Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Review

I have never been a big Trek guy. Do not get me wrong. Like any self respecting lover of sci-fi/fantasy I grew up with a healthy appreciation for the franchise. That can mostly be accredited to my Dad, who could  almost never clean his fish tank or do anything productive around the house on Sunday afternoons without an episode of 'Next Generation' going on the t.v. This was my very first exposure to the world of Star Trek. I had never been that familiar with the original 1960's series, and have yet to really sit down and watch one of the feature length films starring the original cast all the way through. Shameful, I know. What can I say, I just always thought light sabers were way cooler than phasers and that the breathtaking aerial maneuvers of a squadron of X-Wings facing off against a fleet of Ti Fighters was a lot more fun to watch than the sluggish, submarine type warfare of The Enterprise going up against a Klingon warship.
Prior to the summer of 2009 my ambivalence toward Star Trek was pretty much a direct reflection of the current social malaise the franchise had seemed to run itself afoul of after a handful of disappointing feature films and a general lack of excitment having to do with any new material they were putting out on t.v. Then J.J. Abram's 'Star Trek' came out and changed everything. Fresh, exciting, and infinately entertaining, Star Trek 2009 achieved the nearly impossible task of satisfying longtime devotees of the classic television series while at the same time birthing a new generation of Trek enthusiasts.
Now in the newly released sequel to the popular 2009 reboot, titled 'Star Trek: Into Darkness,' we are  thrown back into the action with Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, Dr. Leonard "Bones" Mccoy and the rest of the crew of The Enterprise as they continue their ongoing mission of exploring new worlds, sometimes, as in the film's rapid paced, Indiana Jones-like opening, with unintended, ideology altering consequences.
After some initial re-introduction to the characters we grew attached to in the first film, the story really gets going when a Starfleet archive center is destroyed in a suspected terrorist attack perpetrated by a mysterious figure only known by the alias of "John Harrison" who, lo and behold, happens to be a former member of the organization itself. When escalation of Harrison's vendetta against Starfleet exacts a personal toll on Kirk, the impaulsive and hotheaded young Captain volunteers to lead a revenge mission to the planet Harrison is taking refuge on to either execute or retrieve the rogue officer. But of course, things are not what they seem...
As with the 2009 film, the entire cast of The Enterprise shines in their respective roles. Chris Pine once again perfectly embodies the trademark swagger and charm of James T. Kirk while adding a fresh and uncharacterisic dimension of uncertainty and vulnerability to the character who, in a dramatic departure from the punk kid who gets everything he wants at the end of the last movie, actually has to earn the vaunted position of Captain this time around after meeting his match in the formiddable John Harrison. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a downright frightening and venemous performance as the imposable and enigmatic "John Harrison." As far as I am concerned, this guy can write his own ticket for any role he wants to play in an eventual Batman reboot or 'Man of Steel' sequel. Zachary Quinto again perfectly portrays Spock, a being of pure logic who in spite of coming across as nearly robotic at times allows his decisions to be based increasingly out of the most primal of emotions as the stakes are raised, the body count gets higher, and the people he cares about most are threatened.
As with its 2009 predecessor, 'Star Trek: Into Darkness' is certain to thrill both new and returning fans of the mythology alike. All of the great effects, action, drama, and humor that were so prevalent in the initial outing have returned tenfold in the highly anticipated and overdue follow up. But most of all, it is the further exploration of the relationships and family dynamic of the crew that really makes 'Into Darkness' shine as we learn just how much the characters need each other to achieve the kind of greatness they would never be able to reach on their own.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3 Review

The first entry in what has been branded "Phase Two" of Marvel Studios' post Avengers superhero movies has officially kicked off this past weekened with the release of Iron Man 3. The new film marks Robert Downey Jr.'s third outing as Tony Stark, the eccentric playboy, genius, philanthropist, billionaire inventor etc., etc., whose celebrity has literally rocketed to new heights since the closing sequence of the first film when he cooly tossed one of  the most sacred comic book conventions of the secret identity straight out the window with the bold proclamation "I am Iron Man." With that, the Howard Hues-esque techno savvy innovator  became the world's first public superhero, who went on to play a critical role in helping to save the world from imminent destruction at the hands of an invading alien race in "The Avengers" last summer.
Knowing the characters penchant for excess, one would think that the heroe's hard fought victory would serve as just another ego trip for a guy who is historically lacking in the humility department. However, we soon find out that things have not all been wine and roses for Tony who now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder after coming within mere inches of the reaper's blade in the finale of 'Avengers' and is stricken by immobilizing panic attacks at the faintist reminder of his near brush with death. Compounding his near death experience is the sobering realization that for all his previous exploits, since the events of 'The Avengers' he is now merely "a man in a can" sharing the stage with gods and monsters etc. and no loinger the biggest gun out there. Distracted and unable to sleep Tony spends most of his time holed in in the extended garage/armorry/man cave of his posh Malibu homestead tinkering with his suits while leaving the running of his company to his newly appointed ceo/steadfast long suffering girlfriend, Pepper Potts once again played by the lovely Gweneth Paltrow who imbues again imbues the role with just the right amount of quirkiness and confidence.
But events transpiring around the world soon force Tony back into action as a cunning and sadistic terrorist simply known as The Mandarin, wonderfully played by Ben Kingsley, does something to effect Tony on a very personal level. From there it is all out war as Tony publicly calls out the mysterious criminal warlord who answers in kind with a full scale aerial assault on Tony's sweet ocean view pad. As opposed to the literal captivity he was subjected to in the first film the second and third acts of Iron Man 3 see Tony back in a sort of metaphorical cave with his back against the wall and having to rely on only his wits and ingenuity to get him out.
Rounding out the supporting cast is Don Cheadle as Colonial James Rhodes, a.k.a. Rhodey, who, for P.R. reasons, has had to trade in his War Machine armor for a spangly paint job and new "less hostile" codename, "Iron Patriot." John Favreu, who directed the first two films reprises his role as Happy Hogan, Tony's good friend and former bodygaurd now Pepper Potts's head of security. A title he is eager to make everyone aware of. Rebecca Hall plays Dr. Maya Henson, a former flame of Tony who returns to try help him in his time of need. And Guy Pierce plays Alldricht Killian, a brilliant scientist/genetisist with unclear motives and dubious ties to an event that occured during Stark's pre-Iron Man days.
Overall, I thought Iron Man was a very satisfying third entry in what has become Marvel Studios' flagship franchise. Downey Jr. once again proves to be variable freight train of charisma. Despite the characer's narcassism and self described "laundry list of character defects," he charms the audience with the sheer force of his personality whereas any other actor would probably come off as unlikable and leave people muttering "Jeez, what an a$$hole."
 The theme of real life consequences is also refreshing to see in a superhero movie. A person can only cheat death so many times before in begins to take a toll on them mentally, and in a dramatic departure from the stereotypical fearless hero who brushes the dust off their shoulders to go on and fight the next battle Tony spends portions of the film uncharacteristically questioning himself and reflecting that he is not as invincible as he once thought he was. In this way, the theme of his larger than life public persona serving as a sort of emotional armor comes into play as Downey Jr. imbues Stark with a newfound sense of vulnerability in his more private moments.
The humor and comedic moments that have become a trademark of the series films are still very prevalent in this third outing and in some areas come off as a little overdone and detract from some of the film's more serious themes but considering the great performances by actors who seem wholly invested in the "world" these films have created, it seems petty to find things to complain about when what we are given is so entertaining.
Personally I liked Iron Man 3 quite a bit more than the second movie which suffered from subplot overload and a clunky Avengers lead in but not quite as much as first which won audiences over with its charm and sense of fun and possibility. The film both has a satisfying and appropriate end but I cannot help but wonder what the unexpected finality of Tony's decisions will mean for the the future of the franchise and Avengers 2 in 2015? Only time and box office numbers will tell I suppose.