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Film Review - “Star Trek Into Darkness”
After the disappointing Iron Man 3, I tempered my expectations for the return of the rebooted Star Trek after four years, with director J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible 3, Star Trek, Super 8) still at the helm. But this was completely unnecessary - the hype were high, but Star Trek Into Darkness far exceeded them. It’s an almost a perfect example of how a blockbuster sequel should be handled – it’s exciting, dramatic, emotional, funny and remains reverent to the franchise while still feeling fresh and unique.
Star Trek Into Darkness picks up where the first film left off, with the Enterprise fulfilling its mission of exploration and protection. But after a devastating attack on Earth, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew must hunt down one of their own - fugitive terrorist called John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). The story, while similar in style to the first film, definitely feels like the next chapter and the right progression for these characters – it’s not a rehash at all. The stakes are far higher than before, and this time the danger feels very real. The film is consistently surprising, and captures everything that is great about Star Trek: the adventure, the peril, the depth. Although a good amount of the film is spent on or near Earth, it’s fascinating to see a glimpse of what everyday life is like in the future, and there is no shortage of awesome alien worlds and space-based shenanigans. Some really interesting moral issues and science-fiction concepts are explored, but at no point is it depressing or melodramatic; the filmmakers knows exactly what audiences want from a Star Trek film, and Into Darkness more than delivers. It’s such a fun film, and the script is very well written, with genuinely hilarious lines and deeply heartfelt character moments. The pacing is also top-notch; it doesn’t feel boring at any point in the movie and it’s just the right length. There are some great references to the original series that fans of the franchise will no doubt pick up on and love, but they don’t feel shoe-horned in at all. The balance between the old and the new is just right.
The acting is amazing across the board. Chris Pine brings Kirk to life in a unique but dynamic way; he understands the character and makes him feel even more human than in the last film. Zachary Quinto is perfect as Spock – he conveys the cold, calculating nature of the character very well, but manages to give his restrained emotion even more impact. Both Pine and Quinto handle the emotional scenes brilliantly, giving Into Darkness a kind of poignancy that just wasn’t present last time around. Zoe Saldana is superb as Uhura – she is a great example of a strong female character, although her vulnerability is shown appropriately. John Cho (Sulu), Simon Pegg (Scotty) and Karl Urban (Bones) all do well with their characters, and though he is great, Anton Yelchin’s Chekov does feels a bit side-lined. Like Saldana, newcomer Alice Eve does a good job of ensuring her character is not trodden upon by the men, although she could have done with a little more development. Benedict Cumberbatch, who has already shown his acting chops on the amazing Sherlock, was born to play a villain – he infuses John Harrison with a kind of menace, gravity, violence and power unseen in most blockbuster bad guys. He is chilling to the core, yet he still remains sympathetic and entirely awesome. A tad more screen time and elaboration on his background and motivations would have been nice, but for the most part he’s the villain we all hoped for and more.
Abrams has already proven that he knows what he’s doing behind the camera, but Into Darkness only serves to further display his ability. The CGI is astonishing and looks genuinely real throughout the whole film. Visually, everything feels very sleek and futuristic, but also grounded and real. Although the colour pallet is darker and more muted than the first film, it fits the story and themes, and there is still a large amount of vibrancy. There are some really brilliant examples of cinematography in Into Darkness, and the action scenes are exciting, hard-hitting and really well choreographed. Although yes, lens flare is present, it’s used nowhere near as much as in Star Trek and Super 8, which feels suitable for this dark second chapter. The sound design is also uniformly excellent – the sound effects on the Enterprise are so cool, and the film has a terrific soundtrack from Abrams regular Michael Giacchino.
If Star Trek Into Darkness proves anything, it’s that Star Wars: Episode VII is in capable hands. Abrams is a master of science-fiction, and has managed to craft a sequel that takes everything that was great about the first film and expanding upon it. It’s fun, hilarious, exciting and has a real sense of danger and peril, with some truly emotional scenes and universally fantastic acting. Although a couple of the characters could have done with a bit more screen time, the effects, sound design and overall directing are stellar. I really hope that Paramount don’t rush into a third film due to Abrams’ commitment to Star Wars, because he deserves to round off his trilogy with a quality final installment. Hollywood directors, take note of J.J. Abrams – he knows how to make a sequel.
- Elliott Finn
Film Review - “Iron Man 3”
It’s official: Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has begun. After The Avengers, where Iron Man teamed up with Thor, Captain America, the Hulk and others to save the world, Tony Stark is back in the spotlight. While not the dark third chapter I was hoping for, Iron Man 3 is an enjoyable and suitably bombastic action movie that fits right alongside Stark’s first two solo adventures.
Iron Man 3 has Tony Stark come under attack from the Mandarin and his deadly terrorist organisation. As the stakes continue to rise, and Stark is forced to rely on his intelligence rather than his technology, he must also deal with the emotional aftermath of the traumatic events of The Avengers. The film wastes no time with preamble and cuts right to the chase, and the first two acts remain engaging throughout. The third act, however, is a little bit muddled. Not only are some plot points under developed, but things also sillier and more over-the-top than one would expect from an Iron Man film. There are some genuinely compelling scenes between the characters though, and I love how Tony’s mental state is handled. But Marvel should have taken a darker and riskier approach to the story, maybe injecting a bit of tragedy in there. There is one particular twist that’s completely unnecessary and exemplifies why sometimes it’s better to stay true to the comic book source material. Iron Man 3 is very standalone, which is great because it means that it doesn’t rely on crossovers to tell a good story, but the ending especially has a lot of finality to it. This is a good thing, but there should have been a little more to tease the movies coming up in Phase Two (particularly Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers sequel).
The performances are one of Iron Man 3’s strong suits. Robert Downey Jr. is brilliant as usual – he is the character, more so than ever, but he brings a much greater amount of humanity and fear than we’ve seen previously. Not only is his life falling apart around him, but he conveys Stark’s PTSD from the events of The Avengers very well. Gwyneth Paltrow is also great, especially in the scenes where she gets a chance to show off the character’s strength. Ben Kingsley is absolutely amazing as the Mandarin, although his character is unforgivably side-lined. Rebecca Hall, Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau (who plays Stark’s bodyguard, Happy Hogan, and also directed the first two movies) play their rolls well, and it’s always awesome to see James Badge Dale, especially as a bad guy. Guy Pearce is also really good as the other primary antagonist, although he’s a little bit too much like an old Bond villain. His character’s motivations are also not very well developed.
Director Shane Black makes everything feel fresh; the visual style is a tad darker and more intense than the previous two movies, but for the most part it fits right alongside them. There are a couple of really well framed shots and some astonishing CGI. The action scenes are exciting, but where Black really excels is in the one-to-one dialogue exchanges, which are handled expertly and emphasise the performances as well as the emotion of the scene. He also uses some clever directorial techniques that really add to the film – for example, the video broadcasts by the Mandarin are truly chilling and create a lot of parallels with real world events. Overall, the directing is consistently great, but while Black does put his own stamp on the Iron Man franchise, it’s not as creative or unique as it could have been.
Iron Man 3 is simultaneously a satisfying conclusion to the Iron Man trilogy and a decent follow-up to The Avengers. The action is very enjoyable, the humour and performances are great and the exploration of Tony Stark’s mental state post-Avengers is surprisingly compelling (although a stronger resolution to this would have been good). However, the story is not as dark as the trailers suggest, and is occasionally underdeveloped and silly. The main villain is unfortunately ruined by an unnecessary twist, as well. Iron Man 3 had the potential to be the best installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, and while it’s definitely a good movie and worth seeing, it falls short of being truly great. Let’s hope Thor: The Dark World fares better in November.
- Elliott Finn
Thor Enters “The Dark World”
After the enormous success of The Avengers and the rest of Phase One, Marvel Studios are on the cusp of unleashing Phase Two of their cinematic universe on the world. Iron Man 3 releases this week, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has just started filming and Guardians of the Galaxy is in pre-production. But things have been quiet regarding the second Phase Two movie, Thor: The Dark World, for quite a while now. We’ve heard plot hints, behind the scenes details and seen set photos, but official footage has been kept behind closed doors – until now. Marvel have released the first trailer for the Thor sequel, which is out on November 8th of this year, and it looks awesome.
Thor: The Dark World is set a year after the events of The Avengers. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to the realm of Asgard, but war has reared its ugly head once again – this time from Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston) and his malicious army of Dark Elves. The trailer begins in London, with some eerie, Inception-like shots of a gravity defying truck, immediately hinting at the otherworldly forces at work. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s love, and her scientific crew (Kat Dennings’ Darcy Lewis and Stellan Skarsgård’s Eric Selvig) have come to London, apparently to investigate. Anthony Hopkins’ Odin gives an ominous voice over: “Some believe that before the universe, there was nothing. They’re wrong. There was darkness. And it has survived.” A devastating attack on London is then shown (pity our fair English city, for it is the target in Star Trek Into Darkness as well) by a massive vessel, presumably belonging to the Dark Elves.
Thor arrives too late, and takes Jane to Asgard for her own protection, where she learns how different it is from Earth. The rest of the trailer is a fast paced montage of shots of Asgard, other astonishing alien worlds and locales, the impending Elf army and some truly epic battle sequences (with some glimpses of the Lady Sif, played by Jaimie Alexander). But the real kicker happens at the very end, after the title of the film is displayed: Thor visits what looks like an Asgardian prison, and enlists the help of the man responsible for two previous attacks on Earth and usurping the Asgardian throne – his own brother, Loki, played by the venomous Tom Hiddleston.
The unifying theme of Phase Two appears to be darkness – it’s evident from the trailers of both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World that the times are not happy for our favourite heroes. And it makes sense – in Phase One, the characters were introduced and forced together in a time of need. In Phase Two, they are once again apart, but now it’s time for them to be truly tested. The situation appears dire for both Earth and Asgard, and the outcome of this film will no doubt have huge ramifications for Thor as a character and the rest of Phase Two. The story seems like a natural progression not only from the original film but from The Avengers as well; I can’t wait to find out where these characters have been while Thor was off gallivanting with other superheroes.
In the trailer, we see only a glimpse of the primary villain, Malekith the Accursed, and his Dark Elves. Christopher Eccleston looks almost unrecognisable in the role and suitably creepy. He gives only one line, “Ask yourself: what would you sacrifice for what you believe?” This sets up what is likely to be a key theme in the film – sacrifice. No doubt we will see more of Malekith in future trailers, but for now, Marvel are keeping details about him very close to their chest. Speaking of villains, possibly the most interesting thing about The Dark World is the matter of Loki – a bad guy in both Thor and The Avengers, he must now help to defeat Malekith. He says that Thor “must be truly desperate to come to me for help.” Thor insists that “when you betray me, I will kill you”, to which Loki responds, “When do we start?” Can he be trusted? It’s unlikely, given his past, but one would like to think that he might finally achieve redemption in The Dark World, after two films of nefariousness.
The scale of everything has been upped as well – the first Thor was confined to the royal chambers of Asgard, a small town on Earth and the Frost Giant realm of Jotenheim. But The Dark World looks like it will show a lot more of Asgard and the rest of the Nine Realms. Director Alan Taylor clearly has an eye for spectacle – the attack on London looks chaotic and hard-hitting, and the battle scenes between the Asgardians and the Dark Elves could be taken from a Peter Jackson movie. Taylor, who has previously worked on television shows like Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos, has built on the foundation that Kenneth Branagh created with the first film. He’s taken a more grounded and realistic approach to The Dark World, which (as Game of Thrones has proven) can only be a good thing in a high fantasy genre film. There are also some stunning pieces of cinematography on display in the trailer, which reassures us that the man behind the camera knows what he’s doing, even though he’s never worked on a production of this scale before.
Iron Man 3 has been touted as almost entirely standalone, but it’s unclear how connected The Dark World will be with other movies. We don’t know whether S.H.I.E.L.D. will show up to aid Thor in the defence of Earth, or if the film will help set up Thanos, the larger threat in Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers sequel. Given the cosmic nature of Thor, it seems like the perfect time to tease these things – after all, the Infinity Gauntlet, the weapon of Thanos, appeared in the background of a scene in the first Thor. There is also a shot in the trailer of what looks suspiciously like the Other, Thanos’ servant, played by Alexis Denisof in The Avengers. It wouldn’t surprise me if Malekith’s crusade is instigated by Thanos, like with Loki in The Avengers. Perhaps the post-credits scene will show Thanos seizing the Gauntlet, or introduce the Guardians ahead of their movie in 2014 (unless, as is rumoured, they show up in Iron Man 3).
The trailer for Thor: The Dark World is definitely impressive. It still remains to be seen how Marvel will fare in a post-Avengers world, but they really are pulling out all the stops to ensure that these characters can still carry films on their own. Instead of resting on their laurels, they are taking admirable risks to keep the franchise surprising and compelling. This week’s Iron Man 3 will be a good indicator of where Phase Two is going (my review will be up on Saturday night), but The Dark World is the next film due, and will soon enter the marketing foreground while Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy remain in the shadows of production. It’s an exciting time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I for one am incredible excited to see what’s ahead.
The trailer for Thor: The Dark World can be seen here.
- Elliott Finn
Film Review - “The Place Beyond the Pines”
In the years since Drive, Ryan Gosling has been given several roles where he plays the strong, silent type with a penchant for violence and criminality. Some have criticised him for this, and even gone so far as to call The Place Beyond the Pines, the new film from Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), “Drive with motorbikes.” The film has received a lot of attention because of Gosling, but Bradley Cooper deserves a lot more than he’s been getting; the importance of his role might surprise people. And while the first part of the film is very similar to Drive, the majority of The Place Beyond the Pines is very different, and very compelling.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a drama following Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a skilled biker who falls on hard times, and Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a police officer. The film chronicles their interconnected lives and the effects that their actions have on their families. The film is similar to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, especially in the exploration of duality, but it’s a lot more serious and ambiguous. The distinct three-act structure is surprising and gives the film a unique feeling, but also highlights the strength of the performances and the directing; each section could easily carry a film on it’s own, and yet they feel like one part of a larger story that is unified visually and also by themes of morality, desperation, guilt, fatherhood and family. There are lots of twists and the plot is immediately engaging and remains so throughout. The film is a bit long and the pacing is occasionally off, but The Place Beyond the Pines is still a highly enjoyable film.
Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper give stellar three-dimensional performances. Their characters are well developed and you will come to care about them in their struggles. Although each has a different drive behind their actions – Gosling’s Glanton is motivated by love for his son, and Cooper’s Cross by guilt and ambition – both actors convey said motivations with admirable skill, creating believable but deeply human characters. Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne, who portray Glanton and Cross’ wives respectively, handle their supporting roles well. Having already proved his acting chops in Chronicle, Dane DeHaan plays a similar character but conveys his loneliness and fury in a uniquely engaging and emotional way. Emory Cohen is the one weak link in the cast; he handles his few dramatic scenes well enough, but for the most part he is pretty annoying and his character is totally unlikeable, with few redeeming qualities.
There are some beautiful shots in The Place Beyond the Pines. Cianfrance clearly understands shot composition and how to frame the camera (a friend of mine remarked that it’s obvious the director went to film school), and everything feels suitably dark and dirty. The colour palette used is very limited, except in certain scenes were deep reds and oranges are brieflu utilised. There is some exceptional use of sustained shots – there must be about ten minutes at the start of the film before there is even a cut. These longer shots are perhaps most prominent in the bike and car chase scenes, which use a handheld, documentary style and have very little stabilisation. While aiding audience immersion in what’s happening on screen, it can be very jarring to the point where it draws attention to the fact that a camera is filming the action. In extreme cases, it might even cause slight nausea. The soundtrack is suitably somber understated, but not especially memorable. The directing on the whole is brilliant, but nothing ground-breaking.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a consistently gripping drama about fatherhood and life coming full circle. Gosling and Cooper give amazing lead performances, there is some great directing on display and the three-act structure gives the film a unique voice. It’s hampered by some iffy pacing and one incredibly irritating character, but The Place Beyond the Pines is still definitely worth watching and deserving of acclaim.
- Elliott Finn