Friday, 17 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Review: How far into the Darkness can they go?

The thing about the first Star Trek movie, as made by J.J. Abrams, was that it had some big shoes to fill. Star Trek's legacy has lasted nearly 50 years. From it's very beginnings in the 1960s and the constant threat of near cancellation, through 4 consecutive spinoffs, 3 of which lasted 7 years in length. It already had 6 movies with the original cast and 4 with the Next Generation cast. Not to mention all the various video games, books and other content that's out there for people to absorb. Big shoes to fill might be a massive understatement given the circumstances.

Yet J.J. Abrams managed to succeed in giving old and new fans exactly what they want. A film that both respects the legacy of the previous shows, not to mention the one it's based on, and still manages to bring something to it that doesn't require new fans to understand everything about the previous version to enjoy it. J.J. Abrams has often said about the new Star Trek movies that he wanted to bring a sense of Star Wars to the Star Trek universe (a statement that some consider controversial, particularly now that he has been hired to helm the new Star Wars movies) and I think he succeeded on a certain level while maintaining what was great about Star Trek.

Personally, I've always been more of a Star Trek fan then a Star Wars fan. I enjoyed both but what attracted me to Star Trek was the sense of morality that was inherent to the way the shows worked. In the 60s, Star Trek was most often about the morality of race relations and the sense of threat that nuclear weapons posed in the face of the Cold War. With Star Trek: TNG, it focused a lot on the post-Cold War mentality, with DS9 there was talk of religious conflict and uncertainty, Voyager was most often about maintaining ideals without the structure to keep them in place, and Enterprise was about where that type of morality begins.

The first J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie never really had that moral compass behind it that I recall. I watched it again recently and I wasn't able to figure that part of it out. Thankfully, Star Trek Into Darkness didn't have that problem. It had a clear message of morality to it that was the beating heart of the story. Much like the first one however, it kept that sense of adventure and simplicity to it that made the first one a joy to watch regardless of the level of knowledge you have about the characters and the history that it comes from. It also manages to maintain a sense of humor about itself and that history which long time fans will absolutely love.

Particularly when it comes to one aspect of the story which I will not ruin for you and maintain your reason for going to see it if you're a long time Star Trek fan. Suffice to say there are expectations that people have about this film no matter what your level of interest in Star Trek is which are both met and in my opinion exceeded. For the second time J.J. Abrams has created a film that is funny, smart, action packed and emotionally honest. He understands the audience he's catering to and he's not afraid to give them what they want, but he's also not afraid to do the unexpected. He flips some expectations on their head and within the context of the story he's telling it's the best thing he could do.

I was concerned that given the title that they were going to take the story into a dark place and shift things to a place where the things I liked about Star Trek don't really apply. With the exception of a noticeable reduction in lens flairs, they haven't done it and thank god for that. There's a reason why J.J. Abrams is one of the hottest directors in Hollywood right now and Star Trek Into Darkness is proof of exactly why.

How far into Darkness can they go? Just the right amount to give us a great film that's a worthy addition to the Star Trek legacy.

Check out the trailer below:

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Iron Man 3 Review: Is the 3rd time the charm?

Any decent film franchise will try to recover from a failure if the potential upside outweighs the downfall. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Like most people, I wasn't a big fan of Iron Man 2. It had its moments and some great characters, most notably Scarlett Johansson in a skin tight suit kicking butt and taking names. Not to mention any movie that involves Samuel L. Jackson always gets a bump in credibility with me. That man can read the phone book and make it fascinating. Oh, and did I mention Scarlett Johansson in a skin tight suit? Even that can't save a badly told story from a weak script. As a friend recently told me, a good story can make people forgive bad production value but the reverse isn't necessarily true.

Thankfully, Iron Man 3 has a good story and good production value. Whereas Iron Man 2 was more wrapped up in setting the scene for The Avengers and the preceeding Captain America and Thor movies, this movie is about the aftermath. How does Tony Stark live with what he's seen and done? What does a scientist do when his perception of the world has been shattered and he realizes that the world is much bigger and more deadly then he could have imagined? Can a hero even operate under that kind of environment? That's the reality that Tony Stark is living with at the beginning of the film and the theme of the whole movie.

It's a powerful theme and something that's pretty common in the superhero film genre, particularly in today's world. Doing it well and in a fresh way takes a lot of planning and a good foundation. The best part about adapting a comic book character with as many years behind it as Iron Man, you have a lot to draw from. Particularly when your audience may not be as familiar with the character's history as most hardcore fans. The first film raised the profile of the character but I'm guessing that the fans of the first two films didn't go out and read all the best comics of the character. I can count myself among such fans.

Still, I know enough to know what makes a good superhero film for the bigger fans. This film has a lot of those elements but doesn't require you to go out and read through every comic book to understand the context. It also refocuses the story on the main character, something sorely lacking in a film that has such a self-centered hero. In the end though, I think most people will be very happy with the latest installment of the Iron Man franchise. It's smart, funny and has a lot to say about the world we live in. The way a great movie of this type of film genre should do things. Even better is the fact that we know that this franchise is far from over. They have Thor and Captain America 2 coming out and while the film doesn't appear to set up anything for them, it does leave you with room to do another chapter if the folks at Marvel want to.

And with the sucess they have been having lately they most certainly will. Unlike other film trilogies, the character's story isn't entirely wrapped up but many elements which have been carried over through the three films do get a resolution of sorts.

Is the 3rd time the charm for Iron Man? I was definitely charmed by it and I look forward to seeing more from the character and the Marvel Universe.

Check out the trailer below: