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Review – Star Trek II: Into Darkness 3D (12a) [2013]

Star Trek 2 - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • JJ Abrams – Lost, Star Trek I-III, Star Wars: Episode VII

Producer:

  • Damon Lindeloff – Lost, Prometheus, The Leftovers

Cast:

  • Chris Pine – Unstoppable, This Means War, Jack Ryan
  • Zachary Quinto – Heroes, Margin Call, The Invitation
  • Zoe Saldana – Avatar I & II, Colombiana, Blood Ties
  • Karl Urban – The Lord of the Rings II & III, The Bourne Supremacy, Riddick
  • Simon Pegg – Paul, The World’s End, Mission: Impossible III-IV & V
  • Alice Eve – Entourage, Men In Black III, Cold Comes The Night
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Sherlock, The Hobbit II
  • Bruce Greenwood – Barney’s Version, Super 8, Devil’s Knot
  • Peter Weller – The Sin Eater, 24, Dragon Eyes

Music Composer:

One of the most striking and farcical features of action movies is that there is much shooting, running and chasing, in one form or another, with key aspects of the plots taking place under such circumstances. The Die Hard, Mission: Impossible, and Fast and the Furious franchises all have this odd and surreal symptom. JJ Abrams and Damon Lindeloff, despite creating an enjoyable and watchable film, have taken this symptom to its zenith in Star Trek II: Into Darkness.

Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) mulling over whether it would be a good idea to take Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) on board.

Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) mulling over whether it would be a good idea to take Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) on board.

Star Trek II begins with the galaxy under threat from John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a former Starfleet agent. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is ordered by Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to lead the USS Enterprise ship to Kronos and kill Harrison. Kirk takes with him Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott (Simon Pegg), and Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) for assistance.

In essence, that is the plot for Star Trek II: Into Darkness and it makes for an easy and entertaining 132 minutes, irrespective of whether one is a Star Trek fan or not, in the same way as the 2009 Star Trek film did. Moreover, the special effects in Into Darkness are terrific, and the 3D works a treat as well, especially in IMAX, which was designed for such films.

Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) talking with his girlfriend, Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) talking with his girlfriend, Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

While Into Darkness has much in common with the 2009 Star Trek movie, the sequel has many more contrived aspects to its storyline than the prequel. One can almost draw the plot arch as the film goes along. Fans, though, are more likely to forgive such plot problems than non-fans. That is, if fans and non-fans have a chance to think about the issues with the storyline while watching the film. JJ Abrams and Damon Lindeloff have made every plot detail and element in Into Darkness be done either on the run or in the midst of a shoot-out. It is as if they knew that the movie’s storyline makes as much sense as Lost did by the end. Abrams (with his trademark lens-flare) and Lindeloff constantly distract viewers from being able to realise the plot’s deficiencies, here, in the same way that shoot-outs, explosions, chase scenes and stunts divert audiences’ attentions from the flaws in the various Die Hard, Mission: Impossible, and Fast and the Furious movies.

Provided one does not focus too much on the storyline of Into Darkness, one can enjoy the contrast in personalities between the impulsive Captain Kirk and the cold, rational Commander Spock, and both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto play their respective roles very decently. There is also more humour than expected between the two of them, which is always welcome. The same can be said for Karl Urban’s performance as Bones and Simon Pegg’s as Scotty, as they play their roles well without being anything special.

Alas, the same cannot be said for Zoe Saldana as Uhura this time, or Alice Eve as Carol Marcus. Uhura’s role in Into Darkness, unlike in the prequel, is too peripheral and meaningless to be remembered, and Saldana does not do herself justice when on screen; and sad to say, the only thing of note that Eve does as Carol Marcus is to stand in front of Kirk in a bikini. (And the point of that scene was…?)

The villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), fighting against his adversaries who are out to kill him.

The villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), fighting against his adversaries who are out to kill him.

Yet, the real star of the film is Benedict Cumberbatch. His acting, as the villain, is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. When Cumberbatch speaks, it does not matter what he says or how ludicrous it may sound because it is stated with authority to the extent that implausible matters are believable. Regardless of whether one is a Star Trek fan or not, one should almost watch Into Darkness for Cumberbatch’s performance alone.

Over-all, Star Trek II: Into Darkness is an entertaining film for Star Trek fans and non-fans alike. The special effects are excellent, the relationship between Kirk and Spock is funnier than ever, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the villain is outstanding. Indeed, one does not even need to get over the movie’s virtually non-existent storyline and the ridiculous way in which everything is done at a hundred miles an hour to make up for the plot’s numerous shortcomings to fully appreciate the movie for what it is.

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Review – This Means War (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Films like Fantastic Four I & II, Salt and Immortals take themselves preposterously seriously. Whilst watching such movies, one is entitled to think that the films would have been better if the actors had not taken their roles with such (laughable) sincerity. Thankfully, This Means War does not take itself remotely seriously. As a corollary, and for other reasons, the film is highly enjoyable and amusing.

Tuck (Tom Hardy) doing his bit to make sure that Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) chooses him as her man.

This Means War is about two CIA agents, FDR Foster (Chris Pine – Star Trek I & II, Unstoppable, Rise of the Guardians) and Tuck (Tom Hardy – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises). They are the best of friends, work opposite one another, and have fought alongside each other in dangerous operations for America’s secret services.

But then they discover that they’re both dating the same girl, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon – Cruel Intentions, Walk The Line, Mud), who cannot make up her mind on who she likes more. Neither FDR nor Tuck are willing to pass and let the other have Lauren, so they decide to compete against one another to see who will woo her, using all kinds of equipment and tricks to achieve their objective.

Meanwhile, a Russian agent, called Heinrich (Til Schweiger – Inglorious Basterds, New Year’s Eve, The Courier), is on his way to America. Heinrich wants revenge against FDR and Tuck for killing his brother in a mission in Hong Kong.

FDR (Chris Pine) on a date with Lauren to win over her heart and triumph over Tuck, his friend and colleague.

The plot for This Means War is entertaining and easy to follow. There might be fewer action scenes than one might think, and certainly in contrast to the Die Hard series, Black Hawk Down, and Iron Man I & II. But This Means War compensates for this with the hysterically absurd lengths that FDR and Tuck go to so as to win over Lauren’s heart.

Just like with The Expendables, Knight And Day and Mission: Impossible IV, none of the cast take themselves seriously in the slightest. The main difference between those films and This Means War is that the latter movie has much better dialogue; almost every other line is a joke, and the banter between the actors is extremely humorous.

In a similar vein, the acting is ideal for this type of film. It is most unlikely that any member of the cast will get prestigious award nominations come January-February 2013, but all of the actors revel in their disingenuous roles, from the cocky, smooth-talking and good-looking Chris Pine; to the confident, yet level-headed (English CIA agent) Tom Hardy; to the indecisive and cute (noticeably revamped) Reese Witherspoon; to Lauren’s know-it-all, contradictory-advice giving sister, Trish (Chelsea Handler – Cattle Call, Hop, Fun Size).

Trish (Chelsea Handler) advising Lauren, as ever, to make up her mind and choose one of the two men she is simultaneously dating.

Despite the heavy focus on the dialogue and the acting, director McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation, Guilty) adopts conspicuously little by way of special effects. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many action films, like Wanted, Captain America and Season of the Witch could have done with less CGIs and better dialogue and acting. The only problem for McG is that the few instances of special effects in his movie are done quite poorly; especially, when compared to the quality of those in Mission: Impossible IV.

Over-all, This Means War is a light, amusing and entertaining film. It has a cast that acts well for this type of film; that has great chemistry on screen; and that are easy on the eye. Perhaps directors in the future will learn a lesson from This Means War and inform their casts not to take their roles overly seriously when it is not necessary. Otherwise, audiences are destined to watch more movies where the actors appear unconvincing and hollow, like in Fantastic Four I & II, Salt and Immortals.

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Review – Unstoppable (12a) [2010]

Star Rating: 4/5

A film about a runaway freight train was never going to be a classic. Like The Taking of Pelham 123, Speed and Gone in Sixty Seconds, to mention three of countless such films, one could only hope that this film would be entertaining and nerve-racking. It is both!

When I first saw the trailer for Unstoppable, it reminded me of an episode from Thomas The Tank Engine, entitled The Runaway. As a kid, seeing Thomas steaming away without his driver and fireman made my heart pound every time. Except, this film is not about a little tank engine with two coaches running down a harmless train line. Unstoppable is based on true events about an unmanned monster freight-train, half a mile long, travelling at such a speed it can demolish anything in its wake. Worse, it is coupled to wagons containing highly inflammable/explosive materials, going through populated areas and heading straight towards a curve at Stanton, a densely populated town in southern Pennsylvania. Worse still, a group of school-children heading for a field trip, are on the same line as the runaway train heading for a collision!

Will and Frank on a siding trying to work out how they are going to stop the train

If the situation is not enough to put one on edge; the director, Tony Scott (Top Gun, The Taking of Pelham 123, Stoker), constantly changes scenes back and forth during conversations between officials, managers and the main characters to induce further panic into the audience. The fast-beats, the crescendos and the sudden silences ensure that viewers will never take their eyes of the screen.

Unlike the plot and the music, the acting is not as dramatic. Indeed, one thing that should be noted is how un-melodramatic and realistic the acting is. Frank (Denzel Washington – American Gangster, The Inside Man) and Will (Chris Pine – Star Trek I & II, This Means War), as normal railway drivers, do not have the most challenging of roles. Yet, they play them well without reverting to cringe-worthy clichés. Despite understanding the gravity of the situation, and reacting to it in the best way they feel they can; Frank and Will spare some time for banter and heart-to-heart conversations. After-all, what else can they do in their train’s cabin whilst they hurry along the line to try and catch the monster freight-train?

Nothing gets in the way of the monster runaway train.

The realism of their roles is similarly reflected by the behaviour of their manager, Connie (Rosario Dawson – Sin City, Trance), who wants to save as many lives as possible; and her boss, Galvin (Kevin Dunn – Transformers), who has several factors to take into account, such as commercial, financial, damage to infrastructure and, lastly, human life. Connie and Galvin are constantly on the phone to one another (as well as to Frank), trying to solve the problem as to how to stop the train. Whilst on the phone, they speak in a relatively cordial manner; off the phone, the number of expletives they shout about one another is both realistic and funny. Indeed, one could imagine this occurring in an office in an under-pressure situation.

The realistic elements to the film, the music and the plot make for easy and entertaining viewing. By no means is Unstoppable a five-star film; but one’s adrenaline will be doing overtime long before the end of the movie.

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