Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) is on board the Enterprise, and when she learns that Marcus intends to destroy the Enterprise if needbe, she tries to intervene. But all Marcus does is beam her aboard, and Kirk is left in a very precarious situation.

There is a lot more going on in this film than the previous one, obviously. That should always be the case when it comes to sequels. Raise the stakes, make it more interesting, give the characters something more to work with. Abrams and Co. do this as best they can but they are somewhat hampered in this sophomore effort by a sophomoric script, co-written by former “Lost” buddy Damon Lindelof. As in “Prometheus”, Lindelof shows that he cannot seem to handle complexities in character and narrative arc, and some situations are handled more like a Sunday morning comic rather than a feature film. So expect some Deus Ex Machinas, and suspend your disbelief a little bit more than you’re used to, even in a science fiction action film like this.

It especially works against them in the character of Harrison, who is a very convincing villain played exquisitely by Benedict Cumberbatch. There is an open ending which begs for his return and I hope it does happen, because his character felt a bit rushed at times when this character deserves patient and deliberate writing to be a worthy foe for Kirk and the Enterprise.

But it is nice to see the cast again, and actors Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho are appealing supporting actors rounding out the splendid Enterprise crew. The only one that seems to still just “impersonate” his counterpart is Karl Urban who plays Dr. “Bones” McCoy. Every time he speaks he is trying too hard to “sound like” Bones rather than just be Bones. Other than that, the cast works perfectly.

The film delivers big laughs as well as big thrills, and although there are a few too many climaxes in third act that wears you down a bit, the ending is satisfying and it made me want to see where these characters will boldly go next.

I just hope the next script provides an equally interesting story that isn’t littered with plot holes and convenient resolutions.

My rating: :-)

Terminator Salvation

May 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

The “Terminator” franchise is one that I’ve never really been able to fully wrap myself around. I’m not exactly sure why that is. I liked all of the films (yes, I did enjoy T3 even though it was horribly cheesy), and I still think “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is one of the most spectacular sci-fi action films ever made. Maybe that’s why I don’t look at this franchise with as much affection as, say, the Aliens franchise for example. “Terminator 2” just seemed to blow all of the other films away, as much as “The Terminator” was a good film. Cameron really outdid himself with the sequel. It was not only a visual achievement, it was a well told story; and, besides Edward Furlong, it was well acted. The story of the rise of SkyNet is interesting, and in “Terminator Salvation”, it comes to fruition.

So let’s go ahead and hop into the latest sequel, directed by McG, and starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington as both protagonist and in some ways, antagonists of the narrative. The year is 2018, and SkyNet has enslaved mankind, and is running the world with machines–with the exception of a small group of people that are The Resistance, headed by John Connor (Bale). But since this film series has had a bunch of time warps and all kinds of time continuum conundrums, we are introduced to another aspect we weren’t aware of before. This is the both the convenience and the problem with time travel used in films as a device–it can’t help but be a deux ex machina. In this film, though, it doesn’t rely heavily on the time travel aspect–but it does realign things a bit in the canon(not to the extent that the new “Star Trek” film did, though).

We are first introduced to Marcus Wright, a convict who is on death row and is given a “second chance” by SkyNet to come with them and give his body “for science”. Now we all know what happens when we give into science. Everything. Works. Out. Of course! And in Marcus’s case, he is suddenly transported to the future, in 2018, and in the middle of the Resistance–and gets introduced fairly quickly with another familiar name in the Terminator series–Kyle Reese (this time played by Anton Yelchin, who for the second time in a row is playing the Young Version of a Character, and does a pretty good job doing his best Michael Biehn). Reese is just a teenager, which is set up already because when Connor is listening to his mother’s tapes she left behind for him, she mentions that Reese is a part of the resistance, but is just a kid at the time. Now, the fact that Connor is his son, and he would end up meeting him at a time when he’s actually older than him–I mean, aren’t we talking massive quakes in space and time? Again, time travel rule. Actually, there aren’t any. Forget it.

Marcus eventually meets up with Connor, because he’s on his way to SkyNet to settle a score–trying to find out what in fact happened to him. But there’s a slight snag–see, he’s a terminator too. He doesn’t know it, but he is only half human. What SkyNet did to him was use him as a prototype (I’m guessing) for the T-800 (otherwise known as The Governator). Bonding human skin with machine was their project, and Marcus was part of it. At this point you’d think that would make Connor like the cut of this guy’s jib–but it’s the complete opposite. Connor actually somewhat becomes a “villain” in the sense that, in this film’s narrative, Marcus is the main character and Connor stands in his way because of the fact that he doesn’t trust him since he’s a terminator, and thinks that Marcus has been sent to kill him. This obviously means they’re done professionally.

But that’s all I will give away about the plot. And I didn’t give away much–in fact, the trailer blew the twist. But basically, it becomes a rescue mission for Kyle Reese (who is the MacGuffin, for you film students out there) since he’s captured by the machines and sent to…I don’t know, something like a chicken coop for humans. I still don’t understand what SkyNet needed humans for, except to be real jerks about keeping them alive just to make them do labor. As I’ve learned in life, I would actually rather have robots do labor. Especially construction on the Dan Ryan.

In any event, this is probably the darkest and bleakest of the films, and I did actually like it for what it was. While Bale’s performance was amateur, and he kind of walks around going “Lat-da-da-da-dada-ahh”, the guy that steals the show is Sam Worthington as Marcus. As far as the film’s dark atmosphere, I will say it got to me–there is just something very unsettling about SkyNet as a computer-based empire that just illustrates the coldness and sterility of what life has become for earth. It’s an obvious metaphor for the ubiquitous technology that we depend so much on, and become more and more dependant on as we grow deeper into the Computer Age. The machines in some ways are like insects, and I actually was reminded of “Aliens” at times.

McG’s not all that creative with the storyline and doesn’t really bring anything too original to the table, but he manages a decent script and allows the story to breathe enough to get through. There are loads of references to the earlier Terminator films–some of them work, some of them don’t. Overall, the film is a solid entry into the Terminator series; however, I don’t know how much life this franchise has left in the tank. I don’t know what else I need to see, honestly. The film’s conclusion is good enough to end the series with–then again, I thought the same thing about the first “Matrix” movie and then there were 2 unnecessary and awful sequels to turn it into a “trilogy”. But that’s another story.

Despite some scenes that really depend on you to suspend disbelief (Sci-Fi Action Film 101, people), and some clunkiness in the first act, overall it’s a solid film. Oh, and the film was extremely well shot, by the way. The director of photography was amazing. It was not distracting at all. He should certainly get an award recognition.

My rating: :-)