Film Review | Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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We will find hope in the impossible.

I’m always unclear on what the deal is with the colons on these movies. Star Trek Beyond, rather than Star Trek: Beyond, seems to be the case. Not quite sure how I feel about that.

Anyway, I watched this movie yesterday; I’d been looking forward to it for a while, despite the dismal first trailer, because of quite how positive word of mouth has been recently. The reviews have resoundingly attested that Star Trek Beyond was a really good movie, and one that would return to the heart of the Star Trek ideals that had, in some ways, been missing from the previous two reboot movies – just in time for the 50th Anniversary, too.

It was undeniably a good movie, in any case. A very entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, if you’re so inclined; it’s very exciting, has some great action set pieces, and it’s the most visually impressive of all the three reboot movies. I want to draw particular attention, actually, to the warp drive effect; though we didn’t see much of it, it was a standout sequences and possibly the most unique way I’ve seen the process conveyed on screen. Another quite effective scene was the destruction of the Enterprise by the swarm – again, it stands out because it’s quite different from the manner in which we’ve seen various Enterprises destroyed before. On the whole, the film looked great, and I think it’s absolutely fair to say that Justin Lin did a wonderful job directing this movie.

One of the other things which stood out about this movie was how well it handled the characters, particularly in comparison to Into Darkness. There’s a danger with ensemble movies to lose focus of the group, and end up with a movie that’s essentially just the Kirk and Spock show. Both Star Trek and Into Darkness had suffered from this a bit; Karl Urban has quite openly said, in fact, that he almost hadn’t returned for this movie as a result of how he’d felt McCoy was marginalised previously. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Beyond; it was evident that Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, the writers, had gone to a lot of effort to give each character due level of focus. (Perhaps somewhat ironically, though, given the level of focus on him in the run-up to the movie’s release, Sulu probably had the least screentime of all the bridge crew.)

I really appreciated the fact that this movie put in a greater effort with the characterisation and emotional arcs for their characters. In fact, I thought that Kirk and Spock’s arc was particularly fitting for this movie; they both waver somewhat as to whether or not they’re going to stay with Starfleet, but ultimately reaffirm their desire to stay on the Enterprise. This was quite appropriate, I think, and in some ways reflected the manner in which Beyond intended to bring the reboot movies closer to the original spirit of Star Trek.

Did it succeed in doing so? Well, perhaps. It’s much more immediately obvious that this movie was written and directed by fans, in contrast to the previous ones; there’s a lot of self-referential, tongue in cheek humour there. (A particular favourite was Kirk’s downbeat “I ripped my shirt again”, as if this happens to him a lot.) It also feels a lot more in tune with the rest of Trek, from its unexpected-but-appreciated extensive references to Enterprise, to the vivid colour palette that’s so reminiscent of the original series. There’s a lot more of a focus on exploration than there had been previously (although still not a great deal) and there’s also that lovely moment with Sulu that reaffirms Star Trek’s commitment to diversity and representation.

And yet.

During all the associated press interviews and whatnot prior to the movie, Simon Pegg said that when writing the script, he “wanted to […] question the idea of the original vision of it. Gene Roddenberry’s original idea of the Federation was like a UN in space. We wanted to ask whether it was a good thing or more like a colonising force.” The movie was being presented as a post-colonial, structuralist critique of the original Star Trek, and it was this that had excited me the most about the new movie – the potential for some quite complex themes and a nuanced internal debate. To me, that’s the heart of Star Trek, and something I’ve felt was missing from the most recent movies. Indeed, it particularly appealed because that sort of post-colonial lens is one I find to be quite interesting generally, so to apply it to Star Trek sounded like it’d be really compelling.

In the end, though, that doesn’t really come across. Krall, our villain, does little to present a truly opposing viewpoint to the Federation; his military jingoism is something we’ve seen before, and there’s little time to properly delve into what he’s saying. At times he often seems to contradict himself; despite dismissing unity as a concept, his swarm technology is entirely reliant on being unified, and he mourns the death of his friend towards the end of the movie. Further, I think the revelation of his identity actually undercuts a lot of those themes; given that Krall was never colonised, there’s not exactly anything approaching those sorts of ideas. As ever, DS9 did it best with “You assimilate people and they don’t even know it” back in the day.

Ultimately, Star Trek Beyond wasn’t what I had hoped. The villain was a bit weak, and there were a few minor issues throughout. But it was a movie that emphasised the need for progress, that dismissed xenophobia and jingoism, and took care to reaffirm the ideals of inclusivity, diversity and discovery.

For the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, that’s rather appropriate.

7/10

Related:

Star Trek: The Original Series reviews

Star Trek: Discovery reviews

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TV Trailer Thoughts | Sherlock Series 4

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In amongst all the other SDCC news, we got this trailer for the fourth season of Sherlock, which will be released… some point next year? They’ve had success in the January slot before, so that’s a possibility, but it could also be a little early yet. We’ll see, I suppose.

What stands out about this particular trailer the most is that it’s quite clearly moved away from the original detective style storytelling. Sherlock is now very much an adventure series, with Sherlock Holmes just as much an action hero as he is a deductive genius. I can’t say it’s a change I’m particularly averse to, admittedly; there’s something about that which does, I feel, fit the character. Particularly Moffat and Cumberbatch’s iteration, actually, who’s always been pitched as being addicted to the thrill of adventure, ever since A Study in Pink.

(In light of that, I admit I’m a little worried about the potential incorporation of Sherlock’s drug abuse in upcoming episodes; largely because it’s something they eschewed mentioning in the past, with Moffat and Gatiss having made a conscious choice to leave it out. To do so now seems… well, I’m just worried that there’s a risk it might end up feeling underdeveloped, particularly given that this is going to be a fairly busy season. Nonetheless, these are just tentative concerns, and I’m still interested to see where that’s taken.)

Other than that? Well, there’s the Moriarty return, of course. I’m of the view that Moriarty isn’t really back, but rather it’s a series of pretaped videos and other machinations that he left in place to extend his influence even after his death. I expect this won’t be the plot for the whole season, as Toby Jones’ villain will presumably take the centre position – at the minute, I’m just hoping they don’t let Moriarty overshadow Jones, in the same way he very nearly overshadowed Magnussen last year.

There’s also the three clue words for this season, which are customarily enigmatic: Thatcher, Smith, and Sherrinford. This Radio Times article gives a pretty good rundown of what each could mean, and reaches largely similar conclusions to the ones I did (including, incidentally, the Thatcher blogpost). Of the three, it’s “Sherrinford” I’m perhaps most interested in – although that’s probably because its meaning is also the most obvious, so I’ve got the best idea of what it might mean. The dynamic between Sherlock and Mycroft has been consistently quite interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it might continue to evolve in this new series.

Generally, though, I’m quite excited about this. Even though I didn’t quite enjoy the third season of Sherlock as much as its predecessors, there’s a lot about this season that I’m looking forward to. It’s nice to see Lindsay Duncan back, after she was underutilised last year. It’s great to see all the characters I like so much, like Molly, Mrs. Hudson, and Mary – as well as, obviously, John and Sherlock. Particularly exciting is the fact that Rachel Talalay, who is fantastic, will be directing the opening episode; I’m really looking forward to seeing her take on Sherlock.

Roll on… 2017, or whenever.

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TV Trailer Thoughts | Vixen Season 2

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Admittedly, I’m only doing this because I’m pretty sure everyone else has forgotten Vixen even exists. (Even Yahoo deleted my review of the first season! You can find another copy on my blog here, though.)

Still, I do think it’s worthwhile to talk about Vixen, if only because she’s the only WOC superhero that gets… if not her own television show, something that resembles one. And I mean, in a way, the existence of this show is the reason why we got Vixen on Arrow, and why we’re sort of getting Vixen on Legends of Tomorrow. So, as it goes, Vixen is kind of cool and all. (Besides, if there’s more buzz surrounding the actual show, that’s likely to have something of a knock-on effect, with the potential for more live action appearances in future.)

It’s nice, I guess, to see further tie-ins to the wider DC TV universe in this clip, with both Flash and Firestorm showing up to help take down Weather Wizard. I’m wary, though, of the possibility for Vixen to be overshadowed in her own programme; both Ray Palmer and Laurel Lance are going to be in subsequent episodes of Vixen, and while there is something nice about that, there remains a fairly limited amount of screentime for this show, and I wouldn’t want our TV show stars to take too much time away from a character who doesn’t really get a lot of time anyway.

This clip does also remind me of the limitations of Vixen too, of course; there’s the fact that it’s quite a short program (the above is, I imagine, about half an episode’s worth of content) but also that animation is a very… specific medium, which requires a different approach to television. It’s immediately clear with the voice acting, for example; Victor Garber is (perhaps literally) phoning his performance in, and I’m not overly impressed by Grant there either. Neither are bad actors, but voice acting is a very different skill from “normal” acting. The actual animation itself isn’t bad – a nice art style, with good representations of each character – but I’m still just a little worried about how well the show can handle emotional content, and whether or not it’ll overreach itself somewhat, in the same fashion as last year.

Still! Vixen was an entertaining enough way to spend half an hour last year, soI’ve little doubt they should be able to replicate that again this go around.

Related:

Vixen Series Review – Arrow’s Animated Adventure

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TV Trailer Thoughts | Legends of Tomorrow Season 2

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This trailer leaves me with the least to say, I think, largely because it’s the one with the least new content – it’s predominantly recycled footage from last year, I suppose because Legends earlier in the filming process than the other two shows?

Anyway.

I don’t really know what to think, to be honest. For a while now I’ve had reservations about the shape of the second season of Legends, and I must admit that I’ve not really been reassured by this trailer. I kind of feel as though the best way to take advantage of the anthology format would be to really push the boat out and just go for it – I feel like the cast should have been shaken up a little more, and perhaps even the time travel aspects abandoned. Retain the “DC’s Legends of” title, and then just do whatever. DC’s Legends of the Dark, a magic and horror based series. DC’s Legends of the Universe, focusing on the intergalactic side of DC comics. Even DC’s Legends of the Multiverse, perhaps.

(I realise, obviously, that you’d need to have some continuity between series, and you can’t just completely change everything each time. My Legends of the Dark pitch does, after all, contain three characters from Legends of Tomorrow, and a further two that were already introduced on Arrow. That, in essence, is the sort of thing I had in mind.)

Even then, though, I’m not sure necessarily that repositioning the show to be about a group of time police is the best idea. I almost feel like it’s better if they have a specific, targeted aim – perhaps the defeat of Vandal Savage created a new problem (Thanagarian invasion!) that they have to deal with? I don’t know, it just feels that making these characters into, as I said, time police is perhaps changing them too far beyond their original conception, simply to ensure they still fit a premise which, honestly, they may well have outgrown.

Hmm. I’ve been quite doom and gloom about this whole thing, haven’t I? Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the first season of Legends, and I fully expect to enjoy this season too.  The above was just my immediate thoughts and initial reservations; I’ve no doubt I should be able to get past them reasonably quickly. Principally, Legends of Tomorrow is just a really fun show, and as long as they manage to keep that up, I’m willing to forgive them a lot.

On a related note, I’m a tad peeved there was no Supergirl trailer. That’s the one I was looking forward to most!

Related:

Legends of Tomorrow season 1 review

Supergirl season 1 review

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TV Trailer Thoughts | The Flash Season 3

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Cards on the table: I thought an adaptation of Flashpoint was a mistake.

Let’s just look back on my review of The Flash Season 2, because past-me articulated my stance far better than current-me would:

As for next year? I am tentatively worried. Flashpoint, to me, seems like a mistake. Primarily, there’s the fact that The Flash has been mining the Flashpoint story for a lot of imagery for a long time, taking different aspects and using them in the way that best suited the show at the time; Barry bringing Iris a video of Eddie, for example, or being electrocuted to regain his speed. That means that if they do try and use any of the more well known aspects of the Flashpoint story, then it’s going to come across as quite repetitive. (Then again, given how much of this series was just season one repackaged and repolished slightly, it’s possible that being repetitive isn’t a huge concern.)

More importantly, though, I feel like it’s moving backwards. Earlier, I mentioned how much I appreciated that The Flash was dedicated to developing each of the characters; one of the best episodes this year, The Runaway Dinosaur, was all about Barry getting past the death of his mother. It was a really poignant episode, and I think can be included as one of the best of the entire show, up there with the season one finale.

But then they threw that away just a few episodes later.

I stand by this, still; the new trailer didn’t do a lot to reassure me. (In fact, since writing that, I’ve actually grown more disinterested in the Flashpoint adaptation because I’ve read the original comic, and watched the animated movie, and found both to be quite underwhelming; they felt to me more of a string of “cool” moments and set pieces, rather than an attempt at emotional storytelling.)

Don’t get me wrong, there looks to be a lot of cool stuff here. I really enjoy alternate takes on characters I already know, and looking at parallel universe versions of them; the new timeline has the potential to be quite engaging. It looks to me at the minute as though Wally is going to be the Flash in this new dimension; while I’m not expecting him to retain these powers when the timeline is fixed, I think this is probably foreshadowing a point later on in the season when he will gain powers in the proper timeline. (I’m a little disappointed to see another speedster villain, though, and I dearly hope that this is confined solely to the flashpoint timeline; The Flash is quite heavily running the risk of getting too repetitive with speedster villains.)

Part of me is slightly concerned that what we’ve seen here is actually just an edited down version of the first episode; from the filming reports I’ve been following, it seems they’ve only recently started episode 2, which does suggest that all of this footage is simply from the premier episode. I hope that’s not the case; I kinda feel like the only thing that would bother me more than doing Flashpoint would be to rush it. It seems to me that this is something that should, at the very least, get two-parter, because 40 minutes really doesn’t feel like enough. (I’m particularly hoping to see a considerable number of scenes between Barry and his mother, because I feel that this was a crucial aspect that the original story was lacking.)

In the end, I’m still looking forward to this new season of The Flash a lot. After all, I do really love the show; while I felt that there were, perhaps, a few missteps with the second season, on the whole it remained quite fantastic. I know that it’s going to remain consistently entertaining, and to be quite honest, I’ll probably still quite enjoy the flashpoint episodes too.

It’s just that, right now, this trailer hasn’t quite convinced me, and I’m feeling just a little underwhelmed by it all.

Ah well.

Related:

The Flash Season 2 Review

What will a DC TV Flashpoint look like?

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TV Trailer Thoughts | Arrow Season 5

arrow season 5 oliver queen stephen amell mayor star city marc guggenheim beth schwartz

I have been very critical of Arrow over the past few months. (As have a lot of people, really.) In particular, I’ve called out the show for its poor treatment of female characters, and generally abysmal track record with fridging. I’ve given up on other shows for less, and I can’t say that I’m hugely confident about Arrow’s fifth season being able to improve on the precedent of sloppy characterisation and limited emotional beats that has been set across season four.

Nonetheless, I do intend to, at the very least, give it a chance. If nothing else, it should give me a degree of inspiration as to things I can write about.

So, in the flashbacks this year we’re going to be exploring Oliver’s bratva past; it’s something everyone had already clocked on to, but it’s nice to have that confirmed and see a little bit of footage from it. I’m interested to see where they take that; one of the best things about the flashbacks is when they’re tied into the present day arc. Not necessarily in terms of the actual plot, but rather thematically; when Oliver’s journey in the flashbacks directly parallels his development in the present, the writing on the show becomes ever more impressive. (This is one of the things that was sadly missing from the fourth season flashbacks, which did a lot of work to set up some interesting thematic stuff, and then… went nowhere with it. As with a lot of the interesting concepts set up by Arrow’s fourth season, really.)

In the present day, then, we’ve got Oliver training a new set of heroes. (Directly paralleling the bratva environment where you have to be entirely self-sufficient and can’t rely on others! See? So much interesting stuff you can do with that!) As it stands, I think this could be quite interesting; it’s a new role for Oliver to take, and there’s a lot of potential for that to be taken in some interesting directions. While I am quite fond of the dynamic shared between the original Arrow group, mixing it up a bit seems like a good way to keep things fresh. I’m a little wary, admittedly, of the possibility for this to be mishandled; one of the problems in Arrow season 4 was an over saturation of vigilante characters who weren’t made meaningfully distinct from one another. I do think it’s possible for Arrow to successfully have multiple vigilante characters; they just have to take care to pay attention to the characterisation of each.

I was a little disappointed not to see any clips from Oliver’s mayoral campaign, which is one of the few things I’m actually genuinely quite excited about for the new season of Arrow – I’m hoping that’s just because it doesn’t fit particularly well into a trailer, rather than because it won’t be focused on in the early episodes. Having Oliver as the Mayor would, I believe, push both the character and the show into new places, which is undeniably quite intriguing.

Another piece of news from Comic-Con that I found quite interesting, but I don’t think I can spin off into its own post, is the fact that Katie Cassidy will have a “universe regular” contract. If I’ve understood it correctly, that means she’ll have 23 appearances, spread out across Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. I’m in two minds about this: while I think it was a huge mistake to kill off the character, I don’t know that contrived excuses to bring back quasi-versions of the character through time travel, flashbacks and alternate Earth doppelgangers is necessarily going to work. I’d prefer, I think, if the show were simply to own its choices and move forward regardless, without looking back and trying to get a do-over.

That about concludes my Arrow related thoughts, in any case. Somewhat longer than expected, actually.

Related:

Arrow & the Disturbing Trend of Fridging Female Characters

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