January 15th, 2012. How many things have happened since January 15th, 2012? For those out there wondering, January 15th, 2012 was the debut date of “The Reichenbach Fall“, the season two finale of the popular BBC show, Sherlock. Boy, was that a finale: Moriarty dead (or not, if you believe the theories) and Sherlock faking his death. There was one question, one question on everyone’s mind at the end of that episode: How? How did Sherlock survive the fall?
Fast-forward to January 1st, 2014 and the release of “The Empty Hearse“, the long awaited season three premiere (at least in the United Kingdom anyway) that finally continues the story of everyone’s favorite sociopath. Tonight I had the good fortune, through internet means I would never endorse (incidentally isn’t this an odd website), to watch “The Empty Hearse”. Spoilers? Nah, I won’t ruin the fun. Rest assured, Sherlock is more than aware how long its kept everyone waiting. I’ll instead stick to the basics, starting with the first and foremost question: is it still good?
I’ll go into it a bit more than that.
“The Empty Hearse” serves as a joyous reintroduction to the series. Written by none other than Mark Gatiss (Mycroft Holmes to all you fans) who is aware of just how long ago 2012 was in terms of television attention span. To that end, this is not a very plot heavy episode. Indeed, those out there wanting to puzzle along to a gripping mystery will have to wait. Sherlock was dead for two years: it takes time to get breathing again.
What makes it work is, of course, the actors. Benedict Cumberbatch once again fully inhabits the titular protagonist who gave his career life. Martin Freeman manages to look both fully fed up and happy to be back as John Watson. Perhaps the most surprising performance comes from Louise Brealey, whose original character, Molly Hooper, has transformed from one time comic fodder to the sad manifestation of Sherlock’s detached humanity. There are no weak leaks in the acting chain that hold this series up and, while the story this time is more tongue-and-cheek than we’re used to, this is a show built for powerful drama and moving stories on the human condition.
I will say, in the interest of perspective and placement, that this is not my favorite episode of the series. Indeed, as far as season premiers go: it may be the worst the series has endured so far. That is not a knock on it, however, when comparison is drawn with “A Study in Pink” and “A Scandal in Belgravia” (my personal favorite episode of the series). The story is fun and the presentation is thoroughly fourth-wall.
Are there any worries going forward? None but this: Sherlock is a series that has set itself a high standard. While nine episodes hardly breaks the bank on the source material, one does wonder if the series will ever again recapture this height of fan excitement. You can only kill Sherlock Holmes so many times before audiences stop caring how he survived the fall.
Yet for the moment it is a party and a most welcome one at that. The world’s most famous detective is back and audiences will no doubt have nearly as much fun with his return as he did.
Eleven years ago, New Line Cinema released The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The second chapter in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy found incredible critical acclaim and took home two Oscars. However, departures from the source material, including the delay of Shelob, the character change of Faramir and the presence of elves at the battle of Helms Deep, angered some of the more diehard Tolkien fans. To those people I have one thing to say: STAY AWAY FROM THIS MOVIE. Of course, if you sleep with The Hobbit on your nightstand and hold the word of Tolkien as law, then you probably already walked away from this new trilogy in disgust last December. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a bold departure from the source material and… a pretty good movie… I think? I’ll get into it.
(MINOR SPOILERS TO FOLLOW)
The Desolation of Smaug essentially picks up right where the first film left off. As you may remember, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and company are on the edge of Mirkwood. The orcs are still right behind them and the eagles have left to return to the realm of Deus ex Machina. Yet there is also flashback scene to ease us into our fifth return to Middle-Earth. Returning to the famous “Prancing Pony” Inn from Fellowship of the Ring, we witness the initial meeting between Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage). This scene, as well as many of additions/changes to the source material, exists for one purpose: there are bigger things going on in Middle-Earth than Smaug.
This is grand departure. While Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy employees Bilbo Baggins as its chief protagonist, its identity is not that of the simple children’s adventure story. These movies represent the beginning of the war of the ring.
Did you hear that? Every diehard Hobbit book fan just groaned.
Yes, it is true, that little band of gold is as much of a star in this movie as Martin Freeman or Ian McKellen. Really, it is arguably a larger star than Freeman, who sadly takes a backseat in this second installment. Personally I felt that one of the strongest plus factors going in An Unexpected Journey was the strong characterization of Bilbo Baggins. Evidently Jackson and co. felt entitled to a pass this time around.
So, amidst the gathering doom of greater forces, the little dwarf quest continues – and is a lot more fun this time around. The film only really falters at the beginning with the interjection of Beorn (a were-bear who will no doubt come back into play in the third installment) before hitting its stride in Mirkwood. We get spiders and elves and a barrel chase and it is all great fun. The addition of Evangeline Lilly as Turiel, an elf guardsman, is welcome and breathes life into the movie. Really her performance and subsequent subplot with the dwarf, Kili do a lot to improve the pacing and give the audience a breather from the one-track Thorin (this dwarf needs his mountain something fierce) and the somber beginnings of Sauron (one of two villains this movie voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).
The result is a pace that feels at a thrilling rush and gets us to Lake-town feeling jazzed to see what comes next. What comes next: the audience is introduced to Luke Evans (good performance) and Stephen Fry (Republican performance) before it’s off to see the dragon!
Now, about that dragon… here come my spoilers. Those out there wishing to see Smaug die, you’re not getting your Christmas present this year. Peter Jackson, possibly trying to emulate the Hunger Games: Catching Fire, has gone the root of the abrupt cliffhanger leaving all resolution for the Hobbit: There and Back Again. The result is a jarring ending preced by a greatly expanded upon confrontation between Bilbo and Smaug (voiced by dragon-Sherlock aka Benedict Cumberbatch).
I said at the beginning of this review that I wasn’t sure how to feel about the movie and that’s why. This doesn’t feel like a complete story. Unlike the chapters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, not much is resolved at the end of the Desolation of Smaug. There is no victory at Helms Deep, no breaking of the fellowship: the movie just ends. Yes, one can argue that the climactic expulsion of Smaug (yes, he gets forced from the mountain in this movie) is enough but that dragon is still alive and in good, fire-breathing shape.
Ironically this tale feels more like part one-of-two than part two-of-three. As a piece of a film, it is entertaining and fun… but it only a piece of a film. The final word on Peter Jackson’s trilogy will come next December. Until then, The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug is a solid blockbuster rich in Tolkien lore. I just hope that all of this buildup has a payoff… other than the Battle of Five Armies.
PS – For those curious about my thoughts on the first movie, click here!
I’m going to begin this review with a disclaimer and this does have a huge bearing on my perception: I am not a Star Trek fan. I don’t really care about any of the older movies. Some of them are fun, some of them are awful, some of them I haven’t seen. I grew up a Star Wars guy. I make no apologies – Star Wars is just a much better series for me, I relate to it a lot more than I do Star Trek. That being said, I was a huge fan of J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the series in 2009. To me, 2009’s Star Trek struck a great balance. It reinvigorated a series with new blood and broader appeal while still treading with respect to the original Star Trek canon. Right, with that in mind, let’s launch into Stark Trek Into Darkness. Don’t worry, this review is spoiler-free.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a great summer action movie. There are fights, glorious effects scenes and excellent use of the 3D (I saw this film in IMAX 3D and it was gorgeous). It is fast-paced from the get go and is designed to give few pauses for breath. It is a relentless, simple movie that anyone (regardless of his/her Star Trek knowledge) can walk in and enjoy. This is its great strength… and also its ultimate weakness. This is a Star Trek movie, but it is designed in such a way that may anger fans (or really anyone familiar) with the old show and movies.
There is a blurred line between reboot and remake. I’m actually not sure what the difference is. Dictionary.com declares a remake “to make again or anew” whereas to reboot means “to restart”. Boy, don’t those sound similar. Now, in the case of Abrams StarTrek, I believe what made that film a reboot was the fact that it did not disregard the old canon. Leonard Nimoy is in the film serving as a bridge between the two while the movie “restarts” the franchise from an earlier point in time. The first two-thirds of Star Trek Into Darkness feel like a continuation of this reboot, old and new at the same time. The final third, however, (which is the portion of the movie I have the most problems with) decidedly feels much more in the vein of a remake. I won’t say which Star Trek film is being remade but it will become painfully obvious to anyone with even a basic familiarity of the old films.
This was not a smart move for two reasons: 1) it risks angering the fan base by spitting at them a key scene from before that frankly does not carry the same emotional weight and 2) it was a really boring direction to take the film. For the first two-thirds of the movie, I was completely on board with everything that was going on and eager to see what happened next. At the end I knew exactly what was going to happen and how so that all the drama vanished and I was left simply enjoying action eye-candy (not that it was bad, it’s called candy for a reason). The result greatly diminished my excitement leaving the theater. After all, one of the reasons I enjoyed Abrams’ Star Trek so much is that I felt it was new. Star Trek Into Darkness leaves me wishing for more “newness”. I don’t want to see the earlier films remade: I want to see new adventures with the proven characters.
Okay, that’s enough of the negativity. Is Star Trek Into Darkness flawed: yes. Don’t expect it to be on the level of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in terms of a sequel. That aside, there are some really great things in this movie. Let’s talk about the most obvious improvement over the original: the villain.
While everyone in the film delivers a good performance, Benedict Cumberbatch soars past them onto a higher level. He is commanding, mysterious, cunning and brutal in his performance. In the sequence pictured above, he runs acting circles around Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock). This sequence is the strongest in the film and gives real depth to John Harrison’s character, taking him a notch above Eric Bana’s Nero of the first film. Tragically the depth shown here is never present in the third act but hey, I said I would highlight the positives here.
The other addition to the cast who will be more overlooked than she deserves is Alice Eve. She joins the film as Science Officer Carol Wallace and gives a much-needed additional female presence to the film. No offense intended to Zoe Saldana, I am not calling her performance lacking. It is simply nice to have another woman do something of importance aboard the enterprise. Eve portrays a funny, clever science officer and injects the “newness” that I want to see a lot more of in future Star Trek films.
The last and greatest triumph of Star Trek Into Darkness are the character journeys of Captain Kirk and Commander Spock. I was a little worried when the film started as both Kirk and Spock appeared to have regressed slightly from their maturity at the end of the first movie. That problem is quickly rectified, however, as the main focus of the film is to show the final leg in these two characters becoming the icons from the first movies. Kirk in particular really grows from reckless and hotheaded into a more responsible and selfless Captain. The handling of these two characters was the largest strength in the first movie and it remains the best thing about the second.
So yeah, if your Star Trek knowledge is as limited as mine and you want to see a fun, well made, summer movie – check out Star Trek Into Darkness, you’ll love it. But to fans of the original series and films, I must emphasize that I’m really unsure how you’ll take to this entry. If you thought 2009’s Star Trek was a little heavy on the action and light on the characters: prepare to roll your eyes at Abrams’ new film. This is not a science fiction film, this is an action film. The good news is that Star Trek Into Darkness is aware of its action tone, with several of the crew members remarking, at various points, that the main job of the U.S.S. Enterprise is exploration, not combat. I hold out hope that the third entry in the Star Trek reboot will at least produce the cohesion of old and new that the series has been striving for. But in the mean time Star Trek Into Darkness is a pretty fun ride.