Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Also known as: Star Trek XII, Star Trek 2, 2, Untitled Star Trek Sequel (working titles)
Release Date: April 23rd, 2013 (Sydney premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Greenwood, Deep Roy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Noel Clarke, Chris Hemsworth, Heather Langenkamp, Bill Hader (voice)

Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Productions, K/O Paper Products, Paramount Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“He used my friends to control me. I tried to smuggle them to safety by concealing them in the very weapons I have designed. But I was discovered. I had no choice but to escape alone. And when I did, I had every reason to suspect that Marcus had killed every single one of the people I hold most dear. So I responded in kind. My crew is my family, Kirk. Is there anything you would not do for your family?” – Khan

There is one simple thing that ruins this movie. It’s still enjoyable and a lot of fun but this film could have actually been pretty great. What ruins it is the reveal that Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison is actually Khan Noonien Singh.

While this film was being made, everyone and their mother speculated that Cumberbatch was Khan. The filmmakers promised us that he wasn’t. It was a pretty big debate at the time going on within the Star Trek fan community. So when the reveal comes in the film, which was no surprise to anyone, it sort of made me go, “Really, MFer?! So you guys lied?!” Did they try to salvage the reveal by denying it? Did they think that would work and then the fans would be pleasantly surprised? Maybe that kind of Hollywood bullshittery is why Disney wanted J. J. Abrams to helm their first Star Wars movie.

I’m not really that pissed about it in retrospect. But it is worth mentioning how this film had some controversy around it because of that. But hey, the normies loved it, as they loved the previous Abrams Trek film and the post-Lucas Star Wars films. But I digress.

I did love Cumberbatch as the villain here but he didn’t need to be Khan. He should have stayed John Harrison and been a character in the same vein as Khan. There could be other genetically modified warlords from Earth’s past that were put on ice for centuries. Or he could have been an acolyte of Khan, leading up to a third film where Khan is unleashed.

The problem I have with Cumberbatch as Khan is that he doesn’t look the part, act the part or feel Khan-like in any way whatsoever. I’m not sure why he was cast, other than he is an incredible actor. He just feels wasted being wedged into a mold where he doesn’t quite fit. But again, he’s damn good, all things considered. Maybe Hollywood was all out of Mexican actors to play Indian despots?

But as good as Cumberbatch is, he is overshadowed by an even more villainous character that became a total curveball and pleasant surprise within the film, Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus. Weller just owns this film in every single scene that features him. Plus, his vessel was one of the most intimidating in Star Trek history. He just fit the part so well and looked like a tyrant king sitting in his captain’s chair like it was a throne over the galaxy.

I also liked that the film finally included the Klingons, even though it got them wrong and made them look bizarre. The Klingons’ look has varied over the years but the look from the original movies and the television shows from Star Trek: The Next Generation on became their iconic look. Deviating from that makes little sense. They could have toned it down and made them look more like they did in the original series from the ’60s but no, Abrams had to make his own stupid version of them.

The crew was good in this but that carries over from the first film. I thought that most of the casting was well done and it’s nice to see them work better as a unit now without Kirk and Spock bickering for 75 percent of the movie. But I guess that’s replaced with Spock and Uhura bickering.

I did enjoy the addition of Alice Eve to the cast as crew member Dr. Carol Marcus, daughter of Weller’s evil admiral. She had great chemistry with Chris Pine and Dr. Marcus was a character I loved from the original movies. But where the hell was she in Star Trek Beyond? But I’ll address that when I review it.

The opening sequence of the movie is beautiful and really cool. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of this Kelvin timeline trilogy. The rest of the movie feels cold, as it primarily takes place in space until we get to see Earth at the end. There’s also about 5 minutes of the Klingon homeworld but it is mostly seen during a spaceship chase that just feels a lot like what Abrams gave us in the first act of The Force Awakens when Rey and Finn escaped the desert planet by flying through shipwrecked Star Destroyers.

Also, the scenes that are call backs to older Trek moments were pretty cringe. The scene where Kirk dies and Spock is on the other side of the glass, a role reversal from the end of Wrath of Khan, was so awkward and off putting that it sucked you out of the film. Plus, you knew that Kirk would be alive again in ten minutes and the emotional impact wasn’t there.

If they would have fine tuned this movie a bit more, not made Cumberbatch reveal himself to be Khan and not meddled with establish canon and character design, then this could have been a damn fine space adventure. At its core, it still doesn’t feel like Star Trek in spirit but there are very few modern filmmakers that I think could pull that off, especially when trying to appeal to the widest modern audience possible.

There is a lot to like with this movie but there are so many things wrong with it that it’s bogged down by its own bullshit.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Kelvin timeline Star Trek films: Star Trek and Star Trek Beyond.

Film Review: Star Trek (2009)

Also known as: Star Trek XI, Star Trek Zero, Corporate Headquarters, The Ernest Castelhun Chronicles, Untitled Walter Lace Project, Star Trek: The Future Begins (working titles), Star Trek: The Beginning (South Korea),
Release Date: April 6th, 2009 (Austin premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast:  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Greenwood, Eric Bana, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, Clifton Collins Jr., Rachel Nichols, Deep Roy, Tyler Perry, Victor Garber (scene cut), Brad William Henke (scenes cut)

Spyglass Entertainment, Bad Robot Productions, Paramount Pictures, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t pander to me, kid. One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait’ll you’re sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see if you’re still so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding. Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” – Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy

I’ve loved the Star Trek franchise as long as I can remember. However, nothing has really resonated with me since the end of Enterprise in 2005. This film was an attempt at rebooting the franchise and altering the timeline so that it wasn’t forced into having to work within the framework of already established canon. I wouldn’t call that the best idea, as Star Trek has such a rich mythos that it doesn’t need to be rebooted, there are unlimited ways to tell stories within a franchise this large. But a reboot is what we got because Hollywood is gonna Hollywood.

That being said, for what this is, Star Trek isn’t a bad motion picture. It’s an unnecessary one but I did want to give it a shot because if this was all the Trek I was going to get, I wanted to try to make the best of it.

This could have been better though. They hired the wrong guy to direct, as he just wanted to make Star Wars movies, which he would later do, and wasn’t a fan of Star Trek and didn’t really understand what it needed to be in contrast to what Star Wars is.

The director, J. J. Abrams, also made some strange stylistic choices in how he made the Enterprise look and how he went absolutely ape shit with the use of lens flares and lighting. The film is almost headache inducing at times.

As far as the story goes, the altering of the timeline really seems moot, as there are things that are different before the moment of that alteration. I’m specifically talking about the time Enterprise was already in space before Kirk showed up, as well as Spock’s previous service on the ship and Captain Pike’s role in everything.

Additionally, the story really seems to be a rehash of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, which Abrams would also heavily borrow from for his first Star Wars movie, Episode VII – The Force Awakens. But this is the same guy who also borrowed heavily from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for his picture Super 8. It all kind of makes me wonder what his next Star Wars film will heavily borrow from.

In the realm of Star Trek movies, this is better than the worst films that came before it but it doesn’t come close to the greatness of Wrath of KhanThe Voyage HomeThe Undiscovered Country or First Contact. As its own film, separate from the series, it is a fun, space action movie. I will give it that. It is a good adventure and a better than average popcorn movie but we’ve seen this all before and done much better.

In retrospect, I’m pretty happy with most of the casting. I never liked the idea of anyone else ever playing the original crew but that bad idea is salvaged fairly well with most of the cast choices. I like Pine as Kirk, Quinto as Spock and Urban as Bones. However, I just don’t see how they will ever have the chemistry that Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley had. But since this series was cancelled after the third film, I guess we’ll never see what develops between the three men over the long haul.

But this film also diminishes McCoy’s importance, as the relationship they focus on is just between Kirk and Spock and not the trinity we all came to love on the original television show and the movies of the ’80s. And that’s a shame, really, as I love Karl Urban’s commitment to the McCoy character. He just nails it so well. I think he actually understands the role much more than Abrams, the man behind the camera.

I’m probably coming off as harsh but I’m just calling it like I see it. I did enjoy revisiting this, as it was a quick paced, exciting film. It did have some heart in the moments where Leonard Nimoy, as the older Spock, came into the story. But it did lack the right sort of emotion to make me feel for these characters.

do like this for the most part but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t just a framework for something that could have been richer and more intimate. A lot of the pieces to this puzzle were good and while some connected, it’s as if the filmmakers gave up about halfway through and just threw all the pieces back into the box.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Kelvin timeline Star Trek films: Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond.

Film Review: The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Release Date: April 6th, 1984 (West Germany)
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Written by: Wolfgang Petersen, Herman Weigel
Based on: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Music by: Klaus Doldinger, Giorgio Moroder
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach, Moses Gunn, Patricia Hayes, Sydney Bromley, Gerald McRaney, Deep Roy, Tilo Pruckner, Frank Welker, Alan Oppenheimer

Neue Constantin Film, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

I really like Flashback Cinema and the fact that they bring beloved classics back to the big screen for modern audiences. I was especially excited to revisit The NeverEnding Story, as it was one of the first films I saw in the theater as a kid. I also must have watched it a few hundred times on VHS from the mid-1980s through the 1990s. I had planned to review this a few months back but when I got wind that it was on Flashback Cinema’s docket, I decided to wait and see it on the big screen again.

It was cool seeing this in a theater, over thirty years later, with a new generation of kids present. Unlike most family films I have seen in recent years, the children were quiet and pulled right into the film. It didn’t feel hokey or aged or like an ancient relic that couldn’t compete with the giant blockbusters of the 2010s. The audience was engaged and it was nice seeing parents genuinely happy that their kids connected to something that they once held dear.

That being said, The NeverEnding Story still plays really well. Sure, it has aged and the effects are outdated but the magic is still alive and strong in the picture and it rises above its limitations and still transcends the screen.

I wasn’t a great judge of an actor’s performance when I was a kid, as most kids aren’t, but the performances by the child cast are phenomenal. Noah Hathaway is beyond amazing as Atreyu, Barret Oliver made Bastian relatable to every kid and Tami Stronach, even with limited screen time, is sweet, elegant and perfect in the role of the Empress. It is rare that you can see one good child actor but this is a film that features three great performances by children, who I wish had done a lot more work after the film. They are the real force that makes the film work.

Moses Gunn, Deep Roy and Tilo Pruckner were all fantastic as well, even though each of them had little time to shine. Gunn’s stoic but serious presence added a legitimacy to the narrative. However, it was Thomas Hill’s Mr. Coreander that really takes the cake, as every line he delivered was perfect and chilling. It is great seeing him return in the sequel, even if that film doesn’t live up to this one.

The special effects are really well done for a German film that didn’t have the budget of bigger American movies. The creatures and their facial animatronics were superb, especially those used for Falcor the luck dragon and G’Mork the evil gigantic wolf. Most of the sets were well designed and accompanied by fabulous matte paintings for their backdrop. This was also a great time for matte paintings in cinema and this film features some of the best work in the pre-CGI era.

The success of this film lead to great things for director Wolfgang Petersen, who would go on to do many more English language films and find a permanent place in Hollywood. He had already got an Oscar nomination for Das Boot before this picture but it was The NeverEnding Story that gave him a career that allowed him to direct later films such as Enemy MineIn The Line of FireOutbreakAir Force OneThe Perfect Storm and Troy.

The NeverEnding Story is a family classic. It is one of the best fantasy films ever made and based off of my experience, seeing it in the theater in 2017, it is a timeless motion picture. Hopefully, later generations will also find the film and appreciate it like millions already have.