The failure of the modern Star Treks

So I’d like a rant, of sorts, about Star Trek. Ever since J.J. rebooted this franchise, dragging it into the modern era, he set a new standard. Trouble is – and this is a problem many blockbusters have suffered in the last decade – his baddies have been under par. Yes, I get that he was rebooting and yes, I get that the focus is always going to be on the new Kirk and the new Spock and the rest of them, but I consider it dropping the ball a little to skimp on your bad guy. Especially in this day and age.

Maybe it’s excusable if corrected after the first film. Which, on paper, seemed to be the case with the casting of one of Britain’s finest for the sequel, Benedict Cumberbatch. Yet he hammed it up to the hammiest degree you ever did see (under J.J.’s direction) and his character didn’t really have enough depth to be a worthy villian (particularly as he was meant to be Khan) and his actions as a character made little sense, if you examined them in any close detail.

Then for the third film, Star Trek: Beyond we got a new director in Justin Lin (of Fast & Furious fame) and the geeky credentials of Simon Pegg on scripting duties.

So I had hope. Sadly, it was misplaced.

For the first film we had Eric Bana as the bad guy, then Cumberbatch, and for Beyond we got Idris Elba. So three guys, all with a specific vengeance they needed to settle. All utterly unknown to the new Kirk and his crew. So you sort of end up having to build the bad guy backstory each time.

And I get that films are standalone and aren’t TV, yet the lines are blurred these days.

Take James Bond as an example; where storylines and characters have continued under Sam Mendes’ watch. A juggernaut of a studio franchise, yet had kept some throughline in terms of evil organisations (although kind of squandered it all for SPECTRE, so maybe my point doesn’t hold up that well).

Anyway, I’m rambling, back to Star Trek.

Now I’m not saying that the ‘big bad’ has to Klingons or Romulans, but it’s getting pretty samey pretty quickly introducing a single bad guy with a weak motivation. There’s got to be other ways to do it?

And also, Pegg and Co… stop nicking stuff from Star Wars. I get that it’s kind of the benchmark when it comes to space adventures, but Star Trek is meant to be geekier, and it feels like it’s gone way too towards gung-ho action. And I say this not as a die-hard Trek fan, but a casual one. I can’t imagine how riled the hardline fans must be.

So my rant isn’t really a rant, it’s more an observation. I find these films fun popcorn movies, good for all the family on a Sunday afternoon and all that, but that’s it. I don’t know why I felt the need to voice this, but I feel Trek fans deserve more, and the characters deserve more.

Otherwise, not only will this franchise not live long, it won’t even prosper. Not even short term.

Hail Hydra. (Ah crap, wrong franchise.)

The World’s End and a marmalade sandwich

Just one Cornettoooo, give it to meeee! Is what I imagine fans have been singing outside Edgar Wright’s door for the last six years, demanding the final chapter of the Cornetto trilogy. God, has it been that long?

worlds-end-new-trailerWe had a mere three years between Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), yet it’s been twice that wait for the final instalment. Was it worth it? Largely…yes. I consider that a definitive answer. More than my usual balanced, sitting-on-the-fence reviews anyway. I’ll explain why but first, a quick run down of the plot.

Now, for those not in-the-know, me referring to The World’s End as the final of a trilogy can be somewhat confusing.

What links them?

Maybe unofficial trilogy is more accurate. Essentially, in-jokes, small telling references and the core team of Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost. Plus the very British tone and setting of each film. Oh – and actual Cornettos. Other than that, you’ve got a zombie comedy (Shaun essentially coined the term ‘zom-com’), a playful poke at ’80s action buddy cop movies, and now a sort of warped, apocalyptic, alien sci-fi.

It all begins with Garry King (Pegg) at an AA meeting, recounting the best night of his life; a pub crawl round his home town during his teens with childhood pals. 12 pubs, 12 pints.worlds-end-set-photo However, they never finish the crawl. A plan forms. Reunite the old gang and finish what they started. The crawl begins innocently enough, however they quickly realise the sleepy town is not what it once was, having quite possibly been taken over by aliens…or robots. They can’t quite decide as they’re drunk.

The issue I have is I’m guilty of comparing this to their past work. Ultimately you should judge a film on its own merits. It should stand on its own two feet. Unless of course, it is part of a true trilogy. As this isn’t I feel slightly torn comparing it to Shaun and Hot Fuzz. The former a comedy classic, the latter not far behind and improving with every viewing. This outing is a familiar, yet noticeably different beast.

Largely, The World’s End feels more epic in scope, the characters more layered and complex, and Wright’s direction feels more assured and technically accomplished (he’s clearly learnt how to direct good fight scenes from Scott Pilgrim). 48-the-worlds-end-filmAn interesting twist has Frost playing against type as the straight one for much of the film, as lawyer Andrew Knightley. Pegg’s Gary King is the loose, cavalier wildcard – brilliantly described by one reviewer as a cross between Neo and David Brent. As Mark Kermode says, ‘Damn, I wish I’d said that first!’

If you were to judge this as the final part of a trilogy, I’d say you can see clear progression. Shaun felt like a youthful, exuberant romp with zombies as a backdrop. Hot Fuzz offered a little more of the same, yet felt a shade more developed in terms of storytelling, comedy and action set pieces. The natural, easy chemistry between Pegg and Frost has also grown. The World’s End feels like the natural conclusion – easily the most grown up of the three. A comedy, but with more to say and more complex yet subtle ways of saying it.

That’s not to say it’s not free flowing and a barrel of laughs. Pegg and Frost – in some ways – feel like they picked up where they left off in Hot Fuzz and, whilst (sort of) new additions (Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike) all get some juicy lines to sink their teeth into, it is and always will be the Pegg and Frost show – and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Oh, and the title of this piece refers to a redhead flanked by two blondes. If you’ve not seen the film yet, pay close attention to the fate of the marmalade/redhead, administered with gusto by Frost’s character. Gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘Until death do us part.’

On that note…the-worlds-end1

Star Trekking Into Darkness – make it so!

Space, the rebooted frontier. These are the voyages of Pine, Cumberbatch and Quinto. To boldly follow J.J. ‘lens flare’ Abrams where he’s – fairly impressively – been before. To seek out…OK, enough of that. You get the idea.

movies_startrekintodarkness1Following the somewhat surprisingly successful reboot/relaunch/re-whatever of the Star Trek franchise in 2009, the young, sexy cast return with the next instalment. In case you’ve forgotten the main lot include: Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Bones, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, John Cho as Sulu and Bruce Greenwood as Admiral Pike. A big cast you may say, but they make it work. Ultimately it’s the Kirk ‘n’ Spock show, as it should be.

Picking up largely where we left the characters in the first outing, the story starts with Kirk legging it away from a local tribe, on a mission to preserve their planet and way of life. Ultimately, he messes it up in terms of following procedure. movies-star-trek-into-darkness-4Spock files a report explaining how inept they were (despite Kirk’s actions saving his life) and Starfleet give him a slap on the wrist, taking away his precious ship; saying he’s wild, reckless and needs to learn to be a proper leader.

With big ship comes big responsibility

We know where this is going. Kirk needs to rise to the occasion, become the Captain that Admiral Pike believes he can be and form a closer bond with Spock by uniting against a common enemy: enter Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious John Harrison.

In terms of existing cast, they’re all settling in to their roles nicely in what is effectively the ‘difficult second album’. Star Trek Anton YelchinAs mentioned earlier, it’s the Kirk ‘n’ Spock show. The film lives or dies by Pine and Quinto’s chemistry. Happily, they pick up where they left off in the first one and build on it – their characters becoming closer as the story progresses. That said, I’d like to single out Anton Yelchin as Chekov, going toe-to-toe with Simon Pegg’s Scotty for the ‘Best comic relief’ award. Does Chekov take this one? Hard to say, Scotty does have a nice run down a corridor. Let’s call it a draw.

New crew addition Alice Eve as Dr Carol Marcus seemed to unbalance things. Pains me to say as I’m a big fan, but I think she was surplus to requirements. Too pretty, even for this cast?

As far as baddies go, Cumberbatch will have pleased his Cumberbitches no end; looking all tall and buffed and dark and moody, with speed, strength and fierce intelligence. Ladies love an evil megalomaniac right?

benedict-cumberbatch-star-trek-into-darkness-3Force is strong in, er, these two

What failed to float my intergalactic boat was the little references to the other space franchise due a reboot, Star Wars. Intentional or not, there were things you could not ignore. For example, at one point we have Kirk and the gang fleeing Klingons in a disc-shaped ship, escaping by flying sideways through a gap – Millenium Falcon anyone?

Also, if we rewind 30 years or so, Chris Pine now as Kirk is essentially how Han Solo was back in the day. Honestly, what’s the difference? Loveable, roguish, an eye for the ladies, charming, a reluctant leader. Starts as a selfish character, becomes more selfless and heroic as the films progress. Kirk sacrificing his life to save his crew versus Solo risking his life being frozen in carbonite to protect Leia. The characters are more and more alike the more you hold them up to each other. Hint of things to come for Star Wars perhaps? Recipe for franchise success: follow the Abrams blueprint.

All in all, Star Trek Into Darkness was an enjoyable second instalment and felt like the second half of an Abrams two-parter. Unless he’s got a trilogy in mind with this cast? There were references – and a short scene – involving Klingons after all. Would be surprising if the next one doesn’t have them front and centre. Could be a belter!

To finish, I’ll leave you with an expert lesson in blending old and new. Live long and prosper.