Tuesday’s Reviews – Zoolander No.2 (2016)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Zoolander No.2 (2016)

Any film that has such a huge fan base is rife for sequels that come along way after anyone really wanted on. We saw it with Anchorman 2 and now Zoolander 2. Although, I get it; it’s George Lucas syndrome. Something happens when you make something that people love and you’re really proud of. You cant leave it alone and want to carry on making something that so many people love. The problem is, people love it too much and will never be able to compare it to the original they’ve shrouded in so much nostalgia. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much because Derek and Hansel are both fantastic characters. Of course, I will complain because when the time away has been so long it’s difficult to pick up where you left off.

Which, incidentally, is exactly what Ben Stiller tries to do. Zoolander 2 picks up right after the end of the first film with the revelation that “The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too” collapsed killing Derek’s wife, Matilda, and disfiguring Hansel. In light of this tragedy, both models retire from fashion and go into hiding. Along the way, Derek loses custody of his son and become a recluse and Hansel finds a family with his desert orgy. Obviously, that’s all about to change when the pair are drawn out of retirement to star in an up-and-coming designer’s new show in Italy. Turns out, Derek and Hansel no longer fit into the fashion world and are ridiculed as relics during the show.

Whilst in Rome they are brought on board in a current Interpol investigation concerning the mysterious deaths of a bunch of pop stars. In exchange for information on Derek’s estranged son, he agrees to hep agent of the fashion division, Valentina (Penélope Cruz). They trio then find themselves in a ridiculous Da Vinci Code style mystery that places Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) in danger and takes them into the seedy part of the fashion world and reintroduces them to Derek’s old nemesis, Mugatu. They also take some time along the way to ponder who they really are in a world of social media, transgender, and paternal responsibility.

Zoolander 2 tries so hard to remind its audience about the success of the original and, for that, we should applaud it. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are as comfortable in their roles as they were back in 2001 and they are still incredibly funny. Derek and Hansel have moved on emotionally since the events following the first film but are still as vain and self-centred as they always were. Which is basically all we really wanted. The pair still work really well together and the chemistry is just as wonderful as it was the first time round.

Although, the film is constantly being haunted by its predecessor. For the most part, the references to Zoolander do what they need to and create enough humour to keep people happy. However, there are scenes which are so reminiscent to ones in the original that it ceases to be a call-back and just comes across as desperate. At times it feels as though Stiller and co just hope to create humour by reintroducing characters that their audience know once did/said something funny.

There was a lot of potential to bring Derek and Hansel into this modern world. They were basically the social media kings before social media even existed. However, the element of the narrative relating to where they fit in is quickly swept aside for the next dozen wacky plot strands. I know the plot of the first film isn’t a fucking Shakespeare play but this is essentially just a bunch of sketches tied together using celebrity cameos and a flimsy overall story. Much of it just seems unnecessary and not funny enough.

Still, I didn’t hate this film. When it gets things right those things are really right. There are some genuinely funny moments and some great situations. I don’t know who suggested the Kiefer Sutherland idea but it’s one of the best things about the film. Likewise, the brief Susan Boyle cameo is fucking amazing. However, between those pieces of gold you have to wade through the shit like Katy Perry and Neil DeGrasse Tyson popping up just because they’re famous people. It doesn’t make sense.

Rather than having a well constructed sequel to a film that so many people love, we have something that feels rushed and relies too heavily on big names. I know the first one threw celebrities into the ring willy nilly but at least that left some room for characters to develop. It feels like everyone was just too busy to be involved here. Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell just aren’t used enough for my liking and their characters are wasted. Considering how important the pair were to the marketing of the film they added fuck all to it. Zoolander 2 is exactly like the main characters it portrays; it’s not very smart or polished and it’s far too narcissistic for its own good but you can’t help but like it. There is something so charming and fun about it that you won’t regret seeing it but it doesn’t have the staying power of the original. The script isn’t as quotable and the story verges even further into outrageously nonsensical territory.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

 (Sorry it’s another long one.)

As I’ve already spent time on here trying to prove that we owe a lot to Bryan Singer and his early adaptations of Marvels’ mutant heroes. Without the well-made and still brilliant X-Menback in 2000 we quite probably wouldn’t have been treated to such cinematic delights as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night trilogy, Joss Whedon’s Avengers and the revamped Amazing Spider-Man. Singer was the guy who, after the heartbreak from Joel Schumacher’s reign of terror, reminded us that comic book films could be great. The moment he stepped away from the franchise was when it all started to go wrong. So I have been on tenterhooks ever since it was announced that Bryan Singer would be back to direct this sequel to 2011’s acclaimed X-Men FirstClass. Add to that the fact that it would be an adaptation of the brilliant ‘Days of Future Past’ storyline and we have a painstaking wait for the release date on our hands. I watched the trailers so many times that I was acting them out in private doing my best P. Stew impression.

Singer’s film takes inspiration from the 80s storyline that saw Kitty Pryde’s consciousness being sent back to her past self in order to prevent a horrific dystopian future. However, with the dismal Last Stand showing Kitty (Ellen Page) to be only about 20, there was always going to be a problem creating a sequel to First Class that centred on her character. Step forward everyone’s favourite magnetic Canadian and we have a guaranteed hit with film audiences.

Opening with scenes of an apocalyptic future where a small band of mutants, some very familiar, are going to great efforts to avoid the deadly and now adaptable Sentinels. They are soon discovered by ex-headmaster Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and ex-villain Magneto (Ian McKellan) who have a plan to prevent the moment that started this horrific chain of events. Using Kitty’s newly discovered power to send people’s minds back in time, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to his 70s body to gather the younger Charles (James McAvoy) and Eric  (Michael Fassbender) together to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) fucking everything up by shooting the creator of the aforementioned Sentinels.
Queue plenty of 70s paraphernalia, including lava lamps, flairs and questionable hair styles. I read a review that suggested Days of Future Past didn’t have as much fun with recreating its chosen era as First Class did. Having seen the film twice I can only assume that the critic responsible missed the previous films historically accurate but fucking ridiculous misogyny and objectification of women. Singer does everything he has to do to show that Wolverine is back in time without needing to continually force his female cast to strip off unnecessarily.
Instead, Singer focuses on plot and has gone to great lengths to ensure that the potentially confusing time-travel narrative doesn’t get out of control. The two timeframes are handled beautifully and come together perfectly. The film’s climax, where the action jumps between past and future, is expertly conducted and provides the first time in 15 years that Storm (Halle Berry) becomes as awesome as she is in the comics. He has great control of the special effects and, unlike plenty of these films, doesn’t get bogged down with gratuitous action sequences. Under Singer’s firm hand, everything happens to help the narrative move forward. Of course there is the usual check-list of things X-Men clichés and there is something of a bloat of in-jokes to keep the hardcore fans happy. However, there are also so many fantastic things: the introduction of Blink, whose power is used fantastically in the future battle sequences; terrifying Sentinels; a sharp script and exciting cameos.

Without a doubt, the film’s stand out sequence is the scene in which the newly introduced Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is shown diffusing a tense situation in bullet time set to Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’. It’s a fucking beautiful scene and is incredibly funny. Had someone told me prior to my first viewing that Evan Peters would have the standout performance in this film I’d have slapped them for being so absurd. However, the brief moments that Quicksilver is on screen show that the character has great potential in future films. So much so that I’m terrified of the way Marvel will handle the character in Avengers 2.  Peters made the character his own and I was genuinely sad when Xavier sent him on his way early on.
Since, despite having a cast of great names, of both the acting and comic book worlds, this film is all about James McAvoy. McAvoy made a fine start in First Class but was outshone by his more prominent co-stars. Here we see Charles Xavier as we have never seen him before: both physically and emotionally broken and without his powers. He rejects his purpose and is willing to turn his back on his future. McAvoy is mesmerising as he struggles to reconnect with the two people who turned their back on him. Even alongside the physically intimidating and much loved Wolverine, McAvoy comes out as one of the standout stars.
An even more impressive task considering the legendary Patrick Stewart, the name that will forever be synonymous with Xavier’s, is back along with his partner in crime Ian McKellan. Ever since the post-credits scene after The Wolverine (after which I felt compelled to applaud) I have been impatient to see their return. I have always appreciated the fact that these two classically trained actors have never approached this material in anything but a professional manner. Having Stewart and McKellen on screen in these roles is a fucking joy to watch and, during the films climactic moments, nearly had me in tears. It’s always great seeing amazing actors in roles that they clearly enjoy.
A quality that you can always appreciate about Hugh Jackman: no matter how terrifying his continually pumped body gets (seriously it’s beginning to worry me. Look how veiny he is in this film. Step away from the weights Hugh) he always has fun with the character. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get a great deal to do here. Wolverine is left to take his shirt off and act as little more than the facilitator to the younger generation. This could have been worked with anyone being in his place but I guess it’s always nice to see the ole bone claws every now and then.
Wolverine goes back to prevent Mystique from assassinating Trask and causing the government to take greater action against the mutants. One would assume this would be good news for all J Law fans but I have to say I was utterly disappointed with the way she was used. Despite a few awesome fight sequences, Mystique had very little to work with. There is little explanation for her sudden descent into super villainy and no real attempt to further flesh out the character from the first film. There are hints at a relationship with Magneto and a tiny reference to her history with Hank but nothing to excite. J Law is really just going through the motions here.
This is something of a problem with the film as it has such a large cast to work with that many end up getting swept under the carpet. You know you’ve got too many characters when you introduce someone as fucking cool as Bishop only to have him do nothing. It’s fucking criminal. I mean Peter Dinklange is one of the greatest actors working at the moment and his casting as Boliver Trask, designer of the mutant killing robots that haunted all of our childhood dreams, seemed like pure genius. For some unknown reason Dinklage turns up for the odd political meeting where he spouts on about mutants and robots and then just stands around. I don’t understand what these people were thinking. Great actors deserve great roles even in the fantasy world of mutants, robots and time travel.
Likewise Michael Fassbender is once again unable to really get to grips with the supposedly evil Magneto and is only given one sequence of slight conflict. This is Fassbender’s second time playing with the mental manipulator and he has failed to come close to greatness he briefly displayed in the opening moments of First Class. This wasn’t Magneto’s film, I know, but there still doesn’t feel like there is any connection between Fass and McKellen’s truly villainous version besides their name and power. With an actor of Fassbender’s calibre you could create a fucking gruesome nemesis (I mean this is the man who appalled us in 12 Years a Slave after all) if only you gave him something to do besides making a football stadium float.

To be fair though the floating stadium is a pretty amazing visual. It’s the closest Singer gets to unnecessary but it stands for everything this film is about. Days of Future Past flirts with darkness in the opening sequence (we see death, destruction and a glimpse of mutant prison camps) but it is all about fun. It’s the film that comes closest to the feeling and tone of the original comics whilst remaining sophisticated and well-crafted. 

It’s been just over a week since Days of Future Past was released in the UK and I’ve already had to fit in a double viewing. It’s safe to say that Bryan Singer has more than made amends for the disappointing Super Man Returns and returned to near enough his comic book best. Unfortunately, Days of Future Pastis, undeniably, a flawed film: it ignores some of its better cast members and characters and sometimes gets a little too self-indulgent. However, it’s exactly what it should be: an unashamedly joyous, exciting and well-made superhero movie. You finally get the sense that, after 15 years of trying to avoid it, Bryan Singer is finally comfortably with the idea of making a comic book movie and it’s entertaining as fuck. 
Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

I, as you probably know, am an unashamed Muppet maniac. I vehemently defy anyone to tell me they aren’t funny. It was a bleak world when the Muppets ceased to appear on the big screen. Thankfully I was not the only person who thought so and back in 2011 Jason Segel and his co-writer Nicholas Stoller set out to reintroduce the Muppets to a modern family audience. Their resulting film proved to be a hit with both critics and audiences alike and Disney swiftly signed up the furry stars for a sequel. This sequel has been hotly anticipated and, for a time, it seemed that a week didn’t go by without another big name star signing up for to play a role in the second part of Kermit and co’s comeback. The first real piece of news was that Jason Segel wouldn’t be returning and, to be honest, I couldn’t be happier. Don’t get me wrong Jason Segel did a great job with the script and is a decent enough actor but I was kind of bored by his whole romantic plot. I’m a bit traditional when it comes to my Muppets and I prefer hilarious chaos rather than romantic comedy. However, I did enjoy the film and felt it was as successful a comeback as everyone else. Unsurprisingly, I have spent the year eagerly awaiting the release of the follow up: if only to experience more of Bret Mackenzie’s sensational compositional work.

The major thing to realise upon the opening sequence of the follow up to 2011’s rebranding effort, The Muppets, is that both Kermit and Miss Piggy are present. If my memory serves me correctly this is the first film in which everyone’s favourite diva swine is present from the get go. After the success of their first (ok their 8th) outing the Muppets realise that they have been rewarded with a sequel so set about trying to find a decent plot. Handily the Muppets use their opening number sets out to lower the expectations of its audience by explicitly stating how disappointing sequels usually are.

Wondering about the best way to build on their recent success they decide that the only way is to embark on a World Tour. Joining them is the mysterious Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who cunningly takes control of the gang and leads them to various European capitals. Along the way he orchestrates a plan to replace Kermit with the newly escaped Russian villain, Constantine, whilst shipping Kermit off to a Serbian gulag run by Tina Fey.  Constantine and Badguy plan a series of thefts in order to pull off the greatest robbery of all time. A plot that leaves plenty of room for typical Muppet hi jinks.

However, unlike the first film Muppets Most Wanted ultimately lacks narrative structure and focus. The various plot lines meander along too slowly and drag out any dramatic or emotional potential. Rather than having a main aim (i.e. getting the gang back together to save the studio) and having smaller subplots along the way, you might be hard pushed to pick out one specific story as the main focus. We have the mistaken identity between Kermit and Constantine, Serbian prison, a series of robberies, the CIA and Interpol investigation, Walter’s rescue plan, Miss Piggy’s attempt to get Kermit to commit, and gulag’s annual revue. Phew. As if that wasn’t enough, the hotchpotch of stories is littered with as many pointless celeb cameos as Disney could possibly afford. (Now y’all know by now that Tom Hiddleston can’t do anything wrong in my

Any excuse…

eyes but his seconds long part was both unnecessary and so built up in the marketing campaign that it’s laughable.) It lacks the heart of the previous film and, at times, just feels pretty shallow and desperate.  

I guess, despite my initial celebration, this film misses Jason Segel: not on screen necessarily but certainly behind the computer. The script isn’t as tight or clever and ingenuity is replaced with spectacle. The reason The Muppets worked so well was because Segel was so utterly invested in bringing the group back onto our screen. His emotional connection was evident throughout his script and in his performance. His interaction with the puppets was amazing: certainly much better than Ricky Gervais who seems to carry everything out with an ironic or knowing glint in his eye. There is none of the tenderness that either Segel showed or Gervais has been known to show in other projects. His performance is an underwhelming, self-conscious show of the comedian at his most gurning.

To make up for this downfall the other two significant human roles are both memorable and joyous to watch. Tina Fey brings out her best dodgy Russian accent to play a character so dripping in stereotypes that it sort of becomes ok again. The scenes set in the gulag may be distracting to the plot but they are packed full of great Muppet-y humour. Even if the cameos from Jermaine Clement, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo weren’t used to their fullest potential. However, it is Modern Family’s Ty Burrell is the most prominent performer 
and, spectacularly, has the most amazing chemistry with Sam the Eagle. Burrell plays a Clouseau-esque Interpol agent alongside Sam’s CIA agent as the pair follows the clues to find the burglar. He brings about some of the biggest laughs and turns a song written as exposition into one of the stand-out numbers.  

Great musical numbers is something this film offers in spades thanks to more sterling work from Bret Mackenzie (one half of comedy duo Flight of the Conchords). Mackenzie was the person who brought the Muppets their first Oscar thanks to his incredibly well written song ‘Man or Muppet’. That song aside, I felt the soundtrack was a bit hit and miss though. There weren’t too many original songs and most of them were good but forgettable. This time around Mackenzie hardly ever falters. It is thanks to the musical numbers and their routines that the audience are able to stick with the hodgepodge that is the plot. I downloaded the OST as soon as I’d watch the film and I’ve not been able to stop singing them since.

Yes, Muppets Most Wanted may not be as accomplished or as neat a film as The Muppets was but, if I’m honest, I enjoyed it just as much (if not more). I can’t deny that this is probably mainly down to the Mackenzie but this feels like any other Muppet film. It’s silly, chaotic and feel-good. The Muppets are true to form and, Gervais aside, their human counterparts breathe life into the dwindling narrative: Tina Fey and Ty Burrell work well with the puppets and serve to highlight their co-stars instead of drawing focus. Of course, in my heart I know that I would have been happier if there were fewer shameless cameos and a tighter script but, as for showing the Muppets’ continued potential, I’d say Muppets Most Wanted does well enough.

Although, if Beaker, the Swedish Chef and Fozzie are doing what they have been for years then I guess I’ll always be easily pleased.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

It has been two years since the God of Thunder first exploded onto our cinema screens and Chris Hemsworth’s third outing as the Asgardian prince with an incredibly heavy hammer. Personally, I really enjoyed Thor and was looking forward to seeing what the sequel had to offer. As I’ve already mentioned Thor is probably my favourite superhero and I think he has a lot of potential for film adaptations. Especially because the literature nerd in me loves the fact that I am essentially watching a Shakespeare play about Norse gods with a comic book twist. Plus, what kind of card-carrying Hiddlestoner would I be if I didn’t relish the thought of watching the most beautiful and talented actor around get to grips with his evil side?

Thor: The Dark Worldopens on a Lord of the Rings style flashback which lets us witness, in all of its dark and grainy glory, a great battle between good and evil. Many years ago Thor’s grandfather gathered the armies of Asgard and set out to Svartalfheim to prevent the leader of the Dark Elves, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), unleashing the mysterious Aether and turning the world to darkness. So the first few minutes of The Dark World are as intensely Fantasy as you can ever expect to see. Every genre trait that you can imagine is dropped on the audience in one fell swoop. It’s over-the-top and lacking in subtlety but, to be fair, it’s a wonderfully epic sequence that manages to justify its derivative nature. Let’s face it, if you’re going to adapt the adventures of a Norse god onto the big screen then you either go all in or you go home.
However, before we really get to grips with the story that comes out of this prologue, The Dark World first sets out to tie up any loose ends that may have been left hanging since The Avengers. We see Thor (Chris Hemsworth) deliver his brother back to Odin in chains and watch as he is sent to live out his days in a jail cell. So there we have it, only a few minutes in and Tumblr are gifted with the image of Tom Hiddleston in handcuffs. Marvel really knows who they’re making films for these days. The fangirls favourite has now become more appealing to all the hormonal youngsters out there as the Loki we come face-to-face with is at his lowest point; angry, beaten down and no longer possessing the familial support of his brother or father.

Whilst the God of Mischief stews in confinement that is far too comfortable when compared to the severity of his crimes, Thor is working hard with his loyal band of warriors to restore peace in the Nine Realms. Apparently, destroying the Bifrost at the end of his premier outing had greater consequences than merely preventing him from getting it on with his physics hottie back on Earth. Speaking of which, Jane Foster and her mismatched team have made their way to London to continue their search for unexplained science-stuff. A mere six years after Valve released their popular puzzle game the science friends are able to start having fun with portals after they stumble across an abandoned warehouse rating high on the WTF scale. Unfortunately for the world’s prettiest astrophysicist, Jane is transported to a strange place; a strange place that just happens to be the exact point where Odin’s father hid the Aether. No surprises for guessing where this is going then.
With the Aether back in play, the foundation is set for Malekith to do the very thing the Daleks did just in time for the finale of every Russell T Davies season finale; he and his remaining Elves reappear to carry on with their deadly dealings. Thor must use his mighty hammer to save his home, the woman he loves and everything he has just been fighting to unite. Thanks to massive pre-release spoilers we are all well aware going in that, in true Wife Swap tradition, the God of Thunder must work alongside the one person he would do anything to avoid. Can the brothers set aside their differences and prevent their world from being destroyed? The plot is hardly inspirational and what follows is going to come as little surprise to most. However, just like the first film, The Dark World approaches the narrative with such self-awareness and in a tongue-in-cheek manner that is doesn’t really matter.
Thor: The Dark Worldis far from being the slickest offering that Marvel has presented us with over the years. Yes, it’s no Avengers but nor is it Iron Man 2. It keeps moving thanks to the strength of its cast. Hiddleston and Hemsworth are a wonderful team and their chemistry and inherent charm is infectious. It is a relationship that more than eclipses the other significant relationship on screen. Unfortunately, the combined talents of Hemsworth and Oscar-winner Natalie Portman are not enough to bring any kind of chemistry or realism to this flat and dull romance.
In fact Portman as a whole is pretty hard done by here. Many reviews out there praise the increased role she has been given in this sequel but, rather than being a positive thing it only goes to show just how forgettable she was in the first one. There is an interesting role reversal where Jane, finding herself on Asgard, is placed in the fish out of water position and is given a few good lines as she gets to grips with this new culture. However, she is mostly used as the damsel in distress who is called upon sparingly to look at some ridiculous science gadget and attempt to relate the magical events to real world ideas. It is a purpose that is not evidence enough to make her presence seem necessary and, when she’s not taking part in one of cinema’s least convincing love stories, she is constantly overshadowed by the superior in every way Darcy (Kat Dennings).
For his part, Hemsworth is given slightly more to work with in his third outing and we see Thor start to become more than just a loud and comical fish out of water. Thanks to Thor, our hero is no longer plagued by hubris but is finally preparing to be the leader that his father expects him to be. The Thor we see now is just as confident as the one we are used to but with the necessary humiliation and dedication to help others that is required of a Norse God. There is still a hint of humour surrounding the character (Hemsworth is allocated a few more juicy one-liners and sight gags than last time) but Thor is all about emotional development as we see him battling with romantic and familial demons. Ultimately though, it is Hemsworth’s innate likeability that makes the character work so well on screen. Without a doubt he’s joy to watch in the role but, of course, that could just be down to those magnificent arms.
Thor may have given his name to the title of this sequel but we are never in any doubt that it is actually 
Hiddleston who is the main attraction here (for both audiences and money-hungry distributors). Loki gets the majority of the juicy lines and is able to have the most fun with his character. That said, Loki hasn’t exactly developed since the original Thor and is still, underneath the fantastic cheekbones and theatrical performance, a jealous child who just wants his brother’s favourite toy. You can’t fault Hiddleston in the slightest but, given his popularity with everyone, there has been no need for him to be anything other than he was from the start. Well, with slightly longer hair and feeling a little sorry for himself. Considering this is also Loki’s third outing it would have been wonderful to see a bit more depth to the character.
Something which I would also say is true for much of the supporting cast. There can be no denying that there is a great range of acting talent on show within the realm of Asgard but very few characters are really living up to their potential. Antony Hopkins is the ideal casting as Odin but, understandably I suppose, has relatively little to do (there is a slight chance that this is simply a personal thing as I’m of the opinion that most movies are flawed due to their lack of Hopkins). Idris Elba is always memorable as the all-seeing Heimdall to the extent that I want him to be around more. The same can be said for Ray Stevenson’s Volstagg who seems to be less like the Falstaffian wonder he should be and more like the stock fat character you see in classic episodes of Little Britain. Most heinously of all though, Christopher Eccleston and his Elvish band are forever on the outskirts of the action. After their appearance in the prologue, it takes a large portion of the film for them to reappear and then another long wait before they do anything about it. Like the Chitauri in The Avengers, the Dark Elves are nothing more than a flimsy plot device to bring all of the characters together. Hardly the terrifying bad guys we’re used to these days.
Jamie Alexander and Rene Russo in their roles as Sif and Frigga (Thor’s mother) are, in a similar fashion to Portman, “developed” here. Alexander has, from what I can tell, received a great deal of praise for her role but has in fact done very little. In the first film she was just the jealous female sidekick and now she is the jealous female sidekick who has a small fight scene and some slight banter. Then she disappears. Sif deserves to be used in a better way not least because, in a world of beefy, drunk men and stupid scientists, we deserve an ass-kicking female. So I demand to see more of Jamie Alexander in the future (and that’s not just a reference to the insanely revealing dress she wore to the premier).
Speaking of insanely good-looking things, in terms of aesthetics The Dark World is pretty damn impressive: the initial reveal of the shiny new Bifrost and the expanded Asgard slaps you round the face in such a pleasurable way you’ll think you were that woman in 50 Shades (I assume. I haven’t read that shit.). There are some truly breathtaking set-pieces throughout the film: Malekith’s assault on Asgard is a great action sequence and a later scene showcasing an Asgardian funeral where light and CGI are used to tear-inducing effect. Just like the first film, it is the scenes that take place away from Earth that prove to be the most exciting and enticing to watch; probably because, despite how wonderful London may be to look at, it can’t compete with a shiny CGI space realm.
For the most part, the plot that unfolds in London feels either unnecessary or that it’s trying too hard. There are a lot of moments of forced humour and dull moments of exposition. The scene where the portals are first discovered goes on for far too long and Chris O’Dowd’s bizarre appearance as a potential love interest for Jane just wasted time that could have been spent making the Dark Elves feel like more of a presence. There is only a brief section of the film where his character helps more the plot forward and a friend and I were able to rewrite that to something much funnier and less time consuming.
However, by far the greatest sin that this film commits is the development of Dr Eric Selvig. Apparently, that time that Loki took over his brain caused some pretty serious damage and the once reliable scientific mind is now struggling with his grip on reality. This meant that for the majority of his scenes Stellan Skarsgard was left to frolic around in certain states of undress. This not only took valuable time away from the major plot points but has caused permanent scarring to my visual memory. It’s one of those things that clearly sounded hilarious in a script meeting but never found its feet in the final film.

I instantly loved Thormainly because of how unlike traditional superhero films it is. Branagh, Hopkins and Hiddleston brought a theatrical and Shakespearian quality to the narrative that stays true to Stan Lee’s influences for the original comic. It was understated and introduced the idea of a wider Marvel universe wonderfully. The focus was on the set-up, the characters and the rules of this new world. In terms of action sequences there was really only one or two fairly minor ones which, as far as I can tell, is the major disagreement people had with the film.
In an attempt to counteract this, director Alan Taylor (his first outing as feature film director) decided to throw as much as possible at this sequel. There is an abundance of action set pieces, interesting new locations, unnecessary exposition and callbacks that manage to inflate the underdeveloped plot to three times its actual size. I don’t understand why we had to go from such a well-crafted and unashamedly subtle introduction to a cluster-fuck of genre stereotypes and CGI. As you watch you can almost hear the execs ticking off bullet points on the Michael Bay and JRR Tolkien check-lists.
The Dark Worldisn’t a terrible film: I’ve watched and walked out happy from lesser films. It’s just not a clever one. I liked it but I can’t ignore the fact that I wanted more for Thor. However, I did appreciate the handy reminder that Captain America: The Winter Solider is on its way thanks to a pointless cameo by Chris Evans. After all, it had been about an hour since the actual trailer had been played for us. Gotta make sure the money keeps rolling in I guess.
Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Despicable Me was the animated success story of 2010 which saw audiences embrace the story of super-villain Gru and his accidental move into family-life. It was a refreshing and original concept that quickly became a firm favourite with moviegoers. This was thanks in no small part to his little, yellow minions who provided the young audience with plenty of incredibly silly moments. As we all know, that film ended with Gru giving up on his plan to prove just how evil he is (by trying to steal the moon no less) and dedicate himself to his new daughters. So where did that leave us in terms of a sequel?

Despicable Me 2 opens with Gru (Steve Carell) adjusting to life as a single father having to deal with such missions as throwing children’s parties, dating, interacting with pushy parents and raising his three young adopted daughters alone. After throwing in his evildoer towel, he has chosen to turn his hand to home-made jellies and jams. Unfortunately, Gru and his sidekicks aren’t exactly naturals when it comes to stewing fruits. Despite his satisfaction at playing the doting dad, Gru can’t help but suffer from the lack of excitement in his suburban life.

Thankfully, for both the super villain and his audience, Gru’s life is turned upside down when he is kidnapped by Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), an agent working for the Anti-Villain League. Her boss, the uptight and snooty Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), offers him the chance to work with them to help foil a plot by an, as yet, unknown criminal who is responsible for stealing an entire laboratory to get their hands on a dangerous chemical. Leading to a completely ridiculous and unnecessary sequence where Gru is placed in a mall so he can use his inside knowledge to guess who the culprit is.

So the man who can be credited with having once stolen the moon is now working for the good guys. And therein lies the problem. Gru was a fantastic character because we found ourselves caring about a man whose sole purpose was causing chaos. It was hard not to become embroiled in his struggle to chose between his evil deeds and his new role as father figure. However, this conflict between good and evil has been long forgotten in this sequel. No longer hoping to make a name for himself as a villain, Gru now spends his time worrying about his eldest daughter’s move into the world of romance and Agnes’ dream of him finding her a mother. These side-lines attempt to bring about the emotional aspects that fuelled the first but there is no getting away from the fact that something is missing. Gru is now a disappointing watered-down version of himself. He just doesn’t have the same presence that he once had and there is a lack of energy in his family-sagas.

So Despicable Me 2 turns out to be anything but despicable. It’s just another in a long-line of unnecessary sequels intended to squeeze as much money out of families as possible. There was no need to continue Gru’s story aside from the fact that he and, more importantly, his tic-tac like minions were a big hit with the kids. It is these little yellow bastards who are the real stars of the show and they will certainly keep the youngsters watching falling out of the seats with laughter. Their hark back to a simpler brand of comedy, associated with the silent era of film, with a focus on over-the-top physical gags, visual jokes and pantomime. The Minions appeal because they were created as a symbol of silliness. They are nothing more than unadulterated fun.

However, the sequel is almost solely devoted to creating moments where the Minions are given freedom to lose control and reference as many popular trends as possible. It feels as though the dull search for the mysterious villain was simply created to glue these sequences together. Even the eventual reveal of the man Gru is searching for is rushed and he is never given the chance to explain just why we should be concerned about his plan. It’s lazy film-making and the focus is clearly on potential merchandise (as the new breed of minion goes to show). Time that should have been given to setting out the various plot-strands has instead been used up to show Minions dressed in various costumes dancing or fighting each other.

Despicable Me 2has the unavoidable feel of a sketch show that has been fleshed out with a flimsy story-arc that was written 5 minutes before the deadline. This means that the remaining cast never get a chance to make much of an impression and the returning characters are unable to remind us of what made them so great in the first film. Most notably seen in Gru’s crazed scientist friend Dr Nefario (Russell Brand) who is brought out at the moments when an easy fix is required. Some great talent has been wasted in favour of cheap laughs. This film is miles away from its innovative predecessor and you feel it throughout.

Despicable Me 2was created by the same team who brought us the first one and the team from Illumination Entertainment continue to channel the work of Chuck Jones in their follow-up. This is a animation that harks back to the early days with the Looney Tunes style humour, slapstick and in-your-face animation. It is a film that really makes use of cartoon physics and logic, where violence and danger have no deadly consequences and cars can turn into submarines and helicopters without any real effort. Despite the flaws involved, there is no doubt that Despicable Me 2 was an enjoyable film to watch and has enough to appeal to its older audience as well as the primary one.
For there can be no forgetting that this is a film intended to be enjoyed by young children and, looking at it from that point-of-view, it is a success. It may not have the overall slickness and precision that Monster’s Universityhad but it will certainly keep your young ones entertained. The older sections of the audience may find it disappointing after the freshness of Despicable Me but there is still enough of the same spirit and heart that appealed first time round. Whilst there have been far greater animated sequels, this one certainly does the job it intended to: get us all ready for the upcoming (and I’m guessing farcical) Minionsmovie.
Monsters University (2013)

Monsters University (2013)

With every new Pixar releases we find an influx of reviewers and random people on the internet (*ahem*) getting angry about the recent abundance of sequels and the company’s supposed focus on merchandise. I have, in the past (as you can see in this very blog), argued that the once outstanding animators are running out of fresh ideas but I must get angry at the suggestion that this prequel to the super popular Monsters Inc. was created solely because of the merchandise potential. Just take a handful of the many reviews out there and you’ll no doubt get bored of the phrase ‘golden age of Pixar’ and the lamentation that we are witnessing yet another nail in the studio’s coffin. Saying that Pixar have lost their way since Disney got involved is as much of a reviewing cliché as saying that every Woody Allen film of the last 20 years isn’t Annie Hallor Manhattan. Quite frankly guys, I’m getting a bit bored of it. Monsters University isn’t a terrible film and certainly doesn’t bring shame on it’s predecessor. Also, in my opinion this film had way more going for it than last year’s Oscar winning Brave (but you can read about that for yourself when you’re done here).

One of the greatest things about Monsters Inc. was how wonderfully it turned the idea of the bogeyman on its head by creating a familiar society that was inhabited by ghoulish creatures. Monsters Universitydelves further into this other world and shows us what life was like when the characters we met previously were entering University. This perhaps removesthe child audience slightly further but, if we’re being honest, this isn’t Pixar’s usual children’s film. The primary target audience are the now grown-up fans of the original who are at an age where they either are in or about to enter the world of higher education. This isn’t another Toy Storystyle franchise where a whole new audience was introduced to the magical toys with the release of every new adventure (which always looked a little too much like their previous adventure if we’re brutally honest). This is an animated Animal House that young children will no doubt enjoy even if they can’t completely appreciate the more specific references to college life.
The major problem with making a prequel is that you are working towards a known time and place. Going in the audience know how the story ends so everything is simply taking place to get us there. That means that the journey we go on must be engaging and entertaining enough to keep the audience on board with the concept. Although the plot is hardly breaking new ground and anyone who has ever seen a film before will know exactly which roads we are being walked down. This prequel borrows the typical buddy flick structure where these future friends start off hating each other. Of course they quickly discover that, in order to get what they want, they will have to work together. So yeah just like every 70s buddy cop film, 80s teen movie and 90s caper then. Although, this one does have added cartoon monsters which is pretty cool.
Lets say that Monsters Inc. is, at its heart, a film about Sulley coming to terms with who he is and who he could be. Monsters University throws the spotlight onto his small cyclops friend Mike Wazowski. The story begins with a young Mike deciding his future after getting a ring-side seat to a successful scare (pulled off by an octo-monster played by the vocally exciting John Krasinski no less). Mike knows what he wants to be and he has no doubt that his never-ending determination will get him there. Move on a few years and Mike is starting his first day at MU where he is ready to impress his tutors in its famous Scare Programme. Not beng the most obvious candidate to strike fear into the hearts of young children, he does this in the same way that any self-respecting nerd would do: by avoiding parties and other distractions and hitting the books. The polar opposite, as it turns out, to James P. Sullivan who has found a place in the programme thanks to his well-known family name and natural scariness. Sulley isn’t the man we knew: he’s the stereotypical jock who came to college for fun and only turns to books when his table legs are wonky.
So who will succeed in this monster-eat-monster world of terror training? Well, neither if the terrifying Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) has anything to say about it. Thrown out of their programme the duo are forced to team up with the outcast fraternity Oozma Kappa (who encourage team spirit by chanting “we’re OK”) and win the University’s annual Scare Games. So it hardly takes a rocket scientist to figure out how this is going to turn out but there is enough interest in the bunch of monster misfits battling superior scarers that it doesn’t feel like a drag getting to the inevitable ending. And, it turns out that there are still a few surprises in store to keep even the most cynical audience member on his toes.
Just as it was with Monsters Inc., it is the more intimate and emotional moments that resonate most with the audience. The other members of OK take the place of Boo from the first film and Mike and Sulley are once more placed into the roles of parents to bring these underwhelming individuals up to scratch. Watching the pair come together to help someone who is dependent on their superior skills is as wonderful as it was in the first film. This is a heart-warming film and even the lack of a human presence can’t remove the humanity from this beastly world. Though by far the most affective aspect of the plot is its stark reminder that, no matter how much you want it, your dreams might not always come true. We are used to Disney films telling us that if we work hard we can achieve anything. However, we live in a world where that simply isn’t the case. Mike obviously gets his happy ending but it is not the one he always dreamed of. It is something that will resonate with the audience and provides some of the sweeter moments.
For all of this intimacy and heart, Monsters University is a big film. The supporting cast is simply massive and you can tell how much of an effort it was to bring it all together. Whatever their issues may be with original storylines and concepts, Pixar thankfully still know how to write quirky and engaging characters and fill their empty screen with more than enough visual comedy. There are some delightful new additions to the cast including Mike and Sulley’s lovable team-mates and the delightfully icy Dean.
Of course, at its heart this is a college movie in the same vain as university based teen comedy we have seen before. All of the familiar faces are here but with a slightly monstrous visage. For that is one of the greatest things about Monsters University, seeing typical college situations played out by monsters and given a fresh new spin and even go against their stereotype. The frat parties, college rivalries, and the various cliques are given a new lease of life simply by placing it within this vast new world.
A world that has been created with the same love and attention to detail that Pixar is still praised for. In animation terms, the company has never been better. With the use of new Global Illumination technology the animated world has been given an even greater depth and provided a much more immersive setting. Pixar are constantly updating their software between films and it certainly pays off. After all, their overhaul of the rendering software pre-Brave created a beautiful if slightly damp squib of an Oscar winner. Although, in the run up to Monsters University the changes went a little deeper and Jean-Claude Kalache (director of photography) started a crusade to change Pixar’s relationship with lighting. (It’s a fascinating subject and, if you like that sort of thing, I recommend reading up on the subject after you’re through here. But then I’ve always been a bit too geeky about this kind of thing.) Global Illumination represented a complete overhaul of the lighting system and made a massive impact on the way their artists worked. However, the results speak for themselves and the lighting ends up feeling much more realistic than we have ever seen before. Some of the scenes are truly breathtaking. Particularly those taking place at night or in darkened spaces. It’s worth the admission price alone I’d say.
(As you’d expect given the new possibilities, lighting plays a very important part of the story-telling. You will often see shadow being used to denote fear and hardship and even light is seen to show moments of intimidation and exposure.)
That and the immense details of the monster world. Just look a little closer at the architecture of the Monster university and you’ll see that everything has been thought through with an obscene amount of care. We have doors within doors to cater for the wide variety of student sizes and additional entrances for aquatic and flying creatures. The monstrous aspects of the buildings themselves with horns, spikes, fangs and tentacles feature on the outside of the campus buildings creates a sense of Gothic history that is in stark contrast to the modernised Monsters Inc. buildings. The landscape is lush and expansive and shows that, despite a possible lack of fresh film ideas, visually they are still at the top of their game. Its just a shame that their writing department are trailing so far behind.
But who really cares? Yes, Monsters University may not be a critically acclaimed and an example of perfect film-making but it is something that will speak to its intended audience. It has taken two characters who a great number of us fell for 12 years ago and shows us more of their history. We see a heart-breaking new side to the lovable fool that we saw pratfalling to keep young Boo entertained. Yes it feels confused in places and the plot is a bit of a lame duck but it does what it wanted to. It entertained me. Pixar are doing what they know best here. Making fun and entertaining films with well-loved characters. So does it really matter that this isn’t exactly thought-provoking and academic film-making? Monsters University is like your favourite jumper. It’s a little worn out and raggedy but its comfortable and familiar. You like wearing it even though you know there are better jumpers out there. You may not wear it out of the house but, ultimately, you’ll always love it.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

I set out a promise to you, dear readers, before I continue: I promise I will try as hard as I can to make sure this doesn’t just descend into my ramblings concerning the attractiveness of Benedict Cumberbatch. It’ll be hard. He is one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen and his voice should come with some sort of parental guidance. Seriously this film should have been rated a 15 just because of how erotic all of his lines sound. Not since the days of Jack Bauer has someone sounded quite so sexy whilst threatening to kill a bunch of people. But here I am falling into the same old trap.

Back in 2009 JJ Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise by rewriting history to allow a wider range of people to embrace a dwindling franchise. Abrams famously admitted to not being a fan of Star Trek and set out to make a film that would appeal to people like him whilst hopefully not alienating the loyal fans. It was a Star Trek film made as a Star Wars film and the whole thing was considered to be a major success. The decision to start a clean slate by rewriting such familiar character histories allowed Abrams to do what he wanted with the franchise whilst still leaving the classic television show in tact. It was a brilliant decision and for the past four years cinema goers have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up.

Into Darkness picks up shortly after Star Trek left off with Kirk (Chris Pine) and friends exploring the depths of space in his very own ship. We catch up with them mid-adventure with Kirk and Dr Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) sprinting through an alien wilderness to escape an angry extraterrestrial mob. We quickly learn that this is all just a huge distraction whilst Spock (Zachary Quinto) works to calm down an active volcano. To be honest, I could have done without this opening piece as, really, it adds little to the overall story and seems to drag everything out a bit. (Also, the idea that the Enterprise could survive hidden underwater for a few days seems a bit far-fetched to me but there we are.) Although, it allows Quinto the opportunity to shine once again as Spock. The actor continues to get better in the role and his inner-wrangling between his two halves is a great thing to watch as he finds himself getting deeper into two personal relationships. The most important and loving of the two is between Spock and his Captain and as we pick up the story we find ourselves in full bromance mode. The pair continue to play off each other very well and it’s a double act I’m looking forward to seeing more of in the future.

It is the conflict between the two men that creates the supposed need for the opening gambit as it’s major purpose is to remind the audience that Spock is all about the prime directive and favours the needs of the many over the few. Of course, Kirk being Kirk the crew manage to go against the all important Prime Directive and makes their presence known to the simplistic lifeforms inhabiting the planet. Inevitably this doesn’t sit well with the important people back at Star Fleet and Kirk has his ship taken away from him before being made First Officer to a returning Admiral Pike. That is until a disgruntled ex-employee John Harrison vows vengeance against The Federation by blowing up one of their secret bunkers in London, with the help of Dr Who’s lovable Mickey Smith (also known as talented actor and film-maker Noel Clarke). Kirk is called back into play after promising Admiral Marcus that he will hunt down and capture the deadly Harrison.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives another stand-out performance as Harrison. He plays the character with a chilling intensity but doesn’t make the mistake of taking him into ridiculous super villain territory. He humanises Kirk’s deadly foe to the extent that it often becomes difficult to separate him from the the supposed good guys who are out to stop him. I won’t go into massive spoiler territory (as my personal cinema experience was slightly marred after IMDB revealed the true name of his character before I’d seen the film) but he brings about a great new insight into one of the most infamous Star Trek foes (OK maybe that was a bit too obvious but the film has been out a while and I doubt any of my two (at best) readers are coming to me for advice on whether or not they should see a film). Cumberbatch really is one of the greatest actors around and will no doubt go down in history as one of the most devilish villains in the history of the franchise. The decision to cast him in the role may now be creating some controversy with some critics but based solely on performance, Harrison is a complete success and I can’t imagine any other actor playing him with the same balance of drama, humanity and light-heartedness. And he’s pretty easy on the eye… don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet.

The scenes between Harrison and Chris Pine’s Kirk are wonderful as the pair face-off in an increasingly dramatic fashion. Pine has nowhere near the level of acting talent that Cumberbatch possesses but it is this fact that makes these scene all the more effective. Harrison is a deadly enemy, a super-soldier, and Pine manages to make his own shortcomings highlight his foe’s clear head-start. Kirk is left floundering in front of his superior enemy just as Pine is left to try and catch-up to Cumberbatches superior performance. It leaves Kirk seeming vulnerable but determined to come out on top.

It is a welcome consequence that also adds greater depth to the moments shared between Pine and Bruce Greenwood’s Captain Pike. The difference between the pair as actors only makes the father-son style relationship all the greater on screen. What Pine does bring to the role is an unending energy and ability to make all of the outlandish situations and slapdash narrative stick together. He appears to have absolute faith in what he is doing which makes it easier to accept some of the looser aspects of the plot.

That would have to be my major criticism of the new Star Trek. It just isn’t as slick as Abrams’ first outing and it doesn’t fit together as easily. There is a tension between Abrams slick production and the film’s thin and, at times, haphazard script. Into Darkness offers amazing visual episodes, moments of documentary style camera work and references to modern day terrorism. It is a triumph of modern film-making but this story just seems quite childish and sloppy. Rules don’t seem to matter in this world and there are no real consequences. Like a childhood game where you’re all just making it up as you go along, Into Darkness changes the importance of certain ideas as and when it feels like it. For all of Spock’s banging on about the Prime Directive there appear to be no consequences when the crew of the Enterprise consistently fail to abide by it. Kirk loses captaincy of his ship for all of 2 hours before he’s back in the hot-seat.

The main writing technique seems to be if it doesn’t make sense just add another fanboy reference in there to keep the audience happy. ‘Wait why the hell has that been allowed to happen… ooh look a Tribble!’ On the one hand I appreciated these little references to the Original Series and delighted in hearing talk of the neutral zone and Harry Mudd. On the other, it’s the Steven Moffat thing all over again. If you don’t have the substance to keep an audience happy why not just treat them like dribbling morons and wave shiny/familiar objects in front of their face? If Star Trek was about introducing a new generation of Roddenberry’s franchise then Into Darkness is about celebrating it. We have more great performances from the lead characters: something like a mix between an impression and a re imagining of old friends. All of the key players are there doing what they need to do to make this a successful Star Trek film. We delight at seeing Chekov (Anton Yelchin) panicking in his ‘can’t believe it’s real’ Russian accent and shiver when Sulu (John Cho) shows off his dark side whilst taking temporary command of the ship. Karl Urban continues to provide great laughs (and a great impression) as Bones and is not only one of my favourite characters but provides some of the most memorably one-liners. Who would be happy to call it a Star Trek film if Dr McCoy never said “Damn it man, I’m a Doctor, not a *insert occupation here*.” I can’t say I’m a massive fan of Simon Pegg’s Scotty and I do find his pretty dire Scottish accent grating but there can be no denying that he provides humour and, in this film at least, drama and emotion. All of the necessary ingredients are there but I still can’t help but feel the final meal is lacking some seasoning. It’s just not quite as good as it could be.

That’s not to say that there isn’t enough to keep you entertained and Abrams’ set action pieces continue to be amazing. There is nothing quite as intense as the arrival of Nero’s ship in the the previous outing but there are some great space-based sequences that will surely keep fans of the show and the new films entertained. The film’s world of the future is, as far as this can be true in 2013, a realistic one. Gone are the clichéd visions of the future from pre-1980s sci-fi. Instead we have a world that you could genuinely see existing; a world where the Federation live and try to keep Earth safe. It’s a joy to watch and it makes the connection between Harrison’s acts of violence and the modern world all the more obvious. This is a genuine look at terrorism and the hidden dangers that could be facing us every day. Our greatest fear nowadays isn’t the big, well-known foe but those hidden amongst us. The potential violence and hatred that lives within humanity. In any other setting this idea would have been lost in a haze of space kitsch. It speaks to a modern audience is a way that the Original Series spoke to the audience of the 60s. Abrams may not be a fan of the show but he is certainly keeping alive its ideals.

Finally, there has been a lot said already about the female representation in the latest Star Trek film but that’s not going to stop me throwing my own thoughts into the ring. In the first film we were introduced to Uhura (Zoe Saldana) as the romantic interest that comes between Kirk and Spock. Yes she can speak a few alien languages but she didn’t exactly make much of an impact. To be fair to Abram and writers Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, the Enterprise’s major female presence does have a bit more to do in the latest instalment but there is still an apparent lack of kick-ass women in Star Fleet. The main argument I can see in favour of Uhura is that she has two moments of bravery and action (yes that’s right two whole short pieces in a film that lasts over 2 hours.) I can’t deny that she does has her moments of kick-assery as we see her face up to the Klingons with steely determination and she plays an important role in bringing down a deadly enemy during the final showdown. However, that still doesn’t seem enough to me. For the most part, she is present in the film as Spock’s girlfriend (and even then she is secondary to the all important bromance) and primarily to remind us of the separation between his Vulcan and human heritage. It’s just not good enough.

Especially when her only other female member of staff is Alice Eve’s Dr Carol Marcus who spends half of the time getting herself into sticky situations so a big brave man can save her and the other half being the sexy (and preferably half-naked) romantic interest for Kirk. There was a great deal of potential for Dr Marcus to be an intelligent and influential character in the plot but it just falls down to another example of an objectified damsel in distress. Alice Eve does a great job with the material she’s been given but there is only so much anyone can do with a character who spends her screen time being helpless and alluring. I’m not trying to preach about the sexualisation of women (and indeed men) in cinema and Star Trek in particular (especially when you consider that I started this review by salivating over the gorgeous Benedict Cumberbatch) but it would be a lot easier to take the unnecessary underwear scene if Marcus was shown to be something more than a hot bod. The argument that Kirk was shown in his underwear and that Harrison was supposed to be shown in a state of undress does nothing to diminish the argument either. It’s not so much about the nakedness but about the lack of depth. Both Kirk and Harrison prove themselves to be more than just a piece of eye-candy by the subsequent actions within the plot so these more sexual scenes are less prominent. Ask anyone what Alice Eve did in the new Star Trek film and I guarantee most people would tell you she got undressed.

This character would be easier to handle if there were a few more important female characters. Look at all of the scenes that take place at Star Fleet headquarters. Were there any senior female officers present during any of the key meetings? I certainly didn’t see any. Are we really meant to believe that a society that has started exploring space is so backwards in their ideas of gender equality that there are only about three females employed in the entire Federation? Although, we have gone from having one key female in the first film to two in the second. Maybe by the time Abrams’ 6th film comes out we’ll either have a plethora of women parading around in their underwear or, hopefully, just one strong and useful one?

(While I’m at it, I’d like to point out that arguing in defense of the undressing scene because the ladies from the 1960s show were sexy is the biggest load of bullshit imaginable. Times have changed so to say that something that was allowed in the 60s should be OK now is unbelievable. Star Trek can and perhaps should be sexy but we have to make sure that the female characters represent the sense of equality that society is now supposed to be supporting. Women can and are as useful and important as men and our biggest cinema franchises should share that view. What kind of message are the film-makers giving its primarily young audience with one-dimensional characters like Dr Marcus? Just think of the children. Won’t somebody please think of the children?!)

So, in closing, it’s not quite the Star Trek film we were all expecting but it’s good enough. Cumberbatch’s Harrison is a more than great follow-up to Eric Bana’s Nero and manages to take us into new territory by often forgoing the brute force tactics favoured by the angry Romulan and instead playing mind-games with his victims. He’s a deadly mix of strength and cunning like a terrifying amalgamation of Batman’s two greatest enemies Bane and The Joker… but with a much nicer face. There is enough to keep us all happy but it does seem slower and less slick than the original. Abrams’ first film was a game-changer and it is no wonder people left the cinema in wonder. This just feels a little flat next to its older brother. Nothing terrible of course. It’ll still beat most of the original films for sheer enjoyment and quality but we’ve come to expect something now. It’s better to not think of this as a sequel but merely a CV for Abrams next big science-fiction challenge. If Into Darkness tells us anything, it’s that Star Wars Episode 7 is going to be epic.