Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance, Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao, Simon Pegg, T.J. Miller
When introducing Ready Player One before its premiere at South by Southwest, director Steven Spielberg stated that in bringing Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel to the screen he was trying to make a movie, not a film. The resulting work sees the legendary director back in a fun, crowd pleasing mode he hasn’t played in for a long time, and in doing so the filmmaker who practically invented the modern blockbuster shows that he has still got it.
In the year 2045, people all over the world escape the mundanity of the real life by donning a headset and disappearing into the Oasis, a virtual universe in which you can do anything and be anyone. Before his death, the creator of the Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), devised a Willy Wonka-like scheme to find an heir. He built into the Oasis three hidden challenges. The first person to successfully complete the challenges and find Halliday’s Easter Egg would inherit control of the Oasis. Continue reading
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Simon McBurney
Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Missions Force return in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the fifth film in a franchise which has now spanned 19 years. With a different director on each film, this instalment sees Chris McQuarrie at the helm. McQuarrie has previously worked with Tom Cruise on four occasions, including directing him in Jack Reacher and writing Edge of Tomorrow, and while he doesn’t possess the same visual flair as some who have come before him, he is the first to be sole writer and director in the series.
The CIA wants to close down the IMF, believing it to be a reckless, unaccountable division. While Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is making ground gathering information about a mysterious criminal organisation called the Syndicate, CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) isn’t buying it, convinced the Syndicate is nothing more than a paranoid delusion of the IMF. As the IMF agents are called back in and reassigned Hunt stays out in the field determined to continue his mission. Wanted by the CIA and operating without the backing and protection of the American government, Hunt is dependent on his loyal former IMF pals Continue reading
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