Star Trek Into Darkness: live long, prosper

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Star Trek Into Darkness’ is a brisk, no-nonsense sci-fi action sequel built around a conflict between the crew of the Starship Enterprise and a slick, slippery new villain called John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Director JJ Abrams revived the Star Trek franchise back in 2009 by taking it back in time (in Trekkie terms, that is; it’s still the future for us), pumping it with wit and style and giving life to younger versions of Captain Kirk, Spock, Scotty and the rest of the space geek dream team. Here, the main focus is internal strife, rather than structural revolution, as Kirk and Spock get catty with each other and Harrison emerges as a disgruntled insider bent on domestic terrorism.

The most striking scenes come without doubt at the start as Kirk (Chris Pine) struggles to rescue Spock (Zachary Quinto) from a volcano on a distant planet. We witness a primitive race – carefully colour-coded all white, yellow and red – as they first lay eyes on a spaceship. It’s a powerful moment, and nothing later matches up to it, even if two episodes of city-bashing (first London, then San Francisco) offer their fair share of wide-eyed 3D viewing.

The revived Star Trek films are shaping up to be the opposite of Christopher Nolan’s Batman tales in that they’re light on bleakness and attitude. There are enough gags (Simon Pegg is fun again as Scotty) and wit (the tension between Kirk and Spock is winning) between darker bouts of space fighting and ship-saving to keep the mood airy and unpretentious.

Only when we’re treated to a gratuitous, over-the-shoulder underwear shot of Alice Eve as the Enterprise’s new recruit does this breeziness tip into recklessness. It’s here that we sense the filmmakers’ worry that the whole thing might be a bit too boyish and sexless. That said, the script manages to introduce some thoughtfulness into proceedings via Spock’s morose musings on death and feelings (or lack of them).

All in all, it’s a welcome offering to the franchise that won’t leave send you home disappointed.

Prometheus: even Fassbender can’t save it

Prometheus, widely anticipated as the must-see movie of the month, hit cinemas last week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the film many of us thought it was going to be.

In this prequel, Swedish actress Noomi Rapace plays religious scientist Elizabeth Shaw. Shaw, along with her colleague and lover Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discovers a pattern in ancient cave drawings, leading them to believe the human race was engineered by physically and genetically similar beings from another world. Attracting the financial assistance of a dying billionaire, Shaw and Holloway take charge of a spaceship and follow their ‘map’ to a distant moon.

From start to finish, this movie is an excellent visual spectacle. I’m saddened to report, however, that that’s all it is. Not only does this film not live up to the hype surrounding it, but it actually fails to pass for an enjoyable film in its own right.

It’s difficult to outline this films many faults and failings without exposing a wealth of spoilers… but there are some absolutely huge holes in this shabbily put together plot. The motivation behind some characters key decisions are never explained and some scenes/characters/discussions are utterly pointless and add nothing to the story.

Idris Elba gives a very enjoyable performance as the Captain of the spaceship, but a lack of character development means that you won’t really give a damn about him or any decision he makes. Charlize Theron also gives an enjoyable, if stiff, performance… but again, there’s not nearly enough development there. Guy Pearce plays the aforementioned dying billionaire but even he can’t bring this dead husk of a character to life. His ability is completely wasted in this lacklustre storyline.

Michael Fassbender is the one saving grace of this film in his role as the mannerly and scholarly robot David. At times he his creepy, knowledgeable and darkly humorous but, in true psychopathic form, is neither bad nor good. Fassbender’s performance is captivating and unique and he really brings something unique to the table. The same can be said, to an extent, of the female lead, Noomi Rapace. To be sure, nobody is going to confuse her for the next Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), but Rapace does an admirable job in the lead role none the less.

Regardless of performances, the entire film fails to deliver anything but a visually pleasing reboot of a franchise that should have been left alone. The horrific magnificence of both Alien and Aliens is their directness. They are primal thrillers and questions of life and philosophy tend to take a back seat when you’ve a xenomorph attached to your face.

All in all, Prometheus has been the biggest disappointment of 2012 so far. If you’re just looking to pass two hours of your day, by all means, take a look… but don’t expect it to live up to the hype.

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