Director: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, David Thewlis
Since first appearing back in 1941, Diana, princess of the Amazons, also known as Wonder Woman, has been one of the most iconic members of DC Comics’ stable of characters. Yet for some reason (can anyone hazard a guess?), while there have been eight Batman movies, and seven Superman movies, Wonder Woman has never been given her own feature film adaptation. Until now. As well as being the character’s first movie, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is also the first film in either the DC or Marvel cinematic universes to have a female protagonist, and is both the first superhero movie and first blockbuster with a budget of over $100 million to be helmed by a female director. All of this means that Wonder Woman will be unfairly saddled with the burden of representation, with many people ready to make sweeping generalisations about the commercial viability of female centric and female directed blockbusters based on its performance. Luckily then, Jenkins’ film is not only good, it is exactly the shot in the arm that the much maligned DC Extended Universe needed. Continue reading
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh
It has been over a decade since Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, the hero of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears and the man who is to financial analysts what Indiana Jones is to archaeologists, last appeared on our screen. So therefore it is time for a reboot and that is exactly what we get in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
As reboots are want to do, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit takes us back to the beginning for an origins story. After being badly injured in a helicopter attack while serving in Afghanistan, Jack Ryan is recruited by the CIA to work covertly as a financial analyst on Wall Street. There he uncovers a Russian plot to crash the US economy with a terrorist attack. So Ryan finds himself upgraded to operational status and on his way to Moscow to try and work out when and where this attack is going to occur before it’s too late.
Clancy wrote Jack Ryan as a Cold War hero, but Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – the first Ryan film not to be directly based on a Clancy novel – recreates him as a hero for the post-9/11 world. It is the attacks on the World Trade Center which compels the young Ryan to abandon his PhD study in London and join the Marines. While in keeping with Clancy’s novels the antagonists in the film are from Russia, it prefers to play off contemporary fears of terrorism and economic meltdown rather than old Cold War tensions.
Having previously been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, it is Chris Pine’s turn to step into the role. However, despite this being the fifth Ryan film, audiences don’t have the same clear expectations of the character as they do for someone like a James Bond, so the pressure on Pine stepping into the role is not as intense. That said, he does a good job. Unlike his brash, impulsive Captain Kirk, Pine imbues his intellectually brilliant Ryan with a certain vulnerability that is fitting of an agent at the beginning of his career who is not yet battle-hardened.
Pine is surrounded by an impressive supporting cast. Kevin Costner continues his recent career resurgence as a quality supporting actor in his role as the stoic William Harper, the CIA agent who recruits Ryan. As Ryan’s girlfriend, Keira Knightley gets slightly more to work with than the usual love interest character, with some of the scenes between the two of them being quite touching. Kenneth Branagh, who is also directing here, makes for a steely villain as the Russian Viktor Cherevin.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit largely follows the spy thriller playbook established by the James Bond and, more recently, Jason Bourne franchises. In this globetrotting film we move between London, New York and Moscow, and are given regular action sequences, whether helicopter attacks, hand-to-hand combat or car chases. However, the quick cutting shaky-cam used in the action scenes does take audience disorientation to a new level.
While Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a contemporary reboot engaging with contemporary concerns there is something wonderfully old-fashioned about it. It is a classic espionage film. It is still Americans against Russians, it still comes down a race against a ticking time bomb, and it is still quite a lot of fun.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: J. J. Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anton Yelchin, Peter Weller, Bruce Greenwood
In 2009, J.J. Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise wildly exceeded everyone’s expectations, taking almost $400m at the worldwide box office, and establishing Abrams as the next big thing in blockbuster moviemaking. Almost immediately talk started about a sequel, and four years later we get Star Trek Into Darkness, a title seemingly in dire need of some punctuation (Seriously, doesn’t Star Trek: Into Darkness just look more right).
This second instalment continues on from where the 2009 film left off, again acting as a sort of prequel to the original television series and subsequent films. After Star Fleet headquarters are attacked by terrorist John Harrison, Kirk and his crew are sent on a revenge mission to blast Harrison the smithereens. However Harrison is hiding out on Kronos, and their mission risks sparking an all-out war with the volatile Klingons, so Spock persuades Kirk instead to attempt to take Harrison prisoner and make him stand trial. They capture Harrison and bring him aboard the Enterprise unaware that there is more to him than they knew and that aboard the Enterprise is exactly where Harrison wanted to be (If only Kirk, Spock and the gang had seen The Dark Knight… or The Avengers… or Skyfall).
At the heart of Star Trek Into Darkness, as with the previous film, is the symbiotic relationship between Captain Kirk and Commander Spock. They are completely different from one another. One is impulsive and instinctual. The other is logical and calculated. Both frustrate the hell out of the other, but both are also dependent on the strengths of the other to make up for their own deficiencies. They are mutually dependent. While the first film told the story of how these two met each other and came to be a team, this film deals with how they came to truly respect one another and see the value of each other. Both Kirk and Spock at key moments in the film must force themselves to think and act like the other in order to tackle a situation. That Abrams is able to effectively keep human relationships at the centre of such a large scale sci-fi blockbuster is what separates him from contemporary blockbuster makers like Michael Bay (Really, did anyone care about the human characters in Transformers?) and leads to the inevitable comparisons with Spielberg.
Abrams strikes the perfect balance, respecting the established lore of the Star Trek universe without being constrained by it. He homages classic characters and story elements, but isn’t afraid to take some creative liberties to freshen up the story. This may frustrate a hardcore Trekkie, but for the rest of us it gives the film a sense of newness and freshness. This combination of respect for existing lore with a willingness to take ownership bodes well for his next project, the seventh instalment in the Star Wars series.
In the Trekkie community the Star Trek franchise has one of the most devoted followings you will find. But rather than merely seeking to cater to the existing fan base, when Abrams set out to reboot the Star Trek franchise he looked to broaden its appeal and introduce these classic characters to a new audience. And again, Star Trek Into Darkness is big budget blockbuster filmmaking that will appeal to more than just the devoted Trekkies. It is a big movie, containing some top notch action sequences and terrific special effects, on par with anything you will find in blockbuster sci-fi cinema. Add to that a healthy smattering of humour, mostly courtesy of Simon Pegg who has a slightly larger role as Scotty, and you end up with a film that really is everything a great popcorn movie should be.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean