Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton
Release date: October 27th, 2016
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 115 minutes
Best part: The energetic performances.
Worst part: Another weak MCU villain.
Unquestionably, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an unstoppable machine. Disney won big after purchasing the comic book/movie juggernaut. Since the series’ humble beginnings, with 2008’s Iron Man, Disney and co. have delivered mini-franchises, spin-offs and origin stories without quit.
Doctor Strange is the latest B/C-list character – following Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy etc. – to receive a breakout blockbuster. The opportunity gives Marvel characters new time in the spotlight. The franchise’s latest adventure delivers yet another major superhero origin. We meet egotistical neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) conducting a miracle procedure. The award-winning, super-rich professional places reputation ahead of connection. On his way to a presentation, Strange is mangled in a horrific car accident. Nerve damage prevents Dr. Strange from continuing his life’s work. He heads to Nepal, convinced the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and secret compound Kamar-Taj, can cure him. Whilst working alongside side-mentor Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), Strange meets dark-magic-afflicted former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).
After 14 installments, the MCU formula is more pronounced than ever. Almost all of them feature a cocky hero brought down by a tragic experience, re-building themselves with money and powers, encountering a plucky love interest, finding the villain/s responsible and destroying the world-ending/blue-beam-in-the-sky threat. Doctor Strange follows said template to the letter. In fact, this one cherry picks specific elements from each movie. Like Iron Man, the first third develops our lead character as being super smart and even more unlikable. He can do anything: pick and choose intricate surgeries, bound around with a boisterous smile, list every song and its history etc. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil), along with fellow writer C. Robert Cargill, expertly depict his rise and fall via heart-wrenching, somber montage.
Doctor Strange‘s multitude of realms and abilities is overwhelming.Derrickson and co. continually transition between origin story tropes, training montages and exposition. They revel in trippy dream sequences and flashbacks. However, the astral plane/mirror dimension sequences are jaw-dropping. As Strange delves deeper, Derrickson provides more time-and-space-bending set-pieces. The prologue provides a kick-ass introduction to MCU’s cosmic ether. The Ancient One and Kaecilius fragment London streets. From MC Esher city sequences to impressive production design, the movie truly reaches for the stars. Its A-list cast give nuanced performances in out-there roles. Cumberbatch is a welcome addition, down-playing every note with verve. Swinton and Ejiofor are charming in valuable roles. However, Mikkelsen is the latest white, middle-aged character-actor portraying a forgettable MCU villain.
Doctor Strange is a hyperkinetic and enjoyable MCU extender. Derrickson wrangles a starry cast, falls into line and fits Jon Favreau’s breezy tone. It provides enough nuances to stand out from the pack. However, this franchise might just have peaked with Captain America: Civil War.
Writers: Graham Moore (screenplay), Andrew Hodges (book)
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong
Release date: November 14th, 2014
Distributors: StudioCanal, The Weinstein Company
Countries: UK, USA
Running time: 114 minutes
Best part: The charming performances.
Worst part: The last 15-20 minutes.
Mathematician, logician, computer scientist, cryptanalyst. Worthy of this Tony Stark-esque description, one aspiring man one undertook these phenomenal professions simultaneously. The man, subject of front-running Oscar contender The Imitation Game, is one of history’s bravest and most inspirational people. In fact, his momentous inventions and experiments have paved the way for some of modern civilisation’s most valuable technological advancements.
Benedict Cumberbatch & Charles Dance.
Beyond the positives, The Imitation Gamepresents key World War II figure Alan Turing’s life as a battle between arrogance and modesty. Early on, after his introduction into British Intelligence’s darkest depths, the game-changing scientist compares himself to Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Refusing to promote his sterling accomplishments, the twenty-something compliments the aforementioned geniuses for making momentous strides at younger ages. From there, this spy-drama depicts his momentous journey. The movie, despite the premise, starts off in a different part of his life. In 1951, after examining a suspicious robbery at Turing(Benedict Cumberbatch)’s Manchester abode, the lead investigator, Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear), seeks to learn more about him. Unexpectedly, his mission kickstarts a baffling chain of events. During an interrogation, Turing relays his life story. Jumping back to WWII, the movie then kick-starts its central plot-line. Turing – transported to top-secret Government Code and Cypher School, Bletchley Park – butts heads with Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance). Adjusting to the experience, the aspirational yet anti-social brainiac grates against fellow academics including Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Carincross (Allen Leech), and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard). Enlisting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s support, our team sets out to crack Nazi Germany’s notorious Enigma Code with Turing’s £100,000 code-deciphering machine.
The Imitation Game‘s convoluted premise appears tiresome and confusing. Largely ignored by the public, average film-goers might skip it in favour of Channing Tatum’s latest psychological-thriller (Foxcatcher) or Tim Burton’s latest visual splendour (Big Eyes). With said big names vying for our attention, the movie may only resonate with a select few. However, the movie charts one of modern history’s greatest stories. The central plot-line – pitting Turing against colleagues, higher-ups, underrated newcomer Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), and MI6 representative Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) – clicks like Turing’s inventions. Inspired heavily by The Social Network and A Beautiful Mind, this plot-line delivers a fun assortment of pithy dialogue, intricate flourishes, and Oscar-calibre moments. As the clock ticks down, this story-thread simmers over the proverbial fires of war. Uncovering a web of conspiracy and degradation, this small-scale thriller discusses modern political and technological issues. With freedom at stake, this docudrama places us in Turing’s blockish shoes. As battles rage on across the channel, the ego-driven feuds become increasingly more interesting. Punctuated by dynamic turns from the enthralling cast, certain scenes summarise the story’s immense worth. Unfortunately, director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) and screenwriter Graham Moore don’t trust in this plot-line. Interested more so in politics than action, our filmmaker and writer craft a meaningful tale about code-breakers and desk jockeys. However, narrative’s gear-churning shifts distort the pacing and tension. Hindering the touching personal moments, its non-linear structure lessens the impact.
“Sometimes, it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” (Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), The Imitation Game).
Our code-cracking team.
Jumping between this story-line, the ’51 investigation, and Turing’s childhood, screen-time is needlessly confiscated from vital moments. Adding little to The Imitation Game‘s narrative, two of said plot-lines merely lessen the impact. Delivering corny dialogue and heavy-handed symbolism, the boarding school sequences become major distractions. Despite the magnetic first-two thirds, the last act speeds through plot-points, historical moments, and revelations similarly to Turing code-breaking process. Skimming over thematically resonant moments, the movie relies too much on its last few scenes and closing inter-titles. The underlying conflict, concerning Turing’s sexual orientation, is scarcely commented on. Thanks to its simple-minded liberal message, it becomes a King’s Speech-esque Oscar-baiter. Despite the issues, it combines Britain’s brightest talents to achieve a commendable vision. Separating the movie’s three time periods, Maria Djurkovic’s production design paints a haunting picture of the era. Capturing Tyldum’s attention to detail, each shot houses a rich representation of WWII England. In addition, Alexandre Desplat’s score delivers emotional weight throughout. In addition, Cumberbatch’s performance and Turing’s arc are worth the admission cost. Being one of the movie’s many skinny, Lizard-like cast members, the British actor – in his first scene with Dance – establishes himself as one of cinema’s most alluring talents. Strong, Knightley, Goode, and Dance deliver nuanced turns in compelling roles.
Turing, whose public backlash and conviction for gross indecency led to his suicide at 41, proved one person, against all odds, can make a difference. Like our inquisitive and socially awkward subject, The Imitation Game cracks the vital codes and pushes the right buttons to achieve significant results. Despite the typical Weinstein Company production issues, this historical-drama places its circuit boards and wires together in an effective sequence.
Writer: John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (book)
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano
Release date: January 10th, 2014
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Running time: 134 minutes
Best part: McQueen’s direction.
Worst part: The slightly exasperating run-time.
Docudramas, popular during Oscar season, take exasperating true stories and transform them into celluloid masterpieces. From small-screen mini-series’ to big-screen historical epics, these docudramas strive to inspire, inform, and enlighten. This description may seem clichéd, but the information is necessary and appropriate for this review. Docudramas, despite the vast number of them released each Oscar season, provide interesting insights into shocking and influential events. Several holocaust, slave, and war dramas – 1977 TV special Roots, in particular – have re-shaped Hollywood conventions. Before heading into highly anticipated slave-drama 12 Years a Slave, filmgoers must understand just how inhuman and confronting this topic is.
Though this topic has been depicted before, this exasperating and meaningful docudrama is significantly more astonishing and enrapturing than this season’s other docudramas.12 Years a Slave becomes a truly enthralling experience!Based on Solomon Northup’s influential 1853 memoir of the same name, 12 Years a Slavechronicles Northup’s painful, revelatory, and transcendent journey against all odds. Despite the colossal preconceptions, viewers should drop their guards before absorbing this artistic endeavour. The story kicks off in in Saragota Springs, New York in 1841, with Northup embracing his enviable and likeable existence. Living a peaceful life with his wife and two children, his financial, spiritual, and moral wealth becomes irreplaceable. Hurriedly, he’s offered a fruitful gig with a travelling circus by two advantageous figures, Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton (Taran Killam). After an infectious celebratory dinner, Northup is drugged, kidnapped, and sold to slave owners for a hefty profit. Tortured, abused, and re-named “Platt” by his captors, Northup must stick close to his fellow prisoners whilst avoiding his masters’ violent bursts. Shipped from Washington DC to Louisiana, Northup comes across malicious slave trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti). With Freeman’s despicable personality inflicting his ‘property’, slave owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) saves Northup from Freeman’s overwhelming grasp. Sharing bible passages and gracefully interacting with his workers, Ford becomes a kind-hearted and honourable plantation owner. However, the plantation’s other inhabitants aren’t impressed with Northup’s presence and skills. With the other slaves keeping to themselves, the white employees treat their black counterparts with disdain. Pushed to breaking point by disgraceful carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano), Northup, after beating Tibeats, seeks Ford’s council. Ford, believing Northup to be an honourable individual, trades him to fellow slave owners Edwin and Mary Epps (Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson). Coming across downtrodden slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) and carpenter Bass (Brad Pitt), Northup must defend himself and seek justice during his time under the Epps’ control.
The bible, for a text so heavily lauded and practiced by people across the world, describes slavery as a natural condition. In fact, verse one, Peter 2:18 specifically states: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh”. Every so often, a Hollywood production comes along that illustrates cinema’s over-whelming power and potential. Breaking down cultural preconceptions and social barriers, 12 Years a Slave compromises between ambitious moviemaking and its heart-wrenching story. This docudrama, forming a unique, potent, and tangible identity, wholly detaches itself from the Hollywood system. Wholeheartedly, it deserves its already overwhelming critical and commercial success. This courageous docudrama explores controversial and sickening depths. This extraordinary and intelligent artistic achievement enhances cinema’s courageousness and tenacity. Escaping from cinema’s commercial, moral, and ethical confines, this experience violently buries itself under the skin and into the mind. Here, we are exposed to a disturbing and despicable period of human history. With Slave-dramas normally classed as Oscar bait, this narrative removes the genre’s manipulative and obvious trappings. Embracing its prestigious opportunities and glorious advantages, the movie paints an honest and distressing portrait of one of history’s bleakest periods. The story immediately states is discomfortingly direct intentions and startlingly solid viewpoints. With Northup’s journey being a profound, terrifying, and heartbreaking tale, the movie examines vital periods and facets of his fascinating existence. During his twelve-year ordeal on four plantations, Northup’s tale becomes a heartbreaking reminder of mankind’s most disgusting shades. The movie considerately and thoughtfully chronicles Northup’s inconsolable transition from respected upper-middle class citizen, to broken object, to deprived yet honourable slave. Northup, with his ideologies and identity traits destroyed during several violent beatings, becomes a blank slate for white upper-class men to contort, distort, and manipulate.
Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) is unafraid to inject his own ideologies, morals, and principles into this chilling narrative arc. Throughout this gritty slave-drama, McQueen defines history, religion, and entertainment as life’s more note-worthy aspects. Despite holding onto Steven Spielberg’s emotionally gripping story-telling ticks, McQueen turns this brutal slave-drama into a confronting, visceral, and philosophical masterpiece. Eclipsing Spielberg’s The Colour Purple, Schindler’s List, Lincoln, and Amistad, 12 Years a Slave exclaims that man was, is, and will always be Earth’s greatest and yet most deplorable creature. With humans controlling, harming, and tricking one another throughout time, the movie depicts and describes our worst tendencies without blaming the audience. Slave owners, whether they were good samaritans or psychopathic Neanderthal-like monsters, eternally condemned themselves through obvious malpractices. Modern cinema’s greatest Black directors, including McQueen, Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, and Ryan Coogler, create thought-provoking dramas heartily discussing race, gender, class, and the human condition. This ambitious and emotionally powerful slave-drama, living up to the true story’s emphatic potential, is bolstered by McQueen’s uncompromising direction. Directing with brains, braun, heart, and moral fibre, McQueen’s unquestionable talent and commendable intentions develop an original, heart-breaking, and revelatory slave-drama. Here, like with his previous films, McQueen, with screenwriter John Ridley’s assistance, illuminates the narrative’s most gruelling aspects without creating an overwrought and gratuitous Hollywood feature. Analysing and deconstructing slavery’s overwhelming negatives, he explores this issue’s many controversial, neglected, and dangerous shades. Embracing this story’s socio-political insight and emotionally affecting moments, McQueen and Ridley deliberate on this harrowing topic’s facts, intricacies, and perspectives. Despite the noticeably exasperating run-time, McQueen, refusing to inject fantastical elements or overwrought opinions into the narrative, presents an objective and engaging account of this potent true story.
“I will survive! I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!” (Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), 12 Years a Slave).
Comparable to Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in There Will Be Blood, his style scours this story’s most promising aspects by crafting memorable sequences. Pushing the camera into each pressing situation, extended takes linger uncomfortably on unflinching images. These moments, complimented by raw silence, illuminate the characters’ degrading situations. McQueen pierces vital settings whilst conveying powerful messages and viewpoints. The noose sequence is comprised of several nail-biting shots. Wide angles establish the characters’ predicaments and the sequence’s relentlessness. Smash cutting and splicing contrasting images together, the poetic editing style links symbols to valuable story-threads. Outdoing himself at each twist and turn, McQueen alleviates this heartbreaking story with artistically conquering montages. These near-wordless vignettes, depicting this poignant journey’s most captivating moments, become enthralling and disconcerting flourishes. However, gruelling sound effects elevate McQueen’s sumptuous and edgy style. With each whip crack, hammer and nail, and buckling shackle, the movie’s intensity is drastically heightened – defining the movie’s most shocking moments. Hans Zimmer’s score also elevates certain sequences. The music cues’ percussive rumbles and beats throw vital sequences into overdrive. However, the actors also craft this confounding drama’s ingenious and cognitive aspects. Ejiofor delivers a powerful and awe-inspiring turn as the degraded lead character. Tenaciously devouring several enthralling sequences, he delivers the decade’s most valuable performance. Fassbender and Cumberbatch excel as slave owners with vastly different Methodologies. Paulson, Dano, and Giamatti steal scenes as despicable and polarising figures. However, newcomer Nyong’o provides an insatiable and unique performance as Epps’ favourite slave and Northup’s guiding light. Meanwhile, Pitt, Killam, McNairy, Garret Dillahunt, and Alfie Woodard succeed in one-or-two-scene roles.
Examining one of history’s most distressing time-periods, movies like Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave become compelling Oscar-worthy treasures. Though its graphic violence and sickening darkness may prove too much for some, 12 Years a Slave‘s compelling story, enrapturing directorial flair, and fascinating performances classify it as one of the decade’s greatest cinematic accomplishments. With subject matter this valuable; McQueen’s blood-sweat-and-tears approach has crafted an appropriate and chilling portrait of America’s darkest era.
Verdict: A powerful, haunting, and rich slave-drama.
Writer: Josh Singer (screenplay), Daniel Domscheit-Berg (book), David Leigh, Luke Harding (book)
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis, Laura Linney
Release date: October 18th, 2013
Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Entertainment One
Countries: USA, India
Running time: 128 minutes
Best part: Cumberbatch and Bruhl.
Worst part: The distracting visual style.
Patriot? Egotist? Revolutionary? Terrorist? It’s difficult to describe the most outlandish Australian outcast since Michael ‘Crocodile’ Dundee. He’s an intriguing and bizarre individual hell-bent on exposing the world’s darkest and greatest secrets. Bathroom antics and John Farnham parody videos aside, Julian Assange is, arguably, one of the world’s foremost minds. This controversial individual and his game-changing actions were bound to hit celluloid. Unfortunately, The Fifth Estate doesn’t seize its stellar opportunities, becoming a by-the-numbers docudrama unwilling to research and fact check. Sadly, this lurid and discomforting docudrama, despite the talented cast, never pushes past its immense stigma and cloying discourse.
Despite Assange’s relevance and notice within international media, The Fifth Estate delivers a confusing and befuddled analysis of his wheelings and dealings. Those uninterested in or clueless about his societal, economic, and political impact will become lost in this uninspired yet advantageous narrative. Despite the news’ importance, the best docudramas can spark viewer interest in any subject. The Fifth Estate, despite relaying vital titbits and accounts, fails to connect to the average moviegoer. The movie kicks off with the New York Times, The Guardian, and major European newspapers reporting on one of the United States military’s most crippling atrocities in 2010. The story then jumps back to 2007, and IT genius Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl) is looking for his big break into the international media and technology scene. At a tech-wiz and computer hacker’s convention in Berlin, Daniel meets his hero. Communicating with Daniel before the event, Assange(Benedict Cumberbatch)’s passion for activism and online warfare lures Daniel into a false sense of security. Working together to build information hub Wikileaks into a powerful force, Assange and Daniel become buddies. Fighting for freedom, power, and justice, the two geniuses clash over political and moral differences. When major secrets come to light, the cracks begin to appear in their already frail partnership. In addition, the US Government’s brightest, represented by Sarah Shaw (Laura Linney) and James Boswell (Stanley Tucci), seek to rescue the few informants left alive. When Daniel’s steamy relationship with co-worker Anke (Alicia Vikander) is shattered, he seeks out Guardian journalist Nick Davies (David Thewlis) to talk sense into his stress-inducing confidant.
Despite the engaging premise, this exposition-heavy drama may push moviegoers away. It’s difficult to determine the movie’s core target audience. Turning against nations, governments, and factions at random, The Fifth Estate‘s convoluted narrative could be protested against. With Assange’s outrage over the project, other, smaller scale, productions have already revealed Assange’s methodologies and motivations. With Australian mini-series Underground: The Julian Assange Story and documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks delving into this hot-button issue, The Fifth Estate presents its material in a more expansive and poetic manner. Unfortunately, this drama-thriller proves that this dense material is suited to the documentary format. Presenting specific events in a cinematic dreamscape, West Wing screenwriter Josh Singer’s diluted and dour script doesn’t delve into this issue’s most salient aspects. Throughout this over-long and debilitating docudrama, Singer delivers the ‘what’ and ‘who’ aspects of each pressing situation. The obvious details, presented as symbols in an ever-changing narrative, don’t provide the necessary ‘why’ and ‘how’ factors. Striving for the same universal acclaim and historical relevance as All the President’s Men and The Insider, The Fifth Estate recycles familiar plot-strands and messages in an underwhelming and pointless way. Despite the compelling real-life conflict, there is a significant lack of depth, drama, and development within this shallow Social Network-esque techno-thriller.
Our truth-driven vigilantes.
Lacking the wit and charm needed for this type of plot-heavy narrative, the ‘action’ is comprised of angry typing on keyboards, extensive research, and stupefying arguments. Despite computer hacking, investigative journalism, and whistleblowing’s value, important facts and figures aren’t divulged. Despite highlighting jargon and confusing intricacies throughout, discourses and titles aren’t explained. With the Bradley Manning saga and Assange’s rape allegations under-utilised, this overblown drama lacks balance. Leaning on Domscheit-Berg’s perspective, this distorted account doesn’t discuss the pros and cons of false identities and societal shifts. With the freedom of speech vs. citizen safety debate raging on, The Fifth Estate provides excessive metaphors. Hinting at greater conflicts, the movie looks down upon democracy, governments, and big-name publications. Its small scope and patronising tone, summed up by insignificant sub-plots, define The Fifth Estate as a manipulative and overblown docudrama. Computer hackers, defined in cinema as either saviours or super-villains, emphasise the internet’s impact on privacy, freedom, and technology. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s fantastical gleam overshadows this powerful story. Director Bill Condon (Kinsey, Dreamgirls)’s flashy and incomprehensible visual style overcompensates for the movie’s bland dramatic beats. Bombarding us with one trick after another, Condon has changed from biopic master to cynical storyteller (his Twilight instalments may be to blame). Afraid of its own topic and words, The Fifth Estate‘s aesthetic turns reality into a TV movie fantasy packed with pretentious dream sequences and overt symbolism.
“You can’t go far in this world by relying on people. People are loyal until it seems opportune not to be.” (Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), The Fifth Estate).
Laura Linney & Stanley Tucci.
On multiple occasions, Condon addresses his characters as the rock-stars of their perplexing universe. Characters walk down shiny hallways and neon-lit establishments – mixing computer jargon with hipster-like intricacies. Nightclub-esque media conventions, futuristic company buildings, and exaggerated newsroom designs highlight The Fifth Estate‘s self-consciousness and obtuseness. However, Condon doesn’t stop there. Developing a Bourne-like 21st century world, shaking camerawork, globetrotting adventures, aggressive characters, and archival news footage distract from the story’s cultural significance. Assange and Daniel’s journey, summed up by kinetic, energy-drink-consumption-fuelled montages and sporadic intertitles, isn’t developed. Despite its dull personality, The Fifth Estate is saved by two ground-breaking performances. Despite not delving into personal lives or backstories, the movie establishes pressing conflicts between these immaculate minds and fragile egos. A flawed yet ambitious character, Cumberbatch’s Assange is a charismatic and misanthropic celebrity. Capturing Assange’s peculiar mannerisms, Cumberbatch develops a note-worthy and intriguing impersonation. Bruhl provides another commendable performance after his impressive turn in Rush. As an empathetic yet spotlight-obsessed genius, Daniel becomes an engaging and likeable character. Unfortunately, character actors like Anthony Mackie, Dan Stevens, and Peter Capaldi are stranded in over-the-top roles.
Despite its engaging premise and unique intentions, The Fifth Estate‘s heavy-handedness, small scope, and lurid visuals overshadow its all-important purpose. Hollywood’s involvement – linking moviegoers to this controversial issue – certainly doesn’t help. This messy and disjointed docudrama states the facts, but refuses to explore this story’s most meaningful depths.
Verdict: An informative yet inconsistent docudrama.
Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Damon Lindelof
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch
Release date: May 16th, 2013
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 133 minutes
Best part: The villain.
Worst part: The underused supporting characters.
In 1966, a sci-fi TV show called Star Trek hit the airwaves. It contained a low budget, some groovy outfits, and an over-acting William Shatner. With all that said, it’s difficult to comprehend that Trek is now a pop culture phenomenon. 47 years later, the Starship Enterprise is still going where no man has gone before. The latest offering, Star Trek into Darkness, proves this franchise has many more successful voyages to come.
Zachary Quinto & Chris Pine.
The twelfth film to be crafted from Gene Rodenberry’s original creation, Star Trek into Darkness is a visually stunning and powerful blockbuster. This may be a strong statement, but the movie is in serious contention to be the best big-budget movie of 2013. This sequel/reboot/prequel/whatever starts off with an exciting race against time for our plucky band of heroes. After Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) are chased by an alien tribe, Dr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) comes to be in charge of saving the tribe’s planet from destruction. Whilst saving Spock from being burnt alive inside an active volcano, Kirk comes under fire from Starfleet for breaking the mission’s ‘Prime Directive’. However, Kirk and Spock’s demotions are the least of Starfleet’s problems. Super-powered secret agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) betrays the Federation and blows up London’s Starfleet Archives building. With a point to prove, Kirk and Spock are reinstated and tasked with eradicating Harrison by any means necessary. However, the universe and Harrison hold many surprises for the Enterprise’s crew.
The real captain of this multi-layered ship is J.J. Abrams. Abrams is one of the busiest and most engaging producer/directors currently working. When he’s not creating shows like Lost, he’s directing big-budget flicks like Mission Impossible 3 and Super 8. His first Star Trek film, back in 2009, revived a once flagging franchise; smartly and efficiently bringing together the beloved group of Starfleet officers in an alternate timeline. Once again, his directorial flair shines in every scene. Clearly inspired by the early works of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, he injects charm and wonder into every shot. His film hits warp speed rather quickly. This instalment, despite containing a convoluted screenplay by Lost writers Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci, excels at keeping everything balanced and weightless. Despite some familiar and unnecessary plot points, the screenplay keeps you guessing whilst keeping the extraneous Trek jargon to a minimum. Unlike most sequels, the plot, characters, and special effect/action sequences fit together seamlessly to propel the story forward. This instalment owes a debt of gratitude to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Whilst containing some major spoilers, this instalment matches the classic Trek sequel in emotion and thrills. Both Trekkies and average film-goers will savour Abrams’ take on these eternally culturally-relevant characters.
This time around, Abrams has beefed up the series’ ‘Mac Store’ look. The film switches mostly between futuristic Earth settings and scenic vistas of the universe. Every setting is slick, expansive, and brightly lit; adding to this already awe-inspiring experience. Some may find Abrams’ lens flares to be jarring, while everyone else will quickly be immersed in his expansive creation. Abrams, hurriedly becoming an auteur, has a keen eye for universe building. The production design immediately impresses with the opening scene. The threatened planet, featuring a lush, red forest and black and white-painted tribesman, becomes an enthralling sight to behold. The inventive cinematography and score also stand out. Abrams’ unique camera-work presents the Enterprise as an intricate, maze-like creation. The action set-pieces come thick and fast. Spaceship battles, foot chases, and shoot outs are some of the film’s most enthralling moments. The ship is nearly destroyed on multiple occasions, somehow coping with whatever the universe throws at it. However, Abrams never allows style to overtake substance. His references to the original series and movies are subtle and, at points, extremely clever. The famous quotes and signs (Vulcan salute, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” etc.) are subtly thrown in when required. The comedic moments are also fun, and delivered particularly well by the film’s immensely-talented cast.
“KHAAANNNN!” (Spock (Zachary Quinto), Star Trek into Darkness).
Despite the heavy amount of exposition in some scenes, the dialogue is delivered flawlessly by this stellar cast. The cast now comfortably fits into every key role. Abrams balances wit and drama whilst controlling the film’s colourful array of personalities. Pine is a charismatic and powerful presence on screen. Kirk is a man of many talents, but continually fails to follow orders. His arc here is both familiar and touching. To conquer this ominous threat, he must trust his crew members and learn the importance of humility. His friendship with Spock becomes more naturalistic as the film progresses. Quinto flawed me here with his nuanced and delicate portrayal of Spock. Here, Spock is in an internal tug of war with his Vulcan sense of duty and humanistic sense of modesty. Cumberbatch’s Harrison is a menacing and sympathetic villain. Essentially a 23rd Century terrorist, his startling actions draw many comparisons to current events. He represents the enemies that major organisations struggle to find. This vengeful character’s motivations are clear and understandable. However, this is one of many recent blockbusters to depict the lead villain being intentionally captured (this cliché has now officially run its course!). The supporting cast, including Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, John Cho, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Zoe Saldana, are effective in small roles. However, newcomers Peter Weller (‘Robocop’ himself) and Alice Eve fail to make the most of their underdeveloped characters.
Tense in some scenes and tear-jerking in others, Star Trek into Darkness is an almost flawless big-budget, sci-fi action flick. The cast, kinetic visuals, and fun action set pieces form a thrilling and enlightening film-going experience. With Abrams making Star Trek instalments of this quality, let’s hope that Into Darkness isn’t his final frontier.
Verdict: An exciting and profound sci-fi spectacle.