For Reel

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
July 30, 2016, 5:30 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: J.J. Abrams
3.5 Stars
Star Trek Into DarknessIn John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), the mysterious traitor who commits a terrorist attack on Starfleet, it appears that Captain James T. Kirk (Christopher Pine) has met his match. On the surface, Harrison is his ideal—similarly driven by emotion and ego, Harrison nonetheless comes with both a supreme level of skill and a confidence in his actions that Kirk lacks. His very capability makes him a frightening proposition, but it is not impossible to imagine an alternate reality wherein Kirk has gone rogue, driven by his own reckless impulses and unimpeachable sense of personal morality. When Star Trek Into Darkness plays into this dynamic, the film matches its thrills with a certain amount of cerebral intelligence. Pine’s Kirk is the leading asset in the series, and unfortunately Zachary Quinto’s Spock still seems ill-served by the script. That Kirk and Spock are again pitted against each other in the battle between logic and ego seems again confused by the fact that Spock spends much of the film providing evidence why he does not necessarily adhere to his own code. But Kirk, who is faced with decisions that could result in abandoning his own code or even putting others at risk, carries the greatest emotional weight of the new series, and Harrison, if underwritten, provides a compelling contrast.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
December 22, 2015, 11:08 am
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Director: J.J. Abrams
4 Stars
Star Wars - The Force AwakensThe latest franchise to retread through its own mythology is the one fans have clamored for more than any other. As such, conversations about The Force Awakens tend to revolve around its very Star Wars-ness–colloquial film criticism has become an assessment of how well a franchise can retrace its own roots. And yet, is it so terrible that a franchise like Star Wars finds itself reinvented decades later, expanding a universe that several generations have a collected interest in? This year’s series of sequels/reboots are uniquely made by fans of the franchises themselves–fanboys turned auteur, with J.J. Abrams, who has occupied this territory for his whole filmic career, serving as the preeminent example.

As such, The Force Awakens does feel like revisiting an old friend, not only with the characters and props but with the scope of its vistas (arguably the prequel’s biggest offense was not the CGI creatures, but the locations). If the venture is “safe”, it at least takes the occasional risk. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a villain atypical in Star Wars, who comes to be defined by his very weaknesses and insecurities (compare this to, say, Count Dooku). Early sequences on Jakku provide a careful account of what it means to live in the Star Wars universe–how one earns a living, acquires resources, and even cooks space bread. If The Force Awakens arguably moves too quickly for its own good, it successfully uses shorthand in developing how its characters relate to both the world and to each other. That is, screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt make Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) sympathetic, likable characters not merely by highlighting their individual braveries, but in dwelling on their growing camaraderie and their recognition of each other’s good qualities. If they, like the new series, have room to go, The Force Awakens plants enough seeds to promise more in subsequent films.