Boldly Going Pt 13 (Star Trek Beyond, 2016)

Star_Trek_Beyond_PosterAfter Into Darkness, Trek lost Abrams to Wars. Simon Pegg stepped up as a screenwriter with Doug Jung to try and get the Kelvin timeline back on track.  The studio also decided to try out an action director, Justin Lin, who had success with the Fast and the Furious franchise.

I have already reviewed this, and one of my early criticisms was that the film is a bit slow going at the open. But after repeat viewings, I found that I really am not sure what I would do to speed things up.

After a fun little bit that sets up the film’s macguffin, the film focuses on where the characters are at.  They pick up about half way through their five year mission, which finds Kirk feeling lost and unsure.  In a clever bit of dialog, he comments that their mission has begun to feel “episodic”. Spock receives word of the passing of his future self (as Nimoy had passed away by this point) and questions whether he should stay with Starfleet or focus on the survival of the Vulcan race.

But after a mysterious pilot arrives at the space station where the Enterprise is docked, the Enterprise and her crew head to help the pilot’s disabled ship on the other side of a nebula.  After they are attacked and the Enterprise is destroyed (the second time in this timeline!) Kirk and the team find themselves trapped on a planet with aggressive aliens bent on getting the piece of a weapon that the Enterprise had.

Beyond is pretty much a 180 degree turn from Into Darkness.  It is fun, Elba plays a solid villain with a twist.  Sophia Boutella is a highly entertaining character named Jaylah who is befriended by Scotty and Kirk.  There is some solid character stuff with McCoy and Spock.

This is an action packed film that I find myself enjoying more each time I watch it.  It makes me wish a follow-up in the Kelvin timeline were a lock instead of so uncertain.  Of the timeline, I have really enjoyed two of the films, so I am definitely open to more.

 

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.

Boldly Going Pt 11 (Star Trek, 2009)

ST_Kelvin_2009_PosterIt is often not really a great sign when a franchise seems to go dormant. After the struggle at the box office with Nemesis and a large amount of negative fan reaction, Paramount’s Star Trek team started trying to figure out new ideas, most which put the Next Generation Crew out to pasture.

Eventually, they opted to focus more on the Television side while they tried to crack a new approach.  And then they reached out to J.J. Abrams. He and his team came up with an idea… what if we went back to the beginning? What if we go back and meet the Enterprise crew all over again? Captain Kirk? Mr. Spock?

This seemed like a risky proposition…the original cast was tied to those characters and the idea of bringing new actors in to give the crew new life and adventures had a huge chance of going wrong.

Abrams chose to go back to the start of the series…but with a twist.  On the day James T Kirk is born, his father sacrifices himself as a Romulan ship appears from a black hole. In the original series, Kirk grew up with his father…and with this change Kirk grows into a rebellious and responsibility avoiding lout. But one night in a bar, he meets Cadet Urhura- and ends up in a fight with several of her fellow cadets. The fight is ended by Captain Christopher Pike who convinces Kirk to apply to Starfleet.

Kirk’s recklessness in the academy puts him at odds with the Vulcan Spock.  But when the Romulan ship reappears 25 years leader, Bones helps get Kirk on the  Enterprise and the crew must face the mad Romulan and also deal with interpersonal conflicts.

The casting of the film is interesting, as only Zachary Quinto bears any likeness too Nimoy. Yet, give Karl Urban the right haircut and let him channel DeForrest Kelley and he is uncanny in his likeness.  Really, the entire cast does so well, that I quickly found myself not paying attention to the details that said it is not the same person. This cast is… well, a lot of fun to watch. They have a real chemistry and work very well together.

I confess, I am one of those people who kind of gets annoyed when Trek has a prequel series with better tech than the original series.  I get this is mostly due to budget changes and better tech for film and television. But it always bugs me a bit to see a setting from before the original series with sleeker tri-corders. However, here? I find it pretty easy to excuse this world on the simple “history has changed” rationale.

The Enterprise here is bright and vibrant and feels wide open in a way prior television and film never really managed.

The film took some heat for being a little more Star Wars than Star Trek, and Abrams has openly stated he was always more of a Star Wars guy.  This is true of me as well.  I like Trek, but Wars was always a bit more my jam. And so, I do not really dispute the criticism, but for me it is a bit of a bonus.

The villain Nero is kind of lackluster…Eric Bana is not really given room to flap his wings. He almost feels like an afterthought.  While I enjoy seeing Nimoy return to the role of Spock, I also feel like he is being used in the film to shortcut mountains… specifically the relationship of Kirk and Spock.  Theirs is a friendship that feels deep and real because we got to spend decades with it. Here, Old Spock has to give pushes to Kirk and his younger self in the right direction. It feels a bit like a cheat.

Oh…and all the damn lens flares…

But those points aside, this was an incredibly fun new approach to characters we know and love and begin to get to know again.  It is a blast and a new start that had me very excited for the next film.

Oh foolish youth.

You Can Never Have Too Much Spider-Man (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2018)

Spider-Man_Into_PosterA few years ago, after the big Sony hack, Sony and Marvel resumed the failed talks about  Spider-Man films. It resulted in the very fun Spider-Man: Homecoming, pretty much run by Marvel. But Sony still holds the rights to do with the Spider-Man characters what they want.  And so…that gives us this animated feature.

Miles Morales lives with his mom and dad, but is starting life at a new school. After a frustrating week, he goes to see his uncle Aaron, who takes him to a hidden place where he can do some street art. Miles gets bit by a Spider-Man. When he witnesses a tragedy and finds himself having to make a promise to Spider-Man moments before he is killed…with no idea how to do it. Until he stumbles across Peter Parker…Spider-Man???

They discover that whatever the Spider-Man of Mile’s Morales’ world was trying to thwart has actually brought several Spider People into Miles’ world. But the world may end and so they have to team up to send everyone home and stop the destruction of the Spider-Verse.

And you know what? This only sounds confusing.  Because the movie manages to make everything pretty darn simple. Our focus is on Miles, and even the Spider-Man we meet in the beginning is a celebrity. We don’t get to know him. We just get glimpses, enough to know he was a real hero.

The film also gives us intros to each character that are a whole lot of fun. Each Spider-Man has a unique look and artistic style. And it even impacts how they interact with the world they are in. Spider-Man Noir speaks in dark pulpy fashion and is always in black and white. And he is perplexed by color.

Jake Johnson’s Spider-Man is one whose life went a bit off track compared to the Spider-Man of Mile’s world.  Spider-Gwen is keeping the world at bay, avoiding really connecting to people. And Spider-Ham is just hilarious.

This movie has a lot of heart, there are genuinely touching moments. Moments between Miles and his father, Peter and the life he has left in his universe (wondering if it is even worth going back to). Miles and Gwen, Miles and Peter….

But the film is also ridiculously funny.  I mean, seriously funny. And part of that is in how the movie makes use of its medium. I cannot recall another animated film that took such grand opportunity to put it’s possibilities on full display.

In my book? This has been the best of all the Spider-Man movies. I want more with these characters. I want more movies with this version of Miles and his family and all the other Spider-People. This was a genuinely fun movie and I recommend checking it out. Sony raised the bar here…And I did not expect that.  But Marvel better pay attention.

 

Love is the Weapon (Wonder Woman, 2017)

wonder_woman_posterThere has been a lot of hype declaring that Wonder Woman is the best of the DC movies so far.  But that is not fair to the film.  Wonder Woman only had to be mediocre to rise to the top.  Wonder Woman is a much stronger film than that.  While Batman and Superman have had multiple appearances on movie screens, this is Wonder Woman’s first film in her 25 year history.  This in spite of the fact that she is an iconic character, she is part of DC’s “Holy Trinity” along with Batman and Superman.

It is no secret that despite financial success, the DC Cinematic Universe has hit a lot of speed bumps.  There have been things to like in previous outings, but overall, the films had a dark oppressive tone and frankly, Snyder and Company really did not get Superman at all.  One of the big pluses of Batman V Superman was, in fact Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman.  Enough so that I felt encouraged by the film.  It help that it was in the hands of a director other than Snyder.

And what do you know?  It worked.  Wonder Woman is an origin tale, which is no surprise.  But the film opens with a beautiful sense of awe on the island of Themyscira (or as Steve Trevor calls it “Paradise Island”).  We see warriors training, being watched by young Diana.  She want to learn to fight, but her mother Hippolyta is adamant she will not be trained.  As time passes, Diana learns combat in secret, much to the disappointment of her mother.  Hippolyta eventually relents, but demands Diana be trained harder than any Amazon before her.

When a pilot on the run from the Germans crashes into the ocean near Themyscira it is clear that the war (World War 1) may come to them.  Diana makes impassioned pleas to her mother that the Amazon’s must step in and join the war.  In the end, she sneaks off the Island with Trevor to find and destroy the Greek god of war, Ares.

Diana is cast in the role of wide eyed innocent in a world she does not quite understand.  And the film follows largely in suit.  She has moments of child like wonder.  For example, sshe sees a baby-something she never saw on her island home-home and instantly wants to run over to it.  She tastes ice cream and tells the vendor that they should be very proud.  Even the sexual humor is polite in this film.  Yet, the innocence is not at the expense of Wonder Woman’s character.  No, it is integral to her nobility.  She believes the best.  She believes mankind was created to be good and noble, only corrupted by Ares’ cruel nature.  And then she must come to terms with the fact that this may not be the case.  Mankind may be capable of both greatness and the worst.

It is the little moments of goodness that start to drive Diana, as she sees the small treasures in the band of mercenaries she and Steve are saddled with.  At one point, one of the men buckles in combat, unable to do the one thing he was brought there to do.  When he suggests they leave him behind, Diana looks to him with a gentle smile and asks who would sing for them?  This instantly changes his spirit.  And that is the thing with Wonder Woman.  She is a fierce warrior.  She is powerful and dangerous.  But she is driven by kindness.  She is drive by love.  She is driven by hope.  And that is something that was missing in the DC Cinematic Universe.  A *hopeful* tone.  This is what the first Wonder Woman movie brought us.  Light in a dark movie universe.

There was a lot of talk about how Warner Brothers took a real gamble on Patty Jenkins as director.  That is a whole other discussion.  But if it was a gamble?  It paid off.  And Gal Gadot is proving herself to be the right choice for the role.  She has grace and kindness, but is equally convincing as a warrior.

Wonder Woman is most certainly the best DC film, in large part due to the fact that it really understands it’s hero.

To Infinity And… (Star Trek Beyond, 2016)

Star-Trek-Beyond-PosterIn the third film since J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek Universe, we get an original story.  And really? It is quite a bit of fun.  It begins a bit shaky with attempts to give us brief character moments that are not entirely effective.  It is nice to see McCoy taking a bigger role then the last film, and more of a focus on the friendship of he and Jim.  And hey, they are actually in the midst of their five year mission of exploration!  The previous two films were set before that.

We find James T. Kirk having lost his way in the far reaches of space.  Not literally, but spiritually.  He is not alone, Spock is having a personal crisis regarding his role on the enterprise versus feeling of obligation to his fellow Vulcans.  While visiting a space station, they are contacted by an unfamiliar species, a captain who begs for help for her stranded ship.  The Enterprise takes her out only to be attacked and (in the long standing tradition of Trek) destroyed.  To be honest, this sequence gets a little boring as it seems endless and kind of confusing.  But when the crew lands and is dispersed on a nearby planet, the film kicks into gear.

I was skeptical of bringing a director of the Fast and Furious (admittedly director of some of the best films in the franchise) in to direct.  But Justin Lin shows a lot of skill at making an energetic sci-fi film.  The villain’s full motives are mysterious at first, but when revealed it all falls into place.

Everyone’s performances are true to form and this feels like an action packed version of the original crew.  It is not that much deeper than the previous two installments, but it is far more effective in it’s story telling.  Personally, I found the interaction between Spock and McCoy tremendously enjoyable.  they had nice moments of expression of concern and admiration as well as some entertaining banter.  Kirk’s “ladies man” persona is downplayed in this film, he never even hits on Jaylah, the pretty alien girl.

If ranking the Altered Timeline films, I would say Beyond is easily the best as it hits it’s marks.  The villain is a strong and compelling threat (something the previous entries suffered at) and the villains plan at least makes sense and is not entirely dependent on complete coincidence.  Okay, maybe a slight coincidence.  But I enjoyed Star Trek Beyond, and enjoyed it very much.

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