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.)

Top ten films of 2013… er, and some others

Looking back, it’s not been a bad year for cinema. Perhaps not vintage, but we’ve had some crackers over the last twelve months. Here are my whittled down favourites, followed by a list of those I’m sure I’d like a lot but have yet to see. So… two lists, in a weird way.

Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek Anton YelchinIt’s cumberbitches versus pine nuts in JJ Abrams’ second outing as director on this franchise. Fine job he did too, upping the ante for Kirk and co in a most satisfying way; with a new twist on Kahn, something that arguably angered die-hard trekkies, but kept the Enterprise on course for the rest of us.

Captain Phillips
captain-phillips01Director Paul Greengrass played to his strengths in this smart and highly tense retelling of a real life tale of Somali pirates capturing a cargo ship on the high seas. And Tom Hanks gives one of the performances of the year, and indeed perhaps his career.

Rush
Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl in Ron Howard's RushEpic return to form for director Ron Howard in this thrilling look at the rivalry between two F1 legends: James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), the latter giving a phenomenal performance as a man fighting to retain his title following a horrific injury.

The World’s End
worlds-end-new-trailerPegg, Frost and Wright conclude the cornetto trilogy with their most ambitious tale yet; featuring pubs, pints, blue aliens and a sexy marmalade sandwich. A satisfying conclusion for the trio and it’ll be interesting to see what they do next.

Cloud Atlas
cloud-atlas-somniDavid Mitchell’s book is unfilmable… or was until the pair behind The Matrix – the Wachowski siblings – got their hands on it. What resulted was a breathtaking set of intertwining stories and storytelling and imagination at its finest.

Django Unchained
django shadesThe first Tarantino tale to be told in a linear fashion (i.e. no chapter element) tackled some big themes and finally showed everyone his take on a western – and what a take it was too. Epic, explosive and totally Tarantino.

The Place Beyond The Pines
130412CutdownPines_7474218Derek Cianfrance and Ryan Gosling are a bit of a match made in heaven. First Blue Valentine and now this; a series of three stories examining how the actions of fathers affect their sons. It’s a poignant and tender sort of tale, with strong performances from Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and a young Dane DeHaan.

Zero Dark Thirty
zerodarkthirtyReleased almost a year ago in January 2013 for us UK types; but still worthy of inclusion as it’s a tense affair, capturing Bin Laden and all that – one which, following the award laden The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow handled like a master at work.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaugAnother year, another trip to Middle Earth eh? Well, in this case, that’s largely a good thing, as Peter Jackson’s trilogy gets into full swing in this second outing with Bilbo, dwarves, Bard the Bowman and an almighty dragon sporting a fierce temper.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Hunger-games-catching-fire-lawrence_katnissThe difficult second album – or, in this case, the bleaker second album. Following the success of the first film the pressure was on this one to deliver. And it did, with a darker, more adult tone and another fine performance from Jennifer Lawrence.

MY ‘YET TO SEE’ FAVOURITES

  • Now You See Me – described as The Prestige for idiots by some critics and pure summer movie magic by others. Chances are it sits somewhere inbetween as a fun caper of a film.
  • Stoker – written by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller and directed by South Korean director Park chan-wook, this psychological thriller landed well with critics and looks an intriguing and mysterious tale.
  • Mud – Jeff Nichols is fast marking himself out as a director to watch, first Take Shelter and now this coming-of-age tale; continuing the career revival of one Matthew Mcconaughey.
  • Trance – seems, in his tea breaks when planning the Olympic ceremony, Danny Boyle knocked this film together; which goes to show how the rest of us really need to put in more effort. Whilst it’s more style over substance, it’s some style.
  • Gravity – making the number one film of many critics’ lists, this immersive and thrilling film by Alfonso Quaron showed that, if there’s a more compelling use of 3D we’re yet to see it.
  • Kill Your Darlings – the evolution of Daniel Radcliffe post-Potter continues, in this interesting look at the birth of the beat generation. As well as Radcliffe, up-and-comer Dane DeHaan reportedly put in another fine performance.
  • Robot & Frank – a quirky tale about a jewel thief, Frank (Frank Langella), who’s past his prime so his son buys him a domestic robot. His mood lifts when he realises he can use the robot to steal again.
  • The Bling Ring – spoilt LA brats rob celebrities in Sofia Coppola’s latest. A timely tale in today’s celebrity obsessed culture. Whilst the film got average reviews Emma Watson’s performance was praised by critics.
  • Blue is the Warmest Color – garnering a hugely positive response from critics, this film explored – over three hours no less – the relationship between two girls who fall in and out of love and everything in between.
  • Thor: The Dark World – Chris Hemsworth dusted off his red cape and hammer for another outing as the man from Asgard and, by all accounts, did a splendid job. Apparently, worldwide, this is the third-highest grossing film for Marvel studios.
  • Blue Jasmine – there really is no holding back Cate Blanchett at times, she’s easily one of the best actresses of our generation and really doesn’t get enough credit. Here she puts in arguably a career best performance in this film, which many have said marks a return to form for Woody Allen.
  • Philomena – a sweet and amusing tale of Philomena Lee’s (Judi Dench) 50-year search for her son Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan). Described as a profoundly affecting drama, this film was a hit with critics and audiences alike.
  • Kings of Summer – drawing comparisons with Son of Rambow (which I liked a lot), this film passed many people by, yet sounds like a wonderfully uplifting coming-of-age tale that should make your watch list, if you like this sort of thing.

Reading this back it’s rather shocking; there’s loads I’ve not seen. At least it gives me things to see over the next month or so. Still… the ones I did see were all a joy to experience. And some were a genuine surprise; as I went in with no expectations (often a good tactic).

What made your top ten of the year? And what’s still on your list to see?

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.