Going Boldly Pt 12 (Star Trek Into Darkness, 2013)

ST_Into_Darkness_PosterAfter a pretty successful first outing, the whole team came back. So, my hopes were riding high for another exciting Star Trek film.

But early on I saw a danger sign. They were basically doing a Man of Steel. It was clear that they were going to use Khan.  The film makers denied this aggressively, especially after Benicio Del Toro left and was replaced by Benedict Cumberbatch.

When the film begins, it starts out okay, I guess…I mean, they still have not started their five year mission yet, and I have no idea why this could not have been set within that…but Kirk and crew save a primitive civilization from extinction and this gets Kirk demoted. But when a terrorist named John Harrison attacks Star Fleet headquarters killing Captain Pike, the Enterprise crew is sent to kill Harrison on the command of Admiral Marcus.

When they find Harrison, Kirk gives into his conscience and takes Harrison Prisoner.  As they speak with him, they discover is is actually leader of a genetic super community.  His advanced intellect is being used by dark areas of the Federation called Section 31…this knowledge puts the Enterprise in danger and they must work with Khan.

Clearly, Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman thought using Khan would excite fans, after all, we all loved Wrath of Khan, right?

Except, Khan and his vengeance had tremendous weight because Kirk and Khan had a history dating back to the original series.  This creates a tension that this film cannot recreate, quite simply because they do not know who Khan is. In fact, they have to reach out to Old Spock to have him give the rundown, because Khan is not even famous historically here.

They also try and flip the Wrath of Khan’s ending by having Kirk Sacrifice himself and send Spock to capture Khan.  Except, when Spock gave his life in the Wrath of Khan, it hit the viewer. We were losing a friend for the good of the many. And here? Kirk is barely dead two minutes and we find out they can resurrect him…and they do…we never get to feel worry or loss for Kirk…he was never in danger.

This film is just lacking the emotional resonance that it is attempting to duplicate. It is an empty and uninspired adventure.

A Battling We Will Go (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, 2014)

The_Hobbit_Battle_PosterThe Battle of the Five Armies is a very long and busy film. From it’s opening moments, it is all about trying to out do Return of the king.  Dragon fights! Giant battles against orcs! Wizard Battles!

Bilbo and the Dwarves had failed to stop Smaug who attacks Lake Town.  As the citizens try and escape his wrath, the Bard seeks to fulfill his family’s promise and slay Smaug. After ending Smaug, the citizens make their way to the ruins outside the the mountain fortress of the Dwarves.

Thranduil arrives with an elven army to reclaim what he feels the elves are owed by the dwarves.  However, Thorin becomes obsessed with finding the Arkenstone.  To make matters worse, he seems to be falling pray to paranoia.  Unknown to the dwarves, Bilbo has found the stone. Concerned that Thorin is being spiritually poisoned by his obsession, he slips out to give the stone to the Bard as a bargaining chip.   This only makes matters worse.

Eventually, the armies must unite against the armies of orcs and other evil that sets upon the mountain. This culminates in a battle royale between Oakenshield and Azog.

The Battle of the Five Armies is really a culmination of the desire to recreate the Lord of the Rings.  The changes of the first Hobbit were not really needed, but mostly harmless.  But the snowball started in the Desolation of Smaug. And here, the battle is the focus.  And everything is gigantic. It consumes a large part of the time, and it gets kind of confusing.  And everybody starts to blur together.

So many things feel like calls back to the Lord of the Rings.  And granted, this is a prequel to those films.  The book the Hobbit came before the Lord of the Rings books. But the films are a prequel.  And it is expected to see some loose connections.  But here, it feels like nothing can stand as it’s own.

This all makes for a rather disappointing final.  I did not hate the movie, but I don’t think it comes close to, say, Jackson’s very flawed but still well done King King. The flaws make the good stuff harder to enjoy here.

I don’t hate these movies quite as much as some.  This may in part be due to the fact that I don’t have a real tight connection to the series.  I did not read the Lord of the Rings books until after I saw the films, as I was nearing thirty.  I did not read the Hobbit until after I started watching the films in 2012. So, I never entered the films with presumptions of what I would see, beyond vague memories of the Rankin Bass cartoon from the late 1970’s.

But unlike the Lord of the Rings films, I do not feel the strengths overcome the flaws.  And so the Hobbit trilogy is nowhere near as satisfying a watch as the Lord of the Rings films.

A Desolationing We Will Go (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, 2013)

The_Hobbit_Desolation_PosterThe film picks up with Bilbo, Thorin and their band of Dwarves on the run from Azog’s orcs.  They find themselves appearing to be hunted by a very large bear.  Gandalf promises they are near the home of a man who might help them with safety.  They rush, chased by the bear until they reach a remote home.

Once inside, Gandalf explains that the bear is actually the man they are trying to reach.  Beorn is a shapeshifter who is also mistrustful of dwarves, so Gandalf cooks up a plan to slowly reveal them to Beorn.

Once on their way, they find themselves facing giant spiders and elves, eventually reaching Laketown, near the mountain fortress they seek. Initially, Laketown presents an obstacle, but Thorin promises to share the riches of the mountain if they allow them passage and provide some weapons.  Of course, most of the citizens being poor and desperate, it is not a hard sell.  And the mayor is a greedy man who figures if they succeed he reaps the reward and if they get eaten by Smaug they are out of his hair.

Meanwhile, Gandalf has gone to find and confront the Necromancer, a dark being that is an impending threat to Middle Earth.

Once they reach the mountain and find the secret entrance, it falls to Bilbo to slip inside and see if he can locate the Arkenstone.  This turns out to be like looking for a needle in a haystack, as there are jewels and gold coins everywhere. Bilbo must outwit Smaug, who is wakened by the presence of Bilbo.

The Desolation of Smaug is the first of the three films to start really padding on story.  And this drags the film as a whole down.  There are some great sequences, and the Smaug sequence itself is pretty nicely done.  But the film also adds in completely unnecessary subplots like a love triangle. The film includes Legolas, whose father is the Elvenking Thranduil, as a link to the Lord of the Rings films.  Legolas did not appear in the book, though as he is the son of Thranduil, it is not an unreasonable addition.

The filmmakers felt it would be good to add a female cast member in some of the action scenes.  They created Tauriel, a young and skilled elven warrior.  Portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, she is a tough adventurer. Even as additions go, the character herself is not a problem.  I like Tauriel. However, Lilly agreed to take the role as long as her character was not in a love triangle. She was assured this was not going to be the case.  So the film has her being sought by both Legolas and the dwarf  Kili. It feels like they really wanted the Kili and Tauriel aspect be a callback to Aragorn and Arwen.  And while they introduce it as a love triangle, it is entirely pointless.  It is not a source of real conflict.  Legolas could have gone to her side simply as a friend, not out of romantic desire.  It is clear the film wants to focus on her and Kili.  And that is perfectly fine, and would have improved the sub-plot had they dumped the “triangle” part.

Honestly, the inclusion of the Necromancer stuff (none of which comes from the Hobbit, it is referenced in the Lord of the Rings appendices) is more to make the audience get those “Lord of the Rings” vibes. It does not enhance the story or threat…and it feels wholly unconnected to the main story.

Smaug looks great, and Cumberbacht’s voice performance is good stuff. The visuals are great.  I still enjoy the performances, I actually like a lot of the charcters…and yet?

Story suffers from bloat. When it drags along? It reaaaaally drags.

And Starring Jeff Goldblum as Jeff Goldblum (Thor: Ragnarok, 2017)

Thor_Ragnarok_PosterThor has been a fun character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is cheerful, boisterous and powerful.  He is also boastful and over confident. This drove his first film, while the second film seemed a bit aimless.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor had a vision of the end of Asgard.  He left to get answers and was missing for Civil War.  After Thor and Loki locate Odin, they are warned of the coming of Hela…their sister and the goddess of death Almost immediately Hela arrives and destroys Thor’s hammer. In their fight, Thor and Loki are separated and tossed into space.  While Hela conquers Asgard, Thor finds himself on the planet Sakaar. Captured by the Grandmaster Thor must fight in the Contest of Champions..and the champion he must defeat? His pal Hulk.

Marvel has done pretty well in tapping directors with limited experience in big budget films and having it work out in their favor.  Here they brought on New Zealander Taika Waititi, who is known for his unique comedies.  Check out the films Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in Shadows and while laughing, you will likely not think “a Super Hero movie is next!”. But it pays off.

Thor is full of great action and humor.  Unlike the previous two films, which were very earth centric, Earth has a brief cameo in the beginning.  Otherwise the film is heavily focused on Asgard.  To be frank, the previous films really failed to let Jane Foster shine and the relationship never had the strength of either Tony and Pepper or Steve and Peggy.  So, the film quickly addresses that “they broke up”.

The film works to give most of the leads “something to come back from”. Thor must figure out who he is without his hammer, Hulk must get back to Banner, Valkyrie must reclaim her glorious standing as an Asgardian Warrior.  There is not a lot to these arcs, of course, but the performances and interplay of the characters make it almost easy to miss.

The cast really makes the film.  Hemsworth and Hiddleston have a solid chemistry together, where you buy right into their weird sibling relationship in which Loki will betray Thor over and over and Thor is still going to give him a chance.  Tessa Thompson gives a real spark to Valkyrie, who could have been a pretty one note character.  Cate Blanchett’s Hela is actually not any deeper than previous Marvel Cinematic villains, but Blanchett seems to have had a lot of fun in the role and the result is that I enjoyed her as a villain. It was great to see Mark Ruffalo back as Bruce Banner.  The character is a bit shell shocked, which makes sense, as he has been “hulked out” for about two years, ever since the rampage in Age of Ultron.

And of course, there is Jeff Goldblum.  The actor you hire when you want a Jeff Goldblum-esque performance. But seriously, Goldblum always delivers, and his Grandmaster is the Jeff Goldblumiest thing you will see all year.  Unless Jeff Goldblum is Jeff Goldblum in another film before December 31st, 2017.

Thor: Ragnarok is a real blast of a film.  It is light hearted, exciting and quite funny.

Something Strange Going On That Wasn’t Here Before (Doctor Strange, 2016)

doctor_strange_posterEvery now and then, Marvel Studios opts for a riskier venture for their tent-pole pictures.  In some cases, such as Thor, the risk is levied by the Avenger’s Connection.  But sometimes, that connection is much thinner.  Guardians of the Galaxy and now Doctor Strange.

And what we have here is another Guardians of the Galaxy result.  Doctor Strange is an exciting, emotional, funny trip of a film.  Benedict Cumberbatch carries an arrogance early on in the film.  Stephen Strange is a truly prideful man, but he has very carefully crafted an image.  When that is all taken away, at the end of his rope, he finds a man that had, similarly faced bodily destruction and appeared to have fully recovered.  He is pointed towards Katmandu and a place called Kamar-Taj.  There he encounters the Ancient One who, with her followers Mordo and Wong, begin to train Strange.

Meanwhile, the rebel Kaecilius and his disciples are trying to for ever alter reality.  Doctor Strange finds himself in the “New York Branch” which leads to battles with Kaecilius and his minions.  With Strange Mordo and Wong coming to a final fight with Kaecilius.

The movie manages to skirt the line of seriousness, but an undercurrent of humor.  The humor is dryer than other Marvel films, but it works, as often Strange finds his attempts at humor falling flat with Wong.  There is a fun payoff with that one.

It is hard to ignore the impressive visuals.  Early trailers made things look like it was ripping off Inception.  But Derrickson and his team actually gave us much more.  The film brings to life those trippy multidimensional visuals that Steve Ditko drew in the 60’s with a beautiful and lush feel.

There has been a lot of controversy over the issue of Tilda Swinton playing the Asian One.  In the comics the character was Asian.  And yeah, it was a pretty blatant “Mystical Asian” stereotype.  Which is what resulted in the choice to cast Swinton.  The film does overcome this.  But as written?  They easily could have cast and Asian actor in the role.  There are not a ton of major roles for Asian actors.  Avoiding stereotypes is done in the script and performance.  And I believe this film would have successfully avoided the stereotype, without making one less role for Asian actors.  I do not believe racism was at Derrickson and his casting teams heart.  I suspect it was an attempt to avoid the very issue of racism.  I think they made a choice I would not.  But Swinton is entertaining in the film.

Doctor Strange is one of Marvel’s strongest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It is certainly yet another origin story, but it is handled so very well.  It also has no requirement that you be familiar with the character.  You can enter the film with zero knowledge of the character and fully enjoy this film.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑