Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

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Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

ANCC: Doctor Strange

By the wondrous winds of watoomb!  In our epic 75th episode, Nick and the Gorehound are joined by Cousin Charles to discuss the 2016 film, Doctor Strange, starring Bennybutton Cumbersnitch! Check out the episode to see what they thought!

To listen to the episode, click here or on the image below.

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Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

SPOILER WARNING!
(Although, if you are a
Sherlock fan, you’ve probably already saw it.)

A month after it aired, I was finally able to sit down and watch the hotly anticipated Sherlock special, The Abominable Bride.  Originally pitched as a one-off to tide viewer over until the show properly returns in 2017, the special proved to be anything but that.  And it’s completely jarring turn mid-way through utterly derails what could have been a fun diversion in the show’s history.

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The premise as promoted by the BBC and the show’s producers had the cast recreate the adventures of Sherlock in his original, literary setting of the 1880s.  This sounded like a great approach for a one-off episode.  Put the contemporary-setting Sherlock and “revert” it back to its novel-origins.  A nice hook for the fans of the show.

But it doesn’t even do that.  About mid-way through, it is revealed that the entire 1880s segment is a drug-induced dream that Sherlock is having immediately after the events of “His Last Vow” (much of the present-day stuff takes place on the plane Sherlock was in).  He is attempting to solve a 100 year-old case in his “mind palace” in order for him to figure out how Moriarty is alive.  Let’s first ignore that Sherlock shouldn’t have known that Moriarty was apparently alive yet (he was still on the plane with no television access).  More importantly, how does a 100 year-old case of a dead woman coming back from the grave and killing others help Sherlock figure out Moriarty’s resurrection?

Complicating this further is that the dream is sprinkled with several character bits and squabbling that Sherlock would never have dreamt.  Nor does it make any sense that the dream had an underlying theme of women’s rights which Sherlock would not have really cared about given the crime to be solved.

Sherlock is smart, obviously, but his dream acted more like a story that he was telling to himself since the investigation culminated in him discovering a secret group of women trying to take down the corrupt high-society men.  Furthermore, the fact that his dream had sequences in which Sherlock wasn’t present for completely derails how he could have figured out the crime.

It was a nifty enough idea, but it just didn’t work and falls apart under scrutiny.  I know I am being nitpicky, but here is the thing I’ve always believed.  If a movie/TV show has plot holes, but you don’t really notice them until the story is over, then it did it’s by engaging the viewer and the plot holes can be easily forgiven.  If you can notice them while watching the movie/TV show, then that becomes a problem.  The Abominable Bride is the latter.

They should not have had any present-day stuff and let the special be in the 1880s.  It would have much stronger.  I’m not sure why they didn’t commit to it.  Adding the present-day sequences just muddled up the story, and made it convoluted (and even more convoluted when some of the present-day sequences turned out to be part of the dream).  This was such a disappointing return to what is usually a fun show to watch.  Hopefully, when the show returns (possibly in 2017 – but who knows for sure since Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are too busy being movie stars), they’ll right the ship after this bump in the road.

~N

Nick saw “12 Years a Slave”

I caught this film about a week ago, but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write about it.  12 Years a Slave depicts the true story of Soloman Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped and sold into slavery during the mid-1800s.  It took him twelve years to prove the fact that he was a free man.  During that time, he witnessed and was inflected with horrors that no person should have to endure.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into this movie.  A film about a one of America’s darkest periods is always going to bring up certain questions and concerns.  Will it treat the subject material respectfully or trivialize it?  Will the characters (particularly the white characters) be fully realized or one-dimensional?  Will it be gritty or gloss over the terrible nature of slavery.  Fortunately, the film hits all the right notes and does what Django Unchained completely failed to do.  12 Years a Slave is arguably one of the more important films made from recent years.

What really sells this movie is Ejiofor’s performance.  He truly is terrific.  A lesser actor would have played Soloman over-the-top or incredibly preachy.  That sort of thing would have undermined the film (though wouldn’t be unexpected given that 12 Years… is a historical movie).  Ejiofor goes another route with him being more subtle and quiet in the role.  It makes Soloman feel like an “everyman”.  This approach makes the viewer connect with him and want to see him through his struggles.  I fully enjoyed with Ejiofor brought to the movie, and I really hope this propels him further into the mainstream.

The rest of the cast fills out nicely with fantastic supporting roles from Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch (this guy is everywhere it seems), and Lupita Nyong.  I don’t know if it was the material or just the standard of quality from the actors, but the performances in this film are amazing.  That said, there are some cameos in the film which are completely distracting, specifically that of Brad Pitt.  Somehow, he is just too recognizable to see him in the role that he’s in for a film like this.

12 Years… isn’t a perfect movie.  There are elements that don’t quite work such as the aforementioned cameos, the pacing being a too slow (although that could have been a creative decision), a perplexing sex scene early on (at least I think that’s what it was), a few needlessly uncomfortable sequences (though I get why they were there) and some pretentious direction at times.  However, all of this is really minor when compared to the rest of the film.  12 Years a Slave is an important film to see, especially if you want an unbiased look at slavery in the United States.  I encourage people to check it out. It isn’t a film that you’d want to watch again and again, but it is worth seeing as its filmmaking at its finest.

~N

Sherlock – Season 3, Episode 3

Like, Really Real Spoilers.

Sherlock’s third season comes to a close with an episode full of twist and turns, an intriguing and loathsome villain, interesting character work, and a cliffhanger which, well, I’ll get to that.  There as a lot to like about “His Last Vow”, but there were other elements that just didn’t work as well as I think the writers/producers would have wanted.  For me, this season ender was a bit of a mixed bag.

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“His Last Vow” has Sherlock going up against Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), a Rupert Murdoch-type media king.  Magnussen has a precise way to obtain information and blackmail various key people in order to get what he wants out of them.  Magnussen is a terrific villain because he knows he has other people completely under their thumb and they cannot do anything about it.  He works from the fear he installs, and with no one above him to put an end to his activities, he truly is the ultimate bully.  He isn’t doing his blackmailing for any personal or financial gain.  He does it just because he can.  That really is terrifying.

As we discover in the episode, Magnussen has some key information on Mary Watson.  She is desperate to keep that info quiet from John, so she attempts to kill Magnussen (who, perplexingly seems to have never had a hit on him before), which fails.  Mary’s secret comes to light (I’m not going to reveal it here), and John is devastated.  While I found the reveal and the fallout dramatically interesting, it seemed odd that Magnussen would care about a nobody like Mary to even warrant blackmailing her.  Granted, Magnussen just likes to pick on people and likely has no standards on who he chooses, but a slight explanation would have done this plot element justice.

I do have to give this episode credit, though, for some of its character work on Sherlock.  Since the beginning of the series, Sherlock has described himself as a “high-functioning sociopath” to explain away his strange behavior.  Despite that, he never really acts like any sort of sociopath.  True, is socially awkward without realizing it and continuously says whatever is on his mind.  I’d argue he is more autistic than anything else.  And this season, I’ve noticed a warming of Sherlock’s personality.  Sociopaths are people who are incapable of expressing true emotion and fake their way through it in order to get what they want out of other people.  Sherlock has never openly done this…except for this episode where we find him in a loving emotional and sexual relationship (and possible engagement) which is revealed to be a giant ruse so he could gain access to a secure office building.  Now, that’s being a sociopath.

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And we have our cliffhanger.  It’s terrible and incredibly tacked on.  I know, the Sherlock fans out there have gone ga-ga crazy over it, but none of it comes naturally.  The episode has a solid resolution, but it felt the need to have this curveball thrown in at the (literal) last minute.  I almost wonder if the writers/producers were worried the way they were ending the season would have been considered a disappointment, so they felt it would have been better to give something to the fanbase to chew over. Nothing would have been as audience grabbing as Sherlock’s apparent death from last season, so they shouldn’t have felt the need to try to top it.  That said, I am intrigued by what they might do next season.  No, I’m not going to reveal it here.  It does come out of nowhere and I doubt any viewer will truly expect it.

So, that wraps Sherlock season three.  I really wanted to like “His Last Vow” a whole lot more.  It has so much going for it, but it falls just short with some odd character beats and story elements.  This has been a pretty solid year for the program.  Very game-changing and, much to my surprise, did not reset things to the status quo of the previous two years.  I really hope they keep changing and evolving as the show progresses.

“His Las Vow” is scheduled to air in the US on February 2nd (Super Bowl Sunday!) on PBS.

Sherlock – Season 3, Episode 2

Spoilers….duh

“The Sign of Three” is an incredibly different kind of Sherlock episode.  Not a bad different; just an interesting different.  I am actually surprised that producer Steven Moffat and his team did something like this considering they have only three 90-minute episodes every two years to tell their stories.  Do so something that breaks away from the traditional format is incredibly risky in Sherlock’s circumstance. Then again, perhaps Moffat felt that they have built up enough good-will from their fanbase that they can get away with doing something unique.

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Fortunately, the gamble paid off as “The Sign of Three” was an incredibly entertaining installment of the cult-favorite series.  I suppose it is appropriate that this episode had a different format as the narrative centered around the wedding of John Watson and Mary Mortsan (Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington, respectively)  – definitely a one-of-a-kind event for this show.  Most episodes of Sherlock weave their tale in a very straight-forward manner.  Here, we are treated to what can be considered a series of vignettes (which all come together in the end – more on that later) told by Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) of a variety of cases he and Watson had investigated.  Sherlock uses the tales as his best man speech in order to highlight the qualities he sees in Watson.

Though I noted in the previous episode that Sherlock is starting to show more emotion to those close to him, don’t think that his rambling speech is overly gushy.  There is sentiment, but it still has all the Sherlock dry wit and unintentional put-downs which infuriate others.

Also, speaking of the previous episode, this is definitely a game-changing season.  The writers here are doing a lot of things to redefine the core aspects of Sherlock.  This isn’t done as any sort of retooling of the concept that some shows go through.  Instead, it is more of a natural evolution of the series.  It plays off that two year gap between seasons 2 and 3.  Many shows tend to revert back to the status quo. Sherlock isn’t doing that.  The playing field was slightly reset and the writers are reveling in it and using it to their advantage.  Now, it is possible that, eventually, the show will revert to the past status quo (in fact, I have a bad feeling about the fate of Mary), but for now, I love seeing this evolution.

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As I mentioned earlier, the seemingly unrelated stories Sherlock tells all link together (which, of course then culminate Sherlock deducing someone is going to be murdered at John’s wedding).  I’ll admit, this is an incredible stretch.  The sure happenstance that Sherlock would tell random stories that just happen to connect to each other (he didn’t know they did previously) that just happen to relate to John’s wedding really strains credibility.  However, it doesn’t bother me as much as something like this normally would.

Here’s why: the bad guy’s “murder plan” is incredibly clever (even if that also stretches some credibility) and the way Sherlock deduces it seems like it was ripped straight from an Arthur Conan Doyle story.  “The Sign of Three” is an original story, but that “false authenticity” in a strange way gives it a pass.  Maybe it is the British accents.  Perhaps it is just that entertaining.  I’m not sure.

Sherlock’s third season continues to be a developing one.  It’s evolving the show and the characters.  I like this direction, and I look forward to see how things wrap up.

“The Sign of Three” is scheduled to air in the US on January 26th on PBS.

Sherlock – Season 3, Episode 1

SPOILER WARNING!
(seriously…I cannot stress that enough)

Well, here it is.  Nearly two years later, the cult-favorite Sherlock returns.  Well, in England anyway.  It has been a long-awaited return for fans of this modern interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.  Last season, we left Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) in an almost impossible position after arch villain Moriarty forced Sherlock to jump off a building, killing himself.  He died.  Watson (Martin Freeman) saw it.  But, lo and behold, turns out Sherlock is alive!  Watson doesn’t know this.  And viewers are left wondering for two long years on how Sherlock survived his fall.

Theories abounded to how Sherlock actually did this.  There have been some crazy, overcomplicated ideas cooked up by fans over the past two years.  The fact it was two years, only fueled the fire.  Personally, I was more interested in how Sherlock’s reputation was going to be restored after it was so utterly destroyed.  “The Empty Hearse” addresses these issues in addition to telling its own story.

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First, the reputation: this was so easily resolved.  In some ways I am disappointed it was hand-waved away.  In other ways, it actually solves one of the big problems I had from the previous episode (which I otherwise loved).  In “The Reichenbach Fall”, Moriarty destroys Sherlock’s credibility with some well-placed manipulations in the media.  The thing I had a problem with was that, while it a clever plan and it made for some good drama, it would completely fall apart the moment anyone actually investigated it.  When I watched the earlier episode, that nagged at me, but I let it go (suspension of disbelief and all).  Brilliantly, the writers addressed that very issue in this season opener and pretty much claimed that the charges against Sherlock were bunk and his reputation was promptly restored.  Nicely done, even if it was “dramatically too easy”.

Now, the resurrection: they never fully explain it! BRILLIANT!  Episode writer (and series co-star), Mark Gatiss, likely knew that no explanation would satisfy everyone.  And, given the rabid online fanbase Sherlock has, if one thing seemed wrong with the way out, you’d have legions of nerds complaining to high heavens.  Instead, the episode somewhat intentionally avoids the matter.  They touch on it here and there.  Several possibilities are suggested (some comical, some intentionally overly complicated), but the actual resolution is left vague.  In fact, one scene gets incredibly meta when Sherlock is trying to explain his tale to a disappointed conspiracy journalist who begins to poke holes in the story.

The thing is, as Watson points out, it doesn’t matter.  “The Empty Hearse” was not about how Sherlock survived, but, rather, how is he going to patch things up with his broken friendship with Watson.  Watson is understandably mad that Sherlock faked his death and didn’t tell him.  Even more mad when he learns that other people (who Sherlock was not as close to as he was with Watson) knew he was alive.

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Watson is none to pleased to see his friend alive again.

Much of this episode, Watson and Sherlock are apart from one another.  There is some story about a terrorist threat against London or something.  It doesn’t really get going until the mid-way point and, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter.  Sherlock is not a show about the plots.  Strange as that might seem.  I’ve usually found most episodes to be all over the place a bit too much to keep me really invested in the story.

What keeps me coming back (and I suspect many of the show’s viewers) are the characters and their interactions.  Cumberbatch and Freeman are great to begin with, but they have such a fantastic chemistry, it keeps you glued to the screen.  Sherlock as a series isn’t about stopping the villain of the week.  It’s about the Sherlock/Watson friendship.  The show hinges on it.  This episode hinges on it.  When these two characters are together on a train ready to explode during the episode’s climax, I’m not worried that they are going to die so much as that they are going to die at odds with one another.  I want to see that forgiveness.  Cumberbatch and Freeman make it work and sell it.  Lesser actors would not have been able to do it.

This is a real turning point in the series, I feel.  Sherlock is changed by this experience.  Whether he realizes it or not, he’s changing.  Before when Sherlock would interact with people, he would often be dismissive of others.  Socialization wasn’t his thing.  Now, he’s noticeably different.  He is much warmer to those closer to him.  Watson, of course.  But especially Molly (Louise Brealey). Sherlock would usually take her for granted, but how he’s showing emotion and gratitude for her help.  That is a huge thing for him.  I look forward to see how this change in him will develop.

Speaking of the supporting cast, I really like the addition of Watson’s fiancee, Mary (Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s real-life partner).  She is a complete breath of fresh air in the sense that she actually likes Sherlock (as opposed to Watson’s previous girlfriends) and can see completely though his bullshit.  As such, Sherlock seems to approve of Mary (also as opposed to Watson’s previous girlfriends).  I look forward to seeing more of her on the show.

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Mary Morstan is a great addition to the show.

Fans of Sherlock are going to love the episode.  If you are new to the series, hopefully you’ll be taken with it, though you might be a bit confused as to what is going on.  Luckily, the series is on Netfilx and there are only six previous episodes.  Check them out, then check this out!

“The Empty Hearse” will air in the US on January 19th on PBS.

Bond vs. Sherlock

A new trailer was released for the upcoming season of BBC’s Sherlock and I couldn’t help but notice a particular shot that was extremely reminiscent of an important scene in last year’s Skyfall.

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I guess if it is good enough for James Bond, it’s good enough for Sherlock Holmes.  Maybe it’s a British thing.

~N

Trek Tuesday: What’s With the Trek Villains?

Zack and I were trading Nero (from 2009’s Star Trek) quotes back and forth earlier today when he asked me what was up with the Star Trek villains and why are they so over-the-top.  It was a completely valid question.  When you look at the cinematic Trek bad guys, they all have that crazy-quotient that potentially could throw the film into camp territory.

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Just take a look at many of the baddies.  In the rebooted series, we have Nero and Harrison/Khan.  Eric Bana and Benedict Cumberbatch are both fine in their respective roles, but you cannot help that there is a lot of over-the-top scene chewing going on there.  For example, Zack and I both agree that Bana has a fantastic line read of “I want Spock dead now!”  It is so nutty and bat-shit insane that it become comically awesome, but it became dangerously close to cringe-worthy.  Cumberbatch also has a strange quirk with his character with enunciating everything very clearly with his lips.  I realize that is probably part of his acting approach, but as Harrison/Khan, he cranks it up to 11.

The Next Generation films had some oddness to their villains as well.  Soran in Generations tries to get the audience to sympathize with him given that he lost his entire family, but the story built around the movie is so lackluster that it is hard to make us care about the guy.  Doubling that problem is that this is the villain that kills Kirk (sorta) – he should be a threat.  He never feels like one.

We veer into campy territory with Ru’afo in Insurrection which is unfortunate since F. Murray Abraham is behind the make-up.  Maybe the actor just didn’t care and wanted to do something over the top.  Even Shinzon in Nemesis, while trying to keep things simple, yet threatening, turns into a goofy character especially when he becomes sick during the latter half of the movie and the make-up makes him look more like a zombie.

The Borg Queen in First Contact is the winner of the TNG films (not that this is a competition) as her character never goes over -the-top nor veers into camp (robot-zombies aside).  She also has that personal connection to the characters which gives her that more-threatening menace needed for a villain.  Many of the Trek films tried to do this too as it makes the films feel more “important”.    An audience can potentially be more invested if the story is personal for the hero as opposed to the hero fighting some random bad guy.  Shinzon tried to make this connection, but the connection is somewhat tenuous at best.

The original series films did this too.  We had our somewhat camp villains – Chang with him constantly spouting Shakespeare and Kruge with him creating the “crazed Klingon”.  We also had our more personal, quieter villains in Sybok – a great role with a solid performance, but in a completely disappointing movie, so of course we’d never get a bad guy like that again.

So, what is the pattern?  These bad guys tend to have a connection to our heroes and can have somewhat over-the-top, theatrical performances.  Those are the two big reoccurring traits.  Why is this?  Well, the answer is simple: Khan.

Star Trek II’s Khan became the prototypical Trek bad guy.  With the arguable exception of Kruge, every Trek villain has been created with him in mind.  It seems like, during the TNG movies, Rick Berman or another producer/writer would come out saying their newest villain is the greatest villain since Khan.  Or the villain would be heavily patterned after Khan.  Or, in Star Trek Into Darkness’s case, it was Khan.

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“KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

So, why keep going back to Ricardo Montalban?  Because he did too good of a job.  His character was very theatrical.  He veered towards campiness, but it works in the movie because he was a character that was on the verge of madness.  However, Montalban balanced this by being charming and charismatic.  In addition, the “personal connection” to Kirk felt more natural than some of the later villains because their relationship established in an episode of the original series.  Everything clicked with Khan, so he became the blueprint with the later Trek baddies (though none being as successful).

I get why the producers went that route (it’s safe), but it is a shame that they didn’t try to craft something more original (especially since televised Star Trek had such an array of unique bad guys that fell outside this mold).  I guess when they did – Sybok – it flopped.  Once producer Harve Bennett left the franchise (and more so when the TNG movies got underway), the Khan model took hold.

Usually the heavy Khan bad guys were at least a movie a part.  Now, we have had three Star Trek movies in a row with the nearly exact same style of villain.  Not that any of these performances have been terrible or anything like that.  I just like variety.  Hopefully, the next film will change things up a bit in the villain department (or, perhaps, go the V’ger/Probe route and not have a specific bad guy – that would be cool).

~N

Trek Tuesday: Into Darkness – Again!

Last week, I picked up the Star Trek Into Darkness Blu-ray at my local Target.  No, I didn’t get the “exclusive” Target version with extra special features – I am rarely interested in special features these days. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t, as Target was completely sold out of them by the time I got there (which made for hilarious advertising since the regular Blu-ray was also listed as the “exclusive” edition including a horribly misleading sticker on the package).

Anyway, I digress.

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So, I re-watched it.  This was the second time seeing the film, and I wanted to get another perspective on it.  Given the decisive nature of the film with general audiences and Trek fans, I was curious how I would like it during as second run through.

I have to say that I do like Star Trek Into Darkness.  Personally, I think it is a stronger film, overall, than 2009’s Star Trek.  I still find the film’s story to be interesting, the reworking of Khan, and Kirk’s overall dilemma.  A lot of this works.  However, this is a film with several narrative faults.  And these faults are really, really bad.

Honestly, the film really falls apart in the third act.  We learn that Admiral Robocop is the bad guy who basically set Kirk and company up.  But, then Khan kills him and becomes the main villain.  This was the beginning of the trouble.  The film was still working even though we had a game of musical chairs with the villain, but things were still on track.

The real problem – and this is a big one – is when Into Darkness completely plagiarizes Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with Kirk’s “death”.  Into Darkness was already going to be compared with Wrath of Khan for the mere fact it was the second installment.  Even more so since it featured Khan.  Abrams should not have a drawn more attention to the (let’s face it) superior earlier film by lifting its climatic scene.

The whole sequence was made worse when Spock inexplicitly yells “KHAAAN!”  It was embarrassingly bad during the first viewing, and I doubt it will ever not be cringe-worthy.  This is when the film completely blew up for me (no pun intended considering the following scene had Khan’s ship kamikaze into the San Francisco in a completely gratuitous manner).

But here is the thing: if someone isn’t a Star Trek fan and never saw Wrath of Khan, they wouldn’t know the difference.  That sequence would not have been distracting for a new/uninitiated fan as it was for me.  On that level, I suppose the film succeeds.  But I know that I cannot overlook it.  It is too difficult not to.  And, because of that, it makes the other relatively minor flaws of the film completely stand out even more.

I don’t think that Star Trek Into Darkness was a complete misfire the way some militant butthurt fans are claiming.  I also do not think that it is a wonderfully perfect movie the way other militant fans say it is.  It is 2/3rds of a good movie that rams into a brick wall after a steady pace.  Since it is looking like JJ Abrams will not be returning to the director’s chair for the next installment, I welcome some fresh blood into the franchise.  I think it’ll be good for a series like this to rejuvenate.  As a fan of the franchise, I want to see new takes and new directions.  It keeps things fresh and interesting – something Star Trek Into Darkness may not have done the greatest job of doing.

I Saw Star Trek: Into Darkness (Spoiler Free)

Note: For Nick’s review, click here.

A few days ago I went to see the latest JJ Abrams-directed Star Trek movie, subtitled Into Darkness, at one of my local multiplexes. I am honestly still trying to gauge how I feel about this sequel, released four years after the successful reboot of the series. Into Darkness has a lot about it that I should like on paper, and yet I’m having a hard time ultimately deciding whether or not I liked this film. Let me get one thing straight: Into Darkness is a high quality adventure and a good movie – I’m just not sure it was the movie I wanted it to be. It is for this reason that I didn’t post an immediate review. I’m not sure I could have been honest and genuine in an immediate review, and I didn’t want to regret my words months later. Now that it has been a few days, I am hoping I can get my thoughts together and write a cohesive review that sums up my feelings for the movie. Maybe I’ll also be able to finally decide whether or not I thought this film was any good on a personal level as well.

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The plot of Star Trek: Into Darkness is easy to summarize: there is a rogue terrorist threat (a scenery chewing Benedict Cumberbatch) within Star Fleet, and our intrepid heroes (a returning Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, et al) must band together to put a stop to his machinations, and maybe just avert a possible war with the newly discovered Klingon Empire as well. There’s also subplot about a militaristic general (played by an apathetic Peter Weller). I actually have a lot of problems with the story in this movie. Some of the story details in Star Trek: Into Darkness ended up being very much like those found in three big blockbusters released last year. Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers all dealt with a cunning, ruthless villain who was eventually “captured” by the good guys, only to escape and cause more havoc in the process. Into Darkness follows this trend, unfortunately. Additionally, a good chunk of the latter third of the film follows an earlier Star Trek movie pretty closely, and feels shoe-horned in. If the filmmakers were aiming for some kind of homage to earlier Trek lore, I feel they missed the mark completely. That Into Darkness also ends on an incredibly contrived deus ex machine is also disappointing.

Despite these general misgivings, I still found elements of the story to appreciate and admire. I loved the continued interactions between Kirk and Spock, and the opening scene, wherein Spock and company attempt to stop an active volcano from destroying a young civilization, is both breathtaking and tense. I thought Into Darkness did a pretty good job of humanizing our characters as well, particularly Spock, who Quinto plays well. I liked the idea of the Enterprise venturing into Klingon territory, but I just wish more had been done with it. I absolutely love the idea of a militaristic Star Fleet general using the Enterprise for some kind of False Flag mission, but again I wanted them to explore this more than they did (General Marcus could have been the sole big bad in the film honestly). In a way, I feel like the story we got was much less than the story we could have ended up getting. There was so much potential for something great here that I can’t help but feel let-down just a little bit. Into Darkness is still largely breezy and entertaining like its predecessor, but it just didn’t do as much for me this time. The movie is a step in a different direction from the first film, which I feel is good. I’m just not sure if it’s a step in the right direction overall.

Benedict Cumberbatch is a good villain in a story that doesn't always allow him to be the primary antagonist.

Benedict Cumberbatch is a good villain in a story that doesn’t always allow him to be the primary antagonist.

I’m still having a hard time deciding whether or not I actually liked this movie. I can appreciate it on a technical level, and I love the interactions between the primary characters (Karl Urban’s McCoy continues to be a highlight for me and must be mentioned). I’m just not sure I found the mixture of old versus new to be particularly charming in this film, especially considering how much it apes from what is my favorite original series Trek movie. I found the direction that Into Darkness took to be the easiest possible way to make the film, and that kind of disappoints me. There was such great potential in this sequel, but I feel it kind of missed the mark on the whole. Star Trek: Into Darkness is not a bad movie. I think it’s actually well-made and entertaining. It just wasn’t what I hoped it would be. I’m not going to complain about the little changes/details or the fun, breezy sense of adventure like a hardcore Trek fanboy might. For the most part, I liked them just as much here as I did in the original film. The sequel just didn’t up the ante the way I thought it could have. Star Trek: Into Darkness is a good summer movie that just didn’t meet my high expectations – check it out, but don’t expect a romp on the level of the first movie.

-Z-

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