by Steve Habrat
It has been four long years since JJ Abrams ventured into the Star Trek universe and left both die hard Trekkies and casual moviegoers hungry for more deep space adventures from the brash Captain James T. Kirk and the brilliant Mr. Spock. For some, that lengthy wait felt almost like a lifetime. In between 2009s Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams buddied up with director Steven Spielberg on the set of their 2011 alien-in-suburbia throwback Super 8, and it seems that this friendship has really inspired Abrams and his approach to science-fiction blockbusters. Almost every single frame of rollicking action in Star Trek Into Darkness is alive and bursting with Spielberg’s spirit for adventure, something that will absolutely delight anyone who is a fan of Spielberg’s breezy approach to summer diversions. Yet you don’t necessarily have to be big on Spielberg to adore the second installment in this rebooted franchise. We may only be three weeks into the summer movie season, but after taking this bad boy in, I think we may have an early contender for best blockbuster of the year. Featuring two times the action, two times the thrills, two times the emotion, two times the fun, and two times the laughs, Star Trek Into Darkness finds Abrams burning with sugary creativity and bubbly enthusiasm to deepen the relationships between his wonderfully reinvented characters.
Star Trek Into Darkness begins on the primitive planet of Nibiru, with the crew of the USS Enterprise on an undercover mission to monitor a volcano that is on the verge of erupting and wiping out the planet’s natives. The crew has been warned that they are not to reveal their presence natives, but after a dangerous attempt to stop the volcano from erupting, Captain James T. Kirk (played by Chris Pine) breaks orders to save Spock’s (played by Zachary Quinto) life. Back on earth, Kirk and Spock are reprimanded by Admiral Pike (played by Bruce Greenwood), who reassumes command of the Enterprise, relieves Kirk of his command, and reassigns Spock. Meanwhile, in London, a Starfleet archives is attacked and destroyed by a shadowy Starfleet agent named John Harrison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Kirk and Spock are called in to attend an emergency meeting at Starfleet headquarters to discuss how to respond to the attack. The meeting is interrupted by another attack that kills several high-ranking members of Starfleet including Admiral Pike. With Pike dead, the USS Enterprise is given back to Kirk and Spock, who quickly hatch a plan to go after Harrison, who has fled to the hostile Klingon planet Qo’noS.
Much like Abrams’ first Star Trek film, the second installment is loaded with nifty little plot twists that should not be spoiled by a review. Just know that if you are a major Star Trek fan, there a more than a few surprises that will almost make your head explode. With all of the characters fleshed out in the first film, Abrams can strictly focus on the nonstop action that practically blasts the audience into the neighboring theater. The film begins with an Indiana Jones-style chase between the terrified Kirk and “Bones” McCoy (played by Karl Urban) and a yelping tribe from Nibiru, who launch spears out of the screen in glorious 3D. In case there wasn’t enough to marvel at in this particular set piece, Abrams flips to the glowing action that is taking place within the swirling volcano. From there on out, there is a city-shaking attack on Starfleet, a wicked shootout between Klingons and a handful of crewmembers of the Enterprise, a nerve-frying space jump through a spinning field of spaceship debris, and a breathtaking fistfight on the streets of San Francisco. If that isn’t enough to hold your attention, you’ll certain find yourself unable to stop scanning the inside of the seriously amazing USS Enterprise or grinning over the wild crew members that operate it. Surprisingly, the film was converted into 3D in postproduction, but it is totally worth spending the extra cash to check it out in immersive 3D.
While the action will certainly have you drooling, Star Trek Into Darkness really comes to life through Pine and Qunito. It really is a treat to see these guys hilariously bickering it out every step of the way. They argue in a disciplinary meeting, during the opening chase, and even while they are trying to infiltrate Qo’noS. Pine continues to be reckless and cocky all while he flirts with one girl after another. The early scenes between Pine and Greenwood’s fatherly Admiral Pike were especially touching and shattering when Pike meets a nasty laser blast. Quinto continues to bring the laughs as the rigid and emotionless Spock, a stickler for the rules if there ever was one. Here, Spock’s emotional detachment is put to the test and it truly does strike a chord. Yet the real magic happens when Pine and Quinto are together, with their egos clashing and banging around the iPod walls of the Enterprise. Their friendship is really put to the test when the confront Cumberbatch’s Harrison. While it is best not to reveal much about John Harrison, just know that Cumberbatch nearly steals the entire movie away from Pine and Quinto. He is one hell of a commanding villain.
If you were worried that the rest of the Enterprise crew had flew the coop, never fear, as they are all back where they belong. The sexy Zoe Saldana is back as Nyota Uhara, who has developed a relationship with Spock that goes far beyond the Enterprise. Karl Urban continues to bring the pessimism as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, who is constantly getting under Kirk’s skin with some of the worst metaphors you can think of. Simon Pegg continues to delight as the hilarious engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, who hams it up through an exaggerated Scottish accent. John Cho brings a quiet intensity to the role of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu and Anton Yelchin is cartoonishly frantic as Ensign Pavel Chekov. We don’t get nearly as much of them as we did in the first film, which is a bit disappointing but understandable considering everything that is going on within the story. And we can’t forget the outstanding newcomers Peter Weller and Alice Eve, who are here as the ruthless Starfleet Admiral Alexander Marcus and the beautiful weapons expert Dr. Carol Marcus.
As far as summer movies are concerned, Star Trek Into Darkness is about as strong as they come. While there is an abundance of action and explosions to keep those with a severe case of ADHD hooked, there is still plenty of humanity to this story. We genuinely care about these characters and after a while they almost start feeling like close friends. They are especially irresistible when Abrams shakes the Enterprise and lets all these drastically different walks of life mix. Overall, Star Trek Into Darkness is a massive step up for the sleek and sexy franchise and at just over two hours, Abrams still leaves you wanting more of absolutely everything. Just like the first outing, it simultaneously pleases Trekkies and those just looking to be dazzled on a Friday night. You know what? Just stop reading this review right now and go see it. Just don’t be surprised if you want to see it again the second its all over.
by Steve Habrat
Throughout James McTeigue’s overcast thriller The Raven, I kept wondering what the film would have been like if it would have been approached in a much more serious manner rather than as a graphic novel that has come to life. The film, which cleverly uses Edgar Allen Poe as the hard-boiled detective to solve murders based around his own work, does have a pulpy storyline, one that you could very easily see illustrated out in comic book form but I felt like the film could have been much better if the filmmakers would have made it a little bit grittier and meaner. Instead, McTeigue instructs his actors to lightly flit around what look like leftover sets from Tim Burton’s Sweeny Todd while holding up lanterns to see through the CGI fog that is supposed to create a portentous atmosphere. The film also tries to lighten the already forced mood by having the superb John Cusack, who plays the boozy Poe, spew chuckle worthy one liners like he is a cleaned up Jack Sparrow on vacation from his Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Despite these major flubs, The Raven does have a handful of moments that are moderately fun but they quickly fly off like a startled raven.
The Raven begins with the witty Detective Emmett Fields (Played by Luke Evans) showing up to a grisly double murder and quickly observing that the crime scene resembles a story written by the booze sipping Edgar Allen Poe (Played by John Cusack). After being taken into police custody, Poe is convinced by Evans to begin helping the police to catch the murderer before he strikes again. Poe also happens to be in love with the blonde and beautiful Emily Hamilton (Played by Alice Eve), who at a costume ball, is kidnapped by the murderer, sending Poe and Emily’s protective father Colonel Hamilton (Played by Brendan Gleason) into a frenzy to try to find her. As more murders stack up, Poe has to get inside the killers mind by using clues that he leaves at the crime scenes to find Emily before the deranged fan slices and dices her. But as the chase furthers, Poe begins to suspect that he may not live make it out of the investigation alive.
The Raven is the same old hack and slash whodunit that is dressed in all in black and sips brandy from a flask. The most inspired aspect of the film is the way the killer dispatches his victims by using the work of Poe. By far the most grisly is the death that is inspired by “The Pit and the Pendulum”, a scene that overflows with CGI blood that is flung directly at the audience. I’m stunned the filmmakers weren’t compelled to convert the film to 3D just to milk the effect even more. This is the exact problem with The Raven. It’s just gets too cartoonish for its own good and is overly concerned with its own outer appearance rather than making something that will really stick with us and, dare I say, disturb us to our core. Instead, it’s sleek when it should embrace a little dirt under its fingernails. I suspect that McTeigue, who directed the awesome 2006 comic book film V for Vendetta, never really snapped out of comic mode. McTeigue and screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare are all about images that look cool and speeding the story along to the next gruesome discovery, with everyone but Poe choking out simple dialogue that would seem more at home in big white speech bubbles protruding from their mouths.
Of all the players in The Raven, Cusack hits it out of the park with his motor-mouthed Poe, who bursts with intelligent jabs at those who try to insult him and continuously spars with Colonel Hamilton, who despises the drunken Poe. Cusack is committed to Poe to the very end and really does his best to give him a little bit of depth and glassy-eyed emotion. He steals every scene he’s in and he makes The Raven a bit easier to sit through without your mind wandering away from the story. Cusack is a magnetic actor and I admit that I really do enjoy his work. My one compliant with his performance is that I wish it were smudged with a little bit more intensity at times but the screenwriters would like him to be a jester. Brendan Gleason sneaks by as Colonel Hamilton, although he isn’t given much more to do than to grumble on about his dislike for Poe and to yell “EMILY!” when he finds out she is missing. It’s a shame that Gleason’s talent was severely underused. Luke Evans plays the real hard-boiled detective in the film, but he just resorts to saying everything with in a gruff whisper. The screenwriters are disinterested in really fleshing him out and he is relegated to just making speeches to groups of gung-ho police officers. Alice Eve is another minor standout and she does have a spark with Cusack, but we only see that spark in brief flashes before she is separated from Cusack for a good majority of the film.
The Raven is devoid of any tension, fear, or shock, all three things that are desperately needed within the film. It briefly thrills here or has us scoot to the edge of our seat there but sadly, McTeigue seems to think that if the whodunit thriller ain’t broke, don’t you dare do anything to fix it or even put a creative spin on it. Another disappointment of The Raven is the big reveal at the end, when we finally get to see the face of the killer, who ends up being a character that we’ve barely seen throughout the film. Maybe it would have been a little bit more of a bombshell if it was someone closer to Poe instead a distant background player we don’t give a lick about. The Raven couldn’t be any more by the books or worse, predictable even when it thinks you have no idea what is coming next. Maybe if The Raven had been a little more game to get its hands dirty rather than cover them up in all the CGI body fluids and atmospherics, things would have played out differently. Ultimately, McTeigue and The Raven are a little too soft and play a bit too nicely, which is a shame because Cusack came to have some devilish fun.