Boldly Going Pt 8 (Star Trek: First Contact, 1996)

ST_First_Contact_PosterFor the Sophomore voyage of the Next Generation crew, they pulled a Wrath of Khan and a Voyage Home.  They reached back to a central villain from the the series, the Borg, and added time travel.

Picard is still haunted by a voice from his time in the Borg Collective. When he senses the Borg are mounting an attack on the Earth, he is surprised to learn that the Federation feels there is too much risk for him to be there and command that the Enterprise patrol the neutral zone.

Picard and the crew decide they cannot sit things out. They arrive to find that the Borg are on the verge of victory, but Picard gives the fleet the orders to hit the right coordinates to destroy the Borg ship.  A small escape ship trails out and the Enterprise follows it, only for it to open a rift in tine and space, they realize as they follow, time is changing around them, the Borg have gone to the past to assimilate a defenseless pre-Federation Earth.

The Borg manage to damage a small community that happens to be the base of operations of the first man to achieve Warp Speed just days before his flight. After the Borg ship is destroyed, the Enterprise crew sets about making sure the flight happens.

But while Riker and his team work to correct history, the Borg managed to get to the Enterprise before their ship was destroyed and Picard must lead the charge against the attempts by the Borg to take over the Enterprise and its crew.

First Contact is highly regarded, and not unjustly.  It is easily one of the best of the entire film series.  The Borg provide a new perspective on Picard and pairing him with Alfre Woodard’s 21st Century Lily (who ends up trapped on the Enterprise) is a perfect choice as she is able to see past his authority and is not afraid to call Picard out in a moment of machismo.

The film mines a lot of humor from Zefram Cochran’s unwillingness to embrace the hero Geordi and Riker expect him to be.

There is a lot going on with themes of heroism, revenge, blinded by one’s perceived righteous anger and fear of the demands others place on you.

The performances, from the regular cast to Alice Krige as the Borg Queen, James Cromwell as Zefram Cochran and the previously mentioned Alfre Woodard are some of the best of the franchise.

The film holds up as a true high water mark for what the Star trek Franchise can be and is easily rewarding for multiple visits.

 

Quicktime (Sonic the Hedgehog, 2020)

Sonic_the_Hedgehog_PosterSonic popularity came about at a time when I had no access to video games. So I watched a lot of the discourse around the film lacking any real skin in the game.  There are two things that stood out.  One was the initial trailer that drew outrage over the look of the Sonic.  This led to the studio rushing back to the drawing board and aggressively redesigning and animating an all new Sonic model. Since the movie was released, it seems pretty universal that the altered model is a big improvement.

The second issue seemed to revolve around how relevant this would be for young kids. One example is that on Fandom’s Charting with Dan, Dan Murrell and Lon Harris asked if kids really cared about Sonic. But honestly, at the time, the only reason I expected to see the movie, it was because my nephews liked Sonic and wanted to see the movie.

We are introduced to young Sonic, who lives on a magical island in another universe and is looked after by an Owl.  She warns Sonic that he has special abilities that people will always want to exploit, and so he must always keep himself a secret. She gives him special rings of gold and explains to him that if trouble ever happens, he must escape to another universe using the rings.  When they are attacked, Sonic is forced to leave on his own. He ends up in our world, where he spends the next ten years living in hiding.

He lives his life alone, pretending to have friendships with all the locals, with a special attachment to the local Sheriff, who he has named Donut Lord. Meanwhile, Donut Lo-uh Tom lives with his wife and is trying to chase a life of excitement by joining a larger police force. When Sonic accidentally causes a massive power outage with his powers, the U.S. Government sends out eccentric scientist Doctor Robotnik to find Sonic.

Tom finds himself road tripping with Sonic to San Francisco to locate his lost rings, bonding and trying to escape the grasp of Robotnik.

And you know…the movie is actually a lot of fun. Ben Schwartz voices Sonic with an excited child like quality.  James Marsden is always a solid Every Man (in spite of his leading man good looks). And Jim Carrey is clearly having a blast here.

The CGI works pretty well, and successfully bridges the cartoonish and real.

I am not a huge fan of the whole “You can Never Share Your Secret” narratives, as it often feels kind of an easy setup. But for the most part, once the movie kicks into gear, you kind of forget about it until the end.  Some of the humor falls flat (like the running jokes about Olive Garden).

But I was far more entertained by this film than I expected to be.  Sonic is one of the more fun video game adaptions and makes for nice light entertainment.

 

Marvel Begins (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011)

Captain-America-First-Avenger-PosterCaptain America was a hotly debated character for the Marvel Films.  Could a character so tied to American Nationalism be a hero the world loved?  Joe Johnston (who directed Disney’s fun comic book movie the Rocketeer 20 years earlier) was brought in and found a way to make that answer be yes.  Among the choices made were to set the film in World War 2, rather than begin in Present day.  Chris Evans was hired on to play Steve Rogers.  This was not his first foray into a Marvel Property, He was Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) in the 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four Films.  He was also one of the Evil Exes in Edgar Wright’s adaption of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novels.

The film quickly establishes Steve Rogers as heroic, in spite of his physical weakness.  He will take a beating.  Standing up for him is his buddy ‘Bucky’ Barnes.  This is one of the film’s biggest deviations.  In the comics, Bucky was a teen sidekick to Captain America.  The filmmakers (rightly) realized that may not play so well.  And there is a twist to having Bucky go from Steve’s savior to needing saving by Steve.  Steve’s multiple rejections by the military catch the attention of a part of our military that is looking for someone to be a part of an experiment.  While many try, scrawny Steve Rogers keeps managing to stand out, not by his physical prowess, but by ingenuity.  This catches the eye of British officer Peggy Carter.

One of the things the movie does so well is that they avoid tropes.  Peggy and Steve are smitten before his transformation.  She is impressed by who he is, not what he is.  It would have been easy to make her yet another obstacle for her to notice only after he is physically altered.  And yet, due to a terror incident that destroys the remaining Super Soldier serum, Steve is still unable to see combat.  Instead, he is reduced to a promoter of War Bonds and propaganda.

Evans really sells Roger’s frustration and even feelings of humiliation.  But while on a USO tour, he ends up making a big save, convincing the military they need him.  This leads to crossing paths with the Red Skull, who is determined to rule the world through Hydra.  Hydra begins as an arm of the Nazis, but has it’s own goals.

The film ultimately hangs on Evans to sell the character of Captain America, and boy does he sell it.  He comes off as kind, dedicated to justice and most of all, simply heroic.  He is supported but a great cast of actors.  Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast as Colonel Phillips.  Hugo Weaving got one of the better villain roles, since he gets to simply be Nazi Evil Incarnate.  The movie makes the choice to introduce the Howling Commandos (Sans Nick Fury) as the team that works with Cap.  They are an entertaining bunch.

But the standout is Haley Atwell.  She is more than Cap’s love interest.  She is a tough and clever military officer.  But at the same time?  She and Evans have a real solid chemistry, and when the film reaches it’s inevitable conclusion, their exchange (certain Steve is heading to his death) is heartbreaking.

Johnston gives us a terrific film that stands on it’s own, even if part of it’s purpose is to set up the first Avengers film.

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