Stars: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham
Release date: October 27th, 2016
Distributor: CBS Films, Lionsgate
Running time: 102 minutes
Best part: Pine and Foster’s chemistry.
Worst part: The two-dimensional female characters.
The western has experienced several overwhelming highs and lows. In Hollywood, the genre thrived on manliness and simplicity. Later on, it turned to existentialism and revisionism to illustrate its points. More than any other genre, western fiction reflects fact. Hell or High Water is only one shade away from reality.
Hell or High Water is a rare gem: a 21st-century western. 2016 has delivered a couple to mixed success. The Magnificent Seven was a fun but flawed action extravaganza. However, Jane Got A Gun threw its prominent director and cast under a stagecoach. This movie’s promotional material seemed entirely samey. The independent-drama feel marked it as ‘yet another’ straight-to-Netflix project. Indeed, Chris Pine’s Star Trek Beyond paycheque is probably worth double the budget. It follows brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner(Ben Foster)’s pitiful existences in middle-of-nowhere Texas. Toby, a divorced dad, lived with their mother throughout her fatal illness. Tanner, fresh off a ten-year prison sentence, always finds trouble. With the house in reverse mortgage, the two must find cash before Texas Midlands Bank carries out foreclosure.
Hell or High Water immediately launches into the action. Rather than building to it over the first act, writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) hurls us into their first bank robbery. His script is an ode to good ol’ Hollywood’s western/crime filmmaking style. Here, unlike with most heist set-pieces, everyone acts and reacts like real people. Hilariously, their first robbery is almost bungled by poor timing and preparation. Like classic western/gangster flicks, the movie evenly develops the cops and robbers. In reality, Toby and Tanner’s actions are despicable. Here, however, they are rebels with a cause. Toby, discovering the family’s land has struck oil, pushes to support his ex-wife and kids. Tanner, with nothing better to do, simply wants to help. Of course, Texas rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Brimingham) view the brothers’ antics as detrimental. Dutifully, Sheridan never makes us side with either party. His approach unveils both parties’ wants and needs throughout a tight cat-and-mouse game.
The movie’s fusion of western, crime-drama and heist-thriller elements flows. It handles several conventions (the ranger close to retirement, the partner with a target on their head, the criminals fighting against the system etc.) with slight twists. Playing with Sheridan’s sparkling dialogue, director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) could be Hollywood’s next talent goldmine. His style balances dark-and-gritty and enjoyably comedic. Thanks to the talented ensemble (in front of and behind the camera), each scene delivers intensifying moments. Whenever the brothers’ quarrels reach critical mass, Bridges comes along with a witty retort. However, its few female characters resemble nagging ex-wifes, one night stands, and sassy waitresses. Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens capture an unenviable plethora of one-horse towns and indian casinos. Furthermore, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score is nightmarish yet addictive.
Hell or High Water delivers more substance, thrills and laughs than most of 2016’s major releases combined. The marriage of cast and crew works wonders. Pine, Foster and Bridges showcase leading-man charisma and character-actor class simultaneously. This throwback proves some still make films the way Hollywood used to.
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana
Release date: July 21st, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Country: USA, China
Running time: 122 minutes
Best part: The central cast.
Worst Part: The villain’s convoluted plot.
In its 50th year, Gene Roddenberry’s creation Star Trek is one of pop-culture’s most lucrative and unique franchises. Its run has been extended by TV series’, films, comic books, fan fiction and everything else in between. The Trekkies and Trekkers have helped the series become an ever-changing organism. With nerd being the new black, the franchise must bend and warp to gather as many fans as possible.
The newer Star Trek instalments have, for the most part, done a bang-up job. The 2009 reboot introduced a new timeline and cast. Fans grew to love the younger crew members, director J. J. Abrams’ love of lens flares and the USS Enterprise’s shinier aesthetic. The Sequel, Star Trek into Darkness, fumbled the ball. Star Trek Beyond, the third feature in the Kelvin timeline, sees the crew in the third year of a five-year mission to explore strange worlds, meet new beings and bring order to the galaxy. Flying peacekeeping group the Federation’s flag, Starfleet captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) feels lost in the deep, dark void of space. Key members including Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), chief medical officer Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and main navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) also hit the wall.
Of course, a movie about the crew hanging up their skivvies 10 minutes in would be deeply unsatisfying. Receiving a distress call from the nebulous zone outside Federation base Yorktown, they are ambushed and captured/disbanded by warlord Krall(Idris Elba)’s drone/alien army. The first third balances cute comedic moments and high stakes threats. The opening scene is a blast – detailing how some missions go better than others. The aforementioned ambush sequence is electrifying, with the Enterprise and its crew torn apart with devastating velocity. The second act takes a peculiar turn, splitting the lead cast into twos. Pegg and Doug Jung’s script provides greater insight into each key member. Although the plot and momentum stall, the middle section delivers infinite character development and wit. In true sequel fashion, new characters including alien warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) create several surprises.
With Abrams off on Star Wars duties, director Justin Lin (Fast and Furious’ Tokyo Drift through to Six) takes control of the ship. Not to be underestimated, he balances between the original series and this franchise’s bold, blockbuster-y direction. The exhilarating filmmaker piles action sequences on top of one another in the third act. The motorcycle set-piece clicks with the movie’s tone and close-quarter scope. The finale combines a high-flying spaceship battle, clever banter and a Beastie Boys’ track with aplomb. Meanwhile, the fist-fight finale injects pathos and resonance into an otherwise light-weight story. Assisting Lin’s breezy direction, Michael Giacchino’s score is as slick and dynamic as the Enterprise herself. The talented, good-looking performers aptly bounce off each other. Pine and Quinto snuggly fit into their famous roles. Urban, Pegg and Boutella are standouts. Meanwhile, Elba is let down by the character’s befuddling backstory and master plan.
Star Trek Beyond ventures where the franchise both has and has never gone before. Credit belongs to the performers, living up to the original cast’s crackling chemistry. Lin and co. have refueled and beefed up the Enterprise for future adventures. Most importantly, Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy are given touching send offs.
Stars: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick
Release date: January 8th, 2014
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 124 minutes
Best part: The dynamic performances.
Worst part: The final 25 minutes.
Into the Woods, born from acclaimed composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s glorious 1987 Tony Award-winning stage production, serves a specific purpose: making fun of everything you love. Despite the patronising satirical glow, his style allows theatre-goers, fantasy-epic aficionados etc. to laugh with his production and at genre art. Several years ago, fans of Sweeney Todd were treated to Tim Burton’s spirited remake starring white-faced Johnny Depp and soot-covered soundstages. So, does this one hit the high notes or fall to wailing lows?
Tinseltown’s latest Broadway-to-Blockbuster smash is up against this Oscar Season’s biggest hitters. Wholly separating itself from its WWII/manipulative biopic/satirical broadway/Hobbit-starring competition, Into the Woods flaunts its creative consultants, director, and starry cast’s better sides. Placed in the Awards-hungry musical/comedy slot, it compares favourably to every other recent musical-to-screen effort (Les Miserables, among others). This musical deconstructs significant Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales including Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk. In a small village, a wack-a-doo witch (Meryl Streep) tasks a cursed-to-never-conceive baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) to obtain four items – a cow as white as milk, a cloak as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold – before the next blue moon. For varying – albeit well-known – reasons, scullery maid turned princess hopeful Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), peasant boy Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) also venture into the dreaded neighbouring woods.
The musical-to-movie switch is a long-standing Hollywood process. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) has dedicated himself to the art form. Even his songless flops, Memoirs of a Geisha and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, reek of flamboyance and grand-scale camp. Marshall efficiently applies his vast skill-set to Into the Woods, delivering a extravagance-fuelled hit rivalling Chicago‘s overt magnetism. The filmmaker, applying a unheard-of rehearsal schedule here, protects the original material’s legacy while lathering his style across each frame. Indeed, Sondheim’s outside-the-box storytelling style and pin-point sense of humour shine throughout this slick adaptation. Appealing to cinema-goers and theatre buffs alike, it snappily pays homage to Sondheim’s enduring legacy. Author/playwright/screenwriter James Lapine valiantly trims his original ground-breaking material down to fit effortlessly. This adaptation aptly carries its own heaving weight throughout its first three quarters. Marshall and co. succinctly interweave all four fairy tales into the central plot-line. Indeed, this Avengers-style gathering of fairy tale favourites draws out that inner-child-esque nostalgic glow. Its balance between anachronistic satire and old-timey fantasy fluff will satisfy families and cinephiles this Oscar season. It’s darker elements – connotations alluding to pedophilia and adultery – are overshadowed by its winning formula.
“I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” (Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine), Into the Woods).
Sadly, Into the Woods‘ story topples over with the full force of a giant, a carriage, and Rapunzel’s heavenly locks combined. The original premise, depicting the meaningless of life post “happily ever after” for these fictional celebrities, is preserved haphazardly for the final 30 minutes. The finale, stretching this adaptation into a discomforting fourth act, throws unrefined resolutions and peculiar tonal switches into the otherwise hearty, designed-to-win potion. Eventually, the abundance of character arcs and story-lines sends it down the wrong path. Despite these near-crippling flaws, it’s an ample antidote to our recent slew of dark, dreary fairy-tale adaptations (Snow White & the Huntsman…ZZZZZ). It simply, and smartly, lets heroes be likeable and villains be despicable. However, the cynical twang elevates its forgettable array of musical numbers. The standout, oddly enough, involves a testosterone-fuelled feud between a Hollywood heartthrob and relative newcomer. The charming princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) engage in a hysterically homoerotic number (‘Agony’) comparable to Top Gun‘s volleyball scene. Sadly, despite the cast and crew’s immense talents, the surrounding numbers struggle to escape its shadow. Red and the Wolf(Johnny Depp)’s set-piece – ‘Hello, Little Girl’ – is a mild reprieve. Streep and Blunt, yet again, deliver astounding turns in leading roles. Despite their underutilised supporting characters, Tracy Ullman, Mackenzie Mauzy, and Christine Baranski make a strong case for more big-time female roles.
Into the Woods‘ true, uncompromising magic comes from a desire to please audiences rather than shock or repel them. In the midst of imitation games, unbroken actress turned directors, and Timothy Spall’s grunts, this smash hit transitions gorgeously from the Big Apple to the bright lights. Marshall, recovering from tedious recent efforts, wholeheartedly succeeds with this hilarious and arresting fantasy epic. Its journey-better-than-the-destination vibe, for better or worse, separates it from the ‘village’.
Verdict: A family-friendly and entertaining musical-satire.
Writers: Adam Cozard, David Koepp (screenplay), Tom Clancy (series)
Stars: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley
Release date: January 17th, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 105 minutes
Best part: The dynamic performances.
Worst part: The convoluted plot.
By rebooting the ever-engaging and eternally popular Jack Ryan series, Paramount Pictures, obviously, has all-eyes on the potentially gargantuan rewards. With an intriguing spy-action premise, cracking cast, effective marketing, and franchise-level reputations to uphold, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit contained the perfect ingredients for a kick-ass reboot. After all, action movies usually obtain hefty profits and franchise-boosting opportunities. This is Hollywood – where uninspired, critically lambasted action movies receive sequels, prequels, and reboots thanks to overwhelming commercial success. Unfortunately, Shadow Recruit, though enjoyable, is another forgettable spy-action flick with healthy box-office returns in sight. Despite the positive elements, this instalment becomes an irritating, confused, and uninteresting action-thriller.
Despite the deceptive marketing campaign, Shadow Recruithad the potential to be a lively and eclectic reboot. As is Hollywood’s ravenous nature, reboots are, essentially, designed to remove debilitating/franchise-killing cells whilst injecting an electrifying cure into a near-lifeless corpse. Admittedly, this drastic studio-executive/focus-group driven methodology has re-configured and enhanced several big-budget franchises. Given a high-tech facelift and energising boost, this action-thriller franchise, once again, comes out swinging. Despite my analogies and comparisons’ bizarreness, these comments are somewhat accurate. The reboot presents one of pop-culture’s most celebrated and cunning super-spies’ origins. Here, the story dodges the previous instalments whilst acknowledging their significant entertainment value. This instalment kicks off in 2001, with an adolescent Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) studying in London. Following loud footsteps and chatter, Ryan dashes to the nearest TV. He watches on in horror as two planes crash into the World Trade Centre. Fuelled by patriotism and pragmatism, Ryan joins the US Military in 2003. Serving in Afghanistan, Ryan proves, to his comrades and himself, that he belongs in active duty. Ryan, quickly becoming a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant, suffers horrific injuries when his helicopter is shot down over mountainous regions. Recovering from his debilitating injuries, with physiotherapy and medical student Cathy Muller(Keira Knightley)’s assistance, Ryan is determined to head back into military service. However, CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) has other ideas. Luring Ryan into CIA operations, Harper believes that terrorist cells are using stock exchanges to transfer vast sums. Sent into the New York Stock Exchange undercover, Ryan ably investigates the system to uncover suspicious activity.
Unlike Hanna and The American, this spy-actioner doesn’t strive for originality, charm, grit, or ambition. To continue on, I’ll stress that the plot, as time passes, becomes considerably more convoluted and uninteresting. Ryan is then sent to Moscow to meet with Russian businessperson and playboy Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh). With Ryan and Cathy’s relationship issues threatening the mission’s stability, Harper reins everyone in to stop Cheverin’s diabolical scheme. It would be simplistic and predictable to lambast this action-thriller for being bland and unimaginative. However, despite the resources on offer, the movie never strays from conventional spy-thriller material. Ryan, one of author Tom Clancy’s creations, is one of literature and entertainment media’s most intriguing characters. Born from Clancy’s impressive knowledge of covert operations, sleeper-agent programs, government methodologies, and military intelligence, Ryan is a cunning, nimble, and modest spy. Adapting Clancy’s works, this franchise once increased action cinema’s worthiness. As pulsating and impactful action-thrillers, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger succeed thanks to tightly wound narratives and entertaining performances. Unfortunately, The Sum of All Fears and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit are nonsensical and unintentionally laughable. Explaining this narrative’s core ingredients is like asking a cat to explain astrophysics. Once Ryan’s motivations are established, the extended prologue awkwardly veers into uninteresting corporate-espionage territory. From there, Ryan’s analytical mind is tested on screens, charts, and numbers. To Wall Street aficionados, the first third will be delightfully entertaining. However, the movie quickly loses focus, purpose, and character.
With Tinker Tailor Solder Spy‘s alienating coldness and The Fifth Estate‘s computer-reliant plot mechanics, the first third won’t keep action-movie-obsessed viewers entertained. With befuddling exposition, debilitating jargon, and joyless characters, the dramatic aspects also become steadily tiresome. However, after Ryan lands in Moscow, the movie hurriedly transitions into a mindless action romp. With its convoluted techno-espionage plot eviscerated by explosive action sequences, Shadow Recruit switches form one spy-action sub-genre to another. In the following two thirds, this instalment borrows from the Bond, Bourne, and Mission Impossible franchises. Lacking the previous Jack Ryan instalments’ edginess and balance, Shadow Recruit is a frustrating and egregious 2-hour distraction. Like Salt and The Bourne Legacy, the disappointing narrative, wavering pace, and derivative revelations severely dampen this otherwise diverting experience. Lacking Spy Game and Breach‘s intensifying darkness and socio-political relevance, Shadow Recruit becomes yet another tedious and expansive action flick. Although brash preconceptions overwhelm most action flicks, plot-holes, contrivances, and stupefying characterisations become increasingly distracting. Throughout this befuddling spy-thriller story, the character’s questionable and perplexing antics pull the audience out of this experience. The movie, though slick, stylish, and picturesque, depicts the American and Russian Governments as childish and moronic factions. With another Cold War approaching, our characters lack intelligence and agency.
“You Americans like to think of yourselves as direct. Perhaps you are just rude.” (Victor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit).
Despite these desperate situations, no one follows basic protocols or ethically sound methodologies. Why does Ryan tell Cathy he’s a CIA analyst? How do the characters jump between settings without being stopped by authorities? Also, why doesn’t Harper tie off loose ends? Despite the nonsensical screenplay, Branagh’s direction is derivative of Sam Mendes, Martin Campbell, and Paul Greengrass’. The action sequences tumble and fall tirelessly. Shaking cameras and quick cuts distort the energetic set pieces. The standout sequence, involving Ryan and a heavy-set assassin, is a rare highlight. However, the motorcycle/car stunts and chases boost this movie’s schizophrenic tone. Punches, stabs, and bullet wounds add some impact. Shadow Recruit‘s cinematography and production design provide several eye-catching moments. Copying Skyfall‘s emphasis on nighttime sequences and mesmerising compositions, the immaculate settings and locations widen this banal action-thriller’s scope. In addition, the cast excels despite the derivative and underwhelming characterisations. Pine, sporting his Captain Kirk swagger full-time, is a charismatic and commendable on-screen presence. His boyish charm, physicality, and range solidify this engaging role. With smarter material, Pine could’ve cemented another major franchise. Costner’s resurgence delivers this intriguing and entertaining character. This impressive casting solidifies Ryan and Harper’s friendship. Branagh elevates his racially insensitive antagonistic character. With a thick accent and purposeful mannerisms, he overcomes the character’s wafer-thin motivations. However, Knightley awkwardly adjusts to her irritating and nosy character. On top of Knightley’s wavering accent, her character is a nonsensical and unnecessary hindrance.
Shadow Recruit, despite the glowing positives and immense potential, can’t overcome the genre’s overblown and stupefying conventions. With its been-there-done-that story, underdeveloped characters, and derivative direction, this action-thriller doesn’t delve beyond the surface. With this series’ more memorable instalments becoming action-movie gems, Shadow Recruit doesn’t match its predecessors or this century’s most influential spy-action flicks.
Verdict: A punchy yet generic and confusing action flick.
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.
Stars: Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Handler
Release date: February 17th, 2012
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 97 minutes
Best part: Pine, Hardy, and Witherspoon’s chemistry.
Worst part: The inconsequential sub-plots.
This Means War had all the ingredients to be a perfect date movie. Good looking people and romance for the girls and intense action for the guys. But while the film may be a sweet representation of the battlefield of love, at points it bites off more than it can chew.
Chris Pine & Tom Hardy.
It’s a very simple premise that we have here. Renegade federal agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are all around smooth operators and at the top of their game on (almost) every mission. Their strong friendship is tested with the introduction of the sexy and intelligent Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon). With fate bringing FDR and Tuck to her in different situations, their dating lives intertwine into a potentially dangerous love triangle. They must now use any means necessary to steal the girl away from one another with only death and a vengeful Agency target standing in their way. For a story that almost falls apart at the seams, both the stylish direction and stellar cast keep This Means War together. Pine and Hardy prove why they are two of the most popular actors working today. Their dynamic, and at points touching, chemistry in every scene together elevates their conventional roles. With Pine’s character as the smooth talking womaniser with a heart of steel and Hardy’s character being an honest guy struggling with the single life, opposites attract as the snappy dialogue, based on their differing personalities, illustrates their engaging friendship.
Unfortunately, Hardy, proving himself a very talented dramatic performer in films such as Inception and Warrior, seems uncomfortable with the genre as many of his comedic lines and slapstick moments fall flat, giving him the immediate appearance of being miscast. Reese Witherspoon is a stand out as the girl stuck in the middle. As the honest yet ignorant female lead, her energy and bubbly personality creates an enjoyable interpretation of what is normally a bland central character, in the vein of Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day. Despite the strong relationships and charisma between the three leads, the characters themselves never feel realistic. With McG (The Charlie’s Angels films, Terminator Salvation) it comes as no surprise as his films have a distinct lack of humanity due to his heavy focus on stylised action and slick special effects. Pine tries hard with the material but can’t shake off the character’s insanely low brow attitude toward women and patronising attitude toward his best friend. Witherspoon on the o other hand is forced to epitomise the ‘ultimate’ female character. With her fun job, good looks, beautiful apartment and with two good looking guys after her at the same time, the glorification of her situation and actions make her a shallow representation of women. Her character’s situation is also worsened with the constant commentary from her obnoxious best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler).
“Don’t choose the better man, choose the man who makes you a better woman.” (Trish (Chelsea Handler), This Means War).
Our love triangle.
Many comedic moments in This Means War are hit and miss, particularly in the first half. The gross out jokes and overt sexual references seem at odds with the film’s tone and become instantly forgettable. However as the rivalry between Tuck and FDR picks up, so does the level of set up gags, which actually come off as hysterical in many scenes. There are many over the top pranks, particularly when Tuck shoots down a drone watching his every move, that are wildly entertaining and develop a consistent pace. McG’s slick direction, the quick cut style of the hand to hand combat and the direct sound editing of the explosions and gun fights, deliver one fast paced and exciting action scene after another. McG also knows how to use his settings and cinematography to create the enviable life and skills of a spy. Scenes including Tuck and FDR ducking and diving around Lauren’s apartment unbenounced to her or each other, the action packed mission on top of a skyscraper in Hong Kong and a rather brutal game of Paintball are choreographed and filmed with the technical complexity that makes McG one of Hollywood’s most skilled action directors. This Means War sadly lacks a sense of urgency. The over reliance of its basic premise becomes tedious, as the forced villain plot quickly feels useless and only creates a largely predictable conflict for the three main characters. Til Schweiger (Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz from Inglorious Basterds) tries but has little to do in his one note role as the slimy European antagonist.
Here’s the big, inexcusable problem with This Means War – there are too many cooks spoiling the broth. Thanks to McG’s incompetent direction and the noticeable studio interference, this spy-comedy never get the chance to gather intelligence and execute its mission.